If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

29470648This is the second YA novel I have read in the space of a month, the second lent to me by my younger sister, and the second to show me just how incredible YA fiction is.

Amanda Harvey is moving, from her mother’s house in Atlanta to her father’s in Tennessee. She hasn’t seen her father in six years due to her parents divorce, and a lot has changed in that time. Amanda has the normal teenage problems of newbie in new school: making new friends, getting hit on by handsome, confident jock, Grant (we’ve all been there!) But Amanda is especially anxious about people getting too close. At her last school, she was known as Andrew and bullied to the point where she attempted to take her own life. To Amanda, letting anyone come too close would mean them finding out her secret, and the cycle of bullying beginning all over again.

This is quite a remarkable book. From the start, it’s clear we are not dealing with just a normal high school romance book. It doesn’t shy away from the grittier aspects of Amanda’s story, but for the most part, the writing is sweet. A bit heavy on the internal sensations at times, and occasionally cliched, but sweet none-the-less. The characters seem a little too perfect to start with, but then develop more depth as the book goes on.

The book is set mainly in the present, with the whole story from Amanda’s point of view. We learn more about her past through flashbacks, and for me this is where the substance of the story is. Russo does an excellent job of portraying Amanda’s anxiety throughout the book, and the conflict between the response of her mum and dad to her transition is very well done.

This is an important book: for cisgender (non trans) readers and transgender readers alike. The notes from the author at the back of the book are hugely personal. As a trans woman herself, Meredith Russo has pulled partially on her own experiences for this novel. She is keen for all readers to understand that Amanda is just one (fictional) person, and that her experiences are not true of everyone. This is an excellent book for cis readers to use to increase their understanding of both gender and sexuality, and to help trans readers know they are not alone.

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.

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

cover106249-mediumThe Young Adult thriller is becoming a respected genre, and there shouldn’t be anything surprising about that. After all passions run high in teen years and sometimes those passions run over sense.

This book is great for fans of The Breakfast Club, Pretty Little Liars and 13 Reasons Why.

One afternoon, five students walk into detention, but only four walk out. Those that walk out are Bronwyn a Yale-bound good girl, Addy, the picture-perfect homecoming princess, Nate, the bad boy and Cooper, the jock. So far so stereotypical.

Simon, the one that dies, is an outcast and the creator of their school’s notorious gossip app. Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom.

It seems like his death wasn’t an accident, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about the four he was sharing detention with. Should they be suspects in his murder. Or are they just the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

I must admit most of the reason I read this book was because the publicity department was so full on about it. I got a free review copy and I left reading it until just a couple of weeks ago. I love The Breakfast club and quite enjoyed Pretty Little Liars but this seemed a little to generic for my taste.

Was I right? Yes and no. At first glance the characters are all a little stereotypical; but as their secrets are uncovered there are surprising depths to them. And the plot also has some surprising twists and turns.

Once I started it I found it hard to put down, it has that thing that good thrillers have where you think you know what’s going on but it keeps throwing curveballs so you want to get to the end quickly to prove yourself right. Or is that just me? Anyway I was right!

It isn’t the most highbrow read but it is pacy and has a good moral centre.

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.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

16646123Two years ago, my younger sister, Carolyn, lent me her copy of The Fault in Our Stars. I trust her judgement, and read it knowing it would not be easy, and that I would likely be in pieces at the end. It was not easy, and I blubbed like you wouldn’t believe. It was with some trepidation then that I accepted this book from her, especially as it came with the caveat “it’ll make you cry even more than The Fault in Our Stars”. It didn’t, but that doesn’t get away from the fact that this is a devastatingly lovely book.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet properly for the first time when they are both standing on the ledge of their High School’s bell tower. This morning, like every morning, Finch has asked himself whether today is a good day to die. He is prone to periods of being asleep, this last episode has lasted throughout Thanksgiving and into the New Year. He contemplates different ways of killing himself, intrigued by the suicides of famous people.

Violet’s life turned upside down when her older sister died in a car crash the year before. The grief of losing her sister, and the pressure of being the person who survived has caused her to withdraw into herself. She no longer feels comfortable in her friends company, and has lost her ability to write which had been such an integral part of her.

After Finch helps Violet down from the ledge, a friendship develops between the two. A love of words and an innate understanding of what the other is going through creates a bond between them, and in each other’s company, they discover that some days can be perfect.

This is a sensitive portrayal of mental illness, beautifully written with some wonderful insights. At times it borders on inspirational poster territory, but there is a realness about it that reins it back in. There is such juxtaposition between the characters, which seems to mirror the difference between life and death. There is poetry at times within the prose, assisted by the quoting of The Waves by Virginia Woolf which plays a big part within the book.

This is a book to make you think about mental illness, the way we deal with it individually and as a society. There is a difference between how Finch and Violet are treated by their high school counsellors, with more sympathy being afforded to Violet because there has been a trigger to her depression. But it is also hopeful in its own way. A lovely book, which deserves a moment of contemplation once the last page has been read.

Carolyn says: “This is such a wonderful book, so beautifully written. Jennifer Niven has really captured the thoughts and feelings of a depressive and how it effects those around them. However, she doesn’t portray them in a negative way, which is inspiring. It truly is a great read and I would recommend it to anyone.”

4 Bites from me. 5 Bites from Carolyn!

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.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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

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

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

Sadly, it was not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 bite. I did finish it I suppose…

 

 

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

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

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

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

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

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

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

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

4 Bites

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

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

BOOK BATTLE! The Cursed Child

Who would ever have thought it would come to this?

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Two BFFS, Bookeater Kelly and Bookeater Rachel, at odds over The Cursed Child!
Kelly loved it, Rachel hated it- how will they ever reconcile their friendship?

With a BookEater Book Battle of course! The literary version of a corridor death match pistols at dawn duel!
Who will open up a can of literary whoopass and emerge victorious?!

(We made efforts to keep it spoiler free but failed miserably towards the end… you are duly warned!)

 

Rachel: So, I didn’t like it. To start with, I didn’t particularly like the format. The difference between the richness of the Harry Potter books and this bare bones play was stark

Kelly: I agree with that, but it was never trying to be a book. It was published as a screenplay so it was always going to be different.

Rachel: That’s true but I didn’t consider it a positive difference

Kelly: I think it depends what you wanted from it. I loved the idea of finding out what happened to the characters afterwards, the “living in your father’s shadow” theme and the impossibility of living up to being the son of the boy who lived. For me, the characters made up for any lack in description.

Rachel: That’s interesting because I thought the characters and the theme were pretty terrible

Rachel: The characters didn’t seem to be in line with how they were portrayed in the books and I found the theme of living in your father’s shadow to be depressingly mundane

Rachel: I wasn’t expecting them to have been the exact same as in the books but I felt the fundamentals of their characters were different

Kelly: But we grow up and change. We aren’t the same people we are at school. I mean- you and I are awesome still, but for different reasons!

Kelly: And a lot of the actual stories in the original series are mundane, just set in a magical environment- like this one was.

Kelly: Although if you delve into Harry’s personality more, he was always filled with doubt about his wizarding skills, it’s just that now he doubts his parenting skills.

Kelly: I loved Scorpius!

Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore
Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore

Rachel: We do grow up and change but we aren’t witches nor are we the focus of an entire franchise of books devoted to making magic out of the mundane. That is what made JK Rowling’s stories so wonderful and that isn’t what happens here. Here the magic is burdened, is dragged down and is overwhelmed by the ordinary, the boring, the mundane.

What does The Boy Who Lived grow up and do? Erm, well actually he has a pretty boring desk job, three kids and a severely middle class, suburban outlook on life.

Wow what an exciting sequel. #snooze #evaporatedmagic

Rachel: Scorpius wasn’t bad. What did you like so much about him?

Kelly: I can’t help but feel that the play is much different and pulls on the magic more. Again, because it’s a screenplay we lose some of the description and background that makes it more magical. We only have the dialogue, and that’s never going to be able to incorporate all the magic.

Kelly: I thought Scorpius was a wonderfully funny character. He’s so the opposite of what you expect a Malfoy to be. I kept waiting for him to do something evil!

Kelly: I found it quite nostalgic. I can’t expand on that because of spoilers. Did it give you that feel at all?

Rachel: Not really to be honest. I felt a bit betrayed (or something slightly less dramatic!). I felt a bit like I did when I found out Father Christmas doesn’t exist (is that a spoiler too?!)

Kelly: (What do you mean? Father Christmas is real- I’ve met him!!)

Rachel: I agree with you on Scorpius actually. He was pretty funny and loyal, and I could see him being in the original extended gang. He made up for my disappointment in the neutering of Draco Malfoy

Rachel: Which to be totally honest was a process begun by Rowling

Rachel: (Oh, yes, OF COURSE he is real…..)

Kelly: It was- it began in the last book. When you are on the losing side, you are going to be neutered. But there is still the distrust between him and Harry.

Kelly: (Thank goodness! You had me worried for a bit!)

Rachel: Which I didn’t find believable. But again, this is really Rowling’s fault. He didn’t seem to have suffered any consequence in her epilogue for having been essentially evil albeit in a flawed manner so why would he here?

I found the family aspect of his storyline to be a bit affecting (although think it clashed with stated facts from the epilogue)

Kelly: Affecting in what way?

Rachel: I felt sorry for Draco because of what happened to his family (close to spoiler territory!). And his reactions felt real

Rachel: Which unfortunately just contrasted with how unaffecting I found Harry

Kelly: I agree with your comments on Draco, but disagree about Harry. I thought his actions were realistic and he made me react emotionally throughout the screenplay. I felt angry with him, a bit disappointed in his reactions (which I think was the point) and sad for him. Can I say that the bit I was most disappointed with was how small a role Ginny had.

Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore
Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore

Rachel: Yes! It was as if she was totally erased as a proper character!

Rachel: And they had such a good opportunity to show how the two characters had grown together and complemented each other

Rachel: Wasted

Kelly: Exactly. She was purely there to give Harry and Albus a sounding board, and to give them advice that they ignored. Such a shame.

Rachel: She could have easily been a brand new character for all of the emotional attachment I had to her

Rachel: Wasn’t massively impressed with Ron or Hermione either. The Trio felt missing. I couldn’t find that amazing connection and camaraderie they had

Rachel: And don’t tell me that it’s because they’re grown up and friendships change because we’re living proof that friendships can be just as marvellous, if not better, decades on!HHR CC

Kelly: Ha ha! We are living proof of that! But not everyone is as lucky as us, and doesn’t Hermione admit that work has gotten in the way and they haven’t been as close as they once were? Or did I make that bit up? I’m sure it was part of the story.

Kelly: But less of the decades please. We’ll stick to “years on”. It ages us less!

Rachel: Maybe I am biased because even when work and life gets in the way of us, we still managed to get through the, erm, several years on (!) with our closeness still intact.

I just felt that these three saved the world together; they wouldn’t let work get in the way

Rachel: Particularly as their friendship was SUCH a core element of the original story

Kelly: I do get what you mean.

Rachel: So I think I could have forgiven or got past most of my concerns (not really to the extent of thinking it was a good book/play, but at least to the stage of not regretting I’d read it) if it hadn’t have been for the plot. Not so much the main plot as I thought that was fairly decent. It was the addition of that character and their origin… You know the one I mean

SPOILERS APPROACHING!

Kelly: I do. I understand what you mean, but again I feel it draws on the themes of the play. Without giving too much away, you have Scorpius who is forging a path away from his father and is a good guy, Albus who is struggling to make a life away from his father’s shadow, and then the other person who just embraces their father’s character. It provides contrast.

Rachel: It provide contrast but in a way that completely undermines the character of the father, and as such, undermines a central concept of the original series. It’s difficult to not spoil things but this new character’s very existence contradicts a central aspect of the father’s core belief and the actions they take on those beliefs.

If they were going to introduce this new character, they could have done it a different way. They didn’t actually need to be that character’s progeny

Kelly: I don’t know how to reply without spoiling the book. I would say that I disagree and think that we don’t know completely that this would be against the characters core beliefs. In fact, it’s in keeping with the characters actions.

AND HERE IS WHERE OUR ATTEMPT AT A SPOILER FREE BATTLE GOES COMPLETELY OUT OF THE WINDOW!! BE WARNED!!

Kelly: But wouldn’t Voldemort have created her as another horcrux? There was nothing to suggest love between them

Rachel: The idea that he would feel enough human emotion to actually have sex with Bellatrix is baffling to me, but more importantly, it’s a distraction from his main purpose

Rachel: And it’s totally unrealistic that no-one ever found out

Rachel: And why did she confund Amos except that otherwise the rest if that story makes no sense

Kelly: But we don’t know Voldemort as well before he tried to kill Harry, there may have been aspects of him we don’t know.

Kelly: Maybe it was a turkey baster?!

Rachel: Ewwwwwww!

Rachel: I think it was sensationalism. Delphi would have worked better had she been the child of Bellatrix and Rodolphus and was trying to live up to her mother’s legacy and restore Voldemort for her

Rachel: Still fits in with the theme

Kelly: I do get what you mean, that’s a good way around it and makes just as much sense

Kelly: (Is it ok that this isn’t a battle, more a polite discussion of views?)

Rachel: (Yep, we’re bffs, we aren’t going to let a book bring us to fisticuffs!)

Kelly: I still really enjoyed this book, as a screen play. It works as that, it’s not a novel and shouldn’t be treated as one. I completely got your beef with “that” character and feel your solution is much better. Maybe you should write to JK?!

Rachel: Kelly hasn’t swayed me although I do concede that I’m perhaps too harshly punishing the cursed child for being a play rather than a novel. However, it was billed so much as the continuation of the original series, the ‘what happens next’ and I think it just gets so many things wrong. And the new character tipped me over the edge! (Seriously, I have SO many beefs with it!)

all-cursed-child-cast

 

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.

Chalk by Paul Cornell

It’s 1983 and Andrew Waggoner is used to being bullied but one day Drake and his gang take things far too far. The violence they perpetrate on him cuts his very soul in half. It can’t be forgiven but Andrew has never been the kind of boy who could take revenge before.

Andrew lives in the eyeline of an ancient chalk horse, standing vigil over a site of ancient power. There he finds in himself an anger that divides him and could easily destroy those responsible.

This might seem like a Young Adult book from the blurb, and indeed it would suit readers of around 13 and older, but it stands it’s ground as a read for adults too.

It is brutal. I won’t tell you what happens to Andrew or what happens as a consequence but I winced and looked away a fair few times. Underlying that though is tenderness of family life, and the normalcy of caring about chart music and Dr Who. There’s also the tension and confusion that comes with having a crush on someone as well as the temptation to bully and harrass those weaker than you. Andrew joins in with bullying the few friends he has and starts a campaign of sexual harrassment against a girl that tells him he’s not even on her list of people she’d send a Valentines Card too. All behaviour that many of us would have experienced at school.

I think one of the things that’s so un-nerving about it is that it seems so autobiographical, Paul Cornell has written for Dr Who in the past so his love of it is well known, and the way the chart hits are woven through it becoming and integral thread of the story reinforces that feeling of familiarity.

The story is great, it’s well paced and things unfold with a feeling of inevitability that echoes that feeling of everything being out of control that plauges teenagehood.Having said that there are twists and there was a few times I worried about the author’s mental health!

The characters aren’t the most richly developed or nuanced that I’ve ever read but their main motivations are apparent enough and in keeping with who they seem to be, and I did care enough about them to read the story through to the end, very quickly in fact, I read it in a day!

4 Bites

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

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

The Existence Of Pity by Jeannie Zokan

img_2362Sixteen-year-old Josie Wales is the daughter of Baptist missionaries growing up in Columbia in 1976. Although mostly isolated from the turbulence brewing in the outside world, nothing can protect her from the turbulent times ahead within her own family.

Josie finds herself drawn to the Catholicism of her adopted country, she starts to confide her secrets in their maid instead of in her parents. Just normal secrets, like her new boyfriend but she is to discover that her parents’ have secrets of their own, ones that have the power to destroy their life.

This is one of those deceptive books. It poses a whole bunch of serious moral questions but does so in a voice so young and fresh that a sweet summer breeze seems to be floating around them, whispering to you to relax and take it easy, making it a deceptively easy read.

Not to say there is no action, or conflict, far from it. Josie is battling her entire family in different ways, and she is battling the unnoticed arrogance of the missinary culture. Add to that the danger her brother is determined to court, bringing the violence of Columbia’s mafia to their very door. It is quite startling how the author manges to keep the summery atmosphere going throughout, all to often writers would be tempted to use dark, depressing similes for such events that would have shredded the important physical context of the story.

This book would be a good read for Young Adults and Adults alike. For me with my interest in religions and their affects on the world I found it had a lot to say but yet it never preached. It does have an autobiographical ring to it and I would be interested to see how the author will write other books, this is a strong debut and could be the start of solid career, but I’m a little worried it may be the one book she has in her. I hope not.

4 Bites

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

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

As I Descended by Robin Talley

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Click to Order from Waterstones

Power resides in all kinds of places these days so when Robin Talley decided to take Macbeth as inspiration the first thing she did was change the seat of power being vied for to an American High School.

Maria Lyon is one of her schools most popular students. But since she fell in love with her roommate Lily Boiten there are obstacles in her path that she never dreamed of. They can’t come out but if Maria can just win the Cawdor Kingsley Prize they’ll be assured the same college and four more years in a shared dorm room. But one thing stands in their way, Maria’s one-time friend and the most popular girl Delilah Dufrey. Lily and Maria are willing to do anything―absolutely anything―to unseat Delilah for the scholarship. They hold a seance together with Maria’s best friend Brandon but things get out of hand and before long feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what’s imagined, the girls must attempt to put a stop to the chilling series of events they’ve accidentally set in motion.

I’ve read a fair few Shakespeare plots reimagined over the last couple of years and although most have been lit-fic – written by some of our greatest writers; don’t think that this one – written for the YA market by a fairly new (though already award winning) author can’t compete. It can and it does.

For a start, this isn’t a straight up re-write and some of the ways it honours the original are subtle and quite frankly a little twisty. There are no witches, instead she cast the three main characters in the fortune telling role through the seance, and there are plenty of other deviations too.

One of the other aspects I liked was the fact that there LGBT+ leading characters and that they weren’t some kind of freak show or tragedy device. Don’t get me wrong, awful things are done by and happen to these characters but awful things also happen to the straight characters. Not only that but the issues of being out or staying closeted are raised and stereotypes about LGBT+ people and drug-taking are circumvented. The characters are driven by deep and passionate loves but the fact that they are same gender in these cases is just a fact, it’s obvious that these characters could easily have been driven the same way if they were straight and there were obstacles to their happiness.

This is a great mix of psychological horror and waking drama with a big dollop of the supernatural stirred through it.

4 Bites

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

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

The Hit Book and The Sequel!

Rebel Of The SandsRebel of The Sands

This was a huge book last year. It’s cover taunted me from every book shop and it was all over our instagram feed too. It was a gorgeous cover too as you can see, chanelling Shaherazade’s magical stories and the mystic pull of the simmering desert nights.

The blurb was enticing too – but somehow never quite enough to pull me into buying the book there and then. It promised a “phenomenal novel packed with shooting contests, train robberies, festivals under the stars, powerful Djinni magic and an electrifying love story.

What more could I want? I’m not sure – if anything I maybe wanted a bit less! It sounded almost like a western crossed with a thousand and one nights and I wasn’t sure it would work.

But the next book is hitting the shelves tomorrow (with an equally lovely cover) and I got the chance to read them both via NetGalley – time to see what all the fuss is about!

So first off these are targetted at the teen / YA market. The first book starts with our hero Amani, desperate to escape the small town she’s been brought up in before her uncle can force her to become his next wife. Luckily she’s an amazing shot with a pistol so she dresses as a boy an attempts to hustle the prize money of a local shooting competition. But she has stiff competition in the form of a stranger to the town until they decide to join forces. What happens next leads to them racing out across the desert sands together – to start with at least. Amani wants to join her Aunt in the Sultan’s city but her new friend has other, even more dangerous plans.

I found I was turning the pages of this book really quickly and I was halfway through before I’d even realised that I’d started it properly! I’ll admit that I still wasn’t completely sold on the mix of Wild West and middle-eastern fantasy but there was so much action and drama that I got caught up anyway.

Slowly the characters started developing and by the end I was hooked. Then book two landed on my kindle…

IMG_2388Traitor to the Throne

It’s difficult to talk about this without giving too much away so suffice it to say that the adventures have led Amani to an exciting but perilous situation. Then she is kidnapped and sold to the Sultan and things get a whole lot more dangerous.

The second book is longer and to begin with I found it a little irksome. As with most sequels it spent a fair bit of time referring back to things in the previous book, useful if it’s been months since you read the first, but not for those of us that finished the first book only the previous day!

But after a hundred pages or so the story really got going. And the second book has a lot more moral meat in it than the first. Often second books can drift a bit or feel like they are full of filler material but not this one. This one is considerably more interesting than I’d expected.

4 Bites for each book … here’s hoping the last book lives up to them when it comes out!

 

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.

Ink and Bone (A Novel of The Great Library) by Rachel Caine

“You have ink in your blood, boy, and no help for it. Books will never be just a business to you.”

So my local library just launched an ebook service which is a) amazing, b) about blinkin’ time!
In the course of perusing the offerings of the library, I stumbled upon Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine. Now, I had heard of her as the author of the popular vampire series The Morganville Vampires, but I have never actually read any of them (still scarred by the travesty that is Twilight) but just look, LOOK, at the fabulous cover of this book.

LOOK at how beautiful this is!!
LOOK at how beautiful this is!!

 

It fascinated me.

It called to me.

It whispered in my ear promising that the words inside would match the elegant beauty of the pictures outside.

 

So I read the synopsis and that was it. I borrowed this book and the sequel and read them in one day. Both of them. I barely stopped to eat.
In the world of The Great Library, the 48AD fire that destroyed the library was stopped before much damage could be done. Instead of becoming a footnote in history, The Great Library of Alexandria grew in wealth and power and is now a separate country, a superpower that unquestionably holds sway over other countries in the world. Protected by its own standing army, The Library controls access to books and to knowledge. The Library and its daughter libraries around the world- the Serapeum- hold the original copies of books which are translated in the Archive by a form of alchemy only known to the Library and its Scholars. People who wish to read a book can request it from their Codex, a ‘blank’ book that will then translate (using the same alchemy) a copy of the book from the Archive. The Codexes and blanks reminded me very much of the concept of Ebooks but instead of electricity to power them and the internet to supply the books, we have alchemy.
As with all worlds where one institution holds the power over something, there is a thriving black market of book smugglers, a persistent Resistance in the Book Burners, and even an element of the perverse in the ink-lickers who take a very much socially unacceptable pleasure in literally eating the pages of the books they buy.
We are introduced to all this through Jess Brightwell. He is born into a family of successful book smugglers in London and spends his childhood ‘running’ books through the streets of London, avoiding the High Garda (armed forces of The Library), and delivering the original books to whoever has the moeny to pay for them.
He also loves books, and when his father, a man with little familial affection, recognises that is love for the books will interfere in his ability to run the family business he buys a place in the next class of Postulants- young people from around the world who travel t the Library in Alexandria and compete for a chance to be a library Scholar. The plan is for Jess to aid the family business from inside the Great Library machine.

What follows has been described as The Book Thief meets Harry Potter meets Farenheit 451 meets 1984 and although I feel  that does not accurately describe the book at all, I would be hard-pressed to come up with the words to do it justice.

What I can tell you is that the world-building is incredible. Just amazing. This world feels real, I can absolutely see this happening. Wales and England being at war? Plausible. France being conquered by the forces of the Library after a failed rebellion? Believeable. Automatons and Greek Fire used as weapons of war? Totally.
The care and attention that went not creating a plausible world has made this book into a something much more than a plain old alternative history. The subtle politics of the Library and their interactions with the rest of the world, the little changes in technology, the use of real historical locations- it all works.

As for the characters- it was refreshing that the main protagonist was male, this is so often not the case in YA books. Jess’s journey and character development is realistic and he isn’t irritating-not even when the love interest arrives.
The secondary characters are fairly well formed and fleshed out and actually there are at least three other characters who could have worked as primary protagonists- I suspect there may be a lot of fan fiction on the internet. The character most interesting to me is that Scholar Wolfe- his motivations are difficult to work out at first but as his back story is slowly revealed, he becomes more and more interesting (this continues into the sequel). I also liked a particular element of his story line, which I won’t spoil, that I wholeheartedly approved of in a YA novel.

I want to say a lot more about this book but I’m not supposed to write a dissertation for each review!
The central concept of this book, the world building and the insightful commentary on control of knowledge (which resonates more and more these days) make me recommend this book to everyone without reservation.

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.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

img_2322
Click here to order from Waterstones

Scarlett Dragna is about to get married to a Count she has never met. That’s ok though, she’s hoping it will lead to safety for her and her sister away from her abusive father and the tiny isle of Trisda she has never once left.

But her sister Tella is determined to help her live a little and when an invitation arrives for them to visit the magical Caraval, a once-a-year, five-day performance where the audience participates in the show, she forces Scarlett’s hand so they have to go. But there’s a dark side to Caraval and although Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance when Tella is kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, she has to find her before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

This is billed as the perfect book for those that love The Night Circus, and honestly … it is!

It’s a little lighter and aimed more at Young Adults or at the fantasy market but the writing has some wonderful poetry to it. The world is absorbing and the characters are believable. If I wanted to be hypercritical I would say that the author could have dug deeper still into the motivations of the characters and fleshed them out even more.

That being said though I’d still thoroughly recommend it – it’ll bring a  flash of glorious colour to your winter nights!

4 Bites

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

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

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

hooJason finds himself on a bus on the way to The Grand Canyon along with the rest of the ‘troubled’ kids of the Wilderness Camp- including his best friend Leo and his girlfriend Piper. The trouble is he has no recollection of them or of his life. He doesn’t have long to dwell on the matter though as almost immediately they are attacked by a storm spirit. Fending the storm spirit off results in Jason discovering he can fly… well, control the air currents… and gets them rescued by demi-god heroes from Camp Half-Blood. Shortly afterwards the three find themselves on a quest to rescue an imprisoned goddess, save the world and find out who they really are….

The first in a new series by award winning author Rick Riordan, this book is a spin off from the incredibly popular Percy Jackson books. Whilst it is not imperative to had read those before this, it would certainly help.

Riordan continues with his tried and tested formula of mingling the ancient Greek myths with the modern world creating an entertaining, if surreal, hidden world of cyclopes, satyrs, spirits of the air, and gods and goddesses, both minor and major, meddling in the lives of the children of the gods- the Heroes of Olympus.

As a piece of YA literature, The Lost Hero succeeds in its aims. It imparts life lessons and history lessons all wrapped up in a pacy and humorous tale. The jokes may not be flowing all the time but the melding of the old world and the new provides much to smile at. The ages of the demi-god protagonists provide teenaged angst to relate to in a clean and wholesome manner and the lines of good and evil are blurred just enough to make the characters well-rounded and interesting.

Although much older than the target audience, I have nonetheless enjoyed reading this and have actually read two of the four sequels in quick succession. I have enjoyed the pace of the story- it is episodic and yet still feels like the story flows naturally. The characters are distinctive and not too perfect despite the fact they are heroes!
I particularly enjoy the references to the Greek myths and legends and have actually been inspired to look up several of them to see what they originally were.

3 bites and a recommendation to teenagers everywhere to get a copy of these books.

 

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.

Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

There’s a certain difficulty reading the latest in a book series that you’ve been invested in from book one. Yes, you’re already predisposed to enjoying it; yes, you can slip back into the world and the characters easily; yes, you get the satisfaction of knowing what happens next to these fictional people that you’ve been hearing about, sometimes for years.
But you also risk the disappointment of the characters’ lives treading down a path you would not have sent them. You risk the annoyance of their character development turning them into someone unrecognisable. Most importantly, you risk the rage of the author taking all that beautiful world building, all that potential of kick-ass female characters, all of that realistic character development and throwing it away on an over-blown, over romanced, over-done MESS.

And, ladies and gentlemen, when that rage comes, it is a bitter one indeed….

eos-coverSarah J. Maas has been the recipient of two very positive reviews from me for the previous two installments in her Throne of Glass series (Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows) and would have for the first three if The Bookeaters had been up and running then. So it is with much rage that I say Empire of Storms is not that good.

Picking up almost immediately where Queen of Shadows left off, we follow Aelin and her court on their journey back to Terrasen, Dorian in his recovery, Elide in her escape and Manon in her continued evolution from bad-ass and evil to bad-ass and not evil. Things happen and because of ‘reasons’* all the major characters end up in the same location embarking on a quest to find a McGuffin that will end the fight against darkness, restore balance to the world etc etc blah blah. To be honest, I forgot what they were doing half the time…

(* not entirely believable)

I do want to pick out some good points before I launch into what sparked the rage-

Manon Blackbeak, for the majority of her scenes, continued to be an amazing character- she’s fierce and determined, loyal to her Thirteen and sparked all of the out loud ‘WTF’ moments of the book. Her story line, right up to where it converges with Aelin’s, was the absolute highlight of this book.

Oh, erm, that is about it on good points… oh dear.

Moving on then, to the aspects of this book that enraged me:

The over blown writing – oh my goodness, someone take away Maas’s thesaurus immediately. I’m not sure what has gotten into her but the descriptive elements of this were over the top and very repetitive. Very repetitive. Very repetitive. Sorry, I’ll stop now…. except to tell you that they were very repetitive. Annoying isn’t it?

The excessive amounts of drama llamadom – I get it. This is an epic fantasy story but every. single. aspect. was the biggest deal in the history of big deals in a land where big deals were super-sized. Every fight was super-duper life threatening, every hint of danger was an immediate ‘oh no, we’re about to die horribly, the stakes have never been higher’, every victory was the most dramatic show of raw power ever, every conversation was heart felt and emotional and just. stop.

The romance-  one of the things I loved about previous installments was the move away from typical YA love triangle type first-love-is-last-love. So the fact that almost every character found their one true love (and all B/G too) was nauseating. WHY??? Why do they all have to pair up? Why do they all have to do it when they should be concentrating on saving the world?

The change in genre AKA god-awful sex scenes- Closely linked with the romance aspects is the fact that this title is decidedly not YA- it’s New Adult. The difference?  Explicit sex scenes. I’m not really against sex scenes in a book if that’s what character and plot call for but I do not think they have a place in a book series that started life as a Young Adult series. Particularly when they are so ridiculously badly written and are shoe-horned into a plot at the most unrealistic moments. Seriously…. Lovely lightening? Palm trees on fire? Invisible hands? And nibbling… so much nibbling! Concentrate on saving the world you idiots!

I could go on. I could tell you about the confusing POV switches, the lack of distinct character voices, the heroine who is an ABSOLUTE idiot but I can’t really be bothered. There’s only so much angry ranting a girl can do.

2 bites- 1 for sentiment and 1 for Manon.

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.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

NevernightMia Covere is just ten when she watches her fathers execution.  For the next six years she is tutored in the arts of stealth, self-defence and murder but the day she takes her first life is the day she’s been waiting for.  Now she can become an apprentice in The Red Church, and, if she survives, earn the right to avenge all of those that killed her father.

But the apprenticeship at The Red Church is not her path alone and all those competing to complete it know they must face death many times over – even from each other’s hands. Luckily Mia has at least one friend, a not-quite cat made of shadow’s that drinks her fear.

This booked hooked me right from the start and I would totally recommend it to all lovers of fantasy. Jay Kristoff’s world-building skills are superb, I felt I knew where I was all the time I could so easily envisage all the settings.

This is the genre at it’s best, lots of action, menace and magic. It’s quite gory, there’s lot’s of death – it could probably give ‘Game of Thrones’ a run for it’s money! It has a strong female lead as well as a good gender balance throughout, the characters are interesting and well-developed too. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the fact I have to wait ages till the next book in the series comes out!

It’s not life-changing or overly thought-provoking but it will keep you thoroughly entertained!

4 Bites

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

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

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The PowerOne day, Allie discovers she can inflict an electric shock with just her hand. Her adoptive father, who has been sexually abusing her for years, finds himself on the recieivng end.

In the UK, Roxy Monke, daughter of crime lord Bernie Monke, finds she has the same power – but it’s not enough to save her mother from the men sent to kill her.

Soon after hundreds of teen girls find they have the same ability and that they can wake up the latent ability in their mothers and grandmothers. Suddenly – the world has changed and the power to hurt is in women’s hands.

To say my little feminist heart was excited to read this is an understatement! I couldn’t wait to see how this question would be examined and what conclusions this book would come to. But before we ge to that let’s just look at it as a story.

Naomi Alderman is a good writer. There are a couple of clever stylistic twists but mainly she just gets on with the job of telling the story so it flows very quickly and pulls the reader along … even when there are moments that you might not want to read or only to read through your fingers!

The characters are great, I particularly liked Tunde, the young Nigerian lad who falls into becoming THE expert journalist on the subject by chance but takes the opportunity and runs with it. But all the characters are well written and easy to empathise with.

That’s partly why I ended up not really liking this book. It’s powerful, but it’s message seems to suggest that power corrupts everybody. That if women were more physically powerful as men we’d abuse that power just as much.

It’s a theory that does have a certain amount of validity, but nonetheless it’s one that my heart can’t accept. It’s also one that I think is dangerous in the current climate. There are too many ‘mens rights activists’ that already think we’re in a war and that feminists all need a lesson. This could become ammunition for them. After all, most of them aren’t brilliant at distinguishing fiction from reality.

3 Bites

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

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

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

cover78296-mediumIt is 1981 and nine year old Leon has just gained a perfect baby brother called Jake. His mum is sleeping all the time but that’s ok because he’s learnt exactly how to look after Jake on his own, but then he runs out of money and asks his upstairs neighbour if he can borrow a pound. Before he knows what’s happening he and Jake have been taken to live with Maureen.

He teaches Maureen how to care for Jake but it doesn’t seem to matter because the social workers keep telling him that Jake would be better off if he were adopted. He can’t go with him, Jake is white and Leon is not.

Leon struggles to cope with his anger, but a new bike helps give him a sense of release. Then he finds a new friend Tufty, a grown-up who reminds him of his dad and teaches him gardening and politics at the same time. Of course he doesn’t let any of that distract him from his master plan of stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

This book is written in the first person narrative and Leon’s voice is utterly believable. It is reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird as it shows racism through the eyes of a child. However this book shows that through the eyes of a black child who is mainly brought up by white adults. This is shows the absurdity of racism in 1980’s very clearly and it is disturbing. I’m only 2 years older than Leon and as far as nostalgia goes this book had it all, the descriptions of settings, of how people lived, and the magic of Curly-Wurly’s is all spot on.

Leon has had his shell hardened by his experiences, but his centre is pure sweetness and it’s impossible not to love him. I was a little disappointed by the ending – it is the right ending for the book I think I just wish it hadn’t finished so soon, I wanted to stay in Leon’s life a lot longer.

Of course the racism shown in this story hasn’t been eradicated, but hopefully this hard-hitting yet charming tale will go some way towards wiping some more of it out.

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.

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Bites

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

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

Pottermore Presents… by JK Rowling

ppThere is usually much excitement and slight hysteria when JK Rowling releases Harry Potter books- midnight fancy dress parties, bookshop activities and huge media attention.  So it was a bit surprising at how low-key yesterday’s release of the three Pottermore Presents collections was. In comparison to the firework extravaganza of The Cursed Child only a few weeks ago, these three short reads were a bit of a damp squib (pun intended!)

And there is a reason for that… in my opinion at least!

pp2The three collections of information, biographies and short reads are mainly compiled from the content already to be found on the Pottermore website but with the addition of new writing from Rowling herself and promise to give extra insight and a new dimension to the existing Potter series.

pp3Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists, Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies cover a range of topics including PolyJuice Potion, Professor McGonagall, the Ministers for Magic, the Hogwarts Express, and Remus Lupin.
All in all, it sounds like three books of delight for any average Harry Potter fan…

So why am I strongly implying that there is the distinct aroma of damp squib hanging around these mini tomes of knowledge….?

Simply put, these three books contain very little in the way of new information and the vast majority of the writings can be found on the Pottermore website itself or, for the more motivated fan, in numerous interviews, web chats and Twitter posts with Rowling.

Yes the information that was included, and yes it was a delight to dip back into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (I expect that’s trademarked somewhere!) but it feels a bit like cashing in to have released these books when they contain so little that is new and undiscovered. Given that the marketing of these books included substantial mentions of the ‘exclusive new content’, I feel a more appropriate phrase to use would have been ‘elusive new content’.
I have actually dropped my bite rating by two because of this- had the marketing information been more clear about the proportion of Pottermore content to new content, I would have been happier.

The content itself is well written, is interesting and really does help to enhance your understanding of some of the characters (although never those that are central to the stories!) and their motivations. It also really shows just how much world building JK Rowling did when she was writing- lists of Ministers for Magic, recipes for potions complete with why each ingredient was chosen, origins for even minor characters.

1 bite from me today- be honest, marketing people. That’s all we ask. (3 bites for content )

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.

Star Sand by Roger Pulvers

imageIn the last months of World War 2, sixteen year old Hiromi sees a man on the beach at night about to shoot himself. He is rescued by another man and dragged into a cave.  When she follows to help she finds they are both army deserters—one American, one Japanese.

Though they should be enemies they bond instantly and  Hiromi, alone in the world herself, resolves to care for them. But when another joins them the dynamics are upset. Fatally.

Years later, three skeletons and a diary are found in the cave but it’s another 50 odd years before a young female university student notices something odd about the diary and finally solves the mystery of who died in that cave and who lived.

I was intrigued by the premise and more so because I’ve read very little fiction on Japan in the war. The beginning of the book, which is basically Hiromi’s diary is terrific. It’s well crafted, maybe a little too well-crafted to ring true as the diary of a 16 year old, but as it turns out that’s not a bad thing. The characters are immediate and vibrant and it’s easy to get caught up in their story.

But about thirds of the way through it switches voice to the modern day university student and her voice did not ring true to my ear. She sounded more like a sixteen year old than someone who must have been around 22 – and she most definetly did not sound like a university student.

It’s quite a short book, almost a novella, and I think more time spent with the characters in the cave, and a better university student (or a different device to show the plot twist altogether) would have served this much better.  In the end it all felt a bit rushed and slapdash, which is a shame as it starts as a lovely attempt to honour both the Japanese and the Americans that were dragged into World War 2.

3 Bites.

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

 

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

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.

Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi

image17-year-old Nina likes to party, even more since her boyfriend dumped her. So what if she doesn’t always remember what she did the night before? And who cares if sometimes she starts drinking earlier in the day? Nina’s exploits are legendary!

But then the talk about her turns darker and friendships are fracturing. Her family are away so even the shining light of her little sisters love feels dimmed. Nina is decidedly not ok.

Shappi Khorsandi is a talented comedian and I’m more than a little partial to her comedy. As she’s also president of the British Humanist Society I know she’s someone with a deep interest in and knowledge of human motivations. As you can imagine I was pretty excited to get a copy of this to review.

It exceeded my expectations. From the moment I started it I was hooked, it’s told in first person and Nina is someone you can imagine having as a friend. She’s easy to like even though she’s making some really big mistakes.

The story is darker than I expected, especially as it is aimed at the Young Adult market. (A word to the wise, there are some graphic scenes in here and I’d suggest it’s not suitable for most kids under the age of 15.) However it is very well constructed and spiked through with flashes of humour. Sometimes when a celebrity writes a book it reads as if it needs another edit or two – maybe the publishers have been too fawning or maybe the celebrity’s ego is too big to believe they need  help. This is not the case here, every word is as it should be.

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.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

imageIt’s hard being a hip graphic designer in a Recession hit San Fransico. Clay Jannon has lost his job as an award winning web designer and a mixture of desperation and curiosity, has driven him into working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Mr Penumbra is charming and affable and Clay quickly decide to use his marketing skills to attract more customers. The few the store has do come in regularly, but they never seem to buy anything. Instead these ‘members’ borrow bizarrely obscure volumes from the back of the store, and it seems that each book leads them to the next in a very specific order.

Intrigued, Clay embarks on a complex analysis of the customers’ behaviour, getting his friends and new girlfriend (a Google employee who found the store from his online advert!) to help him. But when Mr Penumbra discovers their investigations he sets them on a path to a far bigger secret.

Obviously it’s hard for a BookEater to resist a book set in a bookstore, it’s where we all dream of spending our time after all! Throw in a mystery that can be solved by reading books and it’ll take a lot to disappoint!  Thankfully the only thing that was really bad about this book was the protagonist’s name! I was grateful it was told in the first person so that I wasn’t confronted by it too much!

I subverted things a little by listening to this rather than reading it, and it works very well as an audiobook, the reader sounded right and I felt like I was hearing Clay’s story first-hand. It felt very natural, his friends and flat mates were completely believable which really helped ground the more fantastical elements.

What I loved most about this book though was how it mixed a love of modern tech with a love of old books. Often these two are set up in competition with each other (like in The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon) here they work collaboratively.

Definitely an enjoyable read for a book lover!

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.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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