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.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

cover97841-mediumTom Barron will never measure up to his genius dad. If he’s honest with himself he’ll probably never measure up to his self-sacrificing mother either. It’s always annoyed him that she does so much for his dad and had so little appreciation but now she’s just died it annoys him even more.

Still, at least his dad seems to be trying to do something for him now by giving him a job. He’s to be an understudy chrononaut.

His father has developed a time machine and plans to test it by sending someone back to the moment the world got unlimited power in 1965. The 2016 Tom lives in is very different from ours.

But even though Tom is only the understudy and not supposed to be traveling, events somehow unravel and he accidentally changes the past and ends up in our 2016. Can he put things right? And when he realises his own life is so much better in our 2016 will he be selfless enough to do so? After all in his 2016 there is no poverty and no climate change, but in our 2016 Tom has love.

This book is incredible! I LOVED IT! The cleverness doesn’t stop for a second but Tom Barron is such an ordinary (slightly disappointing) bloke that it never feels too complicated or cloying. The characters and their dilemmas are in turn fascinating and mundane and they react both rationally and irrationally just like we all do.

But beyond the great characters, fabulous plot and terrific writing is something more. This is a book that makes you ponder! And there is nothing I love more than a book that makes me do that!

5 Bites … and if I was handing out awards this book would be getting them!

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.

New Boy – Othello Retold by Tracy Chevalier

cover109137-mediumAnother in the Hogarth Series of Shakespeare Retold, this time Tracy Chevalier, known for her Historical Fiction, takes on Othello and sets it in a 1970’s surburban schoolyard. A group of 11 year olds and starting to experiment with romance and born into a casually racist society are about to have the foundations of their lives shaken.

Osei is the son of a diplomat and so this is his fourth school in six years. He knows that if he is to survive this all white school he’s going to need an ally. Luckily for him Dee is instantly drawn to him, she’s a naturally kind girl and the most popular in the school so his safety seems assured. But there are people that don’t like seeing the budding interracial relationship. Ian is a spiteful boy who has earned his place in the pecking order through intimidation and fear, he’s not about to see a new boy take it from him. He sets out to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.

It isn’t easy to write from a child’s point of view. Often it comes across too childish or too mature, and 11 year olds are tricky as can be. This group are top of the tree at school so think they are very grown up, yet as they’re about to go to a new school where’ll they’ll be at the bottom of the pecking order they are constantly vacillating between feeling grown up and feeling insecure. Chevalier captures this perfectly.

The characters are all eminently observable and the interactions between them are fascinating. The friendship between the three female protagonists is still a three way see-saw but the weight of adolescence is already starting to destroy their precarious balance. Ian (Iago) is an immensely interesting character, I love that his motivation is not in any way related to romantic desire.

It’s quite a quick read, I devoured it in one sitting. But it was no less satisfying for that.

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 Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

IMG_2419Della Dobbs is the dull and plain one in the family, her oldest sister has successfully married and the middle sister is an actress, her younger brother is the apple of her father’s eye. She isn’t pretty or talented and the only thing she really enjoys is racing and fixing her bicycle. Then her Great Auntie Betty comes home to Cleethorpe’s from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina full of tales of the Wright Brothers and their incredible flying machines. Della is fascinated and develops a burning ambition to fly. Betty is determined to help her.

Can she overcome the Edwardian attitudes to women and learn to fly? And if she does will she be any good at it?

I really wanted to love this book. Full disclosure I’m working on a similar book and so I have a genuine passion for the amazing women that just did not take no for an answer. And let’s be clear, aeroplanes were little more than balsa wood, canvas and wire so anybody flying them was incredible.

But I couldn’t love it, I wanted to connect with the characters but the writing, though not terrible, was not good enough. The characterisations were ok but not absorbing, the plot and storyline were ok, the research was well done and the descriptions of flight were good.  But in the end there were too many information dumps and I almost gave up on it because of that.

3 Bites

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

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

The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

cover107323-mediumHanif Kureishi was once reknowned for his coming of age tales. He wrote the film My Beautiful Laundrette and then one the Whitbread Prize for The Buddha of Surburbia. Now he has turned his pen towards dying.

The Nothing starts like this “One night, when I am old, sick, right out of semen, and don’t need things to get any worse, I hear the noises growing lonuder. I am sure they are making love in Zenab’s bedroom which is next to mine.”

It follows Waldo, a fêted filmmaker confined by old age and ill health to his London apartment. Luckily he met the love of his life before this and she has cared for him faithfully for the last ten years. But when Eddie starts hanging around too much – allegedly  collecting material for a retrospective on Waldo’s work – he suspects them of starting an affair. He is determined to prove his suspicions correct — and then to enact his revenge.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Kureishi’s refusal to sublimate. Every kink and nuance of Waldo’s is uncompromisingly displayed … actually some of those kinks could be considered compromising, but not by a writer like Kureishi or a character like Waldo. It’s told in first person and Waldo is one of those characters who is both charismatic and a little bit creepy. He’s fairly cynical so all of the characters bad sides are shown. I have to admit I took a moment to check Kureishi’s age, after all he’s been known to be a bit biographical in the past! (He’s only 62 so Waldo definitely isn’t based on him… your guesses as to who he is based on are more than welcome 😂)

But this isn’t just a character study, it’s a twisted tale of jealousy and revenge. And it rips along at a cracking pace.

Definitely recommended – 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.

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

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

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

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

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

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

I’m definitely glad I revisited it!

5 Bites

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

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

cover72960-mediumAfter reading a book, I usually re-write the blurb to try and give a truer sense of what the books about. but in this case the blurb it comes with is perfect! Here it is …

“For Meridian Wallace–and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s–being ambitious meant being an outlier. Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian had been obsessed with birds, and she was determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother’s sacrifices to send her to college pay off. But she didn’t expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he’s recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him.

What began as an exciting intellectual partnership devolves into a “traditional” marriage. And while the life of a housewife quickly proves stifling, it’s not until years later, when Meridian meets a Vietnam veteran who opens her eyes to how the world is changing, that she realizes just how much she has given up. The repercussions of choosing a different path, though, may be too heavy a burden to bear.”

There is so much truth in this book. It is a vivid portrait of not just Meridian Wallace but of a whole generation of women born just a little too early to live the lives they should have lived. As you might guess from the title and blurb it also covers the birth of the nuclear age and touches upon the feelings of the scientist that created ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Boy’ and who wreaked so much destruction on Japan. In fact this book seems so completely true that I had to Google to see if she and Alden were in fact real historical figures!

Meridian is the kind of woman we all want to be friends with, intelligent, curious and kind. She’s a bit of a loner but also able to keep her mind stimulated, a useful trait as her marriage stagnates. Her life is not unexpected for women of her generation. It was a time when women had begun to break through the educational barriers in greater numbers than ever before but many families supported them in going not so much for them to stretch their intellectual wings but in order for them to find the right kind of husband. One of the many small tragedies in this book is that by falling for an intelligent man who excites her intellect she is unwittingly signing it’s death warrant! It’s only her stubbornness that helps keep it alive.

This is a quiet book, but often things that are important are said quietly. There’s no bluster, very little violence or action, yet there is still plenty going on. In the book Meridian is the scientist, studying the behaviour and life habits of a local flock of crows, but in reading it you become the scientist, learning the same about Meridian and the flock she belongs to. It is at once an intimate character study and an evaluation of post war American society.

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.

Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt

cover99665-mediumIt’s 1654 and twenty-five year old Catrijn has just lost her husband. His death was sudden and they’d not been married very long. She decides this is her chance to see something of the world and leaves her small village. She takes a job as housekeeper to the successful Van Nulandt merchant family.

Her new life is vibrant and exciting. This is the golden age of Amsterdam: commerce, science and art are flourishing and the ships leaving Amsterdam bring back exotic riches from the Far East. Catrijn supports her mistresses desire to paint and in so doing improves her own natural artistic talents. But then an unwelcome figure from her past threatens her new life and she flees to Delft.

There, her painting talent earns her a chance to try out as a pottery painter. An unheard of position for a woman…

This is a wonderful book. It is full of conflict and drama but balanced perfectly with the normalcy of real life. We see Catrijn’s hopes and fears and although her ambitions and talents are extraordinary, she herself is still very down to earth. In fact all of the characters are well drawn and believable.

Catrijn meets Rembrandt in Amsterdam and lives in Delft at the same time as Vermeer and Fabritious. Simone van de Vlugt brings these artists to life brilliantly without letting them take over the story. The artistic heart of the story is with the birth of Delft Blue, the Dutch pottery that rivalled that of the orient.

I definitely recommend this one, great story, interesting characters and I felt I’d learnt quite a bit by the end of it.

4 Bites.

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

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

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

TheDarkFloodRisesFran Stubbs is getting closer to death and so is everyone around her. She’s not giving in to old age though, rushing around the country as she investigates housing options for the elderly, supplies suppers for fading ex-husband Claude, visits her daughter, Poppet, holed up as the waters rise in a sodden West Country, as well as texting her son Christopher in Tenerife who is dealing with the estate of his shockingly deceased girlfriend.

The novel examines what constitutes a good death and whether, if we’re lucky enough to age, we should age gracefully or disgracefully. It looks at what it means to live well enough to die satisfied.

This is a beautiful novel, the characters are deep and flawed and loveable. Margaret Drabble writes with wit and honesty. But it is not a firecracker of a novel. It is one to sit with and enjoy slowly when you have plenty of time. Great for a long weekend in winter. I imagine it would also make a good audio book and I would be happy to have it keep me company on a long journey. In fact I’ve just nipped over to Audible and listened to a quick sample and the reader is good so definitely a contender. The only problem with this book is that nothing obvious really happens.

Because of that it is unlikely you’ll be ‘hooked’ and staying up late to finish it to see what happens. Nonetheless it is worth reading.

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 Raqqa Diaries Escape From Islamic State by Samer

cover105964-mediumMichael Palin called this book ‘A clarion call to all of us that we should not give up. Somewhere there is a voice in the wreckage.’ 

For anybody interested in the reality of life in Syria over the last few years The Raqqa Diaries is a must read. The fact that the information is even available is miraculous as since Raqqa has bean under the control of the so called Islamic State it has become one of the most isolated and fear ridden cities on earth. Internet use is monitored and blocked and no-one is allowed to speak to western journalists or leave Raqqa, without permission. If the diarist had been caught he would have been executed. Probably in front of his mother.

The diarist Samer (not his real name) risked his life to tell the world what is happening in his city. He was part of a small anti-IS activist group, the diaries were written, encrypted and sent to a third country before being translated.

He sees so much. His father is killed and mother badly injured during an air strike, he sees beheadings, his fiancé is sold off to be married to an IS commander, he sees a woman stoned to death, he himself is arrested at one time and. is sentenced to 40 lashes for speaking out against a beheading. Suddenly wearing your trousers too long if you’re a man or not covering every inch of skin if you’re a woman is dangerous.

They show how every aspect of life is impacted – from the spiralling costs of food to dictating the acceptable length of trousers.

This book is quick to read, getting the information out was difficult so there isn’t too much of it. But though it can be read quickly it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

It’s numbing. There is so much horror in such a short book. And knowing it’s true makes it so much worse.

Syria is a complicated place at the moment, and this doesn’t give an in depth analysis of the situation. But it does show you what life is like there for people like you and me.

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 Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

img_2364Samuel Hawley did not have the best start in life and by the time he’s a teenager he is involved in petty crime to keep body and soul together. Then he moves onto bigger jobs with higher stakes but much bigger pay-offs. But when he meets Lily he knows everything has to change.

Years later he moves back to Lily’s hometown with their teenage daughter Loo. It’s time to stop running, he becomes a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school. Meeting her grandmother makes her curious about her mother’s mysterious death and the twelve bullet scars Hawley carries on his body.

Soon Hawley’s past and Loo’s investigations collide. Can they survive?

Okay, first things first, on the official blurb for this book it says that it’s perfect for fans of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. It’s really not. Not that fans of that book can’t like this one (I enjoyed both) but they are nothing whatsoever alike so liking one will not predispose you to like the other.

This is an interesting work, it’s a combination of a literary thriller and a coming of age novel. There’s plenty of action and more than 12 bullets but it also explores what makes a family, living with grief, the value of a human life, first love, community tensions, ecological issues and the sacrifices and manipulations we commit to protect the people we love most. Most of all it’s a story about a father-daughter relationship and how when we do something for love rather than for money we become heroes.

Quite a lot packed into a regular sized novel! And overall it works, most of the characters are convincing and easy to feel at least a little sympathy for. The settings are easy to visualise and the language paints windows for the reader to see into their lives. The story is well constructed, in fact this is where Tinti’s talent excels. She uses the scars on Hawleys body to draw us back into different parts of his past, to show us what made him the man he is and even though I didn’t feel like I had any idea what the point of it was for the first half of it I was happy to trust the author that it wasn’t just going to be ‘killing time’ book. As you can see from the paragraph above I wasn’t disappointed!

My only criticism of it was that there were a few moments when it dragged a bit. But literally only 2 or 3 and it soon picked up again each time. Reading this is like eating steak, there’s a little gristle but there’s also sweetness and nourishment if you persevere. If you like gritty American dramas or books with complicated characters this book is for you.

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.

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas

img_2363

Effie Truelove is skipping school – she’s only just started at the Tusitala School for the Gifted, Troubled and Strange so now isn’t the best time for it, but her beloved Grandfather is in hospital after a brutal attack. Besides, with its twisted grey spires and an English teacher so frightening she gives the class nightmares it’s not the most welcoming of places.

Then her Grandfather dies, he’s the last link to her mother, the only person to have vanished during the WorldQuake. Effie has promised to look after his magical books no matter that her father doesn’t want her too. He’s organised for a book-collector to buy them but what harm could come to the world if they fall into the wrong hands. its time for Effie to trust her magic. She must travel to the mysterious Otherworld, unlock the hidden meaning of an old book called Dragon’s Green, and brave the terrifying Diberi, a secret organisation with plans that could destroy the entire universe.

I made a strange squealing noise when I first laid eyes on this! As you may know I’m a bit of a fan of Scarlett Thomas’s work and to see she’d thrown caution to the wind and written a children’s fantasy novel was the best present I could have received! And to get a free copy to review just before Christmas was the icing on the cake. In fact I got it at the end of November and saved it for my Christmas reading as a treat to myself – so no pressure on this to live up to big expectations then!!

Thankfully, after building it up so much, I loved it! This is perfect for fans of Harry Potter and Inkheart.

This book, like all I’ve read from her, is full of atmosphere, her world-building is exquisite. Although she is used to writing for adults she’s got the balance here spot on – she’s not patronising younger readers or trying to make it obviously easier for them, there’s still darkness in the shadows, but somehow both the darkness and the light are more ethereal, more dreamlike.

The characters are great too, they’re flawed and believable but brave and wanting to be better all the way through, it’s impossible not to root for them. The story itself is great, I mean every time I think that every kids fantasy plot line must have been done by now something like this comes along. I won’t tell you anything too much about it but it might have some ‘BookEaters’ in there … !

This is the start of a series and I am itching for the next book!

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.