The Hit Book and The Sequel!

Rebel Of The SandsRebel of The Sands

This was a huge book last year. It’s cover taunted me from every book shop and it was all over our instagram feed too. It was a gorgeous cover too as you can see, chanelling Shaherazade’s magical stories and the mystic pull of the simmering desert nights.

The blurb was enticing too – but somehow never quite enough to pull me into buying the book there and then. It promised a “phenomenal novel packed with shooting contests, train robberies, festivals under the stars, powerful Djinni magic and an electrifying love story.

What more could I want? I’m not sure – if anything I maybe wanted a bit less! It sounded almost like a western crossed with a thousand and one nights and I wasn’t sure it would work.

But the next book is hitting the shelves tomorrow (with an equally lovely cover) and I got the chance to read them both via NetGalley – time to see what all the fuss is about!

So first off these are targetted at the teen / YA market. The first book starts with our hero Amani, desperate to escape the small town she’s been brought up in before her uncle can force her to become his next wife. Luckily she’s an amazing shot with a pistol so she dresses as a boy an attempts to hustle the prize money of a local shooting competition. But she has stiff competition in the form of a stranger to the town until they decide to join forces. What happens next leads to them racing out across the desert sands together – to start with at least. Amani wants to join her Aunt in the Sultan’s city but her new friend has other, even more dangerous plans.

I found I was turning the pages of this book really quickly and I was halfway through before I’d even realised that I’d started it properly! I’ll admit that I still wasn’t completely sold on the mix of Wild West and middle-eastern fantasy but there was so much action and drama that I got caught up anyway.

Slowly the characters started developing and by the end I was hooked. Then book two landed on my kindle…

IMG_2388Traitor to the Throne

It’s difficult to talk about this without giving too much away so suffice it to say that the adventures have led Amani to an exciting but perilous situation. Then she is kidnapped and sold to the Sultan and things get a whole lot more dangerous.

The second book is longer and to begin with I found it a little irksome. As with most sequels it spent a fair bit of time referring back to things in the previous book, useful if it’s been months since you read the first, but not for those of us that finished the first book only the previous day!

But after a hundred pages or so the story really got going. And the second book has a lot more moral meat in it than the first. Often second books can drift a bit or feel like they are full of filler material but not this one. This one is considerably more interesting than I’d expected.

4 Bites for each book … here’s hoping the last book lives up to them when it comes out!

 

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.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

cover79886-mediumIn 1693 René Sel and Charles Duquet, both penniless Frenchmen arrive in New France. They are to work for a feudal lord, for three years in exchange for land and are set to work cutting into the immense forest that surrounds them. A forest that seems endlessly self-renewing.  Duquet runs away almost at once whilst René stays and suffers extraordinary hardship. Eventually he is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman, she bears him children destined to be caught two cultures. Charles starts out in business, first as a fur trapper then setting his sights on extracting the lucrative timber all around him in order to marry well, become a gentleman and transcend his humble beginnings.

Proulx tells the stories of their descendants until 2013. She explores Europe, China, and New Zealand with the Duquets (anglicised to Duke) as they hunt for new markets for their timber and new trees and forests to exploit as the once presumed infinite resource disappears at a disarming rate.

She also explores the lands and lives of the Mi’kmaw and other tribes as the whiteman brutalises their lands and bullies them into a compliance that ends in cultural annihilation.

This is an ambitious and important work from an exceptionally talented writer.  Proulx can depict a character with a few simple strokes of her pen and summon up a forest or a wilderness to surround her readers with just a few sentences and she has put those talents to use to create what I fear will become a tombstone for our murdered forests.

There is only one thing wrong with this book, if you’ve read my reviews before you’ll probably have seen me harping on about books that need more editing on a number of occasions- this time the problem is the opposite. This book should have been longer. There are a LOT of characters but we often don’t get to spend enough time with them. As the book progresses it seems that we spend less and less time with them. In one way this is good as it does give the feeling that we are hurtling towards a terrifying tree-less future, but it did also mean that I cared less about the modern characters fighting this problem than I had about their ancestors that had created it.

Still, when you have a book as long as this and you want more of it rather than less that is a huge accolade to its author.

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 Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Bookcover paris bookshopJean Perdu has poured what’s left of his heart into his ‘literary apothecary’, a bookshops on a restored barge parked on the Seine. For each customer he prescribes the right book to soothe their troubled souls.

Unfortunately, he is a physician that needs to cure himself. It’s been twenty-one years since the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he shoved in a table drawer unread then blocked up the door to the room with that table with books. But there is a new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building, a woman mistreated by her ex-husband who has arrived with nothing, his neighbours insist that they must all pitch in to help and so he unbooks the door to donate the table to her.  On finding the letter she makes him read it. His ex-lover had been waiting for him all those years ago, now Jean Perdu must decide whether to try and find her or whether to focus on the possibility of new love with his new neighbour.

This was another book I picked up for my holiday in France, again I expected it to be simple, light holiday reading but just like The Reader on The 6.27 it exceeded my expectations but in a very different way.

Make no mistake, this is written in a way that makes it simple and light to read, and it is just glorious to bask in a beautiful barge bookshop in Paris with these characters so it does make perfect holiday reading. But the lightness of touch is camouflage for a cast iron story about loss. The sumptuous locations are space for you to exhale into when your own losses are catching in your throat.

Worth reading whether you are on holiday or not – but do make sure you’ve got tissues to hand if you have ever let down a lost love.

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.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

imageJack Sparks – the controversial pop culture journalist – died in mysterious circumstances while researching the occult for his new book.  A social media oversharer, he’d just caused outrage by mocking an exorcism he witnessed in rural Italy and there was a storm of controversy over forty seconds of chilling footage that he claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

What exactly happened to Jack in the days that followed was a mystery- until now. This book, compiled from the files he’d been writing for his new book as well as testimonial from people that saw him in those last days, reveal the terrifying details leading to his death.

Jason Arnopp is a seasoned writer of the creepy – he’s written Dr Who and Friday the 13th books as well as the gritty urban drama ‘The Man Inside’. So if you like scary stories, Jason is the man to deliver them to you.

This story is gripping, I’m not going to lie, I’m not a fan of horror but the blurb on this was so good I couldn’t resist! The set up of the story was brilliant too, his estranged brother is the person compiling this and you could feel the antagonism between the two of them even though you are not seeing them together.

As you may expect, Jack Sparks is more than a bit of a shit, so I was looking forward to him getting his comeuppance very early on. We do get to see a little of Jack’s softer side her and there, but not so much as to make you cry at his death!

The supporting characters are great, and I’m particularly happy that the author is not afraid to break stereotypes and write strong, intelligent women.

There was only one part of this book that I felt didn’t work so well. At one point someone is trying to break down Jack’s psychological defences to help him escape possession. This bit felt too rushed and a little too obvious. Breaking him down should have been harder.

That aside this is a thoroughly entertaining read with good characters, some great wordplay and a little food for thought. Just don’t read it at night on your own!

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.

Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

UnknownHeart of Darkness is the tale of Marlow and his journey up the Congo River where he  meets  Kurtz, a man reputed to have great abilities. He tells of seeing natives enslaved and describes the contrast between the impassive and majestic jungle with the cruel industry of the  white man’s tiny settlements.

The Russian claims that Kurtz has enlarged his mind and cannot be subjected to the same moral judgments as normal people. Apparently, Kurtz has established himself as a god with the natives and they appear to obey his commands.

Marlow listens to Kurtz talk while he pilots the ship, and Kurtz entrusts Marlow with a packet of personal documents, including an eloquent pamphlet on civilizing the savages which ends with a scrawled message that says, “Exterminate all the brutes!” Kurtz then dies, and Marlow determines to see his fiancée. She still idolises him so Arlow lies to spare her feelings telling her Kurtz’s last words were her name when really they were “The horror! The horror!” Eventually he returns to Europe and goes to see Kurtz’s  fiancée.

Reviewing this book at this time is really hard for me. I could talk about the writing, the lush descriptions, or the historical context and why this book was important then, but none of that feels right.

Because as I write this black men and women are dying at white hands just as they are in this book. And, just as in this book, their voices and faces are passed over, they don’t seem to count for anything. So much so that when I typed the first sentence of this paragraph the w of white autocorrected to a capital but the b of black hadn’t.

I felt uncomfortable reading this book so I think you should read it too. Notice if you will, just how much black lives don’t matter in this story. Remember Britain’s role in the slave trade. And see why the movement and hashtag #BlackLivesMatter really does matter. And please, if you’re white never try to say ‘but all lives matter’ because white lives have and still do matter – they don’t need a hashtag or a movement. Black lives do.

 

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.

Shelter by Jung Yun

imageKyung Cho, a second generation Korean immigrant and his American wife Gillian live far beyond their means. Their lifestyle, and Kyung’s career is semi-supported by Kyung’s parents, Jin and Mae. But though they’ve given Kyung a privileged upbringing they never gave him love.

His father would beat his mother and she would beat Kyung.

Now he can hardly bear to see his parents, and resents the help they have given him. But when a shocking act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own he feels obliged to take them in. Suddenly he is forced to confront his past and his present.

This is a real nail-biter of a book, it may sound like a family drama or domestic noir but it goes further than that. There’s a real crime to be recovered from and solved, as well as an in-depth examination of the tensions of  being a second generation immigrant and clashing with your families culture and religion yet not quite fitting in with your own countries culture either.

I felt sorry for Kyung, but I also felt sorry for his wife Gillian and I could understand his parents. All of them mess up and make mistakes which hurt each other. This book looks at crime and punishment in all it’s forms and asks when rehabilitation is possible and what it takes to be forgiven both by society and those we hold dear.

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 Fictional Man by Al Ewing

61fGw0eg-AL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Set in a parallel present where ‘Fictionals’ (clones created to play specific movie and TV characters)  are a part of daily life in LA. Niles Golan, a pulp fiction author, has been hired to write a big-budget reboot of a classic movie.

His life is a mess, he’s divorced, alcoholic and only has Fictionals for friends. If he does a good job here though, the studio might bring one of his Kurt Power novels to the screen, and create a Fictional Kurt Power. Luckily the movie they want him to reboot is his favourite, a naff, sexist, guilty pleasure. He starts to investigate the inspiration of the original movie to create a modern retro version but can he do it before his life completely falls apart.

I was intrigued by this concept and I have to admit the cover did help draw me in, but when I first started reading I was a little unsure about it. Niles Golan is not a nice man. He only really has 1 friend and he doesn’t treat him very well. He also has a bloody annoying habit of narrating his life as it would be if he really was his own fictional character Kurt Power.

However, as it went on I started to warm to this clever little book. The subplots and thematic explorations are fascinating, and slowly we see more of Nile’s insecurities and that he is well aware of his own loathsomeness, and does genuinely want to change.

In some ways this is a modern-day, grown-up Pinnochio. It explores what it means to be a ‘real boy’ and to some extent what it means to be a ‘real man’. Kurt Power is hyper masculine but Niles Golan isn’t.

There are other themes running through this as well, but I want spoil it for you by telling them all here! Grab a copy for yourself, it’s worth a read.

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.

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood

image It’s 1904 and Kitty Hayward is stranded on Coney Island after her mother vanishes. She’s alone, hungry, penniless, and far away from her native England.

She meets a con artist who convinces her to work a job with him in return for a decent food. Then he introduces her to the unusual cast of characters at Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, a museum of oddities. But it seems that even the unusually talented inhabitants of Magruder’s may not be a match for the plague that is creeping across Coney Island.

I was so intrigued by the blurb and the cover of this book that I requested it a full six months ahead of it being released. Then I practised incredible will power by not reading it for a further five months! I know! Not bad for a certified book addict!

When I finally started it though I was disappointed – there were a lot a characters being introduced pretty much all at once and even though they all have very strong personalities it was a little muddling.

However, by the time I was about quarter of the way in my confusion had settled down and I’d got the hang of who was who. The story line started to bed in too and from that point on I started to fall in love with it. So top tip – start this book on a day when you can settle down to read for an hour or two straight and you’ll probably avoid that confusion.

As well as Kitty and the con-man, there are some great characters in this book including the first officially gender-fluid character I have ever read, a black quadriplegic curator, a wealthy son of a businessman,  an Uzbeki mad scientist, a sentient machine, a boy who feeds fleas and many others. But the characters are all well-loved by the author, their faults and foibles treated with as much respect as their strengths and sympathies.

The storyline, once it gets going properly, has enough peril to stand on it’s own so it doesn’t get subsumed by the characters.

It’s hard to think of books that are similar to it, but if I had to I’d suggest that if you like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman or Ben Aaronovitch books but you also like The Winters Tale by Mark Helprin then you’ll love this!

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.

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland

imageOne of my favourite books is “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” by Tom Robbins and a book challenge I’m participating in wants us to read a Zombie book so when my partner came home with a second-hand copy of this I knew it was fated!

If you’ve read Even Cowgirls Get The Blues then first I must tell you that besides the wink to the title there is no similarities between the two books. This is no awful parody like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

Angel Crawford is finally starting to get used to life as a brain-eating zombie, but her problems are far from over. Her felony record is coming back to haunt her, more zombie hunters are popping up, and she’s beginning to wonder if her hunky cop-boyfriend is involved with the zombie mafia. You read that right, there’s a zombie mafia!

This book isn’t high literature, but let’s be honest, if all books were high literature life would be pretty damn dull! And dull is definitely not what this book is! In fact it’s quite a clever genre-fusion.  With Angel working as a mortuary assistant she ends up in the middle of a lot of crime scenes. Though she dropped out of high school she’s far from stupid and finally having an opportunity to improve her ‘life’ is something she’s determined to seize.

This is the second book in a series but it can be read as a stand-alone, the back story gets told but without getting in the way of the current story. The characters are based in stereotypes which allows you to instantly recognise them but they’re not so stereotypical that they’re two-dimensional.

I read this pretty quickly, not because it was short but because it is a real page-turner.

Eat this not brains!

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.

Helium by Tim Earnshaw

2888525Gary has been drifting for a while, since his wife left him he’s been floating around the house he grew up in. The only thing keeping him rooted to the world is his shop. Once his love of music had been channeled in his band – ‘Gary Wilder and the Hi-Tones ‘, now he sells instruments to people that don’t remember his heyday.

Then he has a bad hair day, and strange things start happening. First he gets a date with the receptionist at his father’s nursing home, then Kent Treacy, acid casualty guitarist from the days when the Hi-Tones mutated into The High, turns up wanting to get the band back together for a reunion tour.

As the gravity of Gary’s situation deepens, or to be more accurate weakens, he sends a videotape to NASA. But will they believe their eyes?

This slim, lighthearted novel reads like a cross between Nick Hornby and an episode of the X Files. Although Gary is a bit of a loser these days, he’s someone who is still likeable enough that you want to follow him on his ridiculous journey. All the characters are more than a bit damaged actually, but believably so. That’s important because the plot is utterly unbelievable, without well-drawn characters reacting authentically this would have been too absurd to cope with.

But British authour Tim Earnshaw knows how to write, the setting descriptions are spot on – you really feel like you are right next to Gary, not just seeing what he sees but feeling the sun on the back of your neck too. So much so I was surprised at finding out the author is British!

There’s nothing life-changing in this book, but it’s a great little hollday or weekend read. Very entertaining! Pick it up and lighten up for a while!

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.

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Black-Eyed-Susans-by-Julia-HeaberlinWhen Tessa was seventeen something horrible happened to her. She can’t remember everything, but she remembers being in the grave with the bones of two unknown women and the body of another girl, Meredith. She’s rescued and becomes famous as the only victim to survive the ‘Black-Eyed Susan’s Serial Killer’.

Now, it seems that the man jailed because of her testimony might not be guilty – and the real killer might have just planted black-eyed susans outside her bedroom window…

First off let me start by saying that this isn’t the kind of book I usually read. I will sometimes, but serial killers aren’t generally my bowl of Rice Crispies. So the fact that I read this at all is down to the fact that I saw it everywhere – and when a publishing house spends that much on marketing a book they must REALLY believe in it.

From the first page I was hooked.  Julia Heaberlin knows how to fascinate, the juxtaposing of comforting images, innocent images, celabratory images and grotesque images is too heady a recipe to resist!  Add Tessa’s firey, defensive, protective personality into that and the race against time to save a wrongfully convicted man from Death Row and it’s all out binge time!

I wish I could say I read this in one sitting – I would have done if I hadn’t had to go to work! I was a little disappointed that it seemed fairly obvious out who the real killer was about a quarter of the way through… But there were a couple of red herrings thrown in which were enough to make me doubt myself. Besides the journey was so great I wasn’t always sure I wanted to know who did it! Was the killer who I thought it was? I can’t tell you because I don’t want to spoil it for you!

Despite this rave review I can’t quite bring myself to give it the full 5 bites. That’s only because it didn’t force me to challenge any beliefs or think outside my comfort zone, or leave me feeling like I’d learnt something from it. But don’t let my weird criteria stop you from buying it. It’s a great read!

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 Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

imageIn the Golden Age of Dutch Art, Sara de Vos was the first woman to be admitted as a master painter to the Guild of St. Luke’s in Holland.

Three hundred years later, it seems there is only one of her works left and that is in the private collection of Marty De Groot.

Ellie Shipley, a student of art history and a talented restorer, is approached to copy the painting. Ostensibly for insurance purposes but she senses there is more to it than that. She agrees, a decision that may destroy her when many years later she is curating an exhibit of female Dutch painters and both versions arrive.

The story is told from all three perspectives and as they weave together a beatiful portrait of humanity with all it’s passions and griefs emerges.

Sarah De Vos is based on a real dutch painter who was indeed the first woman admitted to the guild. But nothing is really known of her life and there are no surviving paintings so Dominic Smith has completely imagined a life for her. It is a good imagining, both in details of her settings as in her reactions to the things that life throws at her. The same is true of his other characters.

This book drew me in slowly, it is a very calm read. If you’re looking for a high-octane thriller then look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a book that sinks into you slowly and stays with you then pick this one up. A perfect Sunday read.

The writing is understated but beautiful, it hit just the write balance between educating the reader without patronising them. By the end of it I felt like I was knowleadgable about Dutch Art (I’m not, in fact I barely know the first thing about it!) To give you an example this quote will give you an idea “her life suddenly seems interesting and full, as if a glaze has suddenly shocked a muted underlayer into color.”

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.