Miles Away from You by A.B. Rutledge

IMG_2673Three years ago Miles fell for Vivian, a talented and dazzling transgender girl. Eighteen months ago she tried to commit suicide, the attempt left Vivian on life support. Now Miles isn’t sure who he is without her, but his mother’s think it’s time for him to figure out how to say goodbye.

They book him a solo trip to Iceland. At first he has a hard time leaving the refuge of his hotel room, but after a push from Oskar, the hotel concierge who is strangely alluring, Miles decides to honor Vivian’s life by photographing her treasured Doc Martens standing empty against the surreal landscapes. He travels Iceland, meeting people and trying to learn to love again and accept that Vivian, still in a coma and in the charge of her unaccepting parents, will never recover.

Miles’ story is told through a series of instant messages to Vivian, some hopeful, some heartbroken, some grateful, some angry, some drunk. In another writers hands this premise could of been gimmicky, and the that would have been awful. There’s been a upsurge in LGBT literature over the last few years but less that looks at the specific issues that trans people face, and even less that treat trans people as people first and trans second. This book does that, Miles loves Vivian. He loves her mind, her spirit and her body through all her dysmorphia.

The book also looks at Miles’ own confusion about his sexuality. Again it deals with it sensitively but also with no holds barred. Writing letters that will never be seen allows a person to be utterly honest and the author takes full advantage of that.

Thoroughly recommended.

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 Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

IMG_2677In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. The charismatic Jean De Men has led the survivors to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. But the survivors are not unchanged, evolution has been turned on its head: the survivors have become sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures floating in isolation, inscribing stories upon their skin.

Jean de Men is not just charismatic though, he is crazy. He turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule – galvanised by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her.

This is a hypnotic book whose characters live on the edge of desperation and are all the stronger for it. It encompasses great themes, what it means to be human, whether humanity can recreate the planet it is so busy destroying, the fluidity of sex and gender and how love is tied by neither, and the role of art.

This has been a hotly anticipated book, and now I’ve read it I think it will be I a hotly anticipated film. It is wonderful, not just for the fantastic images and epic struggles within, but for the love between Christine and Trincula (who instantly became one of my favourite characters ever written) and the love between Joan and Leone.

Five Bites

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

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

Chocky by John Wyndham

161849I had a deep love for the TV series of this book when it screened in the 80’s. I’ve always remembered it, though with that feeling that it might not live up to being revisited the way many things from our childhoods don’t.

But reading the book would be alright wouldn’t it? Books are always better after all!

This is all about Matthew, a normal 11-year-old boy living with his parents and little sister in Surrey in that golden age when the space race was powering up. Matthew is too old for an imaginary friend. Yet when his parents keep finding him talking and arguing with a strange presence whom Matthew calls Chocky, that’s what they believe it must be…at first.

But Chocky is oddly sinister, and keeps asking Matthew all sorts of complicated questions about the world and making him behave in unusual and erratic ways. Then Matthew suddenly does something heroic, well beyond his capabilities; the media become interested and the interest in Matthew widens. His parents refer him to a psychologist. Who is Chocky? And what could he or she want with their son?

Well I don’t know if the book is better than the series, a little part of me will always love my memories  of it. But Wyndham is a great writer. I loved the book. Chocky is a fascinating character and this story had many surreptitious feminist principles which, when this was published 50 years ago this year, were far from widely held. The thought of so many young boys reading this and absorbing the belief that women could be equal to men and that gender is a social construct is a joyous thing.

Apparently Spielberg bought the rights to this ten years ago – I hope he goes ahead with directing it. It’s more relevant than ever and I trust him with my memories.

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 Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden

cover119981-mediumLast year BookEater Tam raved over Katherine Arden’s debut (and this books’ prequel) The Bear and the Nightingale. I added it to my ‘to be read’ pile straight away but I saved reading it until I knew that this book was within my grasp! As soon as I had my preview copy on my kindle I dug in. BookEater Tam’s review was right on the money and I loved the first book.

This second novel moves to Moscow, where Vasya’s older sister lives the life of a princess, gilded and luxurious but constrained by the walls of a tower which no maiden or woman of high birth must leave. Vasya’s brother, the monk known as Aleksandre Lightbringer is also there – a favourite at the court of the Grand Prince.

Moscow is plagued by power struggles and  bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. The Prince, Aleksandre and a retinue of trusted companions set out to destroy the bandits but on route they meet a young man riding a magnificent horse who has rescued three of the stolen girls.

But this is no boy, it is Vasya. Her brother must protect her identity until he can get her to safety. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, he realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

This book was just as good as the last, Arden has created a magical world and the medieval Russian themes running through it add a wintery fairytale element. Lit by ice and spiced with smoke.

The characters are wonderful- the villains are evil but their motivations make sense. The heroes are flawed and Vasya makes some mistakes fuelled by pride and ignorance, but ultimately they are all trying to do the best they can in a society that holds them back.

I reall hope there’s a third book in this series but if the author veers off in a different direction I’ll be happy to read whatever she writes.

Five Bites

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

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

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

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

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

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

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

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

Some praise must also go to the translator Megan McDowell.

Five Bites

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

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

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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

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

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

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

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

Five Bites

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

Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Bites

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

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

The Night Brother by Rosie Garland

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

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

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

Can they learn to live together in harmony?

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

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.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

IMG_2211Nigerian fiction has carved out a permanent place on British bookshelves and for good reason. I’ve read a fair few Nigerian authors of the last 25 years and I’ve yet to encounter a bad book.

This one definitely didn’t break that streak even though I wasnt sure about the subject matter. It explores the marriage of Yejide. A woman who married for love and is desperate to have a child. Her mother-in-law is probably even more desperate. She has tried everything – medical treatments, arduous pilgrimages, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But nothing. Then her in-laws insist upon a new wife.

As much as I love a good character driven novel I was worried that this could become either unremittingly maudlin or too peppy for its own good. But set against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, and infused with honesty and humour Stay With Me is a tour de force. It deserves it’s place on the shortlist of The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. Personally I prefer it to the winner this year (The Power by Naomi Alderman).

Ayobami Adebayo’s book is full of the life that Yejide is so desperate for. As her marriage and sanity is threatened she finds friends in unexpected places. But there are other plots afoot that she has no idea about, unexpected gifts and unmeasurable threats.

5 Bites

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

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

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

1cover116964-medium

I love it when Joanne M Harris draws out beautifully human stories from myths, legends or folk tales and she’s done it again with this book!

It starts with a rhyme from the Child Ballads. If like me you’ve never heard of the Child Ballads let me share with you what I discovered about them, they are not what I first supposed – rhymes sung by children like Oranges and Lemons. They are 305 traditional ballads from England and Scotland, anthologized by Francis James Child during the second half of the 19th century. Many of them are difficult to date but it seems that most of them have been in existence since at least the 16th Century. And to be fair probably most have been sung by children down the ages just as much as adults!

Harris has picked ballads from this collection and drawn them together to tell a circular coming of age story full of love, loss and revenge around a nameless wild girl.

It starts with ballad 295;

“I am as brown as brown can be,
And my eyes as black as sloe;
I am as brisk as brisk can be,
And wild as forest doe.

Our brisk, brown hero is one of the ‘travellers’, able to slink into the skin of birds and mammals and travel with them through the surrounding countryside. On her travels she sees a charm tied in a yew tree beckoning the love of a prince and steals it, mocking the milk blonde country maid for her simple desires.

But then she meets the prince and they fall in love the way that only teenagers can. But to be with him she must become named and tamed.

The tale follows their love through the seasons of the year, full of the conflict between youth and wisdom, love and jealousy, freedom and belonging.

It is beautifully, poetically written and in the way of all good mythologies shows you a secret place in your own soul when freedom and belonging join to make you whole again.

Five Bites

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

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

The 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

IMG_2403A woman is pregnant in eighteenth-century Paris, she stops work to give birth by her fish stall in slum market-place. There, amidst the dirt and the stench Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born without any odour of his own, But with a nose that can discern and define any scent at all.

Through sheer force of will he forces his way into an apprenticeship position with a prominent perfumer. He proves his nose can copy the greatest scents and in return he is taught the ancient arts of distillation, effleurage and mixing precious oils and herbs.

But Grenouille’s obsession leads him to experiment with capturing other scents too –  the odours of objects such as brass doorknobs and even of excrement. Then one day he catches a hint of the perfect scent. The scent that invokes love in all who come into contact with it. Grenouille has never been adored. He must capture the scent and create the ultimate perfume with it. No matter the cost…

This book is one of my all time favourites.

Everything about it is brilliant. The concept, the characterisations, the descriptions, the ending. In fact the ending is so good that when I first read it I was coming to the end of it as I arrived at my home train station. I got off the train but I straight away sat down on the platform bench to finish it. There was just no way I could wait the ten minute walk home to read the end of it.

This time I listened to the audio book version of it. I was a little worried beforehand – a bad narrator could have ruined it. But every single second was a joy. In fact being able to listen to it whilst walking or driving through the country with so many scents drifting around may even have improved it!

If you haven’t read this get a copy now. If you have – treat yourself and re-read it! You won’t regret it!

5 very tasty bites!!

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

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

Christodora by Tim Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

 

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