Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

IMG_2681A woman named Amanda lies in a fever in a rural hospital clinic,  A young boy, David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child.

David is prompting Amanda to recount the events that led to her illness, constantly pushing her to fix on the ‘important moment’, the moment when the ‘worms’ got in. Yet for Amanda what is important is where her young daughter Nina is. She talks a lot about the ‘rescue distance’, something most parents are constantly measuring and recalibrating as their children grow. How far away from you are they? Are they close enough to rescue should danger befall them?

As David continues to push her, the horror of the thing that has befallen them is exposed, is there any way back through it? Can Amanda get back to being within rescue distance of Nina?

Samanta Schweblin is a fairly new voice on the Spanish literary scene, her short stories have won critical acclaim but this is her first novel. It was rightfully shortlisted for the Man Booker international prize as it is incredibly evocative. Reading it you feel like you are in a fever dream, nothing is quite where it should be and memories are more vivid than the world around you. This lends itself perfectly to the strange, creeping, psychological menace.

I can’t tell you more of the plot without ruining it for you, but I would definitely recommend you read it if you like books that are a bit weird and that don’t necessarily tie up every loose end for you. This is like that, it’s a melody in a minor key that will keep surfacing in your mind like a memory of illness and loss. It is a tale of maternal love and the power and desperation of family.

Some praise must also go to the translator Megan McDowell.

Five 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 Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

161eyyYaAlWL__SL500_Sometimes reviewing classic books like this that everybody knows seems like a bit silly. But then often the myth of a book veers away from the story inside and I think this is the case with this story.

After meeting and losing Daisy during the war, Gatsby has made himself fabulously wealthy. Now, he believes that his only way to true happiness is to find his way back into Daisy’s life, he has bought a glamorous house just across the water from Daisy’s and has been throwing fabulous parties in the hope that one day she will wonder in and their affair can resume. But this has yet to happen and when her cousin Nick Carraway rents the small house next door he determines to use Nick to try to reach her.

I listened to the audiobook version of this, voiced by Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal. I was curious to see how well he’d do as I completely fell in love with his sister’s voice when I listened to The Bell Jar. Once again, I fell in love. Gyllenhaal’s performance is stunning. I know I’m going to listen to this version over and over again.

But of course it isn’t just Gyllenhaal’s performance that makes this so special. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing is as smooth as silk and twice as sensuous. That’s not news though is it? F. Scott has always been hailed as the master of style. But style without substance does not a classic make. Gatsby is an immense character. Complex but utterly relatable, if Gatsby can be great, we can all be great – if only we have a love strong enough to motivate us and a chance to grab.

The plot is full of the twists and conflicts that only human hearts can create. Unnecessary spite and jealousies are spat out and swallowed with humiliation that burns for redemption. This story is Shakespearean in scope. If you haven’t read it in a while or it’s one that passed you by previously, pick up a copy – or better still download this version from Audible.

Five 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 Lunar Cats by Lynne Truss

1cover123229-mediumThe blurb of this book promised a light-hearted, entertaining read, here it is in it’s entirety:

“When you are an inoffensive retired librarian with bitter personal experience of Evil Talking Cats, do you rescue a kitten from the cold on a December night?

Do you follow up news items about cats digging in graveyards?

Do you inquire into long-ago cats who voyaged around the world with Captain Cook?

Well, yes. If you are Alec Charlesworth that is precisely what you do – with unexpected and terrifying consequences …”

Maybe if I was only 8 this book would have lived up to that expectation. But I do have some doubts about that, as regular readers of this blog will know we quite like reading children’s books and although this might have been passable entertainment for a few evenings I doubt it could ever become a much-loved classic. In fact I did double check and it really is aimed at adults. But it’s so badly written that I gave up on it before I was a quarter of the way through it. Ironic as it’s written by the woman who recently wrote a best-selling book on grammar!

To be fair it isn’t grammatically incorrect, nor is it an over preponderance on correctness that mars it. I just found the characters too bizarre and shallow. Considering that I love a quirky character this is a damnation of about the highest order possible.

I only nibbled it enough to give it one Bite before I gave up on it.

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.

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott

IMG_2676The town of Rotherweird was cast adrift from the rest of England by Elizabeth I. Now it stands alone – there are no guidebooks, and only a few from the outside are ever allowed in.

Despite this it is not a town that has stood still, there are fascinating and diverse architectural styles cramming the narrow streets, avant garde science and offbeat customs. One such custom is that nobody is allowed to study the town or its history.

But suddenly two outsiders arrive, they are quite unconnected – Jonah Oblong has been hired to replace the modern history teacher (who seemingly broke the rules about studying local history), and the sinister billionaire Sir Veronal Slickstone, who has somehow got permission to renovate the town’s long-derelict Manor House.

Both are keen to connect past and present, but this draws them into a race against time and each other with possibly apocalyptic consequences.

I wanted to love this, I put off reading it for a while as an act of delayed gratification. And to begin with I did love it. The main character is likeable enough and Rotherweird is a wonderful world.

But soon after we arrive there the cast of characters take over and sadly it becomes a confusing mess. As interesting as all the characters are, we are jumped into one head after another and far too  quickly. I felt dizzy and confused and had no idea what was going on. Eventually I gave up on it before I was even half way through.

Three 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.

Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement

IMG_2680Jean-Michel Basquiat became an idol of modern art. His transition from the subways to the chic gallery spaces of Manhattan brought him into the company of many of New York’s established and aspiring stars. He became friends with fellow artists Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, performed with Debbie Harry and Fab 5 Freddie and dated Madonna.

But through all of this he had a relationship with Suzanne. Mmuse, lover, co-conspirator, fellow artist.

But the demands that his new fame brought, coupled with the racism and injustice all around him, sickened Basquiat. He started using heroin far too often and in 1987, at the age of twenty-seven, the most successful black visual artist in history, died from a heroin overdose.

This book, written by a friend of both Basquiat and Suzanne, is an exploration of the artist and the time they lived through as seen through the eyes of his muse, Suzanne. Though they parted before he died, it is a love story still.

I was a teenager if the 80’s. I loved Basquiat’s work then and still love it now. It has an energy and an intelligence not found in much pop art. That energy is born of fury and injustice and the intelligence brings with it humour.

It was an honour to read such an intimate, understanding and compassionate portrait of the artist. But it also made me feel ashamed of the racism that still destroys so many people’s potential. We must do better. Art demands it.

Five 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 Last Hours by Minette Walters

1cover120816-mediumLord Richard has left his estate of Develish in Dorsetshire to see his daughter’s intended and finalise the wedding contract. But before he can return the Black Death enters England.

Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.

With Lord Richard away, Lady Anne takes control the estate, ordering all two hundred of their bonded serfs to live within the walls and not allowing anyone from the outside in. She asks a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.

They fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more, someone must leave eventually to discover what has become of the rest of the world and bring back food. But who will have the courage to leave the security of the walls?

I’ve never read Minette Walters before as she has tended to write crime fiction, a genre a read only a couple of books a year in at most. But she has taken to this new genre brilliantly. Life in England in 1348 was evoked as soon as I started reading and I remained stuck solidly in the past until she was ready to spit me out at the end of the book.

The characters took me a little longer to take to, the daughter of Lady Anne and Lord Richard is a spoilt brat intent on making the serfs suffer when we first meet her, and her chosen victim Thaddeus comes across as so surly that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for, Lord Richard is quite frankly revolting and Lady Anne so dour I did wonder if I would make it through the book. However, almost as soon as I’d thought that I saw a glimmer of warmth underneath Lady Anne’s dourness and a flash of hope in Thaddeus’ countenance and soon I was starting to understand the hidden depths of all the characters.

Then the plot started to gather speed and I was hooked. Walters doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of the plague and, as you’d expect from a successful crime writer, she is adept at building mystery and tension.

My only complaint about this book is the ending. This is the first in a series of books (I’ve no idea if it’ll be a series of 2 or 20) and it ended on a real cliffhanger. I’m not going to lie, I felt robbed and frustrated. Especially s has only just come out so I’ve ages to wait now to know what happens next!

Buy it now by all means, but wait till book two is on its way before you start it!

Four Bites.

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

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

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

1or2aAlthough nowhere near as famous as Orwell’s 1984, Keep the Aspidistra Flying is nonetheless an insightful take down of  how capitalism destroys the lives of those not on the top of the system.

It is the story of Gordon Comstock. A man that loathes dull, middle-class respectability and worship of money, and wants only to be able to write novels. The demands of work and society give him little peace. Eventually  He gives up a ‘good job’ in advertising to work part-time in a bookshop, giving him more time to write. But he slides instead into a self-induced poverty that destroys his creativity and his spirit. His pride doesn’t allow him to accept any charity from friends, though he is only too happy to splurge on them when he has funds.

Only his girlfriend Rosemary has the strength to challenge his commitment to his chosen way of life, but can she persuade him to find a way to live within the system he so despises without him getting swallowed up by it?

As with Burmese Days by Orwell I listened to this on Audiobook. It was read by Richard E Grant, such sublime casting, I honestly don’t think there could be anybody better for this book. His cynical, self-loathing and yet understated delivery polishes this book to such a sharp satire that it’s almost impossible not to wince whilst listening to it!

In fact I was on edge the whole way through, constantly wondering if Comstock will find his way through his disaffection / depression or be swallowed by it. Through it Orwell explores his own disaffection with society and with his place within it, he was a fascinating man and it is always an valuable experience to see the world through his eyes.

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.

Anna by Niccolo Ammaniti

1cover109251-mediumAnna is 14 and looks after her little brother Astor in the house behind the fence, the rooms are piled high with rubbish, except for their mother’s bedroom where her skeleton lies perfect on the bed.

She goes out to scavenge for food and medicine regularly, not too difficult a task in a world that’s been devoid of adults since a mystery illness swept through Italy killing all of them. Now, a few years later it seems that whatever caused the adults to die is still killing the children as they leave adolescence.

Then Astor leaves the house one day when Anna is scavenging, even though she has impressed on him how dangerous it is. She has to find him but what else will she find?

Because of last year’s Black History Month challenge I realised how unintentionally narrow my reading is, since then I’ve tried to read more authors from around the world and part of that is reading more translations too. This book by Italian author Niccolo Ammaniti, previously a winner of the Strega Prize, seemed a good place to start.

It is beautifully written (and very well translated by Johnathon Hunt). The scenario of a dystopian future society populated only by children is bound to draw comparisons with Lord of the Flies but this has considerably more humanity, Lord of the Flies is a novel fuelled by fear. This novel is driven by hope.

There is desperation and violence but there is also love and kindness. Anna is a complex and interesting character, but easy to feel sympathy for. She remembers her parents and realised that those memories are fading for her brother. She longs to cross the water I to see if there are any adults alive elsewhere but the hope is too precious to her for her to risk it being destroyed by reality.

Definitely worth reading, it gets 4 Bites from me.

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 End We Start From by Megan Hunter

IMG_2667A longed for child is born, but his mother’s waters aren’t the only ones breaking as London is submerged below floodwaters.

Days later, she, her husband and their baby have to leave London in search of safety. They head north, often sleeping in their car or finding solitary spots away from other humans in a newly dangerous country. As their baby grows they find and leave new families, trying to work their way to either an old home or new seeking.

Their baby thrives against all odds, not knowing anything of the world before he doesn’t know its loss. His parents find things much harder.

This is a beautiful poetic read. It shares the sense of dislocation and a narrowing of the world that most new mothers experience. It is written in the first person from the perspective of the mother, and it shows the world beyond her baby in snatched, out-of-focus glimpses whilst her child takes up most of her vision.

The only thing problem with that is that because the world beyond her baby seems to be just a dream to her there is rarely any sense of urgency or fear, she’s living in a world where food is scarce and civilisation is scared but she seems at most wearingly accepting. It’s a believable emotion for a lot of the story but there should be a few spikes of fear.

The writing is a joy though, haunting and lyrical. I look forward to her next book.

Four 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 History of Bees by Maja Lunde

cover117360-medium

Does the vanishing of the Bees really indicate a coming ecological collapse? This book follows the lives of three people whose lives are interwoven with the domestication of bees and their disappearance.

In England in 1851 we meet William, a biologist and seed merchant, trying to gain fame by building a new type of beehive. Jumping forward to 2007 and in the USA is George, a beekeeper fighting an uphill battle against modern farming, and hoping his son will follow in the family footsteps. China is the home of Tao who hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees in 2098 when the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao’s young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident—and is kept in the dark about his whereabouts and condition—she sets out on a grueling journey to find out what happened to him.

Well. There was a lot in this book for me to love but before we dip into that can we just have a moments appreciation for that cover! What a thing of beauty!

So what’s your preference? Historical fiction? Dystopian? Contemporary? Why choose? With this you’ve got it all! And unusually all three sections are written in first person with authentic sounding voices and a real sense of time and place. But all that is worth little without a good story to tie it together. Luckily this has four good stories, each arc could’ve been extended to a standalone book but I think they are better interwoven. They support a story that twists up through each of them and arches over them to create something better.

It got me thinking, the Bees angle is good but that’s not all there is too it, there’s also a lot about family.

Four and a half 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 Night Brother by Rosie Garland

cover102770-mediumSiblings Edie and Gnome delight in the streets of late nineteenth-century Manchester. They fight and argue as all siblings, but Edie can never resist Gnome’s outrageous schemes and always ends up climbing out of the bedroom window with him at night for adventures.

But as they get older and Gnome continues to revel in the night-time,  Edie’s life is lived during the day. Gradually she forgets the brother she never sees as the demands of scraping a living become bigger. She wakes exhausted each morning with a sickening sense of unease and confusion.

But then she falls in love and Gnome reappears, jealous and wanting to destroy his sisters happiness.

Can they learn to live together in harmony?

This is an interesting novel and works on several different levels. The basics of it- writing, setting and character development Rosie Garland absolutely nails. To be honest I’ve never yet set foot in Manchester but I could feel the Edwardian version of the city around me all the way through.  The characters are believable and face some very interesting challenges which they respond to in a way that feels natural.

But where things get really interesting is the actual story – there is more to Edie and Gnome than at first meets the eye and the novel explores gender and sexuality in an unusual way. There are a couple of places where it could have taken wrong turns and ended up exploiting those topics rather than exploring them. But each time it pushes towards the limits  it pulls itself back, exposing naive opinions and then redressing them.

In the end it’s about more than girl versus boy and becomes a story about being honest with yourself. Every part of yourself. And of accepting the whole of others.

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.

Sea – The Huntress Triology by Sarah Driver

1cover104570-mediumThis is the first book in a new fantasy adventure trilogy for young readers (aged 9+) and the publishing company clearly had a lot of faith in it as it was pushed hard when it was released. The blurb recommends it fans of Philip Pullman and Frances Hardinge amongst others. As usual I’ll be completely honest – it is a good book, but not quite in the league of Phillip Pullman or Frances Hardinge.

But don’t let that put you off buying it for the young person in your life – it’s still a good read! It follows the story of Mouse. Since her mother died she has looked after her little brother Sparrow and dreamt of taking over as captain of the Huntress – the ship her mother steered that is currently captained by her Grandmother. Her Dad has also gone missing and now Sparrow is in danger.

Sarah Driver has written a powerful character and a strong adventure. But what really makes this book special is Mouse’s voice. It’s written in first person and the language just captures you and takes you hostage from the first moment.  Although Mouse is female this is a book that will appeal to boys too – it has pirates and pterodactyls after all! It’s also  packed with high stake risks and the feeling of kids against the adults with the kids managing to outsmart the adults. This feels authentic as mostly the kids win because they don’t believe that they are limited in the same way that adults believe they are.

When kids enjoy a book they always want more so that fact that this is the start of a trilogy is brilliant, and as of writing this the second book is already out. I’m not sure when exactly by so far there’s between about 9 months between each so hopefully it’ll be out Summer 2018.

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 Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood

1cover120428-mediumMad-doctor Nathaniel is obsessed with the beautiful Mrs Harleston – but is she truly delusional? Or is she hiding secrets that should never be uncovered . . . ?

Overshadowed by his father’s suicide, Nathaniel Kerner finds it hard to find work in his chosen field of ailments of the mind. Reluctantly he takes up a position at Crakethorne Asylum, only to find the proprietor is more interested in his growing collection of skulls than helping his patients – fame seems unlikely to find Nathaniel here. His only interesting case is Mrs Victoria Adelina – Vita – Harleston: she is interesting because she doesn’t really seem mad at all – her husband accuses her of hysteria and delusions – but she accuses him of hiding secrets far more terrible.

Nathaniel becomes increasingly obsessed with Vita, and when an opportunity presents itself to have her mesmerised he leaps at it, imagining seeing papers in journals with his name attached.

But the session doesn’t go well and the next morning Vita has vanished and it seems Nathaniel may have been tricked into aiding her escape.

Increasingly besotted, Nathaniel finds himself caught up in a world of séances and stage mesmerism in his bid to find Vita and save her.

But constantly hanging over him is this warning: that doctors are apt to catch the diseases with which they are surrounded – whether of the body or the mind . . .

I really enjoyed Alison Littlewood’s The Hidden People last year so was thrilled to see another new release from her. Although set in the same era this is quite a different book, this is freezing fog in winter at 4pm as opposed to a hot lazy 4pm in August. Although both are mysterious, this is one where you can’t really see what’s going on four paces in front of you. And although both are a little creepy – this is skin shivering creepy whereas the other is beguilingly creepy. I’m starting to think that Alison Littlewood is the modern day successor to Wilkie Collins, The Hidden People feels similar to The Moonstone and this feels like the Woman in White – the stories are different, there’s no plagiarism, they are not re-writings in any way. But if you like Wilkie Collins my guess is you’ll like Alison Littlewood.

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 Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

witch of NapoliIn 1899 Spiritualist séance’s are sweeping through Europe. But men of science are ready to denounce every act as trickery and fraud. When skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi sees a photo of Alessandra Poverelli levitating  a table in Naples he immediately goes to investigate.

But then she materializes the ghost of his dead mother. He can’t explain it, and as a man of science he refuses to dismiss it out of hand instead asking if she will be willingly investigated by him and on a tour of the Continent,where the scientific and academic elite of Europe will be invited to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers.

As disdainful as she is of his scepticism she agrees. After all his fee is very generous and will help her escape her sadistic husband.

I won’t tell you what happens, we BookEaters try not to do spoilers too often after all! But it was certainly captivating. Here is a writer who know how and when to add conflict but without stretching the bounds of believability. All the characters rang true – in fact the character and basic storyline is based on a real life Spiritualist sensation of the era – Eusapia Palladino and the author has drawn on writings about her from that time.

The tricks that many spiritualists used are detailed throughout and if you’re anything like me you might keep changing your mind about whether Alessandra is genuine or a con artist throughout the book.

As the author is an investigative journalist examining the paranormal, it’s not surprising that this book shows excellent research, what is surprising is how well-written it is. It’s a self-published book, but don’t let that put you off, this is a lot better than a lot of the books I’ve read lately.

4.5 Bites

 

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

The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles

IMG_2631Two people were born on the 2nd March 1975, one in Eritrea one in London. Thirty years later Yonas has to leave Eritrea  and travels to England as a refugee, when he arrives he has to ‘work off his debt’ in a factory and so fails to register as a refugee.

His asylum case lands on Jude’s desk. Opening the file, she finds a patchwork of witness statements from those who met Yonas along his journey: a lifetime the same length of hers, reduced to a few scraps of paper.

Soon, Jude will stand up in court and tell Yonas’ story. His life depends on how she tells it.

I have to admit I wasn’t sure about this when I first opened it. It starts with Jude opening the file but it is told in second person and frankly that was a bit weird.

However, I soon got past that and as I started reading Yonas’ story I became fully absorbed in it and found myself reading it at every opportunity. Yonas’ journey is horrifically compelling, all the more so for the flashes of joy and hope he finds in the simplest things, and for knowing that people are going through the same things day in day out.

Once Yonas reaches England he develops a habit of keeping newspaper articles about refugees and immigrants. the author uses these at the start of every chapter. At first I felt it was a bit of a gimmick, but then the more you get to know Yonas, and the other people he meets in his situation, the more stark the comparison between the savage dehumanisation unleashed on these people by our media and their own gentle aspirations.

Four Bites

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

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

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

19780099592761Re-reading the blurb after reading the book I have to say it is a close to perfect synopsis, so I’m not going to ruin it by remaking it I’m just going to give it to you verbatim;

“It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat. Tormented and striving Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants—his passion for Lizzie darkening until she finds herself dangerously alone.”

The only thing that would have improved that blurb for me was if I had kept it in mind when I started reading the book! As this book came to me through NetGalley about 3 months before it’s paperback release was due I straight away popped it in my ‘to be read soon’ but then didn’t get round to it for two months as I had others I wanted to review first. Then when I picked it up and started reading I got drawn in straight away to the prologue… but actually the prologue isn’t really relevant to the story itself. In fact I would recommend you skip it or read it at the end.

Other than that this book is excellent. As soon as you start reading you feel a sense of unease and a creeping certainty that danger is near to Lizzie that stays with you regardless of the glittering political distractions and security of her family.

This is how historical fiction should be. There is a conviction about the times that envelope the reader allowing you to feel as if you are there living through them with the characters. You feel the weight of the mud sucking at you as you try to walk, feel dizzied by the depths of the river crashing through the gorge below, feel the sting of the wind and the warmth of the hearth.

The characters are well formed and the twists when they come are surprising but believable. I left it feeling I understood Georgian England better and respected the people of the time more.

Four Bites

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

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

In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

IMG_2634It is the midst of winter 2016 and a huge storm is about to hit Brooklyn. 62 year old Lucia Maraz is alone in her cold apartment so she calls her landlord and colleague Richard Bowmaster to see if he wants to join her for soup, and because she’s scared. He brushes her off, terrrified of any potential intimacy. But in the middle of the night he calls her – a minor traffic accident he had earlier that day has led to a hysterical young Spanish speaker turning up on his doorstep and he needs her help.

The young woman is Evelyn Ortega—an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. She took her bosses car to drive to the store without asking permission and the damage to it means he will know, he is a violent man.

While these three very different people are trying to work out what to do for the best a new intimacy allows us to hear their life stories from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil. Along the waythe long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia sparks into life.

This book has been described by other critics as mesmerising, and to be honest I think that description fits it really well. There are quite shocking twists and turns but there is something else in the writing that keeps you reading. It’s not just that you want to know if they’ll get themselves out of the tricky situation they’re in, it’s also that the characters are so real and so easy to care about that you want to spend time with them.

All of them have suffered great tragedies in their pasts, and all have been changed by them and coped differently. There’s no element of magic realism as there is in some other of Allende’s, but the magic in this is real and it’s the magical redemption that giving and receiving love brings.

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 Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

IMG_2632We meet Elsie as her carriage approaches her new husband’s crumbling country estate. It is her first time here, but it is tainted with tragedy as her husband is laid out within and awaiting her so his funeral can begin.

Her new servants are resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, and pregnant Elsie is confined there with only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. But whilst exploring she finds a delightful nursery and a locked room containing the two-hundred-year-old diary of her husband’s ancestor and an unusual painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. Her cousin is charmed by it and wishing to strengthen their friendship Elsie helps her re-instate it in the main house.

But whispers of a curse start to rise as the house suffers misfortunes and Elsie tries desperately to hang on to her sanity to deliver herself and her unborn baby to safety.

This is a gorgeously gothic ghost story which would be spectacular if filmed.

Four Bites!

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

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

The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

34103858Brothers John and William are travelling through a plague ridden country in December 1348. John, finding a baby still alive next to orphan-making corpses, finds his heart too moved by pity and piety to leave the baby to die. Despite the risks that William reminds him of.

William’s words are terrifyingly prophetic and soon the brothers fear that they will die and go to Hell. But then a strange voice offers them a choice – die at home with their families (probably infecting them too) or to live another six days searching for salvation across the forthcoming centuries – living each one of their remaining days ninety-nine years after the last.

They choose the future and wake the next day in 1447. The day after that in 1546 and so on. Every day brings new shocks and and challenges as they are confronted with changing technology, landscapes and religious and social convictions.  With so much confusion can they redeem themselves before the six days are up?

This book couldn’t possibly be what it is if it hadn’t been written by the author described by The Times as ‘the most remarkable historian of our time’. This is  Ian Mortimer’s first work of historical fiction and his knowledge marries perfectly with a stunningly clever and well executed story.  Though John and William were born centuries ago and are very different from each other, they are both likeable, relatable characters.  Obviously the settings and descriptions of each time period are accurate but Mortimer infuses them with colour and life too.

I found myself talking about this book a lot while I was reading it – always a sign of a good read. This is definitely in my top five books of the year and deserves every one of it’s Five Bites! I’m hoping Ian Mortimer continues to explore fiction.

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.

How to Be Human by Paula Cocozza

IMG_2575Mary gets home from work one day, not long after her husband has moved out, to find a magnificent fox on her lawn. His ears spiked in attention and every hair bristling with his power to surprise – she is entranced. Somehow his wild presence has bought magic back into her very controlled life and she longs to see him again. She begins to leave food out for him and he begins to leave her gifts too. Gradually he makes himself at home. Much to the consternation of her neighbours who start to plot getting rid of him.

Then one day it seems he has left a very unusual gift. A gift that changes everyone’s lives.

This is an unusual book – I wasn’t exactly sure by the end of it what had happened and what hadn’t. But in that lies it’s brilliance. it explores the nuances between sanity and madness, civilisation and savagery, right and wrong, love and abuse.

I was sucked into this from the first page and as soon as i’d finished it I put it straight into my re-readables pile -who knows? Maybe next time I’ll even figure out what actually happened!

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.

Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson

IMG_2625
The blurb for this book is brilliant so instead of trying to create a new and more accurate one for you as I usually do I’m just going to let you read the original…

Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past – with fatal consequences.

In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. And murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.” 

I had this on my kindle for an age before I finally got round to reading it. I’m not sure why exactly but I had a strong feeling Id enjoy it and I just wanted to wait until the ‘right’ time to read it! When I finally did start it I was both annoyed at myself for waiting so long and also a little bit smug that I still had it there to read.

As gothic mysteries go this is close to perfect. The writing is erudite and laced with regret, the villain so evil that reproach slides off him like slime down a sewer and the settings are darkened with soot and scented by sewers. The main characters are complex and all seem to have shameful secrets clipping their wings.

Yet even with it being as gothic mystery as a gothic mystery could be, it is not cliched. There is sympathy and understanding for the other characters and a sense of realism that makes the reader believe this could really have happened. It’s a very visual book too and would make a great film to watch in the autumn or winter with a crackling fire and a hot chocolate with a nip or two of something stronger in it!

Treat yourself!

Four Bites

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

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

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things by JT LeRoy

This book and its author caused one of the great literary scandals. JT Leroy was a recluse at the start of their literary career, then they became a Warhol-esque celebrity and then they were discovered to be a fraud.

But why am I telling you all this instead of telling you about the book? Because actually knowing this makes this book even more extraordinary.

This book, supposedly biographical, is structured as interconnected stories, showing vignettes of the chaotic life JT Leroy. It starts when his teenage mother Sarah reclaims him from his foster parents and takes him along with her and her new boyfriend. Life is suddenly a world of motels and learning to love his new stepfather leads him into abuse and trying hard to be as pretty and womanly as his mother. He’s plucked out of that situation only to be exposed to a different kind of abuse from Sarah’s ultra-religious parents. Scalding hot baths, skin scrubbed into tatters and learning to hate himself and his desire to be loved even more.

I’m not going to lie – it’s too horrible and shocking to look away from. There’s a part of all of us that wants to gawp at other’s suffering and have our minds boggled by it and this book definitely feeds into that. But I think that feeling can be a force for good in the world, by seeing other people’s problems we can become more open and sensitive to them. And although, or maybe because, this is in fact a work of fiction it has that power.

The writing is extraordinary. To capture the voice of a child this young going through so much is incredible. Particularly as all the way through the innocence of that youth comes through.

It’s not easy reading – for goodness sake don’t read it when you are feeling like the world is too dark a place to live in. But when you’re feeling powerful and strong and ready to try and change the world, please do read it.

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 Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

cover108526-mediumAliens are trying to make contact with Julia Glazer; they have been since her mother died. In an effort to escape them she has left her childhood home, a bar called The Stargazer’s Embassy, and moved to New York. It’s easiest to be safe surrounded by lots of people and plugged into a Walkman so you can’t hear them calling.

There she meets and falls in love with a man who turns out to be completely wrong for her – not in personality, just in occupation. He is a psychiatrist studying people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Julia at once knows that if she tells him her secret she could move from lover to patient in the blink of an eye. But keeping her secret proves impossible as she begins to meet his patients, and finds amongst them people who describe exactly the aliens she sees. And who recognise the tattoo on her wrist that her mother had scribed there.

I am not the resident Sci-Fi guru here but I found the premise of the book intriguing… and the fact that it was written by someone who’d won an award for a previous Sci-Fi novel reassured me immensely too. But I have to admit that the cover made me think I was making a mistake.

Thankfully you can’t see the cover when you’re reading it! Also thankfully, my copy was on Kindle so no one on the train could see the cover either as I read it on my commute! And thrice thankfully you really shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover… I really will learn that one day!

Because I really enjoyed this book. It’s a totally different take on the alien abduction genre with a unique, memorable and relatable set of characters. It’s set sometime in the late 90’s but with flashbacks to Julia’s childhood in the 70’s which just adds that cult Sci-Fi feel to it that we all love so well. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll shut up now but get yourself a copy of this even if you have to slip it inside a different cover to be seen with 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 reviewse

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.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

cover102888-mediumThe tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is of course well known. But this book asks what of his daughter Miranda? The pawn in his twisted game. Or Caliban, apparently just a savage that Prospero chained to his will?

Here we meet Miranda, a loving child who wants to spread happiness and doesn’t understand her father’s paranoid control. She understands kindness and compassion though and longs to rebel but knows her father’s magic is too powerful for her. Here too is Caliban, a lost and frightened child who finds in Miranda solace and joyful companionship. He resents Prospero’s enslaving of him and manipulation of Miranda. Of course the spirit Ariel flits through the story too as cataclysmic a force as could be imagined with every small sentence that drops from his lips leaving confusion and calamity all around.

If you know the play then you’ll have a fair idea where the story is going from the start but don’t let that dissuade you from taking the journey. The writing is a real pleasure, at once sumptuous and spare, Carey portrays the characters with a few deft strokes but then washes colour and light through them so the depths of their souls are displayed.

And in many ways this is an untold story as it deals with the twelve years that Prospero and Miranda were exiled and according to Carey there is much more to be said about Prospero as a father and Miranda as a girl growing up with little human companionship than the play explores. What does she remember if anything of her pampered life before exile? How can she trust a man who uses cruelty to have what’s best for her at heart?

There is plenty of tension and conflict in the book, honestly I wasn’t sure all if Carey would return to Shakespeare’s Tale or upend it completely, the ending is not so fixed as you might imagine …

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.

Hyena by Jude Angelini

hyenaThe blurb did warn me that these biographical short stories were ude “uncompromising, brutally honest and shocking.” But it also promised that “underneath this series of deplorable autobiographical stories is an echo of heartbreak, loneliness, and the eternal poetry of a man struggling to be heard.”

The stories trace the descent of popular American Hip Hop DJ Jude Angeline into ever more debauched sexual and drug-fuelled exploits.

I am no prude, in years gone by I myself have indulged in a few debauched and occasionally even drug-fuelled exploits. But I couldn’t read this.

I think I got maybe four stories in before chucking it away, what I couldn’t stand was the total lack of liking or respect for pretty much anyone else in the stories. If the character was female it went beyond that and deep into misogyny. It sickened me.

Maybe the author is a lonely, heartbroken poet, maybe he’s just another selfish, repellent prat. Either way I wasn’t going to give him a minute more of my time. I just hope he is a kinder person now than he was.

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.