The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

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.

Goblin by Ever Dundas

IMG_2576Goblin is just a young child when an World War 2 begins. Her mother doesn’t like her so she leads a semi-feral life with a gang of young children amidst the craters of London’s Blitz. She only goes home to eat and sleep, to help her father fix things for their neighbours, and to dream dreams of becoming a pirate with her older brother. He’s almost old enough to sign up but he’s got no plans to, explaining to her what a conscientious objector is. Then he doesn’t come home and she is evacuated and her letters to him go unanswered. Freed from London and living near the coast unfetters her imagination and she takes refuge in a self-constructed but magical imaginary world.

In 2011, Goblin is an eccentric and secretive old lady. She volunteers at the local library and helps outcasts and animals when she can. But then some old photos are found showing the pet cemetary reminding the country of one of the great shames of the war – when we slaughtered our pets to protect them from a German invasion and torture. But one photo shows Goblin and an even greater atrocity. She is forced to return to a London that is once again burning and face her past. Will she have the strength to reveal the truth or will it drive her over the edge to insanity?

This is the kind of book that will appeal to fans of a variety of different fiction. At its heart is a mystery wrapped in the gruesome darkness of war. But it also has elements of gothic fantasy, fascinating oddball characters, a coming of age story and love and redemption. Trying to cram this much into one book could be confusing but in this case it adds to the mystery. Goblin herself is weird and wonderful both as a child and as an old woman. She has heart and sass in equal measures and though she can be sharp and grumpy her honesty is appealing, even whilst she keeps so much hidden.

This is a book I’ll be re-reading!

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.

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

cover96034-mediumIn one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Mexico, just twenty metres beyond the border with America, lives Faustino. A desperate orphan who’s just made a big mistake. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding for a gang he wanted to escape from. Now he and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead.

He’s praying to Saint Death – the beautiful and terrifying goddess who demands absolute loyalty and promises little but a chance in return.

This is children’s literature unlike any I’ve ever read (embarrassingly I’ve no real excuse for reading as many kids / young adult books as I do!) It is aimed at older children, a mature eleven or twelve year old could read it but generally over 13’s. However this is 100% suitable for adults.

It is brash and brutal. And brilliant. There’s nothing I can fault about it at all, the storyline is terrific, the characters utterly believable and their dilemmas beautifully poignant, and the writing is clear and expressive.

What I love about reading books for young adults and children is their honesty. Children have a thirst for the truth, they don’t seem to want to deny the horrors and mistakes in the world the same way that adults do, maybe because they don’t bear the burden of blame for any of it. This is one of those books, a truth-telling book. It peels back the stereotypes of fiesta Mexico – Mariachi bands, Cinque de Mayo,Burritos, Pinantas and the Mexican Wave, and shows the pitiable lives of those living in poverty. But more than that, it shows their humanity.

It isn’t a long book, perfect packing wise for a holiday read. Forget the scandi noir this summer holiday and take this.

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.

Blackout by Marc Elsberg

 

Click for Waterstones
Click for Waterstones

I found this thriller totally plausible, shockingly relevant and very frightening – my sensitivity to the scenarios being somewhat enhanced by waking up that same day to find much of the world experiencing a cyber-attack – spread through the use of the WannaCry ransomware. So severe was the problem that the UK convened a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee as 48 out of 248 NHS trusts in England and organisations across nearly 100 countries found themselves under attack.

The premise of the book is that society throughout the developed world is totally dependent on energy, not just for the light in our homes or the fuel in our car but for everything. Food distribution, water pumping, sewage drainage, removal of dead bodies and of course medical needs are the top of the priority list for most of us – but without energy in the form of electricity everything stops. The plot is simple. A small group of disillusioned techie experts launch a cyber-attack designed to bring down the energy generating and distribution systems across Europe and America. They want to change the political face of the developed world and what better way to disrupt society, create panic and ultimately trigger a public uprising against the established order can there be? What is terrifying is the speed with which their anticipated outcomes start to happen. Within 24 hours there is general disorganisation and mild panic, 24 hours later there are food shortages, within a week price extortionists are selling basic food stuffs for hundreds of times their value. The combination of hunger and thirst, the lack of medicines, no drainage, no communication networks and, before you know it, society is on the verge of collapse. To add to the confusion the hackers have made full use of inadequate security and corporate dependency on phones and emails, to ensure they can monitor and misdirect the Interagency attempts to control the disaster.

The hero, Manzano, is a mature Italian exhacker with principles and a curious nature. He is ably supported by an indefatigable young American reporter named Lauren Shannon and the well-connected Sophia Angstrom who works in EUMIC, the pan European organisation for communications and aid coordination in the event of catastrophe (you understand why they shortened it to EUMIC!). As always those who are on the outside of such organisations in times of crisis can be seen by the authorities to be a source of the trouble and poor Manzano quickly finds that his initial contribution to a solution draws down attention that is less than welcome. The story also follows a couple of characters as they wrestle with the difficulty of wanting to keep their family safe but they have no way of knowing whether their decisions will achieve what they hope. The action zigzags around the various emergency control centres across Europe that are working day and night to resolve the crisis as security analysts, engineers, investigators and police co-ordinate their efforts.The characterisations are adequate for the story and at no point does Elsberg make it overly dramatic – which works in its favour.

The book is a gripping read. Fast paced and extremely well researched; and it is this research that sets it apart from the usual disaster / breakdown of society type films. (I am not a techie person but I was quite fascinated by why the power plants couldn’t just be started up again). This book isn’t just a bit of light escapism unlike a Dan Brown novel, instead it is thought provoking and makes for uncomfortable reading. The moment I finished it I passed it to my husband to read and he experienced a similar response. I was really unsure quite how to rate this book but have given it 4 bites for its sheer plausibility.

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.

He, She and It by Marge Piercy

he-she-itI was thrilled to discover Marge Pierce when Woman on the Edge of Time was recently re-issued. I loved it (read more here) so when I saw that Ebury was re-publishing Body of Glass as He, She and It I jumped at the chance of getting a review copy!
This is another dystopian novel, originally published in 1993 it is once again a little scary how many of the things predicted in this already exist. Marge Pierce was clearly keeping on top of the latest tech when she wrote this!

She writes about the middle of the twenty-first century. Life has changed dramatically after climate change and a two week war that utilised nuclear weapons. The population is much smaller and concentrated mainly in a few domed hubs. But some things don’t change and Shira Shipman is a young woman whose marriage has broken up, on top of that her young son has been awarded to her ex-husband by the corporation that runs her zone. Despairing she has returned to her grandmother’s house in Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There she is employed to work on socialising a cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions – and the ability to kill.

This is quite a different book from Woman on the Edge of Time, in some ways it’s a mirror image of it. Here the whole book is set in the future but there is reference to the distant past through a story told to the cyborg, whereas the other book has a woman travelling from now to the future. The futures are also mirrored – this is truly a dystopian vision whereas the other was utopian. But what doesn’t change is the quality of writing which creates an envelope around you so you feel completely immersed in the world.

Although this is a deeply moral tale, asking us to question what makes us human and how we treat others, it is also a cracking good story! Full of tension, corporate intrigue, blackmail, badass modified humans, bombs, and of course a mother desperate to be reunited with her toddler son.
Back when it was first released it won the Arthur C Clark Award. Definitely worth reading!

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.

The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

cover107323-mediumHanif Kureishi was once reknowned for his coming of age tales. He wrote the film My Beautiful Laundrette and then one the Whitbread Prize for The Buddha of Surburbia. Now he has turned his pen towards dying.

The Nothing starts like this “One night, when I am old, sick, right out of semen, and don’t need things to get any worse, I hear the noises growing lonuder. I am sure they are making love in Zenab’s bedroom which is next to mine.”

It follows Waldo, a fêted filmmaker confined by old age and ill health to his London apartment. Luckily he met the love of his life before this and she has cared for him faithfully for the last ten years. But when Eddie starts hanging around too much – allegedly  collecting material for a retrospective on Waldo’s work – he suspects them of starting an affair. He is determined to prove his suspicions correct — and then to enact his revenge.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Kureishi’s refusal to sublimate. Every kink and nuance of Waldo’s is uncompromisingly displayed … actually some of those kinks could be considered compromising, but not by a writer like Kureishi or a character like Waldo. It’s told in first person and Waldo is one of those characters who is both charismatic and a little bit creepy. He’s fairly cynical so all of the characters bad sides are shown. I have to admit I took a moment to check Kureishi’s age, after all he’s been known to be a bit biographical in the past! (He’s only 62 so Waldo definitely isn’t based on him… your guesses as to who he is based on are more than welcome 😂)

But this isn’t just a character study, it’s a twisted tale of jealousy and revenge. And it rips along at a cracking pace.

Definitely recommended – 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.

The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

img_2364Samuel Hawley did not have the best start in life and by the time he’s a teenager he is involved in petty crime to keep body and soul together. Then he moves onto bigger jobs with higher stakes but much bigger pay-offs. But when he meets Lily he knows everything has to change.

Years later he moves back to Lily’s hometown with their teenage daughter Loo. It’s time to stop running, he becomes a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school. Meeting her grandmother makes her curious about her mother’s mysterious death and the twelve bullet scars Hawley carries on his body.

Soon Hawley’s past and Loo’s investigations collide. Can they survive?

Okay, first things first, on the official blurb for this book it says that it’s perfect for fans of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. It’s really not. Not that fans of that book can’t like this one (I enjoyed both) but they are nothing whatsoever alike so liking one will not predispose you to like the other.

This is an interesting work, it’s a combination of a literary thriller and a coming of age novel. There’s plenty of action and more than 12 bullets but it also explores what makes a family, living with grief, the value of a human life, first love, community tensions, ecological issues and the sacrifices and manipulations we commit to protect the people we love most. Most of all it’s a story about a father-daughter relationship and how when we do something for love rather than for money we become heroes.

Quite a lot packed into a regular sized novel! And overall it works, most of the characters are convincing and easy to feel at least a little sympathy for. The settings are easy to visualise and the language paints windows for the reader to see into their lives. The story is well constructed, in fact this is where Tinti’s talent excels. She uses the scars on Hawleys body to draw us back into different parts of his past, to show us what made him the man he is and even though I didn’t feel like I had any idea what the point of it was for the first half of it I was happy to trust the author that it wasn’t just going to be ‘killing time’ book. As you can see from the paragraph above I wasn’t disappointed!

My only criticism of it was that there were a few moments when it dragged a bit. But literally only 2 or 3 and it soon picked up again each time. Reading this is like eating steak, there’s a little gristle but there’s also sweetness and nourishment if you persevere. If you like gritty American dramas or books with complicated characters this book is for you.

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 Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

imageWylie isn’t doing too well since her mum died, to be honest she wasn’t doing brilliantly before either. She’s always been a loner but her only friend Cassie had started hanging out with the popular crowd and even started dating a jock. The fact that Cassie had started drinking heavily too had added a real strain to their friendship.

But now Cassie is missing, and she’s just sent Wylie a text asking her to come and rescue her. Wylie hasn’t left her house in a month, can she overcome her fears to help her friend? And just who is Cassie with and what do they want with her?

This is a great, pacy thriller. Aimed squarely at the young adult market but absolutely readable for adult readers too. The story is complex but McCreight’s writing is very easy to follow so you may be perplexed by the plot but you won’t be flummoxed by words on the page, just what you need in a thriller. I won’t tell you any more details of the plot but the premise is unusual and some of the red herrings laid along the way create unique plot points … my mind was whirring!

It’s written in the first person and although Wylie has her issues, she’s still someone you want to spend time with. She may be anxious and at times angry, but she doesn’t slip over into sulky and whiny. The other characters, as seen through her eyes, are interesting and realistic too.

I read this in about a day, picking it up to find out what was happening at every available opportunity. It’s the first of a trilogy and I’ll be looking out for the next book – as this has been out a little while and is just being released in paperback I’m hoping I don’t have to wait too long!

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.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

the-watchmaker-of-filigree-street
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.

My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

Debut novel
Debut novel

Kate and Sally grew up in the family home in Herne Bay. From early childhood they would frequently witness their drunken father viciously beating their mother and when Kate moved to intervene he would beat her too. Realising that an earlier family tragedy had inextricably bound her parents together Kate escaped as soon as she could and now sees violence and bloodshed on a near daily basis as a war reporter. Sally became an emotionally damaged teenaged mother who struggled to manage her daughter, but life sometimes gives second chances and now she has an adoring spouse. Nevertheless her daughter Hannah ran away at the age of sixteen and Sally is driven to seek refuge in alcohol abuse and denial.

Their father is long dead when the tale begins but now their mother has died and Kate has flown home to settle her mother’s estate. Sally is drunk for most of the time and the animosity between the sisters is such that Kate has opted to stay alone in their mum’s house and enjoy the peace. But peace is something Kate cannot find, suffering from PTSD from her work as a war reporter she can barely sleep and combines pills with alcohol to blot out the vivid nightmares. To add to her misery her long-term lover has ended their relationship in favour of his wife and Kate has miscarried the only baby she might ever have had. Confusing nightmares and family history with current reality Kate becomes certain that there is an unhappy child in the house next door although her neighbour denies it.  Then Kate sees the child again but this time he is crying in the night and her reporter’s instincts refuse to be silenced. Her actions lead to her arrest and she is held for a full psychiatric assessment that involves raking in detail over the past she doesn’t want to face. Released with a restriction preventing her from returning to the street Kate opts to go back to Syria, but before she leaves she pays a visit to Sally and despite their many ongoing disagreements she begs Sally to keep an eye out for the little boy. From here on both sisters find themselves plunged into terrible danger.

The first half of the story skilfully intersperses details of Kate’s life and past as revealed through the psychiatric assessment interview, with the events of the week leading up to her arrest and her decision to return to Syria. The rest of the tale then develops the mystery of the little boy and reveals, as studies have shown, that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be affected by violence as adults – either as victims or perpetrators.

At its heart this is a tale full of violence, darkness and illness, but it is also a tale of love and of survival. It is packaged as a thriller and it keeps its secrets right up to the terrifying dénouement. It’s a clever, complicated and well executed story with excellent character development and sound psychology behind it. This is Ellwood’s debut novel and she found inspiration for the themes in the experiences of her sister and her father, both of whom are journalists. I found it absorbing and disturbing and felt compelled to read it through in one day.

I give it 4 bites, a meal that leaves a bitter taste but I expect it to be a very popular dish.

 

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.

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

imageMargot Lewis is a schoolteacher going through a divorce whose student Katie Brown has recently gone missing, but police are minimising the investigation as they suspect Katie’s run away rather than been abducted.

She’s also the agony aunt for The Cambridge Examiner where she gets her fair share of crank letters. But when she recieves one from Bethan Avery, a local girl that went missing years ago, saying she doesn’t know where she is and that she’s been kidnapped she feels compelled to pass it on to the police even though she’s sure it’s just a cruel hoax. Then more letters arrive, with information that was never made public. How is this happening?

I’ve not read a thriller in a fair few months but the premise of this was intriguing enough to make me sneak it onto my ‘To Be Read’ pile – how is she getting the letters out if she can’t get herself out? I knew they’d be some intriguing twists and turns.

I’m not keen on reading about any form of abuse so I am fussy about these kinds of books, only really picking them up if it seems like they’re not exploiting the idea of exploitation – always a difficult balancing act. Though there were undoubtably uncomfortable moments in this book I personally think the author treats this topic well. We know that violence including rape is perputrated by the kidnapper but it isn’t even described let alone used to titilate.

The psychologial twists in this are truly ingenius, I’m not sure whether some of the PTSD symptoms are accurate because they were described so believably I felt no need to put the book down and google – I really didn’t want to put the book down for anything though reading it in bed late at night did make me a bit scared!

I’m not an expert in this genre but this was an addictive read – 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.

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson

There were several things about this book that drew me in. The title- obvious comparisons with the Steig Larsson books, the cover- bold and a bit film noir-ish, and the description- promising intrigue and excitement:

tgwcfahGeorge Foss never thought he’d see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack’s Tavern.

When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl’s grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece – the one who had committed suicide – was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved – and of the things she may have done to escape her past.

Now, twenty years later, she’s back, and she’s telling George that he’s the only one who can help her…

So I was expecting great things. I was expecting to finish it in one go; I was expecting a twisty, exciting plot; I was expecting characters with flawed yet fascinating personalities and I was expecting a thrilling denouement…

I did not receive great things. I didn’t finish in one go; it took several reading sessions. It wasn’t especially exciting although was quite twisty. The characters were flat with no development and an annoying tendency to make unrealistic and outright stupid decisions. The denouement was either a last minute attempt to lay the groundwork for a series, or an example of an author getting totally bored with the story and ‘phoning in’ the ending.

The story plays out in two different times- when George and Liana/Audrey/Jane are at college and 20 years later when they meet again. Aside from the fact they are set in different locations, it is difficult to distinguish them- the voice of the character doesn’t change. There is no hint of development in the way they act or view the world- this is a huge problem considering the experiences the characters, especially George, go through in the intervening time.

The secondary characters are lifeless or unrealistic. The police characters do not act like the police and although they need to make the decisions they do in order make the story work, the fact that the police would never act like they do just makes it all messy and not a great read.

George in particular is not a good character- he is boring and he makes stupid unrealistic choices. Characters making stupid choices I can live with if the author has given them the right motivation for them. George’s motives and his choices do not align, and if I cannot believe in a character’s motivations for his choices, the character is not well written. There is no way that George would make the ridiculous decisions he does simply for the sake of the chance of being with a woman he last saw 20 years ago whom he KNOWS is wanted for criminal activities. He only went out with her for a couple of months. And she certainly isn’t written as an addictive femme fatale so it’s not that she’s just so marvellous he HAS to be with her. It just doesn’t make sense. And this, above all other flaws, is what makes this book so disappointing.

So… yeah. Not great things. Not even good things. Perhaps mediocre things…?

1 bite. Not recommended.

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.

Maestra by L S Hilton

maestra_book_coverIt was bound to happen one day, a best seller written to a computer designed recipe. That’s how L.S Hiltons Maestra “The most shocking thriller of the year” comes across.

The recipe:-
Take lots of kinky sex, add copious amounts of designer shopping, half a dozen over ripe billionaire playgrounds, blend with super yachts, power and money. spice with murder and major art fraud, add a pinch of humour. Leave in a warm place to rise. If it doesn’t rise add more sex and a hedge fund or two.

The computer also says that you must grab the reader’s attention by getting in a torrid sex scene within the first fifty pages. The plot of Maestra didn’t allow for this, so instead the publishers put in a prologue which described three characters involved in a bizarre sex act. This prologue was so badly written that it was impossible to understand who was doing what, to whom and why. This seemingly irrelevant prologue turned out to be an extract from a sex scene which appeared later in the book. After reading it for a second time I was still none the wiser.

All novels are published with the intention of making money and it comes as no surprise that someone came up with the idea that “Fifty Shades of Grey”, but this time instead of EL James it should be written by a gifted and intelligent author, This would surely be a best seller. The author L.S Hilton fits the bill, formerly an historical biographer she is both gifted and intelligent, her writing (apart from the sex scenes) is often beautiful and the plot, involving the art world and money laundering, was well researched. Her knowlege of Italian art was impressive. As an artist myself, I was fascinated to learn about Agnolo Bronzino and Artemesia Gentileschi (I had to put the book down to look them up on Wikipedia).

The clever and convoluted plot moved along at a cracking pace. I read it in a day. Maestra has been described as a bonkbuster and as romp. To me it didn’t fit into either category, it was simply too dark, the anti-heroine Judith Rashleigh was too cold, calculating and cynical to earn any affection. Frankly I couldn’t have cared less if she lived or died.

The recipe lacked a few ounces of warmth and humour, they would have made all the difference. As it was I felt that Maestra was half baked.

Three Bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton. I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 - set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again. I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I'll read anything.

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

imageBecca isn’t quite sure why she’s at the hospital visiting Tasha, after all Tasha made it clear years ago that Becca wasn’t cool enough to be her friend. But she was dead for 13 minutes, and they did used to be best friends so she may as well just give her best at least.

Tasha doesn’t remember how she ended up in the icy water,  but she does know she wasn’t suicidal and she doesn’t think it wasn’t an accident either.  Her two best friends Hayley and Jenny are acting wierd since it happened. She’s grateful that at least this has led to making up with her old friend Becca.

But as the two teenagers try to find out what really happened their other friends are put at risk…

This is aimed at the Young Adult market (the older end, 15+ I’d say) but it can hold it’s own against most psychological thrillers.  There are twists and turns a-plenty and it’s difficult to trust your instincts when there are so many red herrings to slip on!

The story is told from both Becca’s point of view and from Tasha’s, and although the girls are very different both characters are believable as is their relationship. All the characters are well drawn, and if the ‘mean girl’ clique is a little cliche that is because so many people can relate to it. However there are sub-plots with adult characters and these show the authors ability to draw a variety of characters as well as emphasising the difficulty of being on the cusp of adulthood.

If you enjoy Pretty Little Liars then read this – it’s concise and pacy … and British!

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.

Secondhand Best Sellers –  Inferno by Dan Brown

Following my confession a few weeks ago that I love picking up books cheap at second-hand stalls I thought I’d make a bit of a challenge out of my vice.

So here’s the Criteria:-

Each book must be bought secondhand for no more than £1

Each book must claim on its front cover that it is a bestseller

12 books – one per month for a year

Do feel free to join me and share your second-hand bestsellers in the comments!

Inferno by Dan Brown – published 2013.

Tagline ‘The Astonishing Global No 1 Bestseller’

At this summer’s Lafrowda Day I picked up several novels from a charity stall . Various cheap books were on offer along with other bric-a-brac and I had a great time browsing the offerings that ranged from 10p to the heady heights of £5. I selected this particular book because I have enjoyed the film versions of both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by the same author and though I found both novels rather pretentious they are fast paced and largely entertaining.

Click for Amazon
Click for Amazon

In Inferno we have many of Mr Brown’s usual elements; a powerful organisation with secret intentions, a morally bankrupt but wealthy fanatic, a seemingly indestructible yet handsome and erudite professor, a young woman with hidden talents, and a high octane chase through exquisite buildings in various countries. Along the way Mr Brown dazzles us with his knowledge of art and architecture and pieces together a giant treasure hunt with clues that only a Symbologist and a lover of the Renaissance could possibly decipher.

In essence the plot is that a brilliant and wealthy scientist decides to save humankind from reproducing to the point of self-destruction by creating a virus that will reduce the global population forever. Protected by a shady Consortium this scientist hides from the World Health Organisation in order to create and release this virus, but with a megalomania born of genius and fanaticism he can’t resist laying a few clues along the way. He wants his great self-sacrificing work to be acknowledged but rather than write a suicide note he finds the time to turn an ancient engraved bone seal into a miniature projector that can reproduce an altered image of the Renaissance painting ‘The Map of Hell’ by Botticello based on Dante’s famous poem The Divine Comedy written some 200 years earlier – sounds complicated? Of course! Why make things easy when you can baffle with brilliance and blind with bullshit? Anyway, the WHO get an inkling of this mad scientist’s intentions and believing that his virus will unleash a C21st plague they are closing in on him and his evil plan. Meanwhile the Consortium is taking steps to fulfil the scientist’s last wishes but the WHO get in ahead of them and call on the services of Robert Langdon (Renaissance expert and Symbologist) to help them decipher the pre-empted final message – only for Robert to suffer amnesia and go rogue. So now the WHO and the Consortium are both hunting him.  Meanwhile Robert – who has of course deciphered the various clues- is racing against the clock to find and destroy this virus before it can be released – all clear yet?

Okay, so the plot requires that you suspend common sense and you don’t ask too many technical questions. Indeed the word ‘Astonishing’ as used in the promotion tagline could carry several different interpretations, but like his earlier novels this book is crying out to be made into a film. However, unlike his previous novels I found that this story had a genuine and thought provoking core which is the premise that over-population will cause man to self-destruct and therefore scientific advances in eradicating disease and prolonging life may actually be detrimental to humankind’s long-term survival. Despite it being an adventure  story the author is urging us to consider whether morally it is time to prioritise between the survival of the masses short-term or the survival of humankind per se.

So what do I think? I confess I enjoyed it much more than his previous novels. It’s not high literature, it isn’t a classic and it won’t still be read in 200 years, if humankind survives that long – but it was fast paced and entertaining,  informative in parts about the Renaissance and has left me pondering that very challenging thought.

More Starbucks than McDonalds so 3 bites for the biscotti

(Just discovered that it has been made into a film and will be released in the UK 28th October)

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.

Shelter by Jung Yun

imageKyung Cho, a second generation Korean immigrant and his American wife Gillian live far beyond their means. Their lifestyle, and Kyung’s career is semi-supported by Kyung’s parents, Jin and Mae. But though they’ve given Kyung a privileged upbringing they never gave him love.

His father would beat his mother and she would beat Kyung.

Now he can hardly bear to see his parents, and resents the help they have given him. But when a shocking act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own he feels obliged to take them in. Suddenly he is forced to confront his past and his present.

This is a real nail-biter of a book, it may sound like a family drama or domestic noir but it goes further than that. There’s a real crime to be recovered from and solved, as well as an in-depth examination of the tensions of  being a second generation immigrant and clashing with your families culture and religion yet not quite fitting in with your own countries culture either.

I felt sorry for Kyung, but I also felt sorry for his wife Gillian and I could understand his parents. All of them mess up and make mistakes which hurt each other. This book looks at crime and punishment in all it’s forms and asks when rehabilitation is possible and what it takes to be forgiven both by society and those we hold dear.

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.

The Fire Child by S. K. Tremayne

click through to Amazon
click through to Amazon

Cornwall is a land of striking contrasts. Brutal industrial ruins are pockmarked across the county, yet age has made them oddly beautiful against the bare skies and boiling seas that frame this piece of rock. I live here and have a deep affinity with the mine ruins, the arsenic poisoned soil and the enormous tumbled pieces of granite that strew the landscape so when I see a book with a mine engine house on its cover I have to give it a go.

I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the cover blurb and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, the synopsis seemed at odds with the cover image. Indeed in the early chapters the reader could be mistaken for thinking that they’ve picked up a rewritten ‘Rebecca’ as the author introduces them to;

  • a wealthy widower – Richard Kerthen,
  • an historic estate by the sea – Carnhallow,
  • a dead first wife, Nina – famed for her impeccable taste and who died in mysterious circumstances,
  • a beautiful new wife desperately hunting for the truth – Rachel.

However despite the characters and the setting the similarities soon end and the story finds its feet.

Richard Kerthen is descended from a long line of mine owners reputed to have an unnatural sixth sense for finding the lode- a gift that the Cornish term tus-tanyow  ‘the people of the fire’. For hundreds of years the Kerthens have been eating in their great house above the tunnels and shafts that made them rich and in sight of their dark and sinister mine houses. Mines in which hundreds of men, women and children toiled to earn a pittance and risk their lives. The Carnhallow estate was built on the blood and labour of the miners and the bodies of some unfortunate souls still roll around in the drowned passages far below. Richard’s new wife Rachel has a lot more mettle and fight than the second Mrs de Winter ever showed and their relationship is passionate. Indeed Rachel quickly becomes like a tigress guarding her cub as she seeks to help her young step-son Jamie recover from the traumatic and eerie loss of his mother, but the harder she tries the more haunted Jamie becomes. Just as Rachel is determined to protect Jamie so is his father, but for him the enemy may be a lot easier to identify than a ghost and it isn’t long before Richard starts to wonder whether Rachel maybe the cause of the trouble. Their separate loves for Jamie threaten to pull them apart and they each become convinced that the other has become a threat. Suddenly the status quo is turned upside down and Richard finds himself exiled from his ancestral home while Rachel joins Jamie in seeing ghosts.

I don’t want to reveal the clever twists and psychological elements of this tale but I do want to recommend it. I quickly got past my initial feeling that it was a ‘Rebecca’ rip-off and became immersed in the story and the landscape that Tremayne portrays. I live in the very area that the book centres on and I smiled as she took me on a road trip through the little villages and along routes I know well.

The plot I give a wholehearted 5 bites to but the execution of it I can only give 4 bites as the pace was inconsistent  – nevertheless it was a captivating read and I couldn’t put it down.

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

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.

Written In Dead Wax (The Vinyl Detective 1) by Andrew Cartmel

I think any semi-regular reader of this website will be fully aware by now of my deep and abiding love for Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/PC Grant series. Whilst waiting for the sixth book in the series to come out (due August 25th… not that I’m counting the days or anything…), I have been getting my fix by reading the two comic books in the series, Body Work and Night Witch. Co-written by Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, they are the reason I jumped at the chance to read the latter’s debut novel. I love finding new authors and who better than one so clearly endorsed by one of my favourites!

Vinyl DetectiveThe Vinyl Detective is a record collector.. but you know, a proper one, collecting actual vinyl records (we don’t call them vinyls…) and either adding them them to his extensive collection or flipping them to make enough money to keep his cats in biscuits.
When a mysterious but deeply attractive woman shows up on his doorstep with a commission from an even more mysterious but incredibly wealthy client to find a priceless and lost record, he can’t resist- the search or the woman.
What starts out as a fairly standard and likely to be protracted search turns sinister when one of the record shop owners who has been helping them turns up dead and it becomes clear that they aren’t the only ones searching for this elusive recording….

I thoroughly thoroughly enjoyed this book. Those of you who follow our Facebook feed will already know that I finished it in one sitting of only 3 hours… not bad for a book that is 474 pages long!

The plot takes a little time to get going, but the time spent at the beginning to establish the characters is well spent. There is quite a large cast of characters and I didn’t feel that any were superfluous to the story or shoehorned in for any reason.  The supporting characters were as deftly drawn as the main protagonists and I get the feeling that they are going to appear a lot in the sequels- Cartmel has already written two follow up novels whilst waiting for Written In Dead Wax to be published.

There is an attention to detail in the writing which enhances the story- Cartmel clearly knows his stuff on both jazz and vinyl records as well as the subtle complexities of being a collector of anything and hunting for that hard to find prize. He doesn’t shy away from the more mundane aspects of the search which balances the helter-skelter actions scenes but rather than being boring, as mundane scenes often can be, he injects light comedy into them or uses them as a way to develop the characters.

The story itself is slightly unrealistic but not entirely out of the realms of possibility and after all, we are reading fiction! It is engaging and absorbing, and full of little laugh-out-loud moments. It’s not going to change anyone’s life with its deeply philosophical ideas but its not meant to. It’s meant to give you a few hours of pleasure, a few hours of amusement and it succeeds 100%.

I really want to be able to tell you more about this book but I don’t want to take away from the joy of reading a new and exciting story with new and engaging characters! So really, you should just go and buy it- it was published yesterday!

A very rare 5 bites from me… yes, I enjoyed it that much!

 

NB- I did receive an ARC but all opinions are decidedly my own. And I’m going to be buying this as a present for pretty much all my friends anyway….!

 

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.

Bad Analysis by Colin Knight

41aL2YZ5p8L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_When invited to review this novel, my immediate reaction on seeing the cover was one of disappointment, it looked like a “Penny Dreadful” and the plot summary seemed “far-fetched” .

I was wrong, totally and utterly wrong. I made the fundamental error of judging a book by its cover, at my age I should have known better.
The plot summary is: A wealthy, racist, British, aristocrat, with the help of friends in high places, plans to rid Britain of its Muslim population. There are two stages to the plan: First, to secretly fund a massive recruiting drive for the English Defence League, allowing them to become a political force to be reckoned with. Stage two of the plan is to commit a massive act of terrorism that will kill thousands more innocent people than ever before. A carefully laid trail of convincing clues will lead the anti- terrorist squad to a UK based Islamic fundamentalist terrorist cell. The EDL’s calls for mass deportation of Muslims will then have to be taken seriously by the British government.
Yes, it does require a stretch of the imagination to make the plot plausible. But life can be stranger than fiction, who would have thought that terrorists would hijack four commercial airliners and fly them into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon?
Bad Analysis is a brilliant book, superbly written, gripping and fast paced. The hero Craig Wilson is not a macho James Bond type in fact he is a very ordinary family man working as a crypto analysist with The Canadian anti-terrorism squad. He has a gift for interpreting intercepted phone calls and emails. Unfortunately his superiors are bureaucrats, more concerned with office politics than acting on the flights of fancy of their senior analysts. And time is running out.
Colin Knight writes with first-hand knowledge and experience of how anti-terrorist operations work having spent many years in senior positions in the Canadian Police and Security Services. This insider knowledge gives the book the authenticity of LeCarre’s “Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. I loved it.
Five bites from me (But I still think the cover is rubbish).

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton. I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 - set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again. I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I'll read anything.

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montifiore

imageSet in Stalin’s Russia in 1945, the Soviets are celebrating their victory over the Nazis. A victory that has come at a horrendous cost, thirty million Russians have died, Moscow itself is bomb damaged bleak and cheerless, poverty and hunger are a fact of life for the survivors. Yet amidst the suffering a gilded elite lead pampered lives, with beautiful homes, servants, chauffeur driven cars, weekend Dachas and special schools for their children.
For the Bolshevik elite life should have been wonderful, but the privileges came at a price. To become one of the elite it was necessary to become one of Stalin’s favorites and the closer the favorite the greater the danger, for Stalin was a ruthless murderer, anyone who fell from grace would be shot and their wives and children killed or sent to the Gulags.
In this novel Simon Sebag Montifiore (Author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar) paints a graphic picture of life under Stalin. Cosseted children of the elite, blissfully unaware of the day to day fear endured by their parents, form a secret society to celebrate the works of Pushkin. After the official victory parade they try to re-enact the duel from Eugene Onegin. Things go horribly wrong and two children die. The subsequent investigation turns up a school notebook containing notes that could be interpreted as anti-communist. The KGB, themselves fearful of Stalin, chose to interpret these notes as a plot against Stalin. The children, one only six years old, are arrested, thrown into The Lubianka and tortured. Their parents are helpless to intervene, as to do so would make them suspect of plotting against Stalin. The interrogations throw up all manner of family secrets which the KGB can hold against the parents either now or in the future. Increasing their fear to near intolerable levels.
The story is beautifully written, despite the background of almost tangible fear, it’s a story of love, adultery, family ties, friendship, youth and optimism and so much more. The writing is a joy, short sentences that flow with an easy rhythm that make it difficult to put down.
One teeny weeny niggle…. Why is it titled “One Night in Winter”? when the action takes place after the victory parade and that was at the end of May 1945.
Its five bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton. I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 - set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again. I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I'll read anything.

Real Tigers by Mick Herron

RTReleased only a few days ago, Real Tigers is the third novel about Slough House, a branch of MI5 where the agents who have screwed up too badly to be trusted- but not badly enough to sack- are dumped; forever doomed to push paper, plod through databases, and generally fulfill the destiny their ‘Slow Horses’ moniker suggests.

When one of their own agents is kidnapped and held to ransom, the rest of them must somehow overcome their malaise, their addictions, their arrogance and their reputation to steal from the rest of MI5, rescue their colleague and find out what the hell is going on!

I wasn’t aware when I started reading this that it was the third in the series and to be honest, it doesn’t matter too much. I was able to read and enjoy this perfectly well as a stand alone novel, although at times I think I would have understood some of the undercurrents of the political machinations and some of the motivations of the characters a little better if I’d read 1 and 2.

This is not your typical spy thriller- this is not Jason Bourne or James Bond free-running around London saving the world from dastardly villains, ricocheting from plot element to plot element whilst looking alternately buff and manly, and suave and sophisticated. This is the very character driven story of some seriously maladjusted people battling their demons, their lost ambitions and their character flaws to get the job done and save their colleague- who they may or may not give a crap about. There was one character in particular whose story and struggle, although it may have seemed very minor in comparison to the overall plot, was very emotive.

Being a character driven story doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of action. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the story, but there is enough action to satisfy anyone searching for a bit of an adventure. And well written action too. Often in character led novels, the action can seem a bit shoe horned in but Mick Herron is clearly an accomplished writer who drew me in to the action sequences as easily as he made me care about a bunch of sub-par MI5 agents.

4 bites for the story about James Bond as it really is. Probably…

 

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.

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

imageAll identical twins are tempted to pretend to be each other, particularly when they are young. Helen and Ellie decide to do just this one day. Helen doesn’t think Ellie will manage to imitate her very well, after all she is the leader, the bright one, the popular one, and Ellie just trails around after her. But Ellie surprises her. Then surprises her even more when she refuses to swap back…

Suddenly her sister has everything, her toys, her clothes, her friends, her glowing record at school and the favour of her mother. Now she is the one being taken out of normal lessons for special help, and her frustration at the unfairness of it all is attributed to the cord getting wrapped around her neck during birth just like her sisters tantrums had been. Meanwhile Ellie is blossoming.

The story is told in first person by Helen as it happens and simultaneously from the modern day Helen’s in third person. The Helen of today is a drug addict going by the name of Smudge, and Ellie, now a popular TV personality is in a coma after a car crash.

This is a short book, but it’s packed full of tension and pulls you in right from the start. I read this in pretty much one sitting. It is brilliantly written and raises questions about the role of nuture in childcare, portrays the effects of gas lighting, sibling rivalry and mental illness without ever once being preachy or hysterical, or more importantly diverting from the story.

This is a true psychological thriller and a stand out debut. It could easily be this years ‘Gone Girl’. Read it now! Everyone will be talking about it in the next few months!  I hope we get to see a lot more from Ann Morgan’s pen.

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.

The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow“We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.
But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.
Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.
But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.”

Fiona Barton’s debut novel was apparently the subject of a bidding war by various publishing houses. It has been tipped as the next Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. ‘The most buzzed about book of 2016’ apparently. I of course knew nothing of this until I googled for a book cover picture to put in this post- shame on me! Call myself a book lover!
In my defence I had read the book and written the review in my little notebook ages ago so the build up and buzz had kind of passed me by. With 5 days left before it is released it is time to give my thoughts to you all!

Fiona Barton was a journalist and self-titled ‘professional observer’ and it shows throughout the pages of The Widow. Told largely (but not solely) from the viewpoints of Jean (the widow), Kate (the reporter) and Bob (the detective), observations on people and society enrich the story and the characterisations. There are shades of grey all over the place and layers upon layers upon layers, and yet the story and the characters are all completely realistic.

It is not an easy or lighthearted book to read, the subject matter alone is probably enough to put some people off- the crime that Jean’s husband was accused of is child abduction and there are also a significant number of passages regarding paedophilia and grooming. Addressing the issue of the family affected by the accusations also makes for difficult reading at times.

This book however was absolutely compelling. The widow’s narrative contrasting with the detective’s near obsession with cracking the case kept the dual timeline and multiple protagonist format working. The characters and social comment seeped slowly under my skin and although I could put the book down, I didn’t want to (pesky need to eat, sleep and work!) and I often found myself thinking about it.

The writing can be a bit too ‘professional’ at times- at times I felt a little bit as if I were being led to a particular attitude towards a character or event. I know this happens in every book but I prefer not to be picking up on it through the writing!

I highly recommend this book. It will not give you a spring in your step, and it doesn’t say anything cheery about the world but it will get inside your head and set up house until you have slowly and carefully read through to the conclusion.

4.5  bites- book released on the 14th Jan 2016. Currently available for pre-orders

 

NB. I received an advance copy free of charge in return for an honest review. Which I’m pretty glad about- I likely would not have picked this up otherwise and I would have missed out on an excellent read!
All my opinions on this are my own and not influenced by the free-ness of the book!

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 Burning Air by Erin Kelly

the burning airIt’s a long standing family tradition that The McBrides, a well to do, rather self satisfied, middle class family, spend bonfire night at their holiday home in Devon. This year the youngest son Felix, has for the first time, bought a girlfriend with him.

The girl, Kerry, seems very quiet and a little odd in a way that no one can quite put their finger on. However she seems to be very good with children and is left to babysit Sophie’s baby. On their return from their bonfire celebrations, the family discover both Kerry and the baby have disappeared.
A blistering start to this chilling psychological thriller. A gripping mystery that tells a dark tale of obsession, delusion, and revenge. The McBrides have a sense of privilege and entitlement, he is Headmaster of an excellent private school, his wife a JP. They are considered pillars of the community, though perhaps a little smug, they are nevertheless a likeable family. Hooked from the word go I simply had to read on, thank goodness for these long, dark winter evenings.

The Burning Air is Erin’s third novel. Her first The Poison Tree was a Richard and Judy Selection and a major ITV drama. This plot is narrated by four different characters, so the reader experiences the story from different perspectives. We get to know the characters, their history and motivations. This narrative structure, coupled with the plot twists and turns makes this mystery a truly great psychological thriller.
It would have been a “five bite” but for two things: With eight principal family members to be introduced at the start, characterizations are, of necessity, a bit sparse. I found that in the early chapters, I kept having to pause to work out who was who. However, the characters are well and truly fleshed out as the novel progresses.

The other problem was with the second narrator, Darcy. I read several chapters before I realized that Darcy was a male, I blame Darcy Bushell for this! Memo to writers: ensure your characters do not have ambiguous names it confuses the elderly reviewer!
I’m going to be reading more Erin Kelly and give The Burning Air four and a half bites,

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton. I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 - set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again. I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I'll read anything.