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.

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.

Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan

imageJonah Williams was born a slave. On his eighteenth birthday he gathers together a few stolen coins and a knife and flees the South Carolina plantation on which he was born.

With just the clothes on his back, not even a pair of shoes, he starts to run. He doesn’t even have a clear idea of where to head, he just knows to go north so he follows the North Star. During the day and running through the night. Somehow he eludes the men sent to capture him, but when he meets Angel in North Carolina she decides that he is her ticket to freedom and follows him without his permission.

This is one of the books I planned to review for Black History Month last October. But when I looked up the author I found he was white and decided to leave the review till later instead. There is a debate around appropriation and as part of thought process around making such a feature of Black History Month was to put deserving black authors into the spotlight it didn’t seem right to promote this book then.

But this is one of those books that has me in a quandry about the appropriation argument. On the one hand I agree that there is very real discrimination in the publishing industry and this needs to be addressed. However, slave stories are not the only stories black people have to tell and I’m equally  disheartened by the lack of chick-lit,business books, crime and sci-fi written by and featuring black people as I am worried about their stories being stolen to make profit for white writers. (To be truthful few writers make a good living off their writing so that point is moot in many cases.

There is also the fact that this story was in my opinion more respectful of those that escaped slavery than Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad which re-imagined the ‘underground railroad’ that helped many slaves escape, as an actual real train running underground. It was a well written and widely lauded book but for me the concept was deeply flawed, particularly as so many Americans are so gullible they’ll happily elect Trump.

I have to admit though that although the writing in this book is perfectly serviceable, it isn’t as good as Whitehead’s. The charachter development, scene setting and story are all better though so overall I would recommend this above Whitehead’s book for those interested in the lives of those slaves who ran to freedom and the trials they endured. For that aspect alone it is also a better read than Roots by Alex Haley, though I’d also recommend Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi as another great read alongside this one.

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.

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

image“There was a new King, and his name was Pestilence. And he had created a new law – Thou shalt do anything to survive”

It’s 1348 and plague has reached the shores of England. Camelot, a scarred peddler of holy relics, usually travels alone. But when he meets Rodrigo and Joffrey, two musicians new to the road after the death of their master, he takes pity on them and agrees they can accompany him to the next town. There they meet a young painter Osmand and his pregnant wife Adela and Camelot bumps into the obnoxious Zophiel, a magician he’s met before who sells glimpses of an embalmed mer-baby. A storm forces them all to travel together and soon they are joined by Cygnus, who has a swan’s wing where one arm should be; Narigorm, a sinister rune-reading albino child with second sight, Pleasance a lonely midwife and a horse called Xanthus.

As they try to outrun the plague, they become aware that they all have secrets they want to keep concealed. But soon they realise that something else is chasing them too, something that won’t just kill them but could expose them too.

I listened to this as an audiobook and before I talk about anything else I have to sing the praises of the narrator. It’s read by a chap called David Thorpe who has narrated over 200 audiobooks and he is brilliant! Every character had a different voice and every single voice sounded like his natural voice. He had to deal with a range of accents and attitudes from a solicitous Italian to supercilious English. Since listening to this I’ve added a whole load of books narrated by this guy to my wish list.

Apart from that I really enjoyed this book, all manner of human fear and desires were explored, the characterisations were excellent and the story had plenty of tension.  It might not be ‘literary’ but it is bloody good! I know I’ll listen to it again, and since listening to this I’ve become a confirmed fan of Karen Maitland’s work, I leapt at the chance to read an advance copy of her new novel The Plague Charmer a little while ago, I also got a bargain copy of The Raven’s Head and I think I might have got BookEater Kelly hooked to if her review of The Gallow’s Curse is anything to go by!

But if I’m honest I’ll probably listen to them all as well – particularly if they’re voiced by David Thorpe!

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 Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories by Many Wonderful Writers!

TheDjinnFallsInLove
Click here to order from Waterstones

We all know of the Djinn, immortal beings can grant wishes but epitomise the moral of being careful what you wish for as your wish may have unforeseen consequences. This collection of tales bring us stories of Djinn in many parts of the world in the past, the present and the future. They are everywhere. Outside your back garden, on street corners, in the mosque, behind the wheel of a taxi, on mars, surrounding you on stage. Sometimes the divide between them and us is paper thin, their humanity more painful than our own, sometimes their omnipotence allows us to believe they are miles from us instead.

There are stories here from bestselling, award-winning and breakthrough international writers. Honestly when it comes to the quality of the writing you’ll be hard-pressed to know which is a breakthrough author and which has won awards. The standard is consistently high. The cultural diversity of the authors should be praised to with writers from a large variety of backgrounds, reading this is likely to lead you to discovering at least a couple of new favourite authors.

That being said there were of course stories I preferred. And part of the joy of a short story collection is that you can flick over stories that aren’t right for you at the moment without any guilt! You can’t really skip chapters in novels in the same way.

For me the ones that didn’t appeal were the futuristic ones. I think that’s a failing on my part though, or on my mood or expectations. When it comes to Djinn I want to read about magic, glamour not a grey cargo hold. I may revisit those stories in the future though when I’m feeling more open minded! If you’ve read them and think I’m an idiot for skipping them don’t hesitate to tell me!

My favourite stories were Kamila Shamsie’s “The Congregation”, the first story in the collection and a heart-achingly beautiful tale of a young boy finding his brother. Neil Gaiman’s “Somewhere in America”, a stand-alone extract from American Gods. Claire North’s contribution is the most reminiscent of 1001 nights so of course I loved it. But I was stopped in my tracks by Amal El-Mohtar’s prose-poem “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” which reminded me immensely of The Book of The Dead – one of my favourite books ever. Kirsty Logan’s “The Spite House” is really clever yet pulses with heart and anxiety. And Sophia Al-Maria’s “The Righteous Guide of Arabsat” is a vibrant, authentic and eventually scary look at a man’s fear of female sexuality.

Pick it up, rub it, and make a wish.

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 Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

imageAlbert wasn’t only Einstein that was quite bright. His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was a brilliant physicist and a strong mathematician and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

This book takes what is known about  her as it’s jumping off point. That she was considered unmarriageable because of her limp, that her father encouraged her to study, that in 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva was the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. That she met and fell in love with  charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein there, that he promised her a bohemian lifestyle with them as equals in love and science. How Albert’s star quickly eclipsed her own regardless of this promise.

It is a fictionalised account, but a well-imagined one particularly when it comes to describing the time and places they lived. I have to be honest, I wasn’t quite so keen on the characterisations, somehow I didn’t feel they were authentic, particularly Mileva’s. Her desperation for love is understandable and I know it makes lunatics out of us all. I went through an emotionally abusive marriage so I even understand how if the most confident of women in an age when sexual equality is at least in site can be flummoxed then it was even more likely before women even had the vote. But she becomes so nuts over Albert so quickly – and it really is all the book is about for far too long. I found myself missing the character I’d first been introduced to.

As their marriage and working partnership decays the Albert Einstein we meet is very different from the man I’d always imagined him to be too. And because this is a fictional account I had problems with this, partly because I didn’t know what was true and what was not. But after I did some of my own research into it I felt even more uncomfortable. The premise and Albert’s character within this book is entirely possible, but there isn’t an awful lot in the way of evidence, by the end it felt like a character assassination. As a feminist I felt doubly uncomfortable- I want to support Mileva but these aren’t her words and may not be her truth. If they’d even been a thorough afterword clarifying what was evidenced, what was extrapolated and what was imagined I would have closed the book with the sense of having learned something, as it was I felt I’d been hoodwinked into jury service.

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.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

cover75683-mediumTracy Chevalier is well known for her historical novels, Girl with a Pearl Earring was a best seller and made into an incredibly well known movie too. So you might be expecting something similar, after all many authors churn out novel after novel that are reflections of their best known work.

Not this novelist. This is still historical fiction but set as far from the civilisation of the renaissance as you can imagine. It is more recent times, the mid eighteenth century, but Chevalier is exploring the lives of Americans struggling to eke their existence from the land.

Tom and Sadie Goodenough have moved to tthe Black Swamp with their children and if they can manage to get 50 trees to bear fruit the land is theirs permanently. But they’ve only got three years left to do it and last year they lost nine trees and two of their children to swamp fever. Sadie is a vivacious flirt turned bitter and drunk, Tom a quiet, determined man who loves his apples more than his children. Their fights are getting meaner until one day something happens to rent the family apart.

The first part of the story is told first from the perspectives of Sadie and Tom. Then in letters from their son Robert, trying to make his fortune panning for gold, before we hear from his perspective directly as he settles into a new role as a tree collector. The settings, though of deep poverty, are richly described and enveloping as the novel examines what family means, the ties that bind and those that don’t.

It is compelling, the characters surprise you with their depths and determination and it is also a fascinating portrait of 18c America, from the backwaters to the prairies to cities like San Fransico. Amongst the characters are the forebears of the modern day redneck and businessman alike, I felt I had a little better understanding of why America voted Trump in, but also that if most of them had read this book they would have known that the nostalgia trip was not all it’s cracked up to be.

If you enjoyed Barkskins by Annie Proulx or A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale you’ll love 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.

Mr Eternity by Aaron Thier

img_2360Two young documentary makers have heard there is an old sailor in Key West who says he is 560 years old. They go to meet him with minds prised open against the cynicism 2016 is steeped in. If they do make a documentary about him, it won’t be mocking – it will be hopeful.

The old sailor, who tells people his name is Daniel Defoe, seems to be in the prime of his life. But if so it’s been a very long prime. Because then we’re introduced to him as the antagonist in a vengeful woman’s tale. He is in South America in 1560 when the Spaniards have destroyed the Aztec and Inca civilizations. Then we meet him again in 1795, a friend of John Green, a man passing for white in the plantations of Bermuda.

But the story of Daniel Defoe doesn’t end there. We meet him again in 2500 in the future Democratic Federation of Mississippi States. A time when the cities of the Atlantic coast are underwater, the union has fallen apart, and cars, plastics, and air conditioning are relegated to history. Then he is an advisor to the King of St. Louis.

Although many things change through the centuries, other things remain constant, and it seems like being on the edge of ruin is one.

This review is probably one of the hardest I’ve written. Not because the book is awful or impossible to figure out when you’re reading it (though I was a little confused at first! Just because it’s somehow really hard to explain. It is a great concept and it’s well executed but I wasn’t quite sure what the message was – was it that the world is always on the edge of extinction so there’s no point worrying about climate change etc. Or was it exactly the opposite? That it really is about tme we stepped back from the edge?

Part of it’s charm is that although Daniel Defoe is always an important character, he’s not the main character in any of the stories. But this is also part of the books failing, we never really know what Daniel thinks.

It is worth reading – but you’ll have to keep your mind open and make it up for yourself!

3.5 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.

A Girl Called Owl by A.J. Wilson

A Girl Called OwlOwl has enough problems, obviously really as her name implies at least one parent with a slightly unusual view on life. In fact her mum is the only parent she has, she’s never met her dad and frankly she’s fed up with her mum refusing to say who he is. It was all right her telling her fairy tales about Jack Frost being her dad but she’s too old for that now.

And now her best friend is going through some family upset and needs her more than ever, and a new boy at school is giving her weird looks. But all that is pushed aside when Owl starts seeing strange frost patterns on her skin, could her mum actually have been telling her the truth about her dad? And what will happen when she enters the magical world of winter for the first time?

This is classic children’s literature – particularly good for those aged 9-13 but as an adult I still enjoyed this. It updates a classic myth but unlike so many ‘disney-esque’ updates that will strip out some of the darkness this one puts it back in. it gives us a story which has real characters with modern-day problems that collide with ancient myths.

The descriptions of the worlds around the characters are breathtaking – this would be a beautiful movie to watch! Although I have to admit I’d be a little afraid to in case it didn’t live up to my imagination!

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.

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

cover103046-mediumWhen Evie Snow finally passes away, surrounded by her loving family, it seems like her life of sacrifice has paid off and her own private heaven awaits. But when she gets there she finds the door won’t open.

Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to the only man she ever truly loved . . .

If you imagine ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’ but re-vamped by Jojo Moyes or Cecilia Ahern then this book is pretty much what you’d get. Pretty much, but not quite. Because Carrie Hope Fletcher has a somewhat more inventive mind so really you’d need to twist in a bit of Lewis Carroll or Erin Morgenstern too.

Now romances aren’t generally my thing, but I tore through this. It was easy to read with characters that were likeable but certainly weren’t too perfect. In fact Evie’s actions annoyed me a bit and I found myself asking why she would give in to her family’s wishes so easily. But then I realised that she had been conditioned to since birth and that sometimes, no matter how much drive a person has, it is impossible to break those chains.

The author is young and this is her debut novel, she has a huge fan base already though as she is a YouTuber, actor, singer and has been starring as Eponine in Les Miserables. She is known to an entire generation as a ‘big sister’ figure and she shares her love of reading with them. This popularity definitely helped make this a best-seller when it came out in hardback last year. It’s about to be released in paperback and I hope it reaches new audiences.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her work and I hope she continues to be brave and imaginative. Her writing is good but I think with time and determination it could be even better, I think she has more stories to share.

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.

Christodora by Tim Murphy

Murphy, Christodora jacket artThe Christodora in Manhattan’s East Village is home to Milly and Jared, a privileged and artistic young couple. Through Milly’s art program for kids she meets Mateo and they adopt him. He grows up in the Christadora with his potential for greatness constantly at odds with the wound of his adoption.

Their neighbor, Hector was once a celebrated AIDS activist but is now a lonely addict. It looks like he’s on the way out but one last chance is heading his way.

Enveloping the AIDS epidemic from the hedonistic times just as knowledge of the disease starting becoming known 80’s, the awesome energy of the early Activists.Then moving forward to look at the legacy of the virus in the 2000’s and projecting forward to it’s imagined results in the 2020’s this novel is both an incredibly personal story and equally a social document of an era.

This book is astonishingly good. I consider myself priviledged to work for HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust which was set up in memory of Terrence Higgins, the first man to knowingly die because of AIDS in the UK. I was a little too young to really understand the astonishing activism of the LGBT+ community in the 80’s but as I partied in the 90’s and lost friends to it then I started to become aware not just of the disease but of the incredible spirit of defiance and resilience around me.

When Terry Higgins died his partner was still a teenager. Yet apart from setting up the trust (with friends of Terry’s) he also went on to study medicine and fight both the disease itself and the stigma surrounding it. He is both extraordinary and, like so many other people that this book brings to life, completely ordinary.

Because the characters in here are normal people, They are brave and scared, reckless and careful, determined and unsure, hurting and hitting out, loving and hiding from love. They are gay, straight, white, brown, old, young, educated and dropouts. You will know them or people enough like them for you to understand them.

This isn’t just characters though – there is a very strong storyline running throughout it and some surprise twists and turns along the way. I couldn’t put it down!

Full disclosure – this made me sob on the bus more than once! It might be an idea not to read it in public!

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.

Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

cover98142-mediumArmy officer Chike Ameobi is ordered to kill innocent civilians in the line of duty. Instead he deserts followed by one of his privates Yemi. They decide to head towards Lagos, the vibrant capital city of Nigeria that it is easy to get ‘lost’ in. On route they accidentally collect 3 other runaways – Fineboy, full of bravado but disillusioned with the brutality of the militia, Isoken, a teen girl who may or may not have just been raped by Fineboy’s group of rebels and Oma, a trophy wife running from her abusive husband.

Just after they arrive in Lagos a political scandal erupts. The education minister, Chief Sandayo, has just disappeared and so have millions of dollars supposed to go to schools. When the group find the Chief unexpectedly they have to decide what to do with him – and the missing money.

What follows is a novel about all the different colours of the soul. Hope, despair, morality, corruption, greed, violence, love, friendship, betrayal – you name it, it’s in here. That might make it sound like the book is a big fat mess! But actually it isn’t, like every city there is a structure holding everything in place. Yes there are moments when it looks like everything is going to spiral out of control, but like a juggler on a street corner Onuzo looks like she’s going to drop all the balls, but at the last minute catches them all with a sly, comedic wink.

Her characters are excellent, each voice separate and quickly unmistakeable. I would have liked longer with each of them and to have had more time to delve into their backgrounds, but it is not always possible to juggle balls in slow motion. I feel here that I must mention our novelists age – she is 26 – just 26!!! To have written something this good at her age, that understands emotions like being a disappointment to your grown-up child (amongst oh-so-many other things) is extraordinary!

This gets 4.5 bites from me – but I am sure that I’ll be awarding this author 5 bites in the future!

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.

Men by Marie Darrieussecq

imageI’d just read Heart of Darkness when I saw this book about a white french actress (Solange) who falls for  charismatic black Hollywood actor, Kouhouesso. Kouhouesso wants to move into directing and has a very ambitious project – a movie of Heart of Darkness to be filmed actually in the Congo.

Solange follows him to Africa, saying no to other roles offered to her in the hope of playing the female lead in the film but mainly because she’s pretty obsessed with him.

This is billed as a “witty examination of romance, movie-making and clichés about race relations.” And it’s written by an award winning writer known for being an intellectual, supporting left-wing politicians and having a thing or two to say feminism (both that she is one and that she couldn’t be further from being one!) I felt like I should be onto a winner with this.

But alas and woe is me and all those sad damsel-in-distress expressions, I was let-down! Deserted! Callously abandoned! Much like the actress in this book.

To be honest this left me deeply uncomfortable and as if the stain of it’s liberal racism was all over me. Because this book is racist. I’m sure it doesn’t mean to be, but it is. To begin with I can’t imagine an intelligent, well-connected black actor wanting to remake Heart of Darkness – a book that really doesn’t have any black characters. The only one with any dialogue in it says about 3 servile sentences and ends up dead pretty quickly. Considering that black actors and directors are still hugely under-represented in Hollywood it’s no surprise that any that are there are getting busy making amazing films like 12 Years A Slave.

Then there’s the female character. Well to be honest I’m not entirely sure I can even call her a character. She has a backstory at least – a son left with her parents many years ago so she can pursue her hollywood dream. But even though this dream was strong enough for her to abandon her child it isn’t strong enough to stop her dropping it instantly to moon around after a man she’s pretty sure doesn’t love her …! Her attempts to manage her first ‘real’ interracial relationship show just how racist middle-class France still is, the things she worries about are about as bizarre and objectifying as you can get. Though to give credit where it is due the book does highlight a couple of micro-aggressions so strongly that almost anyone could see how appalling they are.

The plot isn’t awful, just not good enough.

1 Bite

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 Keeper Of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

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Ok, so what follows is the official blurb for this book…

“FROM THE ATTENTION-GRABBING OPENING PARAGRAPH, TO THE JOYFUL CONCLUSION, RUTH HOGAN HAS STIRRED TOGETHER A CHARMING FAIRY TALE IN WHICH THE PEOPLE MAY BE MORE LOST THAN THE THINGS… ALSO, THERE ARE DOGS. DELIGHTFUL’ Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

MEET THE ‘KEEPER OF LOST THINGS’
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.
Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

With an unforgettable cast of characters that includes young girls with special powers, handsome gardeners, irritable ghosts and an array of irresistible four-legged friends, The Keeper of Lost Things is a debut novel of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that will leave you bereft once you’ve finished reading.
BECAUSE, AFTER ALL, WE’RE ALL JUST WAITING TO BE FOUND…”

It sounded good to me, and the cover is beautiful too – definitely worth a punt! But sadly this was not a book for me and I’m very grateful that I didn’t actually spend any money on it.

It is supposed to be light and feel-good and in that I think it probably succeeds. But for me there wasn’t enough substance, the character’s weren’t believable, the writing was schmaltzy and quite frankly it bored me.

It might be ok for a holiday read if you have plenty of time and no other books waiting for your attention. I gave up on it halfway through – maybe the second half is better. However I would say wait till it comes out in paperback as it isn’t worth the hardback cover price.

1 Bite

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.

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.

Find Me by Laura van den Berg

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Click to Order from Waterstones

In a hospital in Kansas there are a select group of patients that all seem to be immune to the epidemic sweeping Amercia. A sickness that begins with silver blisters and memory loss and ends with death has devasted the United States but these patients and their unorthodox Doctor might hold the key to a cure.

One of the patients is Joy. Before she came to the hospital she had a disatisfying job and an addiction to cough syrup. She’d never had much of a life having been in care and foster homes throughout her childhood so she’d figured a few weeks in hospital would be an easy gig. But it isn’t long until their isolation leaves all the patients longing for the outside.

Joy is an interesting protagonist, her flaws and vulnerabilities take centre stage and really are what push her forward in this strange adventure.

This is very much a book of two halves though, I enjoyed the first half set in the hospital, Laura Van Den Berg’s odd, almost dream-like writing style works well set against the institutional structure and feels right expressing Dr Bek’s treatment. But the second half of the book where Joy is trying to travel across the country it seems to lose it’s way a bit. Particularly when she meets another healer with a similar methodology to Dr Bek. It feels a bit repetitious and as the book ended just as she was about to find (or not find) the person she was looking for , it also felt a bit pointless.

I can be a fan of the ambiguous ending when it’s done well, but in this case because there was so much meandering in the second half of the book I really felt it needed a solid ending.

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.

Charlotte by David Foenkinos

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Click here to order from Waterstones

This is the story of Charlotte Salomon, a Jewish artist born into a family stricken by suicide in Germany just before Hitler’s rise to power.

Being a female artist is still a struggle in these times, but being Jewish is worse, so although she holds tremendous promise she must keep a low profile. At least she has her great love to console her – even if that love is secret and snatched in small moments.

After her father is detained and tortured she escapes from Germany, but still she is not safe. The war pursues her to her bolt hole and the madness that has haunted her family is closing in on her too.

Charlotte Saloman was an artist I had not heard of before reading this book, but her story is one I think should be shared. Not just because of her artistic genius but also because it is a mirror to agonies that so many went through during the second world war and none of their stories should be forgotten.

This is an unusual book, the writing is style is not like any that I can recall having read before. David Foenkinos writes in short, sparing sentences. They are almost rhythmic, as if he’s written a thousand haiku’s then mixed the order of them up a bit. It works, but probably only in this book. The rest of the book is a little off kilter too, it veers from a biography to a novelisation to a memoir of the author’s own search for the artist. In many ways this really is high literature, yet it managed to retain its accessibility. It inspired me to search for examples of the artists work, and I know that if there were to be an exhibition near me at any time I would go because of having read this book.

I wish life had been better to Charlotte, but I am grateful that there is this memorial to her. I think she would have appreciated it’s honesty.

5 Bites

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

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

The Hit Book and The Sequel!

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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…

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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.

The Book Of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici

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Click here to order from Waterstones

Literary agent’s receive hundreds of submissions but when Peter Katz receives an unfinished manuscript entitled The Book of Mirrors, it stands out. The author, Richard Flynn is writing a memoir about his time at Princeton in the late 80s, documenting his relationship with the famous Professor Joseph Wieder who was brutally murdered in 1987.

Peter Katz is fascinated, he believes the full manuscript will reveal the murderer and make him a fortune. But Richard Flynn has died and the finished manuscript is missing, so he hires a detective to try and piece together the end of the story.

This is a very odd book, it is a murder mystery but it’s also an exploration into memory, love and obsession. It’s also odd because I really enjoyed it, loved every page and couldn’t put it down but then a week later I could barely remember it … Is this book trying to keep it’s own secrets but making me forget???!!!

I flicked back through a few pages and it all came back to me – vibrant characters, great pacing, good scene-setting, and terrific subplots. It has literary overtones too so if you like mysteries but you also like something a bit high-brow then this is definitely the book for you.

It might be a while but I’ll definitely re-read this one day – I just wonder if I’ll remember it afterwards!

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.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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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.

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.

Miss Treadaway & The Field Of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

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Click here to order from Waterstones

Anna Treadway has made a life for herself in London, she lives in a little flat above a Turkish Cafe on Neal Street and has a job dressing the actresses at the Galaxy Theatre.

But 1965 is going to be a disruptive year for her. The American actress she’s dressing –  Iolanthe Green – leaves the theatre as usual one night but doesn’t turn up for the next performance. Soon the newspapers are wild with speculation about her fate. Then the news grows old and it seems to Anna that she is the only person left that cares.

As she searches she stumbles into a different world, a world of jazz clubs and illegal abortions, where the colour of your skin could get you beaten and left in a prison cell.

I have to admit the main reason I picked up this book is because I spent some of the happiest years of my life on Neal Street. So the chance to spend some time there, even in a different era, was too good to miss.

I was a bit worried that this might veer too hard into the romance hinted at on the original blurb and therefore turn into a feast of marshmallow gooiness. However, though there is sweetness in this book, there is also bitterness. Miranda Emmerson has created range of compelling characters from diverse backgrounds without either patronising them or exploiting them. In this she has recreated a honest tableau of London life both in the 60’s and since.

This book has a theme, and a message but it is one that takes a while to emerge. That’s not a problem though as the mystery of Iolanthe’s disappearance and the way that Emmerson’s description’s of London’s wintery nights are seductive and it’s easy to keep reading whilst the message reveals itself slowly.

This is a book I’d definitely recommend – in fact there’s a few people I can think of that would definitely like it so a few copies may well end up wrapped in birthday wrapping paper in the next couple of months!

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.

Freeks by Amanda Hocking

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Click to order from Waterstones

Mara is the daughter of the fortune teller of Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, a carnival full of misfits whose talents veer over into the supernatural. As such she has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where she can listen to Madonna instead of cleaning out the tiger cage.

They’re all struggling financially so when the small town of Caudry, Louisiana offers them a big pay-packet for a weeks work they jump at it. When they get there Mara meets local-boy Gabe, and loses one of her best friends. But are the two connected?

Soon after another performer is mauled by an unknown beast. The carnival realises that there is something very scary lurking in the town and they begin to suspect they have been lured there. They can’t just leave so they have to get to the bottom of things which means Mara has to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Regular readers will know that I’m not that into shlock horror but I can be persuaded by a good one and this one has certainly done that. First of all it’s a perfect YA book – an ordinary girl that just wants to fit in but can’t because of parents, a fit boy promising love but with a hint of danger thrown in, the extraordinary future beckoning and the potential to fall and lose it all.

Secondly the horror in it is done very well, the pacing is great – even in the more relaxed moments I was still a little tense and had to keep going to see what would happen, the horror is gruesome but not titillatingly so but most importantly the author offers several nods to the cliche’s of the genre without actually jumping into them. This was brilliant, it showed how much she respects her readers.

The final thing which pushed me to fall for this book was the fact it was set in the 80’s and the music and culture of that decade are woven throughout. Brilliant not only because the 80’s really was the era of shlock horror but also because I’m an 80’s girl! So i definitely recommend this for Young Adults in their 40’s 😉

Overall it’s a fun, pacy read with likeable characters. Definitely potential for a sequel or series to come out of it too.

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.