Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson

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The blurb for this book is brilliant so instead of trying to create a new and more accurate one for you as I usually do I’m just going to let you read the original…

Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past – with fatal consequences.

In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. And murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.” 

I had this on my kindle for an age before I finally got round to reading it. I’m not sure why exactly but I had a strong feeling Id enjoy it and I just wanted to wait until the ‘right’ time to read it! When I finally did start it I was both annoyed at myself for waiting so long and also a little bit smug that I still had it there to read.

As gothic mysteries go this is close to perfect. The writing is erudite and laced with regret, the villain so evil that reproach slides off him like slime down a sewer and the settings are darkened with soot and scented by sewers. The main characters are complex and all seem to have shameful secrets clipping their wings.

Yet even with it being as gothic mystery as a gothic mystery could be, it is not cliched. There is sympathy and understanding for the other characters and a sense of realism that makes the reader believe this could really have happened. It’s a very visual book too and would make a great film to watch in the autumn or winter with a crackling fire and a hot chocolate with a nip or two of something stronger in it!

Treat yourself!

Four 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 Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

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Click here to order from Waterstones

Thaniel Steepleton is getting by rather than living. His job as a telegraphist at the Home Office earns him just enough to support his widowed sister but not enough for him to afford to pursue his love of music. Then one day he returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. It isnt a birthday present from his sister but unfortunately he has no time to investigate further as a credible bomb threat has just come through.

When the watch saves Thaniel’s life in the threatened blast, he starts to investigate where it came from. His search leads him to its maker, Keita Mori – a gentle Japanese man whose seductive world of clockwork and music entrances him. Meanwhile, Grace Carrow will soon be making her entrance into his life but meanwhile she is sneaking into an Oxford library dressed as a man. A theoretical physicist, she is desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry.

This blend of historical fiction and fantasy creates an enchanting steampunk-esque thriller. A character that can remember the future, one that can see sounds, the aforemantioned theoretical physicist, plus detectives from Scotland Yard, Japanese ambassadors, Irish nationalists and cameo appearances from Gilbert and Sullivan show what a talented writer Natasha Pulley is. Each character is utterly believable even if they barely grace the page.

The plot is intriguing but the author also adds in magical details like a clockwork Octopus with a penchant for stealing socks so there is never a dull moment. But these details are never just gratuitous. I can’t say any more than that or I’ll be guilty of spoilers!

One of the things that really sets this book aside though is the attention to sentence structure. That might sound like a very dry thing to say but when a book contains so many teeny tiny nibbles of pure bliss then the dish as a whole is definitely going to be tasty!

If you want some well-crafted escapism pick this up!

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.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

imageIn Everfair Nisi Shawl has taken the real and horrific events of King Loepold’s colonisation of the Congo and spun them through the prism of ‘what if’.

She came up with an alternate history with overtones of steampunk. In this history the native population gained access to steam technology including Dirigibles by way of the Fabian Society. Their allies have also purchased land from Leopold and set up the state of  Everfair; a safe haven for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated. Together they fight back against Leopold’s disgusting murderous excesses to protect the land of Everfair.

That concept, that cover – I was sold. Then when I found out I’d be able to review this for Black History Month I was over the moon- I couldn’t wait to read it and share a glowing review stressing that black authors could write in any damn genre they wanted and do it well.

They can of course, but sadly this wasn’t the book to prove that. I just couldn’t get into it and I ended up putting it down twice and picking up other books before finally putting it down and giving up on it before I was half way through.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what was wrong with it, if indeed the fault was in the book not in me. I think in the end it came down to two things, the structure of the book wasn’t great – it should maybe have started later in the story and flashbacked more to establish characters motives etc. The other thing was that there were quite a lot of characters and I got confused between them – particularly the white characters so I was then unsure about motives and whether a particular character would do a certain thing only to eventually figure out I wasn’t reading about who I thought I was reading about!

Even though I didn’t finish this I don’t want to rate it too low. I have a feeling that if I pick it up again in another 6 months and have another bash at it I might finally get it and love it.

So for now – 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.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

imageThe next huge YA crossover book! Those adults that loved Philip Pullman’s writing and JK Rowling’s world creation will love this.

It opens with a quote from Dickens’s Dombey and Son: “Those who study the physical sciences, and bring them to bear upon the health of man, tell us that if the noxious particles that rise from vitiated air, were palpable to the sight, we should see them lowering in a dense black cloud above such haunts, and rolling slowly on to corrupt the better portions of a town. But if the moral pestilence that rises with them could be made discernible too, how terrible the revelation!”

This book, set in an alternative Victorian England takes that premise seriously. Here sin appears as smoke on the body and soot on the clothes. Children smoke furiously from birth and the ruling elite are sent to boarding school to learn to control their desires and contain their sin. They are spotless.

Thomas and Charlie attend such a school in Oxfordshire but then on a trip to London, a forbidden city shrouded in smoke and darkness, they witness an event that makes them question everything they have been told. There is more to the world of smoke, soot and ash than meets the eye and it seems there are those who will stop at nothing to protect it.

There are a lot of great Young Adult stories and many older adults read them too (you’re only as old as the books you read? 😉). But few of them have writing as good as this.  For the first few chapters I found myself stopping and re-reading many sentences, smiling to myself at the simple joy of language used well. But then I became too engrossed in the story and then the damn book went and finished!

I utterly recommend this, it’s got it all, plot, characters, ideas, adventure, love, passion and a great villain!

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.

The Wolf In The Attic by Paul Kearney

imageAnna Francis is almost 12, when she was younger she had a mother and a brother as well as her father. They all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world. Now it is 1929, her mother and brother are dead. She and her father live in a tall old house in Oxford and she just has her doll for company.

She sees a fight that ends in a murder, then she stumbles across a community of gypsies. One of their number guides her home but before long she finds herself searching for the gypsy community again. Looking for a new home and protection from an ancient evil that seems to be following her.

If you enjoy Philip Pullman’s writing there’s a damn good chance you’ll enjoy this. I was a little unsure at the very beginning – Anna’s voice seemed a little young to me and althouth this is a young adult book I worried it might be pitched a little younger than I had thought. That wouldn’t have made it a bad book by any means, but it would have made it a little less enjoyable for me!

But Anna’s voice, and the author’s writing settles into a richer, moe mature voice quite early and from then on I was hooked. The atmosphere of the setting is pervasive and the characters are magnetic. I would have read it in one sitting if I could, as it was I read it in two!

It’s not quite as masterfull as Philip Pullman, but well worth a read and I’ll be looking out for his next book! It would also translate well to screen – I can see it having a gorgeous steampunk styling!

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.

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin “The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel of the Silk Age. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Thomas Senlin, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, is drawn to the Tower by scientific curiosity and the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The luxurious Baths of the Tower seem an ideal destination for a honeymoon, but, soon after arriving, Senlin loses his wife Marya in the crowd.

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.”

This is the author’s description of Josiah Bancroft’s debut novel Senlin Ascends, first in The Books of Babel series. I was a little sceptical of my chances of enjoying this book to be honest. Although the description intrigued me, the cover was a tad off-putting and I really wasn’t sure that I’d like it. Oh, how wrong I was!

Senlin’s character growth over the course of this book was one of the main enjoyments of this book but was certainly not the only one. A steampunk ish, fantasy ish, Victorian ish adventure novel, this book has some epic world building going on. The Tower of Babel is a gargantuan creation and full of mystery, suspense and well-fleshed out characters. They have back stories of their own, distinct voices and a genuinely purposeful place in the storyline. It’s not all easy reading, and Bancroft takes the story to some dark places at times.

I don’t really want to say too much about this book for fear of spoiling the sheer delight of reading it for the first time for any of you that choose to add this to your TBR list. Suffice to say taht this book is well-written, well-edited (not all that common in the world of self-publishing) and thoroughly enjoyable. Not quite un-put-down-able but not far off!

4 bites!

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 Buried Man by Timothy Howard

TheBuriedMan
Click to buy from Amazon
The Buried Man isn’t resting in peace. In fact he’s just dug himself out of his own grave!

But he has a hole where his heart was  and no recollection of his life.  Luckily, a team of necromancer hunters calling themselves the Deadlanders are on hand to help him through this tricky time. Before he has time to catch his breath (not that he needs to breathe these days) he is infiltrating a dark cult whilst at the same time trying to piece his memory back together. Which will be more horrifying?

I’m happy to admit that I read this because I know the author. I didn’t get a free copy, I happily paid the 99p it cost out of my own pocket as I’ve had the pleasure of Tim’s company at the writing group I attend for quite a while now and I knew he had a great voice an an interesting view on life.

This book proved me right. It’s a great little story, with plenty of action, a splash of dark humour and fair characterisations. If you like Terry Pratchett this will be right up your alley. It is a quick read, more of a novella than a novel, but it is the first in the series so there will be more to enjoy.

The only problem with this book is the grammar. Somehow Tim has managed to use even more comma’s than I could. I’m hoping that before this review goes out I can persuade him to edit it again, but if not it is still perfectly readable so don’t let that put you off.

3 Bites for this tasty little morsel!

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 Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd

Click this link to order from Amazon, or why not request it from your local independent bookshop?
Click this link to order from Amazon, or why not request it from your local independent bookshop?
There is no tale spookier or more iconic than Bram Stokers Dracula. So it takes a writer of extraordinary valour to sink their teeth into and suck the blood of it into a new tale, leaving the bones crumpled and crumbling behind.

That is exactly what Lynn Shepherd has done. The novel is set in 1851, private detective Charles Maddox has been asked to travel to a remote castle in Austria to verify the credentials of a Baron wishing to donate a large sum to the Bodleian Library.

Although the castle is dark with twisted shadows, Baron VonReisenberg is welcoming and to begin with, flatters Maddox’s intelligence. He shows off his museum of his own scientific experiments as he says that a man with a mind as scientific as Maddox will appreciate it.

But the locals do not appreciate the Baron’s experiments. Their superstitious natures make them suspect him of being one of the Strigoi, the undead. Suspicions strengthened by the recent discovery of a local girl’s corpse at the base of the tower’s walls.

Maddox soon discovers that the Baron indeed has secrets. He stumbles across a room filled with terrifying waxwork models of young women, disembowelled, dismembered and desecrated.The Baron is angered by this intrusion and takes caustic steps to rid himself of this prying nuisance.

Here the story is interrupted by that of Lucy, the daughter of an illusionist, told in the form of her journal entries. Lucy is suffering from a strange illness that seems to have been caused by her part in their Phantasmagoria show. Her father has heard of the Baron’s experiments into sleepwalking and similar maladies and invites him to treat her.

Then a sequential killer with a uniquely brutal MO, starts stalking the streets of London, and Maddox finds himself drawn into the investigation. While London starts to panic about a Vampire on the loose he can’t help but notice that the bodies replicate the horrors he saw in Von Reisenberg’s castle…

This book is incredibly compelling. You’ll often hear that a book is ‘unputdownable’ when the writer has done their job well and keeps the tension high throughout. In this case the tension was so high I needed to put the book down regularly! Just for a minute or two at a time, but I found myself both in need of a quick break to let my heart rate slow a little! Truth be told I also noticed I was galloping through it and I had that terrible paradox of wanting to get to the end and find out what happened but also wanting to prolong the pleasure of reading as long as possible!

I do have to tell you that this is not a straightforward vampire story. This is a very clever reconstruction of the genre and stirs a little steampunk spice into this Victorian Goulash. The description of the Great Exhibition is wonderful and the ages obsession with being ‘men of science’ is exploited beautifully to give ue the twist in the tale.

If this had any flaws it was that to begin with I was confused by the voice it was told in. Tenses slipped and the narrator was maybe a little too omniscient. But then just before the end of the first page something clicked with me, it reads like a story being told out loud. Suddenly the storyteller was a character in her own right, sitting in front of me and conjuring the scenes inside for my enthrallment. Once that happened I found it a very comfortable read until it switched to Lucy’s journal entries. Lucy’s voice was also captivating, but there were moments between the two that jarred me a little.

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.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere
Click the picture to buy this from Amazon. Or have a good browse around your local independent bookshop – it may be there and it’ll be a lot more fun!
A dark tale of self-sacrifice and heroism, Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, a Scotsman in London whose rather ordinary life is turned upside down, inside out, and back to front as a result of a moment of kindness. After rescuing a raggedy injured mysterious girl named Door from mysterious assassins, his dull existence in London Above (the London we know) is erased and he is forced to enter London Below (the London we really really don’t know) to track down Door and search for a way to restore his life. Door, however, has her own problems- namely the brutal massacre of her entire family to avenge…

In Neverwhere’s London Below, Gaiman creates an eerie, more literal, otherworldliness to the London that we know and love/hate*.

(*delete as applicable)

Of course there is an Earl in Earl’s Court, and why wouldn’t there be an Angel called Islington? Shepherds in Shepherd’s Bush? Yep, but you wouldn’t want to meet them! Knightsbridge? I think you’ll find that’s Night’s Bridge and it’s freaking scary!

Richard’s journey through the mysterious underside of London is littered with references to tube stations, notable landmarks and historical references which helps to create a well fleshed out and rounded world. There is a richness to the writing and Gaiman’s imagination creates bizarre alternatives to our London that actually seem really quite plausible and reasonable! Character actions are rooted in human feelings and motivations and you can’t help but see echoes of people you know in the central characters.

Aspects of London Below are creepy, terrifying and slightly nauseating (Yes Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar, I’m referring to you) and the inhabitants- the people who fell through the cracks in London Above- are of such variety and depth that this world is brought to life by Gaiman’s expressive and believable prose. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty sure this is actually a non-fiction biography of Richard Mayhew…

Neverwhere started life as a 1996 BBC series and was my first introduction to Neil Gaiman- Thank you BBC!- but I can safely say that, as with so many books/TV series/films, the book is better than its more visual counterpart. So much better that I hadn’t realised the TV series had come first until checking facts for this review!

I adore Neverwhere. It has captured my heart and soul, and I will admit to spending my infrequent trips on the London Underground creating London Below scenarios in my head.  And I’m sorry but I’m not sorry for it!

Read this book. Trust me.

5 bites

 

 

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.