Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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When Chiyo’s mother falls ill she is just a child. She doesn’t understand that her mother is dying and that  her father will not be able to take care of her and her older sister. Then she meets Mr Tanaka and he treats her kindly, she starts to fantasia that he will adopt them… but instead he sells them both. Her sister to become a prostitute, herself into a Geisha’s house. She can train to become a geisha or spend the rest of her life as a maid.

In the same house as her lives one of the most popular Geisha in Gyon. A spiteful girl who decides to make Chiyo’s life as hard as it can be and keep her a maid all her life. But she is befriended by the other girls enemies and slowly she is set on the path to becoming a famous Geisha herself. Many years later she tells her story, from her lowly birth, through the hardships bought by the war and the dazzling but exhausting life of Geisha in 20th Century Japan.

I first read this the year it came out and I fell in love with it – I remember I had to keep checking that it was in fact written by a man (and a western one at that) because the voice just sounded so authentically female. I’ve read it a couple of times since then and yet revisiting it again it still surprised me.

I knew the voice was exceptional, and the story was full of conflicts and passions. I knew the settings were vibrant and the characters varied and richly drawn. But I had forgotten the actual writing.

It is delicious. Full of simmering similes and magical metaphors. Chiyo’s voice is so good because of her turn of phrase. Here is one of the early paragraphs so you can see what I mean;- “In our little fishing village of Yoroido, I lived in what I called a ‘Tipsy House’. It stood near a cliff where the wind off the ocean was always blowing. As a child it seemed to me as if the ocean had caught a terrible cold, because it was always wheezing and there would be spells when it let out a huge sneeze – which is to say there was a burst of wind with a tremendous spray. I decided that our tiny house must have been offended by the ocean sneezing in its face from time to time, and took to leaning back because it wanted to get out of the way.”

But the greatest writing is nothing without a plot and characters you care about, I’ve already mentioned it has these. But it also has that little something extra, it opens a window to a different world and lets us see that regardless of our differences our human spirit is the same.

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.

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

cover92853-mediumEverybody knows the story of Anna and the King of Siam – or at least they think they do. Way back in 1956 20th Century Fox released their musical based on this book and the world fell in love with Anna Leonowens and her almost love affair with the King of Siam – a man that seemed to respect her intelligence but remained would still happily have bedded the beautiful teache if she hadn’t been pining still for the memory of her husband.

I loved “The King and I”, and still do. I also loved the 1999 dramatisation of it “Anna and the King” which starred Jodie Foster and was more focussed on the social and political aspects rather than just the beautiful woman wearing beautiful dresses against a beautiful backdrop.

But neither come close to the book. First released in 1944, Margaret Landon used a memoir written by Anna Leonowens and fashioned them into a compelling narrative of her time in Siam. Anna Leonowens was used to life abroad, but in 1862  travelling into a country that was not part of the British Empire was incredibly risky. Still, as a widow she needed to earn money to support her children, young Lois who stays with her, and her daughter Avis, sent back home to a boarding school.

Leonowens considered herself a modern woman, a woman of science. As such she often found herself in opposition to the traditions of Imperial rule and Court life. She found slavery particularly abhorrent and wasn’t overly keen on how women were treated either. Throughout her career there she fought oppression at every turn, even when her household was attacked and her life and that of her young son endangered.

Throughout all of this though there is also a tremendous appeciation of Siam and a love for her friends there, including the King and many of his wives. A wisdom seeps through the pages and a resilience. She always knew she could never win every battle but she fights on anyway without getting too depressed or angered by those she loses. This grace is a trait which helped her and her causes enormously.

There are some moments when the narrative’s dramatic tension dips, and I have to admit I there are times when the constant attitude of the East learning from the West got on my nerves a little, I’d love to read Prince Chulalongkorn’s version of events. Was it Anna Leonowenss’ influence on the young prince that led him to abolish slavery in Siam and introduce democratic reform, or was it influence from somewhere else? Although having said that, even if he wasn’t as influenced by her and the West as is implied, Anna Leonowens is still a legendary feminist figure and I would encourage everyone to read it.

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.

Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

Northern Lights came out when I was in the middle of secondary school so I was just about in the age range it is marketed for… not that that would matter. Northern Lights has more than enough depth to satisfy older readers of this ostensible children’s book.

nlpp“Without this child, we shall all die.” Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world…

In this book (which not only won the Carnegie medal in 1995 but also won the ‘Carnegie of Carnegie’s’ when voted by the public as the all time favourite of the medal winners) Pullman weaves a magical, fantastical story with wonderful characters and locations so richly described, they feel part of the story.

In Pullman’s world, everyone has a physical manifestation of their soul- their daemon, an animal which represents their nature. Children’s daemons can change their form, not settling until the onset of puberty. Daemons are one of the elements of Pullman’s world that I adore- Not going to lie, I would love to know what form my daemon would take!

The issue of daemons, and of Dust – and the Magesterium’s interest in Dust- underpin some of the more theological themes of the trilogy, and are instrumental in making this book appealing to more than just the children it is aimed at.

The writing itself is elegant and rich, reminding me of a more interesting Tolkien- it’s the same sense of scale and depth to the world without the over abundance of detail that often renders the prose unreadable in LOTR (controversial, I know, but that’s just the way I feel!)

As the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy, the book eases you in to this world and at the same time gets under your skin. I reread this trilogy an awful lot and think it’s one of the greatest children’s books of all time.

5 bites for this slice of magic

 

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 Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Dorian GrayYoung Dorian Gray infatuates everyone that meets him, such is his youthful charm and simple beauty. Artist Basil Hallward is equally as smitten and paints a full length portrait of him in gratitude for him being his muse. But while he is painting it Lord Henry Wotton,  a cynical and hedonistic aristocrat calls and Gray becomes fascinated by his opinion that beauty and sensual fulfilment are the only things worth pursuing in life. The thought of his own beauty fading horrifies Gray and he cries out wishing that his portrait could get old rather than him.

This work is incredibly well known, almost everyone has heard of it and knows the basic story even if they’ve never read it – that being so what is the point in actually reading it? Well of course the book goes further than the basic premise. Apart from the obvious exploration of societies obsession with youth and beauty, there’s quite a deep exploration of morality, though done with Wilde’s typically light and mocking touch.

The language in this is elegant but not overly formal (although if one more person had ‘flung’ themselves into a chair I might have screamed!) so it remains easily readable. The characters are believable and although they are not always likeable they do lead you through the story.

4 Bites

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

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

imageToru Okada’s cat, oddly named after his wife’s brother who they don’t like, has disappeared. His wife is upset about this and as she is working and he isn’t she begs him to look for it.

This sets him on a journey where he will meet a succession of characters who all have their own stories. He is also being bothered by a woman who is phoning him claiming they know each other and making increasingly lewd suggestions.

As the story continues, normality gets snipped away at until it seems the pleasantly bland Okada has a much bigger purpose than anyone could have imagined.

I read this book first back in 1999 when I was pregnant and I was so taken with it I almost named my child after one of the characters! It’s a long book and kept me company many a night through a stressful time. Revisiting it has been strange to say the least, I saw it on audible and the idea of spending 26 hours in its company was more than I could resist.

The book is still good, Haruki Murakami has such an intimate and conversational tone to his writing and shares his characters idiosynchrocities in such an affectionate and humble manner that it is impossible not to care for them. Which is just as well as otherewise it really would be hard to spend 26 hours in the company of a man who is ostensibly looking for his cat!

Of course the plot does go further than that (no spoilers here though so you’ll have to read it if you want to know how!) and the stories of those he meets on his journey are fascinating and varied too.

I have to say that I wouldn’t recommend listening to this on audiobook. The reader was talented but several of the characters voices really grated on me, one of which was quite a prominant character so I spent far too long listening to her voice!

4 Bites

 

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

The Spire by William Golding

UnknownHere is a novel that illumes the Dark Ages like no other. It doesn’t bathe the whole era in light, instead a single beam lands on Dean Jocelin, a man with a vision, and through him it shows all the passion and human folly that has always been in the world.

Dean Jocelin is convinced that he has been called upon by God to show his greatness and inspire his humble flock. He will do this by building a great spire on his cathedral regardless of the fact that his master builder advises against it as the cathedral was built without foundations. For Dean Jocelin the odds being stacked against it will prove God’s greatness. As the spire rises so does the tension until everyone is at breaking point.

William Golding is best known for Lord of the Flies, a classic that thousands of school children read every year at school. I’ve never read it, I’ve heard so much about it that I’ve never felt the need. Until now. Golding’s writing is exquisite. He is a true master of literature and there wasn’t a single thing about this book that I didn’t love. The characterisation is superb, I listened to this as an Audiobook read by Benedict Cumberbatch and he portrayed them all brilliantly- maybe in the case of Jocelin a little too brilliantly!

But his characterisation are not the only star of this book, the descriptions of the settings are phenomenal too. In the blurb for this book it is described as “a dark and powerful portrait of one man’s will, and the folly that he creates” and although it is powerful I have to take issue with the word dark. This book exposes darkness but it does so with light, and the darkness is in the shadows of buildings and people.

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.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

img_1545124 Bluestone Road is a house of ghosts. Sethe and her daughter Denver are it’s only living inhabitants. The vengeful spirit of Sethe’s first daughter haunts the house and has driven away Sethe’s two sons and contributed to the death of Sethe’s mother in law, Baby Suggs. For Denver, the phantom is the only friend she has; for Sethe, it is a reminder of the past and the ghosts of a previous life.

The year is 1873, it’s ten years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and eight years since the end of The Civil War. Sethe is now a free woman, but the memory of her life as a house slave at Sweet Home is not an easy one to forget. Having managed to run away from the evil Schoolmaster and his sons, Sethe gave birth to Denver whilst escaping. Her husband, Halle, hasn’t been seen since that day.

When former Sweet Home man, Paul D arrives at number 124 to see Sethe, he finds a house filled with the rage of a dead girl. In his fury, he exorcises the house. Denver is devastated by the arrival of this man whom her mother seems so taken to, and who has driven away the only friend she has. A few days later, they find a girl sitting alone on a stump outside number 124. They take her in and care for her, this girl who has no family, who says her name is Beloved, who fills the holes in Sethe and Denver’s lives and becomes an integral part of the family.

This is such an important book. It shows how horrific circumstances can force people to make devastating decisions: ones that seem so logical to the person making them, but unimaginable to us in our comfortable, safe lives. It’s about how the ghosts of the past are always with us and how we become accustom to having them in our lives.

I found the first few pages a bit confusing, whether through my own tiredness or Morrison’s writing I couldn’t say. I did have to go back and read again, but once I had, I couldn’t stop. There are questions which keep pulling you forward, and the sublimity of the writing won’t let you go. Each character has their own back story, their own role to play and at the end of the book, not everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow. I like that.

This book shows the psychological impact of slavery as well as the physical, and how it effects not only the generation that lived through it, but reverberated through the generations that followed. An excellent read.

5 bites

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

Roots by Alex Haley

haley_rootsWhen I was a child Roots was a cultural phenomenon. It spent 22 weeks at the top of The New York Times Best Seller List and was made into a TV series that EVERYBODY watched. It changed people.

But as I was only little I only got to hear about it and see snatches when I’d sneak downstairs for a drink, which would be a lot when it was on!

But it was published 40 years ago this year. Has it stood the test of time and does it still have something important to say?

It follows the story of Kunte Kinte from his birth in a small village in The Gambia through to his kidnapping and being taken as a slave to America. We stay right with him as he tries to understand the land he’s been taken to and as he attempts to escape. We continue to follow him as he slowly, begrudgingly settles into slave row and eventually finds love and even has a child of his own.  The book continues to trace the lives of his descendents for the next six generations.

Now this makes it sound like it’s a HUMUNGOUS book, I mean it’s got to be longer and more confusing than war and peace right? Wrong. It is long, coming in at just over 800 pages, admittedly with very tiny writing, but the story is very clear and totally absorbing. We stay with Kunte Kinte (and his family) for around half the book then spend a good couple of hundred pages with his grandson Chicken George (and family), before continuing down the family line.

This book is both incredbibly harrowing and very uplifting. It’s definitely still worth the time to read, I felt I’d learned quite a lot of truths about the facts and horrors of slavery after reading it. It reminded me that the slave trade and indeed racism in America today isn’t just an American problem, us Brits might have abolished slavery more than 30 years before they did but the people that bought the majority of the slaves to America and set up the practice were the English.  That being so it is encumbent on us to do more to help eradicate it, both in the U.S and here. If all you do to help is get a better understanding that’s still something and I would strongly recommend this book for that.

It also reminded me that the African’s that were stolen were not the savages that they were beclaimed to be then, in fact their civilisation was just as valid as our own, a large amount of them were muslim and although the society Kunte Kinte came from had a version of slavery it was nothing like the brutal slavery that was inflicted on them. There ‘slaves’ were better off and more respected than most English peasants in fact. Their society also held women and men in very different roles and would definitely be considered sexist by todays standards, however, when compared to the staatus of women in western society at the same time they certainly weren’t worse off.

Which brings me neatly to my only criticism of the book, which is that although the author clearly respects women immensely, they didn’t get much of the spotlight in this book. Kunte Kinte had female as well as male descendents but the men get a lot more ‘column inches’ than the women.

Overall though, not to be missed!

4 Bites

 

 

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

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

the-pillars-of-the-earthKen Follett tells the story of how this historical fiction classic was written on his website.  In a nutshell, The Pillars of the Earth was the result of his pursuit of a passion for medieval architecture that awakened when he first visited Peterborough Cathedral. Immediately after it was published it did moderately well, occupying the number one bestseller spot in the UK for a week, but it was not the runaway hit that ‘The Eye of the Needle’ had been, and at first there was nothing to indicate that it would become a kind of sleeper-hit. He now says that it is his most popular book, and that the majority of people who write to him ask him about Pillars. He puts its perennial popularity down to the fact that he followed his gut instinct, and readers rewarded him word-of-mouth recommendations.

It is clear that nothing other than passion can drive you to write an epic spanning the civil war years of the 1100s, and Follett had to overcome the misgivings of many of his colleagues and go far outside his comfort zone to write this novel, but it was worth it. Those times were so different from ours (I noticed particularly how difficult and expensive it was for the monks to obtain books before the printing press!), but Follett writes so vividly that he brings a period that could be remote so close that we can see and smell it. Rather than giving in to the temptation of making it a kind of potted textbook full of dates, the events of the period are filtered through the effects that they have on the lives of the characters.

It is plain that life was very political then, as now, and you were dominated by the alliances that were often made and broken for you during the course of your life. Livelihoods could be won and lost at a word from the king (and it could be even more complicated when they were contradicted by another monarch that the first king was fighting at the time).

The book follows a number of everyday heroes. Prior Phillip’s fortunes are most important, as the actions of the other characters are largely judged in the light of what they say about their loyalty to him. Prior Phillip is described as the kind of person who is loved through his actions rather than his words, and I had the same response to him. Phillip was orphaned at an early age, narrowly escaping death thanks to the intervention of a monk, and he rises up through the ranks of the church based on his enterprising spirit and keen sense of social and moral justice. He is not a paragon, however. He is like the CEO of a highly diverse business providing education, social welfare, housing and products like wool and cheese, and with all that pressure he couldn’t possibly be. CEOs rarely are. In the book he is often preachy, overly rigid, and over-ambitious, but because he fights tirelessly for good, we forgive him.

The drive to build Kingsbridge Cathedral and develop the town that grows around it becomes the main source of momentum in the novel. The community of supporters around Prior Phillip’s programme, including the other men of God, masons, merchants, knights, outlaws and dispossessed gentry all have their own stories, but they share a loathing of the same antagonists: William Hamleigh of Shiring and his partner in crime Bishop Waleran Bigod. The conflict between Kingsbridge and Shiring resembles a war of attrition and it encompasses nearly a decade. The novel analyses medieval morality through it, and we find the moral mazes that the characters get trapped in are not so different from our own. The problem of knowing when to compromise and when to hold fast to your principles is as old as time, but it is still very important to explore. The ending is incredible, and the writing packs an absolute knockout punch, I was holding my breath throughout it!

This book is so large at 1069 pages that if it hadn’t been for the deadline of a book group meeting, it may have sat on my shelves for a while. Ken Follett says that his biggest challenge was to find more and more things to say about the same cast of characters and maintain the narrative drive throughout the book’s length, but if he was flagging as a writer, I couldn’t tell as a reader. In fact, there is quite a lot of sex and sometimes shocking violence (for a novel about monks) but I never felt it was gratuitous, and to a degree it reflects the way life was back then. The violence is never excused, although the motivations of the perpetrators are always made clear.

I was sometimes aware of some irritatingly clever plot devices that Follett used to try and make this huge and complex story a little bit easier to tell – the one I remember in particular is where Prior Phillip is conveniently placed at the top of Lincoln Cathedral for a big battle between the two claimants to the throne, and can therefore handily give us a birds eye view of the soldiers’ manoeuvrings. In all honesty though, given the scale and scope of this extraordinary novel, this is a pretty trivial criticism.

If you could be put off by the presence of a lot of religious characters, don’t be. Follett shows that there are good and bad elements in every person and category of people, and the clergy are no different. He also shows the spiritual growth and decay of various characters convincingly. All in all, it is a gripping tale which draws you into a different world, and for me the plot never plods. I have no hesitation in giving it four and a half bites.

Charlotte Kearsley
My love of reading began when I was very young, and quickly took over my life. On trips to Brighton, my family would see me start walking faster at the sight of the major bookshop in the centre.
I’ve lived in many places since, including London and Rio, and still insist on visiting bookshops as soon as possible! I normally head for literary and historical fiction first, then pick out the quality thrillers. If I’ve time to spare I’ll browse the biography and travel writing shelves. When I’m not spending time with books or books-in-progress in one way or another, I works in the public sector and crafts.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

imageSylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of a girl dealing with depression and attempting suicide.

I know, doesn’t sound too cheery does it?

But actually the first section of this book is all about a young woman (Esther Greenwood) coming into herself in New York just as America is starting to recognise that women should be allowed to have lives outside the domestic kitchen! It’s an exciting time to be alive, and although she has a natural caution, she’s really not having the worst time in the world at the start of the book!  In fact her slide into depression is so gradual, and her acceptance of it comes so much later than it happens, that she’s not far off recovery by the time you realise how messed up she is.

Although this was written more than 50 years ago it remains one of the most nuanced examinations of mental health issues. Her description of how she slowly stops sleeping, eating and washing is somehow ethereal. The examination of societies place in her depression is interesting and still relevant today.

I listened to this on audiobook, the reader was Maggie Gyllenhaal and her reading of it was absolutley laconic and sublime. I completely recommend that you listen to her reading of it rather than anything else.

Sylvia Plath’s suicide a month after it’s publication is still hard to relate to when you consider how much humour there is woven within these pages. It’s hard to say if this would have become a classic if she hadn’t, it was released at a time when women were begininng to examine their identities so it may have. Girl Interrupted did but although that was set at the same time it was released in the 90’s.  It’s sad to think of all the works she might have gone on to complete but at least this gem exists.

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.

Roofworld by Christopher Fowler

imageLondon in the 1980’s has a secret people never see. A refuge for the misfits and outcasts of society that towers above the dirty city. But Roofworld, with its complex laws and codes and decaying system of cables and wires is at war. And if evil wins it will take possession of the city below next.

Robert is looking for the author of a little known book to try and buy the film rights from her, sadly he is a little too late, she was murdered during a robbery the week before. But he does meet Rose, who tells him about her daughter who she thinks has been kidnapped and is being held in Roofworld. They get pulled into events up above – not always the perfect scenario for Robert as he  discovers he’s not good with heights!

This was Christopher Fowler’s first book – he’s gone on to become quite the prolific author having written more than 40 books including the ‘Bryant & May’ series. He specialises in unusual plots and peculiar happenings set in the real world so he’s a good bet for fans of Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch.

And this is certainly an unusual plot full or peculiar happenings! If I was rating this on plot alone it would definitely get 5 bites! If I was rating it  on writing alone it would probably get  bites too – even though he’s written so much this book was still peppered with lovely lines and fresh metaphors that made me feel like I was there.

The only thing this falls down on is the characters, they’re not awful, but they feel a bit lazy. Robert seems like a slightly less interesting version of Richard Mayhew – the protagonist of Neverwhere (written by Neil Gaiman in 1996 – though I’m not suggesting there was any plagiarism going on), Rose is cool but we never get beneath the surface and the police characters are very formulaic. The two dominant characters fighting it out on the roof tops could be fascinating but we don’t really get to learn much about them until too late.

I have to say that this would make a cracking movie though, or a graphic novel, but as a novel I can only give it 3.5 bites – readable, and fairly enjoyable but not earth-shattering. I’m interested to read some of his more recent works though now.

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.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

cover87393-mediumWoman on the Edge of Time was first published 40-years ago, it became a classic, painting a picture of two possible futures and how even the most downtrodden could fight for the happier one. Connie Ramos, a Mexican American woman living in New York. Connie was once ambitious and determined, she started college, but then she had her dignity, her husband, and her child stolen. Finally they want to take her sanity – but does she still have it to steal?

Connie has recently been contacted by an envoy from the year 2137 who introduces her to a time where men and women are equal, the words he and she are obsolete having been replaced by the word per (short for person). All forms of sexuality are celebrated as are all racial genetics. It isn’t quite a perfect world, there are minor jealousies and tensions between lovers and a war still being fought on the outer boundaries, but to Connie it’s a revelation. Now she’s been unjustly committed to a mental institution, and they’re putting electrodes into her brain, when she tries to reach the future next it’s entirely different, a horrific place for women to live. Does Connie hold they key to which becomes our future and if so does she have the strength to turn it?

Today Ebury Publishing have released a 40th anniversary addition, a new generation get to meet Connie. I have to applaud them, they’re having a great month for feminist literature, just a couple of weeks ago they also released Shappi Khorshandi’s Nina is Not Ok and now this!

To my shame I missed this first time round, I don’t know how, I’ve read a lot of feminist literature but this passed me by. I’m so glad to have read it. I have to admit that when I first started it I was in a dark place and the first few pages with their bleak portrait of exploitation was more than I could take. I had to set it aside for a couple of weeks. If I’d known where it was going I wouldn’t have, just a few pages later it blossomed and it would have lifted me right out of the funk I was in.

I can’t express how much I loved this book – it’s definitely one I’ll re-read and one I want passionately for you to read too. This isn’t just a ‘feminist book’, it’s also a brilliantly written sci-fi classic. It’s interesting to read this with fresh eyes in 2016, still over a hundred years away from the two possible predicted futures, and see our progress towards them. When Marge Piercy wrote this the idea of wearing computers as watches or using gender neutral pronouns was pie-in-the-sky as was the thought of the majority of women having plastic surgery. Reading it now it seems like it could’ve been written just yesterday. We’ve still all got choices to make – which future will you fight for?

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.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

imageIt’s 1945, and Claire Randall and her husband Frank are on their second honeymoon in the Highlands of Scotland. Separated by war, during which time Claire served as a nurse and Frank worked in MI6, this is their opportunity to rediscover each other and truly start their married life. Frank, history professor and genealogist, is also using the trip to learn more about his heritage. His six- times-great-grandfather, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall was a captain of dragoons, stationed in the Highlands around the time of the Jacobite Rebellions.

During the festival of Beltane (Celtic May Day), Claire goes alone to the standing stones of Craigh na Dun to study some unusual plants she saw growing there. Claire touches the great stone at the centre of the circle, causing the stone to scream. Disorientated, she staggers towards it and when she wakes, she discovers she has been transported back to 1743.

Rescued from Frank’s less than chivalrous relative “Black Jack” by a clan of Highlanders, she is taken to Castle Leoch, where the chieftain Callum MacKenzie puts her to work as a healer, whilst trying to discover what a lone Englishwoman was doing in the Scottish countryside dressed only in her shift. Claire’s tale of a widow subjected to highway robbery while trying to get to France to see her family doesn’t wash, and Callum suspects her of being a spy.

And so, Claire must try to find a way home: to escape Castle Leoch and return to Craigh na Dun and therefore to the 20th Century and Frank. What she doesn’t count on is the growing feelings she has for Jamie Fraser, clansman to the MacKenzies, or the sadistic nature of Black Jack who also has questions about this unusual Englishwoman.

I have to admit that I got hooked on the TV version before I read this book (not something that happens very often), but this is one of the rare examples of a TV show that does its source material proud. If you are looking for perfect writing, it’s not for you. Fairly soon after Claire finds herself in 1743, she seems to have adjusted to it. There isn’t a lot of emotion in this part, certainly not much sense of panic or desperation. She mentions a need to get back to Frank a couple of times- it seems like lip service really. What really makes the book pop out is the characters. The relationship between Claire and Jamie develops wonderfully. Claire has just enough pig-headedness to stop her from being a complete Mary Jane, and Jamie is hot headed, brave and handsome. Black Jack has layers to his character which also keep him the correct side of stereotype.

This is a fun book. It’s not too serious. It’s long, but very easy to read. It’s twee in some places and predictable in others, but fun. I’ve already bought the next book in the series!

PS- You should totally watch the TV show!

4 bites

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

Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

UnknownHeart of Darkness is the tale of Marlow and his journey up the Congo River where he  meets  Kurtz, a man reputed to have great abilities. He tells of seeing natives enslaved and describes the contrast between the impassive and majestic jungle with the cruel industry of the  white man’s tiny settlements.

The Russian claims that Kurtz has enlarged his mind and cannot be subjected to the same moral judgments as normal people. Apparently, Kurtz has established himself as a god with the natives and they appear to obey his commands.

Marlow listens to Kurtz talk while he pilots the ship, and Kurtz entrusts Marlow with a packet of personal documents, including an eloquent pamphlet on civilizing the savages which ends with a scrawled message that says, “Exterminate all the brutes!” Kurtz then dies, and Marlow determines to see his fiancée. She still idolises him so Arlow lies to spare her feelings telling her Kurtz’s last words were her name when really they were “The horror! The horror!” Eventually he returns to Europe and goes to see Kurtz’s  fiancée.

Reviewing this book at this time is really hard for me. I could talk about the writing, the lush descriptions, or the historical context and why this book was important then, but none of that feels right.

Because as I write this black men and women are dying at white hands just as they are in this book. And, just as in this book, their voices and faces are passed over, they don’t seem to count for anything. So much so that when I typed the first sentence of this paragraph the w of white autocorrected to a capital but the b of black hadn’t.

I felt uncomfortable reading this book so I think you should read it too. Notice if you will, just how much black lives don’t matter in this story. Remember Britain’s role in the slave trade. And see why the movement and hashtag #BlackLivesMatter really does matter. And please, if you’re white never try to say ‘but all lives matter’ because white lives have and still do matter – they don’t need a hashtag or a movement. Black lives do.

 

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.

Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Whilst looking for a suitable picture to accompany this review, I came across the reviews on a certain well-known review website. The first volume of Terry Goodkind’s long running saga, The Sword of Truth series, is certainly divisive. The majority of reviews are either overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative. Wizard’s First Rule, it would appear, is a Marmite book.

So which camp do I fall into?
Well, with regards to Marmite, vehemently in the hate camp… I hate the smell of it, the look of it, the taste of it. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!

WFRWith regards to Wizard’s First Rule, I’m in the minority… I neither love it or hate it. I find it enjoyable, I find it flawed, I see the basis for the negative reviews, and I see the reasons for the fervent love.
I would consider this the porridge of the book world; it’s ok, some people think it’s the bees’ knees, some people think it’s glue in a bowl. I think it’s alright, a bit bland, a bit prone to inducing literary indigestion. I need to be in the right frame of mind for it but in certain circumstances it’s a delicious bowl of stodge filling me up with nothing too complicated.

Wizard’s First Rule is the first in an eleven book series (plus prequels and a follow up series) called The Sword of Truth. It introduces us to the world Goodkind has created, the central characters of Richard, Kahlan and Zedd (Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander to be precise), and the myriad of peripheral characters.  Richard embarks on a quest, aided by Kahlen and Zedd to overcome a great evil, and to discover his true self.

Goodkind has often claimed that his books are not fantasy but character novels and he does spend a lot of time of developing his characters. Unfortunately he sacrifices this character development at times to further the plot- you find that Kahlan and Richard in particular act outside of the established boundaries of their character in order to make a point, or to introduce a new concept. It’s jarring but not an insurmountable problem.

What is more problematic is the treatment of good and evil. Evil in this book is truly evil- torturing, maiming, killing for fun, child molesting evil. And we are continually told that people commit acts that are evil not because they themselves are evil but because they believe they are doing what is right- Life is murder is a concept that is explained at one point.  The two don’t really match. On the one hand we are shown despicable acts committed by people who truly enjoy the sadism of it all and on the other we are urged to understand that these acts are committed by people who have truly believe that these actions are the only way, that they are justified by the rightness of their cause.
On the flip side of this, we are shown heroes and heroines on the side of right and truth and justice who are just as willing to commit atrocities to get what they want. They consider killing innocent children with their bare hands, they attempt to kill old men because the men do not believe helping them is in the men’s best interests, they casually talk about skinning someone they believe has betrayed them and this is all only in the first book… don’t get me started on their actions in the rest!

It’s tricky; it’s something that keeps me mulling over my feelings about this book long after I’ve finished it. Combine it with the bizarre BDSM-on-steroids sub-plot/plot thread and the beginnings of a political ideology I disagree with and it makes me frequently consider putting this book in the Marmite category.

But it isn’t. It’s porridge. It’s been read and re- read a dozen times. Why is that??
Well it is pretty enjoyable, the story ticks along nicely and there are numerous interesting episodes along the way. The world Goodkind has created is complicated, magical, and full of little pieces of history that make you want to know a bit more.
The writing isn’t complicated, you don’t need to wade through indecipherable prose to get to the heart of the matter.

Yes, it has its issues, yes, I can see why people loathe it, but for me, it’s just a pretty decent book to read when I want something a bit familiar and a bit enjoyable to read.

3 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 Deluge by Arthur Marwick

Published in 1965, Arthur Marwick’s famous (amongst History students at least!) thesis on the changes wrought by the First World War on British society is a prime candidate for Throwback Thursday. It has continually been in print for over 50 years and remains one of the most influential works on the First World War.

DelugeHis central conclusion, provocative at the time but now much more widely accepted, was that society was irrevocably and positively changed by the First World War. He did not seek to minimise the tragedy or the loss of life but, in this book, he steadily and methodically laid out the evidence that Britain after the deluge of total war was a better place to live than before. The Deluge was one of the first books to focus on the lives of ordinary people and the different impacts of different social classes. He rejects many of  the patriotic and often jingoistic histories that came before and forges a new approach to the impact that Total War has on societies.

It’s a fascinating book, and one I first read whilst studying for my A Levels. I continued to read it yearly throughout my History degree studies and on through my teaching career. Marwick’s decision to move away from the idea of war as a purely military experience was pretty eye-opening to a young History student who had studied the Nazis every year (and would continue to either study or teach the Nazis on a yearly basis!) and who was taught by two History teachers who had a clear focus on military and political history.
The Deluge was my gateway drug into other social histories, and other works by Marwick, who rapidly became something of a historian crush!

The Deluge is perhaps not the most accessible of books for the casual historian, but I do think it is the most rewarding. Well-written, full of colourful theories and keen observations about people and how they continued on and adapted to the inevitable societal  changes, it is not only a useful history about the First World War but also about attitudes in the 1960s.

Recommended for those with more than a passing interest in the subject!

5 bites from the History teacher side of me. 3 from the ordinary reader side!

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.

Helium by Tim Earnshaw

2888525Gary has been drifting for a while, since his wife left him he’s been floating around the house he grew up in. The only thing keeping him rooted to the world is his shop. Once his love of music had been channeled in his band – ‘Gary Wilder and the Hi-Tones ‘, now he sells instruments to people that don’t remember his heyday.

Then he has a bad hair day, and strange things start happening. First he gets a date with the receptionist at his father’s nursing home, then Kent Treacy, acid casualty guitarist from the days when the Hi-Tones mutated into The High, turns up wanting to get the band back together for a reunion tour.

As the gravity of Gary’s situation deepens, or to be more accurate weakens, he sends a videotape to NASA. But will they believe their eyes?

This slim, lighthearted novel reads like a cross between Nick Hornby and an episode of the X Files. Although Gary is a bit of a loser these days, he’s someone who is still likeable enough that you want to follow him on his ridiculous journey. All the characters are more than a bit damaged actually, but believably so. That’s important because the plot is utterly unbelievable, without well-drawn characters reacting authentically this would have been too absurd to cope with.

But British authour Tim Earnshaw knows how to write, the setting descriptions are spot on – you really feel like you are right next to Gary, not just seeing what he sees but feeling the sun on the back of your neck too. So much so I was surprised at finding out the author is British!

There’s nothing life-changing in this book, but it’s a great little hollday or weekend read. Very entertaining! Pick it up and lighten up for a while!

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.

Burmese Days by George Orwell

imageGeorge Orwell’s first novel is set in 1920s imperial Burma, a place he knew well. U Po Kyin, a corrupt Burmese official wants to raise his standing with the white rulers. To do so he plans to destroy the reputation of the Indian Dr. Veraswami., friend of John Flory, an embittered  35-year-old teak merchant who both loves and hates Burma and the Burmese.

Flory would like to help his friend but he knows his own standing among his fellow Europeans is shaky. He has a ragged crescent of a birthmark on his face and his politics aren’t quite the thing. When he meets Elizabeth Lackersteen, He is immediately taken with her and they spend some time getting close, Lost in romantic fantasy, Flory imagines Elizabeth to be the sensitive non-racist he so much desires, the European woman who will “understand him and give him the companionship he needed.”

I chose this book partly because I loved 1984 so much when I read it recently,  and partly because my partner was about to leave to work in Burma (Myanmar as it’s known now) for 2 months. Call me soppy but I wanted to feel close to him while he was gone and so immersing myself in a book set where he was seemed like the ideal solution.

They say the past is another country and this book is set almost a century ago, lots has changed in Burma since then but somehow Orwell’s description of the country and climate still made me feel like I had a sense of being there with him. Not surprising when this book was based on his time spent there.

But this book did make me uncomfortable in other ways. The casual, ingrained racism of the white society is thrown into sharp relief. To think that this was my grandparents generation is sickening. What is as bad if not worse is seeing how Dr Veraswami internalises this racism and believes wholeheartedly that the white people are superior. It shows how damaging racism is and how hard it is for those subjected to it to push through it. The same of course applies to people subjected to sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc.

A powerful book, and one that shouldn’t be left in 1984’s shadows as it still has much to teach us.

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.

Jingo by Terry Pratchett

imageIn the middle of the Circle Sea, a mysterious island has appeared. Known as Leshp, it threatens the fragile diplomatic relationship between its nearest neighbours: Ankh Morpork and Klatch. The land is seen as strategically important and both countries think it should belong to them.

Anti-Klatchian feeling threatens violence on the streets of Ankh Morpork and as Commander of the City Watch, Sam Vimes must keep the peace. He is supported in this by the rest of the watch, the ranks of which are swelling considerably thanks to the efforts of Captain Carrot. When Prince Khufurah of Klatch arrives in the city to accept an honourable degree from the wizards of Unseen University, he is shot and critically wounded. Vimes has to work out who, in a city that hates Klatch, would arrange the assassination. And how does 71 hour Ahmed, the prince’s bodyguard, fit into it all?

This is Terry Pratchett at his absolute best. For those who haven’t read the Discworld novels before, the city watch stories are a great place to start. The characters are wonderfully diverse, not just in terms of race (ware wolves, dwarfs, adopted dwarfs, trolls and zombies are all welcome in the watch) but also in personality. From lazy, stupid Sergeant Colon, to Captain Carrot who can make even inner city gangs get along.

Using a fantasy world which floats through space on the back of a giant turtle, Pratchett explores nationalism and how ignorance and hatred explode into the everyday when society feels under threat. He writes about a countries history, how it influences its present, and about the futility of war. It is clever, satirical and thought provoking. The message of this book is as relevant in our own round world as it is on the disc.

The writing itself is wonderful. Laugh out loud funny at times, but also considered and serious. Pratchett carefully chose each word. He truly was a wordsmith. Gone but never, ever forgotten.

“Fortune favours the brave, sir,” said Carrot cheerfully.

“Good. Good. Pleased to hear it, captain. What is her position vis a vis heavily armed, well prepared and excessively manned armies?”

“Oh, no–one’s ever heard of Fortune favouring them, sir.”

“According to General Tacticus, it’s because they favour themselves,” said Vimes. He opened the battered book. Bits of paper and string indicated his many bookmarks. “In fact, men, the general has this to say about ensuring against defeat when outnumbered, out–weaponed and outpositioned. It is…” he turned the page, “‘Don’t Have a Battle.'”

5 bites

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

Lion of Macedon by David Gemmell

imageSparta, 385 BC and a young man named Parmenion is running from a group of attackers. Parmenion is half Spartan and half Macedonian. He has never fitted in, has only one friend in the barracks but is one of the best strategists of his generation. What he doesn’t know is that the path of life is being controlled by Tamis, a seeress whose gift has told her of the coming of a Dark Lord who will take human form. She knows Parmenion will be instrumental in the future, but doesn’t know which side he will take.

Parmenion falls in love with Derae, a Spartan woman who is already promised to another man. When he discovers their affair he challenges Parmenion to a fight to the death and Derae is sent to Troy, her punishment to be drowned as a sacrifice to the gods. Parmenion survives the duel and escapes to Thebes. Here he fights for Theban independence against the Spartans, before moving on to Persia as a mercenary.

Meanwhile a young man named Philip finds himself King of Macedonia following the death of his brother. Stuck with a crown he didn’t want, he must protect Macedonia from a mass of enemies and there is only one man who can help him.

Phew, this is an epic and only the first of two books. To be honest, it feels like a lot of build up and the main point of the story doesn’t really get going until the last third. It definitely feels like it could be cut down a bit. The characters feel a little two dimensional and seem to go from rational behaviour to all out anger in the space of a couple of words. In fact, the writing in general seems cliched at times. Which is a shame because the general premise of the story is a good one.

I found the historical side of the story really interesting, especially the parts set in Sparta. I enjoyed learning a little more about the culture, the role of woman and how the city- state saw itself within the Greek peninsula. However, I won’t be reading the second book. Instead I’m going to head a little further back in time and re-read Lord of the Silver Bow recently reviewed by BookEater Mai. Set during the Trojan War, this is Gemmell at his best.

3 Bites

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

The Forgotten Women Of Science Fiction

The early days of Science Fiction was dominated by men. If I was to ask you to name a writer, I would be fairly confident you would say Jules Verne or H. G. Wells. Perhaps even Clarke, Asimov or Heinlein. If I was to ask you to name a female Science Fiction writer, you most likely reply Mary Shelly. Famous UK author Brian Aldiss claims that her work, Frankenstein, represents “the first seminal work to which the label SF can be logically attached”.

The first who enter and explore are always the best well know. So it’s not a surprise that Wells, Verne and Shelly are common names. As Science Fiction entered it’s Golden Age (generally agreed to be between 1938 to 1946), names that we know today entered the field. Such luminaries as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark and Philip K. Dick. This era was dominated by men but women writers were present, only they were often hiding behind pen names or sadly have been forgotten.

Their presence and contributions were never really celebrated as well as their male counter parts. It’s not until we get to the New Wave period where they start to get recognition. Women like Leigh Douglass Brackett (December 7, 1915 – March 18, 1978).

leigh_brackettLeigh was an American writer who wrote romances that spanned the universe. Her major contribution, other than her own body of work, was her script for George Lucas’s second instalment of Star Wars. According to her Wikipedia entry

The exact role which Brackett played in writing the script for Empire is the subject of some dispute. What is agreed on by all is that George Lucas asked Brackett to write the screenplay based on his story outline. It is also known that Brackett wrote a finished first draft which was delivered to Lucas shortly before Brackett’s death from cancer on March 18, 1978. Two drafts of a new screenplay were written by Lucas and, following the delivery of the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark, turned over to Lawrence Kasdan for a new approach. Both Brackett and Kasdan (though not Lucas) were given credit for the final script.

While she does get a credit for her work, I’m sure no one today, outside of Star Wars fandom, would know of her.

James Tiptree, Jr/Alice Bradley Sheldon - source: Wikipedia - used under 'fair use'
James Tiptree, Jr/Alice Bradley Sheldon – source: Wikipedia – used under ‘fair use’

Then there’s Alice Bradley Sheldon (August 24, 1915 – May 19, 1987). Most of Alice’s work was published under the name of James Tiptree Jr, it was so she could get her works published in a male dominated world. Another name she used, from 1974 to 1977 was Raccoona Sheldon. In fact, it was not publicly known until 1977 that James Tiptree, Jr. was female.Quite a lot of her books explore the feminist side, using both humans and aliens alike to explore her ideas. She is so highly regarded that there is an award in her name – the James Tiptree, Jr. Award is given in her honour each year for a work of science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.

Though New Wave writing did spawn female writers who went on to become famous, like  Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006), there were some who started in the Golden Age, like James Tiptree.

Catherine_Lucille_MooreC. L. Moore (Catherine Lucille1911-1987) is a US writer whose work is still admired and read today. She had found fame with her own published stories before her marriage (1940) to another Sci Fi writer Henry Kutner (1915-1958). In fact, they had been collaborating since 1937. She stopped writing Sci Fi after her husbands death, she continue for a while writing for TV – Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip. Her Sci Fi work was know for it’s lyrical fluency and the power to evoke a Sense of Wonder.

320full-andre-nortonAnother women started out with an ambiguous name is Andre Norton (1912-2005). She came to fame with Sci Fi stories aimed at Children. The work that really marked her entrance in to the genre was her 1947 novel – The People of the Crater. Over her publishing career, her work matured and became darker. She was very well respected and won many awards and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1997.

These days, Science Fiction is loved and enjoyed by men and women alike. Only recently has it lost much of it’s ‘geeky’ image and the idea that only males enjoy it. The thing we have to remember is that women were there at the beginning, during the Golden Age and through the New Wave period. We must not forget they made a huge contribution to what we now enjoy.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I’ve never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father’s reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre’s. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other ‘golden age’ authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

The Eight by Katherine Neville

imageCharlemagne, Holy Emperor of half of the known world is given a chess set, but when he starts to play it becomes apparent that this set isn’t just a thing of beauty, but a thing with a power all its own. He buries it, and sets protection around it that stays in place for a thousand years. But even this can’t stop the rumours of its powers and when revolution flames through France it is unearthed for its own protection. Mireille de Remy and her cousin Valentine are two of the nuns from Montglane Abbey that must scatter the pieces throughout the world to stop their power being abused.

So begins the game, almost two hundred years on people are still trying to collect all the pieces when Catherine Velis, a computer expert, is sent to Algeria to create a program for the newlyn formed OPEC and becomes enmeshed in the game.

I first read this book in my early twenties, then I reread it, reread it and reread it again. I loved it! I wasn’t alone, back in the early 90’s this was a ‘cult bestseller’, one of few books on the market then to combine the thriller genre with history and spirituality.  So when I saw that it had been re-released for Kindle I grabbed a copy quicker than you can say ‘one-click’!

I was worried, would it live up to my high expectations? I could really only remember snatches of it – that it was to do with chess and the Fibonacci theory was in it and that I’d liked the main character. Thankfully it did not disappoint! Reading it again I remembered that it wasn’t just the main character I’d liked but pretty much all of them. There are a host of strong, intelligent women in this book and they are ably supported by interesting male characters.

There’s action and adventure enough for any lover of thrillers and there’s a dash of romance, a huge mystery and some magic. What else could you want?

Eat it up quick – you won’t regret it!

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.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S Click here… and you’re welcome!

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

imageWhen Tom Joad is paroled from prison and gets back to the farm he grew up in he finds it deserted. He’s told his family were evicted by the banks just like all the other farmers, and are staying with family nearby.

He finds them loading a converted Hudson saloon with their few remaining possessions; with no work nearby they’ve no option but to cross the country to seek work in California. They’ve seen flyers promising plentiful work and good wages.

Traveling west on a road crowded with other migrants, they hear stories from others. Some returning from California, warning them that the state is swamped with migrant workers being exploited.

John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel doesn’t flinch from examining the causes and effects of America’s Great Depression. It’s message is vital, particularly in today’s world when financial inequality is leading to the same disastrous consequences. However, I have to admit that I really struggled to get into this book, even though I knew I wanted to read it.  The problem was that the description of the environment, although beautiful, went on for far to long. We don’t even meet him (or anyone) till the second chapter.

Once the characters came in and their story started to unfold, I appreciated his lyrical style and descriptive power much more. Vignettes were sprinkled throughout the narrative and and some of them are breathtaking.

This book has been on many curriculums for many years for a reason. But I think it has a flaw in it, it never quite brings the reader into the skins of the characters. We end up watching their desperate struggle from a distance, allowing us to disassociate ourselves. I think if we had been bought right into their souls and forced to see their hardship through their own eyes this book might have done what it set out to do, stop us dehumanising people and treating them as less important than profit.

It’s still a great book, and if you haven’t read it you definitely should.

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.

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.