A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

image“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

Tokyo teenager Nao (pronounced now) has been having an awful time. She’s being bullied, her mum has recovered from a breakdown but is now always working and her father is suicidal.

She decides to end it all too. But before she does she wants to record the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. This turns into more of a diary, a diary that is washed up in a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the shore of an island off the coast of Canada. It is found by Ruth, a novelist struggling with her next novel who allows herself to be pulled into Nao’s past.

I listened to this on audiobook, it was read by the author and I was drawn in by her voice straight away. It begins with Nao introducing her diary and it’s impossible not to like Nao. She talks with such innocent enthusiasm yet manages to cover topics from Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ to the difference between school culture in Japan and America in pretty much one breath. Ruth is a more closed character, her life has it’s own troubles but she’s still engaging and I found myself warming to her too.

This book explores huge themes, the value of life and death and suicide, how to support or destroy people and the quantum power of readers.

It is one of my favourite books this year and when I finished it I added all the authors books to my wish list. In fact I even added the hard back version of this, although I loved listening to it I understand that the book has some illustrations etc that would make reading it a different experience to listening to it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

5 Bites and I’m ready for seconds!

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

The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox

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.

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

cover78296-mediumIt is 1981 and nine year old Leon has just gained a perfect baby brother called Jake. His mum is sleeping all the time but that’s ok because he’s learnt exactly how to look after Jake on his own, but then he runs out of money and asks his upstairs neighbour if he can borrow a pound. Before he knows what’s happening he and Jake have been taken to live with Maureen.

He teaches Maureen how to care for Jake but it doesn’t seem to matter because the social workers keep telling him that Jake would be better off if he were adopted. He can’t go with him, Jake is white and Leon is not.

Leon struggles to cope with his anger, but a new bike helps give him a sense of release. Then he finds a new friend Tufty, a grown-up who reminds him of his dad and teaches him gardening and politics at the same time. Of course he doesn’t let any of that distract him from his master plan of stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

This book is written in the first person narrative and Leon’s voice is utterly believable. It is reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird as it shows racism through the eyes of a child. However this book shows that through the eyes of a black child who is mainly brought up by white adults. This is shows the absurdity of racism in 1980’s very clearly and it is disturbing. I’m only 2 years older than Leon and as far as nostalgia goes this book had it all, the descriptions of settings, of how people lived, and the magic of Curly-Wurly’s is all spot on.

Leon has had his shell hardened by his experiences, but his centre is pure sweetness and it’s impossible not to love him. I was a little disappointed by the ending – it is the right ending for the book I think I just wish it hadn’t finished so soon, I wanted to stay in Leon’s life a lot longer.

Of course the racism shown in this story hasn’t been eradicated, but hopefully this hard-hitting yet charming tale will go some way towards wiping some more of it out.

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 Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

imageSylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of a girl dealing with depression and attempting suicide.

I know, doesn’t sound too cheery does it?

But actually the first section of this book is all about a young woman (Esther Greenwood) coming into herself in New York just as America is starting to recognise that women should be allowed to have lives outside the domestic kitchen! It’s an exciting time to be alive, and although she has a natural caution, she’s really not having the worst time in the world at the start of the book!  In fact her slide into depression is so gradual, and her acceptance of it comes so much later than it happens, that she’s not far off recovery by the time you realise how messed up she is.

Although this was written more than 50 years ago it remains one of the most nuanced examinations of mental health issues. Her description of how she slowly stops sleeping, eating and washing is somehow ethereal. The examination of societies place in her depression is interesting and still relevant today.

I listened to this on audiobook, the reader was Maggie Gyllenhaal and her reading of it was absolutley laconic and sublime. I completely recommend that you listen to her reading of it rather than anything else.

Sylvia Plath’s suicide a month after it’s publication is still hard to relate to when you consider how much humour there is woven within these pages. It’s hard to say if this would have become a classic if she hadn’t, it was released at a time when women were begininng to examine their identities so it may have. Girl Interrupted did but although that was set at the same time it was released in the 90’s.  It’s sad to think of all the works she might have gone on to complete but at least this gem exists.

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.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark, Book 1 by Dave Rudden

I had to laugh when I read the first line on the title page of the kindle edition

Dave Rudden enjoys cats, adventure and being cruel to fictional children

‘I’m in for a good one here’ I thought …. and I wasn’t wrong!  In my opinion adults and youngsters are going to love this.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Thirteen year old Denizen Hardwick has been raised in an Irish orphanage and knows nothing about his parents. He loves reading and is very good at frowning – in fact he has mastered a remarkable number of different frowns. He has no known relatives and no expectations so he is extremely surprised when he finds a note from Director Ackerby informing him that at 6pm he will be collected by his aunt. At 6pm a car does indeed arrive, a Jensen Interceptor, strangely though it arrives in the dark with no headlamps on and instead of a woman a tall and mysterious man gets out. Denizen is both curious and wary – after all even an orphanage can feel like home – but he willingly gets in the car  to be driven him to Dublin where he is told he will meet his aunt. A monstrous event occurs on the journey and fortunately Grey reveals himself to be rather more than just a chauffeur.  However the response  to everything that Denizen asks is merely that the aunt will explain. Bursting with frustrations and questions when Denizen finally meets his aunt he discovers that she is a Malleus, a warrior and a leader among the Knights of the Borrowed Dark who fights the tenebrous creatures that breach our world. Furthermore he discovers that he is not thirteen as he believed and that he too is possessed of unusual powers.

Clockwork creatures, monsters that shape themselves from objects, iron that runs through the body as well as the soul. Rudden has envisioned new magic and new enemies. This isn’t a Harry Potter rip-off; it is fresh, exciting and humorous.  The cost of wielding magic and the price of superpowers is skilfully portrayed and thought provoking. The writing is witty and sharp, and the action moves along swiftly but still allows for character development. The quality of the writing is excellent and the variety of imagery used for even simple events is delightful, these two particularly appealed to me.

“He ran gloved hands across the steering wheel the way you’d ruffle the head of a beloved dog” or

“A conversation with Simon had the soothing effect of a cool pillow”

This is Rudden’s first novel and the first of a series. Puffin Random House are publishing it and I fully believe that they have picked a winner because it is going to appeal to children and their parents, indeed I couldn’t put it down. I am so looking forward to book 2 for as Rudden wrote in his afterword “Onwards and downwards, to misery unending”.

5 bites and I want more!

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

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

imageThis is the story of Vera, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Katya – a Russian Jew and Lucas – the descendant of a Catholic escapee from a concentration camp.  Vera is insightful, intelligent and troubled, she’s recovering from a breakdown that saw her sectioned after she stripped and cut her arms at a party.

Lucas has only been a weekend dad at most so he decides to take her to Lithuania, his grandmother’s homeland, for the summer. He hopes to connect with Vera in a more meaningful way and help her through adjusting to  her diagnosis.

This story is told in first person from Lucas’ point of view supplemented by emails from Vera to her boyfriend Fang and documents written by her exploring new ideas and their connections.

Both the main characters are instantly intriguing and sympathetic, as the story is more Lucas’ than Vera’s she could have come across as quite a stereotypical rebellious teenager but the author is careful to round out her character with other people’s positive reactions to her.

The descriptions of Vilnius paint a fascinating city, I’ve a friend from this city who used to wax lyrical about it but this made me want to visit it far more. Maybe that was because of the focus on the history and the people of the place and I felt like I could connect to the stories held within.

The exploration of different religions, though quite a gentle exploration, added an unexpected dimension to this which worked really well, it solidified the various characters but was also thought provoking. Especially as it intersected with the much more thorough exploration of mental illness.

Although not really written as a Young Adult book, this could definitely be read and enjoyed by ages 16 and over.

4 Bites

 

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

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.

The Judgement by D W Buffa

41I1nGRMQqL._SX290_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve just had the pleasure of reading this for the third time and I loved it as much as I did the first time. D W Buffa, pronounced Boofah, is the absolute undisputed master of the legal thriller. He stands head and shoulders above John Grisham and I say that as a dedicated John Grisham fan.
When Judge Calvin Jeffries becomes the first sitting judge to be murdered whilst serving in office, charismatic criminal defence attorney Joseph Antonelli, a man fiercely dedicated to justice and the rule of law, finds himself in the middle of a baffling case. As he unravels the intricacies of a murder, audacious enough to strike at the heart of the judicial system, the ensuing investigation and trial reveal a deadly trail of evil, greed, jealousy, and lust for power that shatters lives.

The story is littered with twists and turns some so baffling you find yourself having to put the book down and spend a few minutes trying to absorb the implications of the latest plot twist.
The Judgement is not just an unrelenting catalogue of the worst side of human behaviour. D W Buffa manages to relieve the grim and gritty aspect of the story by including warm caring characters who do the right thing without counting the cost. There is a moving sub plot of lost love re-discovered and the problems of loving someone who has mental health issues.

We all love a novel with a twist in the tale, and the twist is usually revealed about ten pages from the end. It takes the genius of D W Buffa to put the twist into the very last sentence, and it leaves you gasping for breath.
I cannot rate this highly enough, if you like courtroom dramas and John Grisham you will love this.
Its five bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

imageThe next huge YA crossover book! Those adults that loved Philip Pullman’s writing and JK Rowling’s world creation will love this.

It opens with a quote from Dickens’s Dombey and Son: “Those who study the physical sciences, and bring them to bear upon the health of man, tell us that if the noxious particles that rise from vitiated air, were palpable to the sight, we should see them lowering in a dense black cloud above such haunts, and rolling slowly on to corrupt the better portions of a town. But if the moral pestilence that rises with them could be made discernible too, how terrible the revelation!”

This book, set in an alternative Victorian England takes that premise seriously. Here sin appears as smoke on the body and soot on the clothes. Children smoke furiously from birth and the ruling elite are sent to boarding school to learn to control their desires and contain their sin. They are spotless.

Thomas and Charlie attend such a school in Oxfordshire but then on a trip to London, a forbidden city shrouded in smoke and darkness, they witness an event that makes them question everything they have been told. There is more to the world of smoke, soot and ash than meets the eye and it seems there are those who will stop at nothing to protect it.

There are a lot of great Young Adult stories and many older adults read them too (you’re only as old as the books you read? 😉). But few of them have writing as good as this.  For the first few chapters I found myself stopping and re-reading many sentences, smiling to myself at the simple joy of language used well. But then I became too engrossed in the story and then the damn book went and finished!

I utterly recommend this, it’s got it all, plot, characters, ideas, adventure, love, passion and a great villain!

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 Fairy Wren by Ashley Capes

imagePaul Fisher is having a bit of a pants time, his wife left him and has just taken an injunction out to stop him contacting her, his bookshop is struggling to stay afloat and now greedy developers are threatening to put him completely out of business by raising the rents.

Then a fairy wren drops his lost wedding ring at his feet, and Paul discovers that there’s more magic in the world than he thought or he’s going completley mad.

Things don’t seem to improve for him though, punching the mayor seals his bookshop’s fate and although he’s met someone new, his wife has reappeared and she seems to be in some kind of trouble. His friends try to help but some of their suggestions are decidely dodgy and the blue fairy wrens clues are more confusing than clarifying.

Books about people that own book shops are always going to entice me – it’s pretty basic, I want to read about my dream life! Throw in a hint of magic and I’m definitely there. But although on the surface this seems like a light dreamy read it is quite a lot more grown up than that!

There is an ambiguity about whether the wren is real or the product of a deluded mind. After all, it’s very convenient how it’s implying he needs to help his ex-wife, a woman he’s still clearly in love with and wants back.   But then this protagonist isn’t self-absorbed, he has friends that have stuck by him and he’s doing what he can to help his fellow shop-keepers. Also there’s a new woman on the scene and she doesn’t seem like the type to hang around people that are obsessed with their ex and hallucinating. So maybe the wren is real? Maybe magic is real but doesn’t appear in ways we think it will.

I really enjoyed this book, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all, it was much cleverer and warmer and more realistic than I thought it would be. Which made it all the more magical.

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.

Beyond the Call by Lee Trimble and Jeremy Dronfield

51paidKFfJL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_“What did you do in the war Dad?” Lee Trimble knew his 86 year old father had flown daylight bombing missions from Debach airfield near Woodbridge, and felt that a record should be made of his wartime experiences and achievements.

After many hours of sitting with his father Captain Robert M Trimble recording the details of his 35 mission tour Lee felt he had reached the end of his father’s story, just as he was about to leave his father said “When I got back from Russia I was a mess”. That statement stopped Lee in his tracks. “Russia? What the hell were you doing in Russia?” What follows is one of the most amazing and incredible stories I’ve ever read.
The winter of 1945 saw the Red Army rampaging through Eastern Europe in an unstoppable march on Berlin, leaving in their wake the detritus of war. Not just in shattered equipment and devastated towns, but also hundreds of thousands of displaced people and ex-prisoners of war.
The Red Army had neither the will, nor the facilities, to feed or care for these freezing, starving and desperate people. The Red Army’s simple solution was to shoot German POWs. Red Army POWs, were also shot on the basis that, as they had surrendered to the Germans they were traitors and deserved to die. Among the thousands of liberated POWS were hundreds of Americans, British, Canadian and other allied troops. The Red Army’s policy towards these starving men was simply to set them free, without food or transport in the most bitterly cold winter that Europe had ever known, leaving them to find their own way home.
On completion of his 35 mission tour Robert Trimble was due to be sent home on leave, but was tricked into volunteering for a safe job that would mean no further bombing missions. The safe job was to oversee the recovery of downed American aircraft and aircrew that had crash landed behind Red Army lines after bombing missions to eastern Germany. Arriving in Russia he found that he had been conned, not once but twice, for his real mission was to rescue American ex-prisoners of War.
This was the ultimate “Mission Impossible”. (A mission on this scale might have been achievable with a team of 40 or 50 trained men and the resources to back them up). Nevertheless, Robert Trimble alone, unaided, and untrained in covert operations managed to save the lives of over a thousand people.
The barbarity and casual savagery of the Red Army in general and the NKVD in particular, combined with the betrayal of their own people by the United States Government, in their futile attempts to appease Stalin, left Robert Trimble a damaged man.
This is a must read book for the generations that have never known war. I give it five bites.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

61AMLS2iXgL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_I read this heartwarming, funny and heartbreaking book three weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about it. I delayed writing the review as I was so blown away by this wonderful book that I felt it would be impossible to write an objective review whilst still under the influence. Here I am three weeks and six books later and I still think it’s one of my all time top ten. My initial reaction on seeing the cover was not to read it, because of the sub title “ Stories of life, death and brain surgery”. It’s probably one of the most off putting (yet accurate) sub titles and for this reason the book is unlikely to reach it’s well deserved place at the top of the best sellers list, unless we make it a ‘Word of mouth hit’.

Henry Marsh is one of the UK’s leading neurosurgeons and has been the subject of two award-winning TV programmes. Medicine was not his first career choice, he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, then held down a series of mundane jobs before deciding to become a doctor. This superb, compelling book tells what it is like to be a surgeon working in a profession where every day he is required to make agonizing and heartbreaking decisions, and where even the most minor error can have catastrophic life changing consequences.

What makes “Do no Harm” so special is that Henry is such a deeply compassionate and caring man, who through the initial consultation, diagnosis, pre and post operative care gets to know and like his patients, which makes his job all the more difficult when making life or death decisions. You’ll need a large box of tissues for every chapter tells a story. The happy endings will have you in tears…. The others will have you openly weeping along with Henry. Despite the emotional content there is plenty of laughter. Henry (Victor Meldrew), has a lot to say about the chaos caused by Government directives and hospital bureaucrats and has a way of writing about it that will make you laugh out loud. Some of his experiences working in Ukraine beggar belief.

Henry Marsh is due to retire soon, despite his somewhat irascible nature, his sensitivity, gentleness and surgical skills will be sorely missed by our NHS. Please read “Do no Harm” we might make a best seller of it yet.

Five bites +++

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.