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.

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

cover107531-mediumJonah’s wife Audrey has just died in a car crash, it may have been suicide, she had been depressed after a series of miscarriages. But she’d seemed happier lately, since she’d started visiting Kew Gardens regularly, so Jonah isn’t sure. He just knows the woman he loved is gone and he can’t sleep for mourning her. He is drawn to Kew, looking for the solace it gave her and hoping to feel her there.

But Kew Gardens isn’t his alone of course, there he meets Milly, a charming child who says her father works there, but where is her mother, and why is she always wearing the same clothes?

Then there’s the gardner, Harry. His purpose is to save plants from extinction, but has his desire to save life been twisted into something destructive?

Chloe is also a frequent visitor, an artist designing a huge origami installation to be exhibited at Kew, finds her singular minded isolation challenged. And the guilt she feels exposed.

They don’t know it yet but these five strangers are all connected. Can they find the way through the maze of regret and guilt through to acceptance and forgiveness?

I grant you that this sounds sentimental to possibly bordering on maudlin but I promise you it isn’t. It’s a life-affirming novel of exceptional beauty in fact. In places it’s gritty, even ugly, and in others it enjoys some quiet mundanity, then it trips into dizzying revels of the foibles of the human heart.

I like to read my books depending on the season to an extent, I generally save gothic horror for the autumn/winter, or books based in cold climates for the winter and those with prettier climates for the Spring or Summer (am I weird or do you do that too?) But as this book traces a full calendar year in Kew Gardens it can be enjoyed at anytime of year. So whether you’ve holidays booked in the South of France this summer or in Scotland this autumn take this book with you.

Tor Udell described the scenery beautifully. I haven’t been to Kew for years but I now feel like I have spent months there recently – even though I read this book in about two days! So if you’ve no holiday booked maybe just have a weekend at home with this book! Apart from the human content this can also be considered a bit of a love letter to Kew and it definitely made me want to revisit it in real life.

Definitely 5 Bites from me and one I will be re-reading (even though I’m unlikely to forget the ending!)

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 Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

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 President’s Garden by Muhsin Al-Ramli

cover108335-mediumI never get a book thinking that I’m going to give it anything less than a four Bite review. As much as I read I get excited about each blurb I read. The blurb on this book was no different, it promised to show me the interior lives and close friendships of a village in Iraq and how huge political acts on the world stage effect even the most unpolitical lives.

On the third day of Ramadan, the village wakes to find the severed heads of nine of its sons stacked in banana crates by the bus stop. One of them belonged to one of the most wanted men in Iraq, known to his friends as Ibrahim the Fated.

How did this good and humble man earn the enmity of so many? What did he do to deserve such a death?

The answer lies in his lifelong friendship with Abdullah Kafka and Tariq the Befuddled, who each have their own remarkable stories to tell. It lies on the scarred, irradiated battlefields of the Gulf War and in the ashes of a revolution strangled in its cradle. It lies in the steadfast love of his wife and the festering scorn of his daughter. And, above all, it lies behind the locked gates of The President’s Gardens, buried alongside the countless victims of a pitiless reign of terror.

But sadly this didn’t grip me at all and I ended up not finishing it – in fact I didn’t even get halfway through. I’ve lived in the middle-east, just next door to Iraq in fact so I thought I’d be introduced to rich, complex characters and family dynamics. And to be fair I could see the bones of this but there was no meet on any of it. The story also seemed like it could be interesting but the style of the telling of it let it down.Telling is the right word, the words tell you the story but they don’t invite you into it. It read to me more like a plan of a book or a rough draft.

It is translated from Arabic so it’s possible that some of the fault lies there but I’m hesitant to lay blame in one place, a book may only have the authors name on the cover but it’s usually a group affair so yes, maybe the editor and translator didn’t take good enough care of it but the author is where the buck stops.

If you’ve a short to be read pile and a long train or plane journey it might be worth a punt.

2 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.

Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter

IMG_2537Angela Carter has the most fantastical imagination and she gives it full reign here.

It is the story of Sophie Fevvers, aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus, and Jack Walser, an American journalist on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity.

For Sophie Fevvers claims that her wings are real. She is part woman, part swan. She is also being courted by the Prince of Wales, has been painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, and seems to have an unusual control over time.

Walser convinces his editor to let him join the circus as a clown on its European tour. He says it’s to get the scoop of the century but his real motive is love.

There is so much to this book. Drama, passion, curiosity. In it Angela Carter harnesses the impossible and makes it do tricks. This is a terrific book for those that grew up loving Harry Potter but who perhaps haven’t started delving yet into the wealth of books that  paved the way for it.

When I was reading this I found myself doodling with phrases from the book (my version of doodling – I’m not good with a pencil!) which is something I tend only to do when the writing is exceptionally good. One description I loved was this one of Walser “Yet there remained something a little unfinished about him, still. He was like a handsome house that has been let, furnished.” Brilliant!

This one of Fevvers I doodled …

IMG_7308

I think you can guess already that it’s Five Bites from me … and probably the start of a Carter binge!

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.

Thirst by Benjamin Warner

imageEddie Chapman has been stuck for hours in a traffic jam, in the heat. There are no signs of the emergency services turning up so eventually he decides to abandon his car and run home. He passes accidents along the highway, trees along the edge of a stream that have been burnt, and the water in the stream bed is gone. Something is very wrong.

When he arrives home, the power is out throughout his whole neighbourhood and there is no running water. As his wife Laura finally gets home through similar problems, the pair and their neighbours start to suffer the effects of the violent heat and limited liquid, and the terrifying realisation that no one may be coming to help.

Civilisation starts to breakdown as confusion, fear and hallucinations set in. Eddie realises that nothing else matters than that he and Laura should live – not even the secret shame she’s carried for years.

This is about as harsh and dystopian as it gets. If you liked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road then this will be right up your street (forgive the pun – I can’t help myself!)

It differs in a lot of ways, for me the most striking is the visual setting. The Road is grey and oppressive whereas in this book there is plenty of sun … but plenty of contrast too as their sleeping patterns are so disrupted that a lot of time is spent in the night. The prose is more colourful too.

The key to this working so well though is the characters, Eddie is completely believable. Although his view of what’s happening becomes less and less reliable and he does things that I’m betting he never would have dreamed he’d do before the disaster.

Get yourself a copy of this – and while you’re buying stuff don’t forget to stock up on water just in case!

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.

Goblin by Ever Dundas

IMG_2576Goblin is just a young child when an World War 2 begins. Her mother doesn’t like her so she leads a semi-feral life with a gang of young children amidst the craters of London’s Blitz. She only goes home to eat and sleep, to help her father fix things for their neighbours, and to dream dreams of becoming a pirate with her older brother. He’s almost old enough to sign up but he’s got no plans to, explaining to her what a conscientious objector is. Then he doesn’t come home and she is evacuated and her letters to him go unanswered. Freed from London and living near the coast unfetters her imagination and she takes refuge in a self-constructed but magical imaginary world.

In 2011, Goblin is an eccentric and secretive old lady. She volunteers at the local library and helps outcasts and animals when she can. But then some old photos are found showing the pet cemetary reminding the country of one of the great shames of the war – when we slaughtered our pets to protect them from a German invasion and torture. But one photo shows Goblin and an even greater atrocity. She is forced to return to a London that is once again burning and face her past. Will she have the strength to reveal the truth or will it drive her over the edge to insanity?

This is the kind of book that will appeal to fans of a variety of different fiction. At its heart is a mystery wrapped in the gruesome darkness of war. But it also has elements of gothic fantasy, fascinating oddball characters, a coming of age story and love and redemption. Trying to cram this much into one book could be confusing but in this case it adds to the mystery. Goblin herself is weird and wonderful both as a child and as an old woman. She has heart and sass in equal measures and though she can be sharp and grumpy her honesty is appealing, even whilst she keeps so much hidden.

This is a book I’ll be re-reading!

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.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

511UiSk3+1LIn February 1862 President Lincoln’s adored eleven-year-old son, Willie, died in the White House. He’d fallen sick a few days before after getting soaked to the skin whilst riding. But despite his illness, the Lincoln’s continue to hold a glittering reception – the Civil War was less than a year old and the nation had begun to realize it was in for a long, bloody struggle.

When Willie is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery in when this story really starts. Although Lincoln is mired in politics his broken heart is with his son and he returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

But before he can Willie starts to meet the other inhabitants of the graveyard. He doesn’t realise he is dead, and neither do the other ghosts who continue to have friendships, complain, commiserate, quarrel, and wait to wake up with their loved ones around them. Here, in the bardo (named for the Tibetan transitional stage between life and death) an enormous struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

This is the most original book I have ever read. It is told by a series of quotes, some real some imagined, laid together to create a mosaic path through the story. Some quotes laud Lincoln and praise the reception held in spite of his son’s illness, others dismiss it as gaudy and heartless.

Then come the quotes from the ghosts. The only way I can give you a feel of this is to ask you to imagine Scrooge’s ghosts as Morecombe and Wise. They’re not really anything like that (they’re mainly american and died pre 1862 for a start!) but something in the humour and tragedy that they create is similar.

My only potential criticism with this could be the layout. As it’s all quotes there are rarely more than a few sentences before the source of the quote and then a gap. It didn’t bother me after the first few pages but it could be disjointing. A plus side of this is that you get to read a really big book really quickly which I liked because it made me feel really intelligent and a super-speedy reader!

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.

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes

IMG_2536Odeline Milk has never really fitted in. She was bought up in a very middle-England village and was an only child to a single mother with different colouring to her. She also has a passion for mime. Now her mother (and biggest fan) has died, leaving her a small inheritance. She’s on her way to London, to make her name.

But the inheritance really isn’t big, certainly not enough for a flat. So she’s bought herself an old canal boat and is counting every penny whilst trying to find work and maybe find the man she thinks might be her father.

But the city’s canals have are a sort of halfworld, a good place to hide for those that make their living by spurious means and for curious outsiders. But Odeline doesn’t know an outsider from an outlaw so has no idea who she can trust.

This was one of those books that I came upon purely by chance. Somehow I saw it somewhere on Audible not so very long after I first joined and thought I may as well add it to my (at the time) incredibly short wishlist there. It must have languished there for about two years before I eventually got round to buying it, but then that’s the joy of books isn’t it? So many of them are evergreen, it doesn’t matter too much if you read them when they first come out, two years later or two hundred years later.

When I finally did start it though I was utterly charmed. Odeline is not your normal manic pixie dream girl at all, she may be socially awkward and quite single minded for a medical reason. She’s likeable despite herself, and ultimately because she is an artist through and through.

Apart from Odeline’s journey to find her new place in the world there is another storyline running through the book to. The story of her barge. We learn about the man that built it, how he gave it and himself over to the war effort, how it was stolen and used by a runaway evacuee seeking his mother. How it was destroyed then rediscovered and lovingly restored and other vignettes along the way. This storyline only marginally intersects with Odeline’s, a brutal editor would have insisted on cutting it out, but I’m glad it stayed put, it might not have been necessary but it was worth it.

Over six months have passed since I read this book, and in that time I’ve devoured over 50 books at least. Yet the characters, story and the feelings this evoked are fresh in my memory – I definitely recommend it!

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.

One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5 Bites

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

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

IMG_2428This is the story of a black man standing in the Supreme Court for the most shocking charges. He is a black man accused of segregating the local high school and reinstating slavery!

But did he really do such things? After all he was born and bought up in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, he’s a typical lower-middle-class Californian. And his father was a controversial but liberal minded sociologist performing psychological studies on the impact of racism.

After his father dies and he discovers that he’s been left no money at all the narrator loses heart, all he can see around him is the downtroddeness of his neighbours, the general disrepair of his hometown and then Dickens is literally to be removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident – the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins – he decides on a daring plan to save the neighbourhood. Will it work – or has being the subject of all his father’s experiments had an unexpected impact?

This is a funny book. Beatty’s turn of phrase and sharp mind have created a scenario that at first seems absurd but then seems to make perfect sense within the context of the historical and current treatment of pretty much anybody that isn’t white but lives in the U.S. The characters are varied, believable and a lot of them have sharp minds and witty comebacks too.

But underneath this levity the impact of racism is utterly dissected. Every aspect of it is pulled out and placed under the microscope. We see how one part of the system needs another and are left knowing that just ripping out organs hasn’t been enough to kill racism – the system hobbles on and the maiming of it makes it just as dangerous. I was left thinking that if there had been more positive actions, if instead of ripping out the organs of racism they had been removed carefully and replaced with a healthy ones, maybe we wouldn’t need the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Maybe it would be obvious and accepted by all that black lives are as important as white. As it is America continues to fail it’s citizens, but at least it provided the climate for a mind like Paul Beatty’s to create something extraordinary.

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.