The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood

1cover120428-mediumMad-doctor Nathaniel is obsessed with the beautiful Mrs Harleston – but is she truly delusional? Or is she hiding secrets that should never be uncovered . . . ?

Overshadowed by his father’s suicide, Nathaniel Kerner finds it hard to find work in his chosen field of ailments of the mind. Reluctantly he takes up a position at Crakethorne Asylum, only to find the proprietor is more interested in his growing collection of skulls than helping his patients – fame seems unlikely to find Nathaniel here. His only interesting case is Mrs Victoria Adelina – Vita – Harleston: she is interesting because she doesn’t really seem mad at all – her husband accuses her of hysteria and delusions – but she accuses him of hiding secrets far more terrible.

Nathaniel becomes increasingly obsessed with Vita, and when an opportunity presents itself to have her mesmerised he leaps at it, imagining seeing papers in journals with his name attached.

But the session doesn’t go well and the next morning Vita has vanished and it seems Nathaniel may have been tricked into aiding her escape.

Increasingly besotted, Nathaniel finds himself caught up in a world of séances and stage mesmerism in his bid to find Vita and save her.

But constantly hanging over him is this warning: that doctors are apt to catch the diseases with which they are surrounded – whether of the body or the mind . . .

I really enjoyed Alison Littlewood’s The Hidden People last year so was thrilled to see another new release from her. Although set in the same era this is quite a different book, this is freezing fog in winter at 4pm as opposed to a hot lazy 4pm in August. Although both are mysterious, this is one where you can’t really see what’s going on four paces in front of you. And although both are a little creepy – this is skin shivering creepy whereas the other is beguilingly creepy. I’m starting to think that Alison Littlewood is the modern day successor to Wilkie Collins, The Hidden People feels similar to The Moonstone and this feels like the Woman in White – the stories are different, there’s no plagiarism, they are not re-writings in any way. But if you like Wilkie Collins my guess is you’ll like Alison Littlewood.

5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

IMG_2634It is the midst of winter 2016 and a huge storm is about to hit Brooklyn. 62 year old Lucia Maraz is alone in her cold apartment so she calls her landlord and colleague Richard Bowmaster to see if he wants to join her for soup, and because she’s scared. He brushes her off, terrrified of any potential intimacy. But in the middle of the night he calls her – a minor traffic accident he had earlier that day has led to a hysterical young Spanish speaker turning up on his doorstep and he needs her help.

The young woman is Evelyn Ortega—an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. She took her bosses car to drive to the store without asking permission and the damage to it means he will know, he is a violent man.

While these three very different people are trying to work out what to do for the best a new intimacy allows us to hear their life stories from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil. Along the waythe long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia sparks into life.

This book has been described by other critics as mesmerising, and to be honest I think that description fits it really well. There are quite shocking twists and turns but there is something else in the writing that keeps you reading. It’s not just that you want to know if they’ll get themselves out of the tricky situation they’re in, it’s also that the characters are so real and so easy to care about that you want to spend time with them.

All of them have suffered great tragedies in their pasts, and all have been changed by them and coped differently. There’s no element of magic realism as there is in some other of Allende’s, but the magic in this is real and it’s the magical redemption that giving and receiving love brings.

5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

1cover116964-medium

I love it when Joanne M Harris draws out beautifully human stories from myths, legends or folk tales and she’s done it again with this book!

It starts with a rhyme from the Child Ballads. If like me you’ve never heard of the Child Ballads let me share with you what I discovered about them, they are not what I first supposed – rhymes sung by children like Oranges and Lemons. They are 305 traditional ballads from England and Scotland, anthologized by Francis James Child during the second half of the 19th century. Many of them are difficult to date but it seems that most of them have been in existence since at least the 16th Century. And to be fair probably most have been sung by children down the ages just as much as adults!

Harris has picked ballads from this collection and drawn them together to tell a circular coming of age story full of love, loss and revenge around a nameless wild girl.

It starts with ballad 295;

“I am as brown as brown can be,
And my eyes as black as sloe;
I am as brisk as brisk can be,
And wild as forest doe.

Our brisk, brown hero is one of the ‘travellers’, able to slink into the skin of birds and mammals and travel with them through the surrounding countryside. On her travels she sees a charm tied in a yew tree beckoning the love of a prince and steals it, mocking the milk blonde country maid for her simple desires.

But then she meets the prince and they fall in love the way that only teenagers can. But to be with him she must become named and tamed.

The tale follows their love through the seasons of the year, full of the conflict between youth and wisdom, love and jealousy, freedom and belonging.

It is beautifully, poetically written and in the way of all good mythologies shows you a secret place in your own soul when freedom and belonging join to make you whole again.

Five Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

cover107531-mediumJonah’s wife Audrey has just died in a car crash, it may have been suicide, she had been depressed after a series of miscarriages. But she’d seemed happier lately, since she’d started visiting Kew Gardens regularly, so Jonah isn’t sure. He just knows the woman he loved is gone and he can’t sleep for mourning her. He is drawn to Kew, looking for the solace it gave her and hoping to feel her there.

But Kew Gardens isn’t his alone of course, there he meets Milly, a charming child who says her father works there, but where is her mother, and why is she always wearing the same clothes?

Then there’s the gardner, Harry. His purpose is to save plants from extinction, but has his desire to save life been twisted into something destructive?

Chloe is also a frequent visitor, an artist designing a huge origami installation to be exhibited at Kew, finds her singular minded isolation challenged. And the guilt she feels exposed.

They don’t know it yet but these five strangers are all connected. Can they find the way through the maze of regret and guilt through to acceptance and forgiveness?

I grant you that this sounds sentimental to possibly bordering on maudlin but I promise you it isn’t. It’s a life-affirming novel of exceptional beauty in fact. In places it’s gritty, even ugly, and in others it enjoys some quiet mundanity, then it trips into dizzying revels of the foibles of the human heart.

I like to read my books depending on the season to an extent, I generally save gothic horror for the autumn/winter, or books based in cold climates for the winter and those with prettier climates for the Spring or Summer (am I weird or do you do that too?) But as this book traces a full calendar year in Kew Gardens it can be enjoyed at anytime of year. So whether you’ve holidays booked in the South of France this summer or in Scotland this autumn take this book with you.

Tor Udell described the scenery beautifully. I haven’t been to Kew for years but I now feel like I have spent months there recently – even though I read this book in about two days! So if you’ve no holiday booked maybe just have a weekend at home with this book! Apart from the human content this can also be considered a bit of a love letter to Kew and it definitely made me want to revisit it in real life.

Definitely 5 Bites from me and one I will be re-reading (even though I’m unlikely to forget the ending!)

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Interview with Katherine Arden – author of The Bear and the Nightingale

 

Katherine Arden - credit Deverie Crystal PhotographyKatherine is 29, dark-haired and misty eyed and curled like a cat into an old armchair. This young woman had her first book published in January of this year and is contracted for two more in the series. In fact the proofs of book two are already starting to circulate and book three is well under way. I took the opportunity of asking what it is like to be at the start of a writing career and she told me about some of the ups and downs along the way.

“I wrote as a kid. I read tons and it inspired me to write short stories. But I didn’t connect that with becoming an author. It was simply a side thing I did for fun. I was still writing as a teenager but I went to college with the intention of becoming a diplomat or an interpreter and simply didn’t have the time for writing. My college was in Vermont and I studied in Russia – the winters were long and cold and by the time I graduated I was simply longing for warmth and guaranteed sunlight so I headed to Hawaii without any great plans. I’d pick macadamia nuts and coffee for a few hours a day and I lived in a tent on the beach – very much hand to mouth. I ate farm produce, hitch-hiked places and swam. On the farm next to ours was a little girl called Vasilisa and she was lovely. I started writing again for pleasure and made Vasilisa the heroine of Bear and Nightingale. About two months in I discovered I was really enjoying the process and suddenly thought “I know what I’ll do, I’ll get it published”. In all the first draft took about 8 months and I started the hunt for an agent. In the meantime I’d started teaching English – I’d accidentally ended up in the Alps and was getting cold again.

Finding an agent is not an easy process. I got quite desperate and toyed with the idea of self-publishing. One of my stepmother’s good friends, who is also an author, took the book to edit it but when she read it she refused to edit it as she’d enjoyed it so much and decided to do what she could to introduce me to some agents. The first agent I signed with turned out to be a false start and after 18 months I circled back to some of the other agents I’d been introduced to. They in turn passed on taking the book but referred it and me to others and then suddenly my current agent, Paul popped up. By this time I’d left the Alps and returned to Hawaii where I’d started work in a realtor’s office. Determined to make a professional living for myself I took licensing classes. Amazingly in the same week as I got my Realtor’s license I landed a book deal with Random House.

Bear and Nightingale underwent quite a transformation with my editor’s guidance. The original was nearly twice the length of the published story and at first I thought I might be able to use some of the material we’d removed as part of the sequel ‘The Girl in the Tower’. However it didn’t sit well and I ended up writing the sequel from scratch. The proof of that book is printed now and although I can make small amendments the story and its shape is set. I am now working on book 3. The Girl In The Tower

I’ve spent the last couple of months travelling, seeing old friends and making new ones. I’m trying to decide which of my ideas to develop next as I have several stories in part draft and as soon as book 3 is completed I want to know which of my other projects I’ll be moving forward.

My advice to budding authors – finish what you start! Finish the book and don’t give up. You will learn so much from finishing it.”

Book Eater’s note – since doing this interview with Katherine I have devoured the sequel The Girl In The Tower and was absolutely hooked from start to finish. A full review of that book will be published on this site in November – the perfect Christmas gift for many, many readers whether your preferred genre is fairytale, myth,fantasy,legend, romance, historical, Russian or feminist. Click here to read our review of The Bear and The Nightingale.

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

IMG_2404I read this book the year it was released and loved it! To be fair it seemed like everyone read it and everyone loved it! It was on the best-seller lists for at least a year! I was a little nervous to re-read it. I always am when it’s a book I loved many years ago, I’m always a little worried that my enthusiasm will come back and bite me as wanton unsophistication!

It tells the story of Tita, the youngest daughter of the all-female De La Garza family. She has been forbidden to marry, like a slave she must look after her mother until she dies. But Tita is in love with Pedro, and he with her. He agrees to marry her Tita’s sister Rosaura and stay on their farm so he can be close to her. But this doesn’t work out quite the way he had hoped.

My memories of this book were of the simple naivete of it. Yeah. Guess I might have got that confused my relative naivete at the time! I needn’t have worried about the books lack of spohistication – just my own! Because although the writing makes this a very easy read that flows like a fairytale, like many fairytales it has darkness and deeper messages within. Also, like many fairytales, it has a few sparks of magic!

I’d forgotten the sub plot about her other sister running off and becoming the leader of the revolutionaries, I’d also fogotten the superb characterisation of Rosaura, complete with jealosy, insecurity and a desperate desire to please her mother and not to be publically humiliated.

The one aspect that could have been twee was the recipes at the start of every chapter. Yet again this escapes being gimmicky. For one thing the recipes are relevent to the story, for another thing they are authentic recipes – not just the burritos or refried beans that many people think of when thinking of Mexican food.

I’m definitely glad I revisited it!

5 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

You would think that I would learn a lesson or two from reading terrible YA books wouldn’t you?

After the hugely disappointing Empire of Storms you would think that I would have cut my losses and not bothered with a Sarah J.Maas book again wouldn’t you?

Well, clearly I need extra lessons!
Despite my rage at how dreadful Empire of Storms was, I decided to read the first installment in her new series A Court of Thorns and Roses. I think my reasoning was sound- It was the book she was writing in the same year as Empire and I wondered if her energy was poured into this book instead; one of her strengths is world-building and so I was interested to see what she would do with a blank canvas; and it was billed as a retelling of Beauty and The Beast, one of my favourite stories! So yeah, I thought it was worth a chance!

Sadly, it was not.

On the surface, it had enough potential to be interesting. Take the synopsis for instance…

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to CTRdemand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Seems like it could have a lot to explore. Yes it gave away the romance ‘twist’ of Feyre falling for Tamlin but since it’s already billed as a Beauty and The Beast retelling, that’s kind of a given!

What it doesn’t indicate is that the ‘ancient, wicked shadow’ aspect of the plot doesn’t kick in until  three quarters of the way through and in the meantime we have to put up with the stupidest plot ever with truly unlikeable characters and some problematic moments.

Let’s start with Feyre- She’s built up to be a kickass female heroine, clearly modelled in part on Katniss Everdeen. She hunts to feed her family, has a realistic view of the future, is practical and strong for others. Except she isn’t really. She’s mopey and whingey and makes god-awful choices based on nothing of any intelligence. Yes, she has a pretty crappy life, and her father and sisters are useless, ungrateful wastes of space but she is such a martyr about it all that it’s difficult to have any sympathy for her whatsoever. And that’s even before Tamlin swoops in to claim her life for killing one of his Fae friends as laid down by the fae/Human treaty. After he whisks her away to her life of luxury (after promising to take care of her family), which by the way is the most inadequate punishment for killing someone and breaking an international treaty ever, her character becomes even more irritating.

Tamlin isn’t much better- despite his beastly appearance, there is nothing remotely beast like about him. In his normal form, he’s clearly an attractive man but with a mask on. Hardly the material for a Beauty and The Beast retelling. And yes, his personality needs a bit of refining but he’s pretty nice to Feyre so it’s not even like she needs to overcome that aspect of him to fall in love. As the icing on the cake, we had some very problematic scenes with Tamlin acting ‘beastlike’ while under the influence of Fae magic- but we were apparently supposed to find his abusive and violent behaviour sexy??

The other characters are in equal parts bland or textbook villain, no real depth to them and therefore not even serving as a distraction from the turgid plot. It is SO BORING. Honestly, we get that they are going to fall in instalove- it’s practically a requirement of the retelling- but why spend so much time on it? The last quarter of the book was more pacey and interesting but relied far too heavily on information dumps that retroactively explained large parts of the previous story lines. I did understand in some ways that the secrecy was necessary but it just all felt a little like she’d run out of time to plot the story properly.

Ah well, one day I’ll have learnt my lesson!!

1 bite. I did finish it I suppose…

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

cover103046-mediumWhen Evie Snow finally passes away, surrounded by her loving family, it seems like her life of sacrifice has paid off and her own private heaven awaits. But when she gets there she finds the door won’t open.

Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to the only man she ever truly loved . . .

If you imagine ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’ but re-vamped by Jojo Moyes or Cecilia Ahern then this book is pretty much what you’d get. Pretty much, but not quite. Because Carrie Hope Fletcher has a somewhat more inventive mind so really you’d need to twist in a bit of Lewis Carroll or Erin Morgenstern too.

Now romances aren’t generally my thing, but I tore through this. It was easy to read with characters that were likeable but certainly weren’t too perfect. In fact Evie’s actions annoyed me a bit and I found myself asking why she would give in to her family’s wishes so easily. But then I realised that she had been conditioned to since birth and that sometimes, no matter how much drive a person has, it is impossible to break those chains.

The author is young and this is her debut novel, she has a huge fan base already though as she is a YouTuber, actor, singer and has been starring as Eponine in Les Miserables. She is known to an entire generation as a ‘big sister’ figure and she shares her love of reading with them. This popularity definitely helped make this a best-seller when it came out in hardback last year. It’s about to be released in paperback and I hope it reaches new audiences.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her work and I hope she continues to be brave and imaginative. Her writing is good but I think with time and determination it could be even better, I think she has more stories to share.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Men by Marie Darrieussecq

imageI’d just read Heart of Darkness when I saw this book about a white french actress (Solange) who falls for  charismatic black Hollywood actor, Kouhouesso. Kouhouesso wants to move into directing and has a very ambitious project – a movie of Heart of Darkness to be filmed actually in the Congo.

Solange follows him to Africa, saying no to other roles offered to her in the hope of playing the female lead in the film but mainly because she’s pretty obsessed with him.

This is billed as a “witty examination of romance, movie-making and clichés about race relations.” And it’s written by an award winning writer known for being an intellectual, supporting left-wing politicians and having a thing or two to say feminism (both that she is one and that she couldn’t be further from being one!) I felt like I should be onto a winner with this.

But alas and woe is me and all those sad damsel-in-distress expressions, I was let-down! Deserted! Callously abandoned! Much like the actress in this book.

To be honest this left me deeply uncomfortable and as if the stain of it’s liberal racism was all over me. Because this book is racist. I’m sure it doesn’t mean to be, but it is. To begin with I can’t imagine an intelligent, well-connected black actor wanting to remake Heart of Darkness – a book that really doesn’t have any black characters. The only one with any dialogue in it says about 3 servile sentences and ends up dead pretty quickly. Considering that black actors and directors are still hugely under-represented in Hollywood it’s no surprise that any that are there are getting busy making amazing films like 12 Years A Slave.

Then there’s the female character. Well to be honest I’m not entirely sure I can even call her a character. She has a backstory at least – a son left with her parents many years ago so she can pursue her hollywood dream. But even though this dream was strong enough for her to abandon her child it isn’t strong enough to stop her dropping it instantly to moon around after a man she’s pretty sure doesn’t love her …! Her attempts to manage her first ‘real’ interracial relationship show just how racist middle-class France still is, the things she worries about are about as bizarre and objectifying as you can get. Though to give credit where it is due the book does highlight a couple of micro-aggressions so strongly that almost anyone could see how appalling they are.

The plot isn’t awful, just not good enough.

1 Bite

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Himself by Jess Kidd

Debut Novel
Debut Novel

Mahoney is a dark eyed, dark haired, leather jacketed lad down from Dublin for a holiday in the tranquil village of Mulderrig, or so he claims as he chats to Tadgh the publican.

His real reason for visiting is…well, rather more complex; raised by nuns in St Martha’s orphanage he’s just received an anonymous letter that was written at the time he was abandoned. Now he knows his mammy’s name, where she came from and even his own name – not that he’s intending to use it. He also knows she was considered the curse of the town. Among the many things he doesn’t know is what happened to her, why he was abandoned, who his father is and why, oh why, he can see ghosts.

With laughing eyes and a charming smile Mahoney attracts much interest and before a day has passed Tadgh has introduced him to half the town and found lodgings for the handsome stranger.

Up at Rathmore House young Shauna Burke is struggling to keep the fine old house going, her mother left years ago and her father took to his garden shed in grief where he reads about fairies and talks to himself in a Protestant accent. Her one paying guest is the ancient thespian Mrs Cauley, tiny in size, mighty in nature and comfortably wealthy she refuses to kowtow to the dogma of the local priest, Father Quinn. Recognising a kindred spirit in Mahoney the old woman takes him under her wing determined to help him find the truth about his mother.

Each year Mrs Cauley finances and stages a show in aid of the Church and this year SHE has decided it will be The Playboy of The Western World with Mahoney in the lead role. Under the guise of auditions Mrs Cauley sets to work asking questions that should have been asked twenty years earlier and uncovering a web of deceit so dark that it is surprising that the sun can ever again shine upon shameful Mulderig. Aided and abetted by ghosts, dreams and love struck women, Mahoney is kept busy following up the leads. Meanwhile with the troublesome priest doing his very best to bring down hell and damnation on the wicked stranger nature has decided it’s time to make its presence felt on the priest.

This book is an entire firework display of delights. The characters are spicy and gnarly despite some small town caricatures and by page thirty I was dreaming of Aidan Turner in the role of Mahoney with Maggie Smith as the force of nature that is Mrs Cauley. Engaging, humorous, dark and witty the dialogue crackled with spite and brilliance as small town secrets were revealed. The lilting Irish phrasing practically sang off the page while touches of magic realism combined to keep what is at its heart a dark and brutal tale from leaving a bitter taste.

I so enjoyed this book I want to read it all again immediately. It has to score a perfect 5 from me

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

the-smoke-hunterCross Indiana Jones with Amelia Peabody and out come  Adam Bates and Eleanora Mallory. Fast-paced and exciting with romance and suspense in equal measure this debut novel is full of fun and wit.

It’s nearly the C20th and women young and old are clamouring for proper education, proper employment and most of all the right to vote. If Eleanora Mallory hadn’t been born a girl she’d have been out in the jungles excavating the ruins of an ancient civilisation, but a girl she is and the best job that a top quality university degree and a near perfect score in the civil service entrance exam can earn a young woman is the role of a low level archivist in the public Records Office. What is utterly maddening is that her supervising manager is a lazy, untidy, slapdash excuse for an historian, who is about to sack her because she got arrested for chaining herself to the gates of parliament. While waiting for him to arrive she knocks a stack of papers off his desk and discovers a psalter, hollowed out in the centre it houses a large stone medallion and beneath that a treasure map. Her frustrated spirit rebels and on a whim she decides to borrow the items and do her own investigation but it isn’t long before the absence of the psalter is discovered and Miss Mallory finds that she has stirred up quite a hornets nest. With the aid of an old school-friend she evades pursuit and finds herself on a steamer headed for British Honduras using an alias and dressed in borrowed clothes.

Smartly written with a slightly saucy, slightly tongue in cheek approach to Victorian values, Eleanora and Adam are the perfect role models for a pair of ‘modern’ adventurers. He has to throw his pre-conceived ideas of chivalry out of the window and she has to learn to admit when she is wrong. Chasing across the jungle they are beset by dangers and fall neatly into yet more trouble. Swinging on vines, outwitting scorpions and trying to prevent themselves from being shot by the competition, it reads as clearly as if it were already a film.

Full of adventure and more exciting than Rider Haggard ever was sadly I suspect this will suffer from being considered the literary version of Indiana Jones. The plot is hardly unique but it is fun and the characters are spikey and spicy and the sparks between them are delightful echoes of the relationship between Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen.

3 Bites – An entertaining and skillfully written yarn that kept me engrossed.

NB I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Bookcover paris bookshopJean Perdu has poured what’s left of his heart into his ‘literary apothecary’, a bookshops on a restored barge parked on the Seine. For each customer he prescribes the right book to soothe their troubled souls.

Unfortunately, he is a physician that needs to cure himself. It’s been twenty-one years since the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he shoved in a table drawer unread then blocked up the door to the room with that table with books. But there is a new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building, a woman mistreated by her ex-husband who has arrived with nothing, his neighbours insist that they must all pitch in to help and so he unbooks the door to donate the table to her.  On finding the letter she makes him read it. His ex-lover had been waiting for him all those years ago, now Jean Perdu must decide whether to try and find her or whether to focus on the possibility of new love with his new neighbour.

This was another book I picked up for my holiday in France, again I expected it to be simple, light holiday reading but just like The Reader on The 6.27 it exceeded my expectations but in a very different way.

Make no mistake, this is written in a way that makes it simple and light to read, and it is just glorious to bask in a beautiful barge bookshop in Paris with these characters so it does make perfect holiday reading. But the lightness of touch is camouflage for a cast iron story about loss. The sumptuous locations are space for you to exhale into when your own losses are catching in your throat.

Worth reading whether you are on holiday or not – but do make sure you’ve got tissues to hand if you have ever let down a lost love.

4 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

cover78254-mediumIt was love at first sight – I saw a whole display of this book in Waterstones window and I knew I had to have it! Of course that first glimpse was all about me not the book … I was waiting to go on holiday to France by train and here was a book about reading on a train in France!

Guylain Vignolles lies to his mother about his life. She thinks he works in publishing but in fact he works at a book pulping factory, a hell for a man that loves reading. Every morning on the train he indulges his main pleasure in life . . . he reads aloud from pages he saved the previous day from the jaws of the monstrous pulping machine.

Then, as getting off the train one day he finds a USB stick with the diary of a lonely young woman, Julie. He falls in love with her words and so begins a new quest for him, to find her.

I saved this book to read on the train on the way back from the south of France – then I almost suffered a disaster when my iPad wouldn’t charge! Luckily it was a short read and I finished it just minutes before my iPad died! The credit for that goes to the author though, not for the length of the book but the vibrancy that kept me reading even though I’d had next to no sleep and I was in a rocking carriage!

Guylain seems a man who is barely living, yet he is a man of exquisite taste in people. His two best friends are two of the most intriguing people I’ve ever met in the pages of a book, and they define him absolutely. Then Julie’s diary begins and her way of thinking and use of language is quite beguiling.

This is a lovely read whether you are on holiday or on your weekday commute. It surprised me, I thought I’d enjoy it as an easy, uplifting  holiday read but the characters make it more than that.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Summer at Skylark Farm by Heidi Swain

cover88547-mediumHonesty Alert! I got this book for the title – my best beloved older sister actually has a farm called Skylark Farm so it would have been rude not too! There was no blurb when I downloaded it so I only had the cover to go on – it looks pretty twee but sometimes we all need a bit of escapism so I thought I’d give it a go! I found a blurb for it online later – here it is and with no big surprises…

“Amber is a city girl at heart. So when her boyfriend Jake Somerville suggests they move to the countryside to help out at his family farm, she doesn’t quite know how to react. But work has been hectic and she needs a break so she decides to grasp the opportunity and make the best of it. Dreaming of organic orchards, paddling in streams and frolicking in fields, Amber packs up her things and moves to Skylark Farm. But life is not quite how she imagined – it’s cold and dirty and the farm buildings are dilapidated and crumbling. But Amber is determined to make the best of it and throws herself into farm life. But can she really fit in here? And can she and Jake stay together when they are so different? A story of love in the countryside from the author of the bestselling The Cherry Tree Café. Perfect for Escape to the Country dreamers, Cath Kidston fans and Country Living addicts!”

Regular readers of this blog will no that this definitely isn’t my usual cup of tea, nonetheless I quite enjoyed this. The writing isn’t brilliant – but it’s also not awful. The characters are fairly two-dimensional (especially Jake) but they’re likeable at least. There’s also a little more tension than the average romance – not just “will they / won’t they”

It hasn’t converted me to the genre, (and my sister’s farm is better – it has goats!) but it gave me a bit of light relief in a week when I couldn’t believe how horrible the world had become.

3 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

18619684The infinitely wise Neil Gaiman once said that “picking five favourite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” My list of favourite books has been added to over time, novels which have influenced and shaped me have been added, whilst some I have re-read and found they no longer make the cut. However, this book will forever be in my top 5. Leave me on a desert island with only “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and I won’t complain. Well I will- but more about the general situation rather than the choice of reading material.

Henry first meets Clare when he is 28 and she is 20. She is a stranger to him, but knows his name, has met him before. She tells him they knew each other when they were children and Henry gets the feeling that his future is rushing to meet him.

Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 and he is 36. In a meadow outside her family home, Clare stumbles across a man who tells Clare that he is a time traveller and that they are friends in the future. Understandably dubious, Clare refuses to believe him, until he disappears in front of her eyes.

What follows is a beautifully unusual love story. Henry is indeed a time traveller, a Chrono-Displaced Person. At moments of stress he disappears, landing in past or present, unable to take anything with him, not even clothes and with no control over where he is going. For Clare, Henry has always been in her life. For Henry, he still has all those moments to come.

My hardback copy of this book is one of my most treasured possessions. I’ve bought friends the paperback version over the years to avoid the pain of having to lend mine out. I’ve read it numerous times, but am writing this review because I listened to it recently on audible. It’s been a few years since I read it last, but it is still as special as it ever was. The writing is beautiful, from the descriptions of Clare waiting for Henry in the meadow, to small sentences of daily life. Every word seems to have been chosen with great care.

The whole thing would fall apart if the characters weren’t just right. Written from the first person, alternating between narration by Clare and Henry, we are part of their world. They are flawed enough to not be boring, but likeable enough that time in their heads is not a chore. It’s easy to care for them and to fear for them.

I have never been able to read this book without tears, and I hope I never do. It’s a testament to how good this book is. A fitting tribute to Clare and Henry.

5 bites

PS- Don’t bother with the film. It’s massively disappointing.

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

9780349141077A.J. Fikry owns the only book shop on Alice Island and an extremely rare copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlane.

But neither of these is bringing him any joy since his wife died. Then one night, when he’s passed out drunk, Tamerlane is stolen.  Shortly after a baby is left in his shop with a note from the suicidal mother. A.J does the right thing and calls the police straight away, in a small place like Alice Island he sees the same officer he reported Tamerlane’s loss to. Before he knows it, and without quite knowing why,  A.J decides to adopt the baby and his life is turned inside out.

The story follows A.J and his daughter through her growing up in his bookshop – frankly for BookEaters like us this is a dream childhood! As the book spans so many years it could easily have lacked tension and become a little dull, but thereis a great cast of supporting characters and  several subplots within this that keep you turning the pages. It has a little romance, some family drama and of course the mystery of the missing copy of Tamerlane.

The writing is subtle, I barely noticed it. But for some stories that’s exactly what you need, it had enough strength and wit to carry the tale but it never pushed it out of the way to take centre-stage.

It’s not a life-changing read (except it might strengthen your dream to run away from it all and open your own bookshop on an island somewhere and if you then follow that dream it could be lifechanging!) But it is a very enjoyable read.

4 Bites

 

 

 

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

imageAnnie McDee is trying to get over her ex-husband, she met someone nice at an art gallery and against her better judgement she is cooking him dinner so he doesn’t have to spend his birthday alone. Whilst looking for a present for him she see’s an old painting in a dingy antique shop – she’s buys it on a whim not realising it is a missing masterpiece.

Before she knows what’s happening she is being swirled into the greedy, deceptive world of high art. But will Art seduce her or imprison her?

Newspaper reviews have called this ‘clever, funny, beguiling’ ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘totally delicious’. It’s also been shortlisted for The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. With all that you’d expect this book to be a cracker wouldn’t you? I did, hence me parting with my hard earned cash to get me a copy (okay so I used a book token in Waterstones and technically I only paid £6 for 4 books but that’s just nitpicking!)

So is it the worth my £1.50 and all those accolades? Honestly? No.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, definitely worth £1.50 … But all those accolades? Shortlisted for the Bailey’s prize? Absolutely not. But what’s worse is that it could have been far better. It just needs a really good edit. For a start the prologue needs to be cut – that was so bad I almost didn’t bother reading on, if you get this book then do yourself a favour and skip those 19 pages. It could also do with losing around another hundred pages. This story is told by far too many perspectives, although Hannah Rothschild is a talented character writer. Personally I would cull the ‘voice’ of the painting for a start. It adds no information of value and is quite frankly annoying.

There are some very appealing characters in here though, and the story is entertaining even if it’s a little farcical. There’s a little bit of everything in it, love, pathos, greed, poverty, riches beyond your wildest imaginings and the power of art. It’s been compared to Wodehouse which is maybe a little over-generous but it is amusing.

Overall I’d have to award it 3 Bites, it’s good, just not brilliant.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Elizabeth Peters; ‘Every year another dead body’

Elizabeth Peters was a pen name for Barbara Mertz. Mertz was a prolific author who wrote under three different names because her agent insisted that her reading public would be confused by her other style and genre. Barbara Mertz

As Elizabeth Peters she created a wonderful series of 19 novels around the adventures of fictional archaeologist Amelia Emerson nee Peabody and her unique family. Set in late Victorian times her heroine is cut from the same cloth as Emily Hobhouse (welfare campaigner for Boer women), Florence Nightingale and Emily Pankhurst – intrepid, intractable, intelligent and inquisitive.

The tales begin immediately following the death of her father  when, provided with a reasonable inheritance Miss Peabody sets forth on a trip through Europe to Egypt. Here she develops two passions; one for the history and archaeology of the ancient Pharaohs and the other for the obstreperous, bull headed, brilliant and irresistible Professor Radcliffe Emerson. Together they tunnel their way through one chaotic situation after another. Finding adventure isn’t the only thing that happens;  ‘every year another dead body’ becomes the standing joke as each season’s excavations in Egypt inevitably dig up more than pottery shards and mummies. Croc on sandbank

The books span a period of forty years and encompass many of the political and social changes of the time. Mertz was fascinated with Egyptology and studied it at University and beyond and her depth of knowledge and the love she had for the subject is clearly reflected in the characters. The books are much more than just adventure novels with a good dose of humour thrown in; they are very well crafted and skilfully written. Parasols and Egyptian cats, spies, unrequited love, treasures, politics, fashion and Sherlock Holmes are all part of the amazing tapestry into which the stories are woven . With the stories told mainly from Amelia’s perspective Peters manages to make her annoying, self-righteous, funny, lovable and self-deprecating all at once. When Peters introduces us to the child prodigy that is Ramses, only child of Emerson and Peabody,  I thought at first she had gone too far. The boy seemed to be the embodiment of the worst of both parents and at one point I couldn’t decide who I thought was the more obnoxious – Peabody or her young son! And yet how I laughed, in fact I nearly cried. The character developed and as Ramses grew and matured my heart swelled with motherly pride.

Many reviewers portray Peabody as a female Indiana Jones but I think that rather misses the mark. Instead of disregarding the social mores and limitations imposed upon women in that era she rises above them with aplomb. She uses her wits, her charm and her deep understanding of social behaviours to achieve her ends. She is an astute observer of others but is as often wrong in the conclusions she draws as she is right! Dignified and determined she maintains both her standards and her expectations of others, regardless of whatever adventure she finds herself in. I often think that Dame Maggie Smith and Amelia Peabody would have had a lot in common.

My husband recently had an operation and I introduced him to these while he was recuperating, he loves them. I picked up one just to refresh my memory and ended up reading my way through the whole series again in a month, resulting in serious book hangovers at work….If you long for something refreshing, engrossing, light hearted and yet well crafted pick up the first one in the series “Crocodile On The Sandbank” – just don’t blame me when you end up reading all 19 in a row. And if, when you have finished them, you can distill the qualities that make me so addicted to them, you’ll be as good at ratiocination as Amelia!

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Please note- In order to be honest in this review, I have had to include spoilers for both this book and the original Pride and Prejudice.

PPZI should have known better, I really should. I was swayed by slick marketing and the greatness that is Matt Smith.

Having previously read the first couple of chapters of P&P&Z in a book shop, I had safely pigeon-holed it in my head as probably a fairly amusing book but not really my cup of tea. I put it back on the shelf and toddled along on my merry way, a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice tucked under my arm.

Several years later, the first trailers for the film version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hit the internet and they looked brilliant! Ridiculous and silly but entertaining- I was looking forward to seeing it in a strangely excited way.
To tide me over until release day, I bought the book .

It’s a fairly straight forward premise- Imagine that England has been struck by a zombie virus which gives the stricken a never-ending hunger for human brains. The Bennett sisters are trained by their father and Shaolin monks to be super duper zombie killing machines and are commissioned by the king to keep Hertfordshire as zombie free as possible. Mr Darcy is an accomplished zombie killer himself who accompanies Mr Bingley (who would prefer a more peaceful and scientific solution) to Netherfield. Then Pride and Prejudice happens

All the characters are there; all the Bennetts, the Bingley sisters, Lady Catherine (a famous and respected zombie hunter herself), Wickham, Mr Collins, Charlotte, Mr and Mrs Gardiner. The basic story is identical, the sub-plots are largely the same,and the dialogue is only slightly altered.

So what did I think?
Initially, as before, I was amused. The weaving in of the zombie story was pretty good, some of the changes were really very funny, and of course, there was Jane Austen’s brilliance to fall back on in moments of weakness. As I commented to BookEater Kelly “Most of the credit is still going to Jane Austen but I’m excessively diverted“.

But this didn’t last long. After a couple of chapters, the niggly annoyances set in. The throwaway comments that had my nose wrinkling in disgust, the changes in characterisaton that were just unnecessary, the casual references to self harm being a thing of honour, the gratuitous non-zombie related violence . I could actually go on but I want to keep this review to a readable length!

There were some elements obviously designed to inject more humour that just fell flat- Mr Bennett’s extra-marital affairs, Mrs Gardiner’s extra-marital affairs (whilst her husband was around with a Polish man named Sylak… what?), Mary’s emergence into society as a euphemism for getting it on with multiple men.

The gratuitous non-parody violence- Any affront to Elizabeth’s honour is met with threats of murder and the drinking of blood from the necks of those who have insulted her (ewww), she self- harms as a way of showing her shame at having prejudged Darcy, and she brutally murders several of Lady Catherine’s ninjas to make a point. It isn’t just Elizabeth’s violence- Wickham ends up completely paralysed and incapable of controlling his bowels at the hands of Darcy. It was all over the top and unnecessary. And yes, I get that it’s parody and I get that it’s supposed to be funny. But it wasn’t funny. It was stupid. It wasn’t serving the story.

And I’m sorry to include spoilers but I have to get something off my chest.
Mr Collins is not a likable character in Pride and Prejudice but he has a definite characterisation that fits his role within the book and he is consistent. In P&P&Z, his character is changed beyond all recognition! Charlotte has become one of the stricken and is choosing to hide this so she can marry Mr Collins and have some months of happiness. Mr Collins marries Charlotte for all the same reasons as Jane Austen had. When Charlotte is eventually discovered and beheaded by her husband, he writes to Mr Bennett that he is now off to hang himself from a tree. WHAT???!!
1. She is slowly becoming a zombie over several months and NOBODY notices (Except Elizabeth who has been sworn to secrecy)? The excuse that Lady Catherine was experimenting on her doesn’t hold up at all…
2. Mr Collins is so distraught that he hangs himself??? What? I’m sorry but that totally negates the idea of Charlotte and Mr Collins’ marriage being a marriage of convenience rather than love. And goes against every element of his character. He’s so self-involved that there is no way that this would be the outcome.

This review may have slightly gotten away from me (although there are many more things I could say!) but I think my views are clear. I wouldn’t even having finished reading if it hadn’t have been for the fact that so much of Jane Austen’s story was still present.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is unnecessary. Stay well away.

1 bite for the initial diversion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

RBWRWhat could be better than settling down on a cold grey January day and reading a lighthearted, fluffy romance novel?
Settling down on a cold grey January day and reading a lighthearted, fluffy romance novel ABOUT BOOKS of course!

The book opens with Sara, a 28 year old book shop assistant from Sweden, arriving in the small town of Broken Wheel in Iowa. She has left Sweden for the first time ever to visit Amy, an elderly resident of Broken Wheel, with whom she has developed a close pen pal relationship based around their mutual love of books. She has high hopes for the visit and is therefore stopped in her tracks somewhat when, upon arriving at Amy’s house, she walks in to Amy’s wake. Unsure of what to do, Sara accepts the townspeople’s offer to stay as it ‘was what Amy wanted’.
The more time she spends there, the more the kindness of the townspeople bothers her- she never has to pay for food, they have hired someone to drive her around etc. She is also bothered by the fact that Amy seems to have been the only person in town to have ever even cracked open a book!
She eventually comes up with the plan of opening a town bookshop with Amy’s vast book collection, with the proceeds going to the town. Sara prides herself on finding the right book for everyone, finding that one ‘gateway’ book that will open the doors to a reading journey for everyone. These journeys not only change the town but also Sara herself.

This was a very enjoyable fluffy book. It was not making any attempt to be high literature and was perfectly content to have a slightly ridiculous plot, slightly predictable characters, and a fairly obvious romance. And this was fine, the focus was never really on the plot or the characters or the romance, it was always on Amy and Sara’s love of books and how that love of books helps them to relate to people. The whole story is an ode to the power of books to heal, to connect, to enlighten, to educate, to delight, to shock, and to transform. As a Book Eater, this is a message I can absolutely relate to! I spent a fair portion of the book eagerly adding Sara and Amy’s recommendations to my TBR list and found myself on several occasions wondering what books I would choose for the characters!

If I didn’t have such a love of books, would I have enjoyed it quite so much? Perhaps not. The characters were predictable and generally two dimensional (the exception being the Amy we get to know through the flashback letters), the plot really was a bit ridiculous and the book itself was somewhat overlong. I wonder if it has lost something in the translation from Swedish.

3 bites for The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

 

I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in return for an honest review- all opinions are entirely my own

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

P&PPride and Prejudice is a Classic (note the capital ‘c’), there is no doubt about that. It appears on countless ‘Must Read’ and ‘Top 10/50/100’ lists, has had numerous film and tv adaptations made, literary analysis coming out of its ears, and even a graphic novel!
There are parodies, homages, sequels, prequels, inspired bys, and fanfiction galore! I’m particularly looking forward to the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies….

None of these things, however, give an indication of whether Pride and Prejudice is actually any good. After all, there are TV adaptations of War and Peace, another ‘Classic’, and I found that book so dull it made me want to cry. In fact, I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice for many years because of its ‘Classic’ status (seriously, War and Peace was a total Classic downer). But one day, on one of my periodic ‘I will stop reading lame books’, I picked it up and didn’t look back.

Pride and Prejudice follows the fate of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, second eldest of the five Bennet sisters, as she navigates fulfilling societal and familial expectations of a marriage for money and following her own principles of a marriage for love. Her sisters’ fates are also explored and the themes of overcoming pride and prejudice, class structure, love and marriage, and manners and morality are addressed through their stories and the stories of the characters linked to them.

The Bennets live in a small village called Longbourn. They are gentry but not particularly wealthy or important in society. The estate is entailed upon a more distant male relative and so in order to secure the future of the family, the Bennet girls must marry well (i.e. into money). When Mr Bingley, a man of more consequence, moves into a nearby estate, Netherfield, he takes a fancy to the eldest Miss Benntt, Jane. His wealthy and grumpy friend Mr Darcy is staying with him but is not as disposed to think well of the Bennet girls.

The characters are richly drawn and each fulfills an important role in illustrating the points that Austen is making. There are no superfluous characters although some can be somewhat one dimensional. Elizabeth Bennet is perhaps my favourite character which is perhaps unsurprising- she does after all appear on my list of favourite literary heroines but I find something to like about almost every character that Austen writes (even if it is that they are unlikeable!)
The story is well paced and tightly plotted, dialogue and exposition perfectly balanced and geared towards driving the story forward. And, you know, it’s one of the world’s greatest love stories so I’m always keen to see it reach its conclusion!
There is so much in Pride and Prejudice that I would think it very difficult to get bored of reading it. The social commentary and literary analysis that I’ve looked at has increased my enjoyment of the book and each time I read it I find something new.

Pride and Prejudice is fabulous. I love it. It’s my favourite book. I know I say that quite a lot about many different books, but this one really is. I could, and do, read it over and over. I own three different copies (ebook, ‘clean hands’, and everyday) and will read at least a couple of chapters on every train journey. It’s my go to literary palate cleanser, it’s my emergency ‘I’ve gone off reading’ solution, it’s guaranteed to make me smile.

So it almost goes without saying that this is a 5 biter from me today!

P.S Click here… and you’re welcome!

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

image“Word (wurd)

noun

1 A human relic, now obsolete.

2 archaic A discrete unit of meaning that when synthesised with other such units may make a small scratch in the skin of time.”

In a parallel New York books, libraries, and newspapers have already become historical items. Much as in our own world, most communication and entertainment is streamed to handheld devices known as Memes.  These devices are smart enough to dial the doctor before we know we’re sick, or prompt us with words we can’t recall. Of course not quite everyone is in thrall to them, Anana has endured numerous lectures from her father -the chief editor of what is going to be the last ever edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language.

Then, just days before her father’s dictionary  is due to be released, he vanishes.

Anana, having recently been dumped by the popular and successful Max, turns to her bookish colleague Bart  to help. Soon they are embroiled in a bizarre mystery but can the find the answers they need before they, and the rest of North America, succumb to the growing “word flu” pandemic.

Ok, you all know I’m a book fiend! I devour them so quickly I should have a permanent case of book indigestion so I found the thought of ‘word flu’ fascinating. But I’m also a bit of a device fiend! I’m rarely seen without my phone or iPad near me even if I’m not using them. So I was also a little hesitant to start this, I was listening to the AudioBook version (on my phone of course!) and I was a bit worried it might turn into a 16 hour lecture on the perils of modern technology!

I was hooked by this though. It is clever, really clever, but at the same time it’s full of human foibles, unrequited love, complicated family relationships, sinister conspiracies, clumsy get rich quick schemes, scholarly superheroes, city life, nicknames and everything else the human condition entails. I found myself listening to it at every available opportunity.

It’s written for the young adult market, and I’d definitely recommend it for over 13’s, but it’s another one that bursts right out of that genre and can easily take a  place at the table next to any thriller.

Sink your teeth into it. You won’t regret it!

5 bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

CoFThis 1990 book from prolific and beloved author the late Maeve Binchy is one of her most popular books and has even been made into a film starring Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell. The film’s rubbish but that’s no fault of Binchy’s source material and was in fact significantly changed in some places.

It tells the story of Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, two young girls who grow up in the small Irish town of Knockglen. Knockglen is a sleepy town not far from Dublin and, although Benny and Eve come from very different backgrounds, together they can cope with the trials and tribulations of growing up in Knockglen.

Benny is the only child, and a very pampered one, of the town’s men’s outfitters and Eve is the orphan girl brought up in the local convent, rejected by her wealthy family. They could not have more different starts in life but they are inseparable and utterly loyal to each other. This loyalty serves them well when they hit 18 and begin trying to forge their paths in life. Benny is struggling to feel like a normal girl going to university in Dublin in the face of her parents’ over protectiveness and Eve is struggling to enter university and live the life she wants and not the life her relatives have left her to.

The girls meet several people whilst in Dublin- the beautiful and self-confident Nan Mahon, the handsome and popular Jack Foley, and the funny and irrepressible Aidan Lynch. All these characters are on a journey to discover who they are and what they want to be.

I really enjoy Circle of Friends. It’s one of those winter afternoon books, curled up with a cup of tea and some Hob Nobs. Or Digestives. Or chocolate chip cookies. Or… never mind, I digress!

I don’t think anyone expects this book to be high literature, but that isn’t why people read this book.

The cast of characters is large and mainly well drawn. There is a tendency for the ‘evil’ characters to be one dimensional but generally they are very realistic.
The story has good pace, and is enjoyable and entertaining. There are some moments where I think ‘that wouldn’t happen’ but then I have to remember that I’m looking at some of the issues from a more modern perspective.

3 bites from me- it’s enjoyable stuff, nothing too serious!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Pursuit of Happiness by Douglas Kennedy

imageIt’s the early 2000’s and Kate Malone is burying her mother. Their relationship had always been tumultuous. Dorothy Malone married her one night stand after the war when she discovered she was pregnant. Her husband Jack had died young leaving her penniless and with two small children. Kate never really understood her mother, but in the days following her funeral she is contacted by an elderly woman called Sara Smythe. Sara tells her she has been keeping an eye on Kate all her life and is able to explain exactly why her mother was so difficult to comprehend.

On the night before Thanksgiving in 1945, Sara Smythe is at a party thrown by her playwright brother Eric. In a classic “across the room” moment she catches the gaze of army journalist Jack Malone, an act which will determine the path of the rest of her life. Sara and Jack have one incredible night before he is shipped back overseas to cover the clean up operation in Europe for Stars and Stripes. They promise they will keep in touch, but Jack never writes back.

Plunged into depression, Sara tries to continue with her life as a writer. She meets George Grey, sweet, kind and under the thumb of his mother. When Sara discovers she is pregnant with George’s baby they are forced to marry despite the fact that they aren’t really in love. Jack remains the Don Giovanni to George’s Don Ottavio and she is never really able to forget him.

It is easy to think at first glance that this is a sickly sweet romance, but it is more than that. It is set against the background of a changing time for America in the years following the end of the Second World War. The witch hunting of McCarthy and Hoover in the 1950’s and the House of UnAmerican Activities is bought painfully to life. It is a book about the choices we make and how we must live with them, whatever the consequences.

None of the characters are perfect. For the most part Douglas Kennedy writes good female characters, although I did want to give Sara a slap at one point and tell her she needed to get over Jack. They can be selfish and cruel, they make questionable decisions, but they are also living within the limitations of their period of history.

This book has stayed with me long after I read it. It is romantic and it is sad. It’s not a classic, but a story I really enjoyed it.

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Waiting For Doggo by Mark Mills

image“Dan loves Clara, so much that he’s happy for her to adopt the ugliest dog in the world. But when she leaves him just a few weeks later his first thought is to take Doggo back to Battersea Dog’s Home. Even though he hasn’t been working he doesn’t feel like he’s bonded with the dog at all.

When he finds out that Clara had agreed to have him neutered and they won’t accept him back until he’s had the operation, he decides he can’t do that. Maybe he’s feeling a little emasculated?

Before he knows what’s happening he’s had a fantastic job offer and Doggo soon becomes the company’s mascot. Can he help him win his new colleagues heart too?

This is my first time reading the male equivalent of ‘Chick Lit’, in fact I had to google it to see if there was a catchy little moniker for it. Until recently, being written by a man and having a male protagonist, would have been enough to make this ‘contemporary fiction’, but this book really is chick lit for men. Apparently things are starting to even up in the world of literature and those in the know are experimenting with both ‘Lad Lit’ and ‘Dick Lit’ – let me know which you prefer!

Obviously this being ‘Lad Lit’ doesn’t make it better or worse than ‘contemporary fiction’. It might be less likely to win awards or be an ‘important book’ but giving enjoyment is just as valid as anything else. This is an enjoyable book. The main character isn’t perfect but he isn’t bad either, the supporting characters are all very human too – except for Doggo who is of course wonderful! There is the obligatory ‘friends wedding’ scene and the message that substance is more important than style comes through fairly well. It would have been stronger if both Dan’s ex and his new love interest hadn’t been stunningly beautiful though!

Still, it’s a step above a McDonald’s, maybe closer to a cheeky Nando’s?!

3 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.