The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Bites

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

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

cover117360-medium

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

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

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

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

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

Four and a half bites

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

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

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.

He, She and It by Marge Piercy

he-she-itI was thrilled to discover Marge Pierce when Woman on the Edge of Time was recently re-issued. I loved it (read more here) so when I saw that Ebury was re-publishing Body of Glass as He, She and It I jumped at the chance of getting a review copy!
This is another dystopian novel, originally published in 1993 it is once again a little scary how many of the things predicted in this already exist. Marge Pierce was clearly keeping on top of the latest tech when she wrote this!

She writes about the middle of the twenty-first century. Life has changed dramatically after climate change and a two week war that utilised nuclear weapons. The population is much smaller and concentrated mainly in a few domed hubs. But some things don’t change and Shira Shipman is a young woman whose marriage has broken up, on top of that her young son has been awarded to her ex-husband by the corporation that runs her zone. Despairing she has returned to her grandmother’s house in Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There she is employed to work on socialising a cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions – and the ability to kill.

This is quite a different book from Woman on the Edge of Time, in some ways it’s a mirror image of it. Here the whole book is set in the future but there is reference to the distant past through a story told to the cyborg, whereas the other book has a woman travelling from now to the future. The futures are also mirrored – this is truly a dystopian vision whereas the other was utopian. But what doesn’t change is the quality of writing which creates an envelope around you so you feel completely immersed in the world.

Although this is a deeply moral tale, asking us to question what makes us human and how we treat others, it is also a cracking good story! Full of tension, corporate intrigue, blackmail, badass modified humans, bombs, and of course a mother desperate to be reunited with her toddler son.
Back when it was first released it won the Arthur C Clark Award. Definitely worth reading!

5 Bites!

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

Mr Eternity by Aaron Thier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5 Bites

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

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

The Power by Naomi Alderman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Bites

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

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

The Gradual by Christopher Priest

cover88297-mediumChristopher Priest is apparently one of the UK’s greatest writers – on the cover just there you can see that the Sunday Times considers him a ‘Novelist of Distinction’! I’d never heard of him before this book let alone read him. When I looked him up when I was about halfway through this I found he’d written over 15 books including one which was turned into the award winning film The Prestige. It just goes to show how easy it is to miss even best- selling authors!

Anyway this book is starts in a country called Glaund, a cold and controlled country locked in a permanent war. It follows the life of Alesandro Sussken, a composer whose older brother is sent off to fight, leaving his family bereft.

Alesandro is inspired by the Dream Archipelago, a string of islands that no one can map or explain.  He creates symphonies named for them, a somewhat subversive act as  all knowledge of the  islands is forbidden by the junta. Then he is invited on a cultural tour of them, an opportunity too good to miss but one that will not only change his perceptions of his country, but will lead to him losing years of his life too.

This book is written in first person, so Alesandro is telling us his story directly. It feels like he is telling it at a bit of a distance, not as if he’s overthe pain of his brother leaving and never coming back, more as if he’s perpetually distracting himself from it. Often this muffling of the main characters pain would make a book less exciting and harder for the reader to connect to, but in this case it reflects the dream-like quality of the mysterious islands.

This was an interesting read, it plays with time and travel in an unusual way, what made this really special though was the music, I’m no musician but like most people I recognise its expressive power. This book pays homage to that.

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.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

cover87393-mediumWoman on the Edge of Time was first published 40-years ago, it became a classic, painting a picture of two possible futures and how even the most downtrodden could fight for the happier one. Connie Ramos, a Mexican American woman living in New York. Connie was once ambitious and determined, she started college, but then she had her dignity, her husband, and her child stolen. Finally they want to take her sanity – but does she still have it to steal?

Connie has recently been contacted by an envoy from the year 2137 who introduces her to a time where men and women are equal, the words he and she are obsolete having been replaced by the word per (short for person). All forms of sexuality are celebrated as are all racial genetics. It isn’t quite a perfect world, there are minor jealousies and tensions between lovers and a war still being fought on the outer boundaries, but to Connie it’s a revelation. Now she’s been unjustly committed to a mental institution, and they’re putting electrodes into her brain, when she tries to reach the future next it’s entirely different, a horrific place for women to live. Does Connie hold they key to which becomes our future and if so does she have the strength to turn it?

Today Ebury Publishing have released a 40th anniversary addition, a new generation get to meet Connie. I have to applaud them, they’re having a great month for feminist literature, just a couple of weeks ago they also released Shappi Khorshandi’s Nina is Not Ok and now this!

To my shame I missed this first time round, I don’t know how, I’ve read a lot of feminist literature but this passed me by. I’m so glad to have read it. I have to admit that when I first started it I was in a dark place and the first few pages with their bleak portrait of exploitation was more than I could take. I had to set it aside for a couple of weeks. If I’d known where it was going I wouldn’t have, just a few pages later it blossomed and it would have lifted me right out of the funk I was in.

I can’t express how much I loved this book – it’s definitely one I’ll re-read and one I want passionately for you to read too. This isn’t just a ‘feminist book’, it’s also a brilliantly written sci-fi classic. It’s interesting to read this with fresh eyes in 2016, still over a hundred years away from the two possible predicted futures, and see our progress towards them. When Marge Piercy wrote this the idea of wearing computers as watches or using gender neutral pronouns was pie-in-the-sky as was the thought of the majority of women having plastic surgery. Reading it now it seems like it could’ve been written just yesterday. We’ve still all got choices to make – which future will you fight for?

5 Bites

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

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

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

imageIn a future where water is rare and the south-west of America is covered with sand. California, and all those still living there, are  stranded.

Luz and Ray don’t want to leave though, they’ve built a perfect personal utopia on each others love.

But when they come across a child they suspect is being abused everything changes. They know they need to find a better life for her.

I love a bit of dystopian fiction. For me it’s the ultimate ‘what if’ game, rooted in reality but branching into an unknown future. Claire Vaye Watkins has had good reviews for this book too – one even compared it to The Handmaids Tale.

There is a lot that’s good about this book, but it isn’t perfect. The author has written some complex and haunting characters and the world she describes is disturbing. Not so much for the lack of water but for the ways people act when they are isolated from a wider society, and either forced or allowed to create their own.

There were bits of this book that I wanted to skip over, and bits that didn’t quite hold my attention. A tighter edit could have shot this up to a 5 bite read for me.

But it is brave and 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 Ship by Antonia Honeywell

imageYoung Lalla is lucky. Although Oxford Street burned for three weeks under the new regime and British Museum’s artefacts are vanishing and being replaced by desperate homeless survivors, she has been sheltered from the harsh reality by her parents.

But with the regime getting harsher and food becoming more scarce her father has decided it is time to leave. The ship is not just a whispered dream, it’s real. But it can only carry five hundred people so only the worthy will be saved. To her surprise her father is the ships owner and the architect of the entire escape plan. He’s done it all to save her so her place is assured.  But before long she starts to question her place onboard, and the mission itself.

Antonia Honeywell has written a really interesting dystopian novel. Officially this falls into the Young Adult market but I think this is works just as well for the adult market.

It’s set in the quite near future and in a London that is recognisable and I think that adds to the credibility of plot. The main character is interesting and mostly likeable, but not perfect or omniscient, so it’s easy to stay on her side, even though you might sometimes want to shake her!

The purchase or the ship along with setting up stores for it and assembling the passengers isn’t focused on in the story, but that too is made believable by the telling of just a few details, the knowledge the reader is given of the surroundings chaos and by the character of Lalla’s father, if anyone can pull something like that off he is the man to do it!

This book doesn’t just tell a story though, it asks questions about how we live our lives, both in the world and personally. Questions that don’t have easy answers and the author doesn’t patronise us by providing her own.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book b 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.