Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

IMG_1641And so we come to the third installment of the Harry Potter series. And my favourite. Book or film, number 3 always hits the top of the charts for me. I think it’s brilliant! I own three physical copies and a ebook. It’s on my wish list for audio-books to own but I have listened to it from the library several times.

I just feel that The Prisoner of Azkaban is where Harry Potter really branches out and shouts to the world that here is a story for the ages.

Rowling herself said that writing POA was her best writing experience- her money worries were at bay, the press attention wasn’t too overbearing and she felt comfortable. I think that shows in her writing throughout. The little additions to the wizarding world she drops in, those little details that make it so easy to immerse yourself in a world where broomsticks and hippogriffs are perfectly legitimate ways to fly, and chocolate is the cure to abject despair!

Prisoner of Azkaban has the reputation of being the point in which the series becaomes darker, and in may ways that’s true. It’s certainly the book where you realise that Harry’s life will never be easy. In other series, the offer Sirius makes to Harry to come and live with him would mark the point at which he gains a trusted guardian and adviser and can really grow into his role as a hero. In Rowling’s world, it marks the point in which we realise that Harry has to overcome so much more than Lord Voldemort… he has to overcome everything life throws at him. I actually think that having Sirius make this offer, moments after Harry believes his story, and moments before he has to go on the run again, is the cruellest thing Rowling does to Harry over the whole series.

Plot wise, it’s a pacy book and I think the last of the streamlined books in this series. 4, 5 and especially 6 I find prone to bloat and it always makes me appreciate the efficiency of story telling in Prisoner of Azkaban so much more

I also love the characters in this. Lupin is a fabulous character, flawed and kind hearted, struggling with his inner demons and his principles. I do love him.
I also love the interplay between harry, Hermione and Ron. Their friendship endures despite the trials and tribulations of life.

It’s a 5 biter for me!

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.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Chamber_of_SecretsAh, the difficult second book… Scrutinised and pored over mercilessly. Is it as good as the first? Is the author a one trick pony? Can the magic of the first novel be repeated?

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets was one such book. The Philosopher’s Stone had been such a success that anticipation was high and scrutiny expected.

So did it hold up? What did the critics think?

The book was released on the 2nd June 1998 to a rapturous reaction. Critics were overwhelmingly positive citing Rowling’s strong plotting, her well-developed characters and her unflinching approach to the scarier elements of the story. They almost all gave the glowing commendation of not only being a book that adults would enjoy too, but more importantly, a sequel that was as good as the first!

Nearly two decades on and with the advantage of being able to look back on The Chamber of Secrets as a part of a completed series, reviews have generally become more measured and often it is not considered the stand out book of the series. In fact, a cursory search on the internet will often show COS as sixth or more often seventh in ‘Which is the best Harry Potter book?’ surveys, polls and votes.

In some ways, this position is deserved. The similarities in plot structure are glaring and occasionally distracting in a way that is not apparent in later books. The timely arrival of Fawkes in his dues ex machine role is a little too miraculous and too much is unexplained (if Fawkes knew where Harry was, then he clearly knew where the chamber was all along!)

But in many other ways, the release of the following five books has done COS a disservice. The central theme of tolerance of others and integration within a community are important topics to address within a children’s book and it is well done here. The continuation on addressing the idea of a person’s choices making them who they are furthers the overarching theme of the story and adds extra dimension to later stories.

I also feel that the more disturbing elements of the story announce to the world that JK Rowling is not scared to go dark, is confident of the ability of children to adapt to the harsher realities of life. And I think this is a good thing.

So Chamber of Secrets…. You’ve done a good job. You proved that Rowling wasn’t a one trick pony, you showed that strong characters and plots can be sustained, and you revealed a lot about the series overall that we just didn’t appreciate until later on!

4 bites

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

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

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverI can remember exactly where I was the first time I read The Philosopher’s Stone. I was eighteen and in Mexico on a month long trip with schoolfriends. In a burst of teenage pretentiousness and a desire to bring a book which I wouldn’t read too quickly, I only had on me Dante’s Inferno (I know, right!) Shockingly, I found that this wasn’t the book to cosy up with in a tent after a long days hiking. So a friend lent me her copy of Harry Potter. It was three years since its release, and at the time I hadn’t heard much about it. But I do remember taking a train through Mexico’s Copper Canyon and thinking I was like Harry on the Hogwarts Express. Except for the scenery. And the country. And the fact that I hadn’t just discovered I was a wizard. Apart from that, it was exactly the same.

We all know the story: An orphan child is being brought up by his Aunt and Uncle in circumstances that should have had Social Services hammering on the door; discovers he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by an evil wizard (so far, so Luke Skywalker); manages to defeat evil wizard with his mates. And we all can guess why children loved it so much: it’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s got a giant dog with three heads. But why were there so many copies of it being read by commuters on their way to work?

Lets face it, it’s not the best writing in the world (please don’t hurt me!) It has all the ingredients of a children’s book- some cliches, a lot of adverbs. In short, not the kind of book that millions of adults would normally take to. But it’s got something so much more. It’s the hero’s journey: orphan boy discovers there is so much more to him than he thought, that he is a celebrity. We have Dumbledore as the wise mentor, Voldemort as the villain. It is nostalgia. Who amongst us didn’t want a letter from Hogwarts to arrive for us? It harks back to rose tinted schooldays, full of adventure and friends. It is warm and funny. I cheered when Hagrid gave Dudley a pig’s tail, celebrated the come-upance of the Dursley’s. I loved it when Harry met Ron on the Hogwarts Express, his first true friendship. And Christmas morning when Harry is overwhelmed with gratitude after receiving Mrs Weasley’s knitted jumper.

But there is a little hint of threat through it all, a warning that in this Mallory Towers- esque world, all is not safe. It drives the book forward. As adults, the magical world thrills us and we are desperate to be a part of it.

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.

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.

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

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

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

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

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

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

I’m definitely glad I revisited it!

5 Bites

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

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

IMG_1614In a not too distant future, America has fallen. A coup has led to the overthrow of the government and the suspension of the Constitution. Democracy is replaced with theocracy, and America has become The Republic of Gilead. This is now a land governed completely by men, and in which women’s rights have been stripped away completely. Forbidden to read, to go out alone, women have few roles in society. With increasing sterility in this new world, the Republic have introduced a biblical way to increase the population. Women known as Handmaid’s are introduced to the households of high ranking officials and their wifes. Their role is to take part in a sexual ceremony with the official and his wife. A Handmaid who has a child is protected from being sent to the Colonies where “unwomen” are exiled. However, any child born is the property of the official and his wife.

Our protagonist is Offred, handmaid to a man known only as The Commander, and his wife who Offred believes to once have been a singer known as Serena Joy. Through Offred we learn about the new regime, it’s practices and punishments. We also get flashbacks to Offred’s past: to her previous life with her husband and daughter, through to life in the Handmaid’s training programme and her friendship with fellow Handmaid, Moira.

Sales in Atwood’s modern classic have soared in the months since the election of Donald Trump, and it’s easy to see why. The premise has become ever more believable, as has the insidious way in which women’s rights are eroded within Gilead. At the start of the revolution, on finding her bank account frozen. Offred’s husband doesn’t rage or take to the streets with her. Instead he promises to look after her, seemingly happy to be the knight in shining armour protecting his woman. In Gilead, men have complete control over women’s bodies, their reproductive rights and lives in general. Executive orders signed by Trump show how easy it is for this to happen in this world too.

It is an uncomfortable read, and so it should be. It deals with an uncomfortable subject. However, it’s flawlessly written. Offred’s voice is intentionally clumsy to start with, a side effect of being forced into silence for so long. But it becomes more fluent as the book progresses. This is an essential book, and can be found in the ‘current affairs’ section of your local bookshop!

5 bites

PS- If you love The Handmaid’s Tale, you might be interested to know that a new TV adaptation starring Elisabeth Moss as Offred will be released on US streaming service, Hulu on 26th April. Keep an eye on our page for a UK release date!

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 Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

IMG_2406This is the story of Charles Strickland as told by a writer who at first is an acquaintance of his wife.

When we first meet him he is a conventional stockbroker, but then out of the blue he abandons his wife and children to move to Paris and become a painter. Our narrator is sent to plead his wife’s case but finds a selfish, determined man who cares nothing for what anyone may think of him. Even of the few that think he is a genius. After learning all he can in Paris, his lack of money drives him to Tahiti, a country full of inspiration.

Our narrator catches up with his story there – finding that the tropics did little to soften his selfishness but everything to inspire his art.

This book is actually inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin, yeah the reference to Tahiti does rather give that away doesn’t it?! In some senses this does echo Gauguin’s life. He was a stockbroker for a time and did give it up to paint. But how close this is to the truth of Gauguin’s character I couldn’t say.

However the book does lampoon the automatic forgiveness of celebrity rudeness because genius’s can’t be expected to act like normal people! It does not close it’s satiric eye to the comedy of manners Edwardian society lived by either.

There is some sympathy in the book too, in Paris there is one person who recognises Stricklands genius and tries his best to support him, Stroeve. Although as a character he doesn’t escape mockery or misfortune, his generous nature shines through adding real warmth to this narrative.

It’s not an overly long book, a good one for taking on holiday overseas, read the London and Paris sections on the plane and enjoy the time in Tahiti on a beach somewhere!

3.5 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.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

IMG_2403A woman is pregnant in eighteenth-century Paris, she stops work to give birth by her fish stall in slum market-place. There, amidst the dirt and the stench Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born without any odour of his own, But with a nose that can discern and define any scent at all.

Through sheer force of will he forces his way into an apprenticeship position with a prominent perfumer. He proves his nose can copy the greatest scents and in return he is taught the ancient arts of distillation, effleurage and mixing precious oils and herbs.

But Grenouille’s obsession leads him to experiment with capturing other scents too –  the odours of objects such as brass doorknobs and even of excrement. Then one day he catches a hint of the perfect scent. The scent that invokes love in all who come into contact with it. Grenouille has never been adored. He must capture the scent and create the ultimate perfume with it. No matter the cost…

This book is one of my all time favourites.

Everything about it is brilliant. The concept, the characterisations, the descriptions, the ending. In fact the ending is so good that when I first read it I was coming to the end of it as I arrived at my home train station. I got off the train but I straight away sat down on the platform bench to finish it. There was just no way I could wait the ten minute walk home to read the end of it.

This time I listened to the audio book version of it. I was a little worried beforehand – a bad narrator could have ruined it. But every single second was a joy. In fact being able to listen to it whilst walking or driving through the country with so many scents drifting around may even have improved it!

If you haven’t read this get a copy now. If you have – treat yourself and re-read it! You won’t regret it!

5 very tasty 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.

Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001 – The Disappointing Final To A Confusing Odyssey

3001 The Final OdysseyI recently reread 3001 The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark. I first read it many years ago and to be honest I can’t actually remember what I thought of it. This time around, seeing as I write the occasional review, I thought I would be more attentive to the story, style and setting.

First of all, I really ought to discuss where this book fits in. I’m sure you are aware of the film and book, 2001 A Space Odyssey – which you can think of as a joint project by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. We are introduced to the mystery of the Monolith and the epic adventure and eventual transformation of Dave Bowman.

In the sequel, 2010 Odyssey Two, new characters are introduced and a further exploration of the mystery of the monolith. We meet Dave Bowman again, though briefly, and a Russian crew out to save the spaceship Discovery from the first film. We also learn why the computer, Hal 9000, murdered the crew. The story was written by Arthur C. Clark, the eventual film was directed by Peter Hyams. Both of which had the blessing of Stanley Kubrick.

Then comes the next book, 2061 Odyssey Three. The character of Haywood Floyd, who was introduced in the first book and features in the second, takes a trip to Halley’s comet. On the way, and after various mishaps, two people end up on Europa. At this point we discover there is indeed life there and it’s guarded by another monolith. This book does further the story somewhat and reveals more about the mysterious monolith and what happened to Dave Bowman and the ‘consciousness’ of the HAL 9000 computer.

After all of that, we end up with 3001 the Final Odyssey.

In this book, one of the original astronauts, Frank Poole, is found floating in space. Modern science has moved on somewhat and after a thousand years he is revived. He is then introduced to the new world of marvels with the help of Professor Anderson who revived him and Doctor Indra Wallace, later a romantic interest. And really, that’s where the book dwells. For a good three quarters of the story, we are following Frank Poole’s exploration and travels. It’s not until towards the end do find out more about Europa and the monolith. It seems rushed, and for me, ruined the mystery that was established with the first book. We find that Dave Bowman and Hal 9000 have become almost a single entity. We discover that behind the monolith’s are nothing more than just ‘aliens’ with an agenda – to act as Sheppard’s over civilisations and decide which is fit to continue. An old trope maybe but I kinda expected more.

When you’ve read all the books, it does seem like the final one is ‘out of joint’. However, if you are a fan of this series, then there’s something you should be aware of. From Wikipedia

Clarke consistently stated that each of the Odyssey novels takes place in its own separate parallel universe – this is demonstrated by the facts that the monoliths are still in existence at the end of 2010: Odyssey Two and that Floyd is no longer part of the trinity formed at the end of 2061: Odyssey Three. These parallel universes are a part of Clarke’s retroactive continuity.

We can take it then, that the series is not really a continuing story. Not if there are differences as cited above. If each individual story takes place in a ‘parallel universe’, are they related? If not, then they just happen to feature common characters, places and events. This revelation makes me feel really uncomfortable and very confused.

It doesn’t make sense to consider this book as a ‘standalone’ story, as you have to understand where the characters come from and their motivations. Also, to consider it as part of a series doesn’t make sense either. I guess I should just enjoy the story but the rush to the end, the disjointed nature of the series and slow plot line, it really should have been much better and so much more.

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.

An Intimate Obsession by Elizabeth McGregor

I had no idea what I was expecting when on a whim I requested this title from Netgalley. Something about the title made me think it would be chick-lit but I am delighted to admit that I was mistaken.an-intimate-obsession

Eve is a primary school teacher in her late thirties who has become trapped in the role of carer for her dominating, demented father. Bound by a childhood spent seeking to earn his love instead of his anger Eve is unable to break free – after a thirty year semi-truce of fencing and scoring points they are too weary to fight but there is no kindliness in their relationship.

Down the valley lives Hugh Scott who owns and farms the land all around Eve’s house, just as his father before him. Hugh gives her the creeps, but stolid, unimaginative, boring Hugh has become a lifebelt in her struggle to stay afloat with the responsibility of her father. Little by little Hugh has insinuated himself into her existence, calling in daily to check on Bill and taking on responsibilities without being asked. Eve is so grateful for his support that she does not question why he should be so generous with his time, but wary of offending him her behaviour towards Hugh gradually adopts the same placating nature as her behaviour towards her father. She is as trapped into accepting his presence in her life as she is trapped by the need to care for Bill.

Eve is blind to Hugh’s devotion and motivation, she cannot see that the man adores her and that every casual acceptance of his help encourages him to think that she will one day reciprocate his feelings. For over a decade he has fantasised about giving Eve the perfect life, he has even built a new farmhouse so she won’t have to live in the cob walled, thatched cottage his family had always live in. He will remove any obstacle he believes keeps them apart; including her caring responsibilities…..His desire for her has the unstoppable might of a speeding juggernaut and when finally the impact comes it is shocking, visceral and detailed.

The detail and imagery of McGregor’s writing was really satisfying. It is actually through Hugh’s eyes that we get to see much of the beauty of the landscape and I could feel his pride at his well-kept fields and healthy crops, even while the image of his land surrounding and enclosing Eve’s home raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

McGregor’s characterisation of Hugh makes it is possible to feel pity and sadness for this deluded man, despite his fantasies, and to sympathise with his endeavours to mould himself into the sort of man who might win Eve’s heart. But when we look from the outside we see a stalker, an obsessive, a man unable to relate to the subtleties of human relationships; in short a human timebomb.

 

Originally published in 1994 this novel is just as relevant in its themes as it was then. I look forward to reading McGregor’s back catalogue of works.

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.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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Click to order from Waterstones

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.