Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose

Johannesburg by Fiona MelroseFiona Melrose is back less than a year after her much lauded debut novel was released – and this story couldn’t be more different than the last. In Midwinter we followed the tale of a Suffolk farmer and his son as they tried to live through their grief and find peace. This time we’re in Johannesburg where Gin has just returned home from New York to throw a party for her mother’s eightieth birthday.

But this isn’t just a mother and daughter rather than father and sone tale, woven through this are other people’s stories – that of a homeless hunchback fighting for justice and his sister, a man still haunted by his first love, and the domestic workers who populate the neighbourhood.

The whole story takes place on one day – the day the Mandela family prepares to announce Tata Mandela’s death.

I was privileged to see Fiona Melrose at the very first launch affair for this book which was held in my friends bookshop in Woodbridge (read more about the story of that bookshop here). She talked about how this book was inspired by Mrs Dalloway and started as an exercise but it’s clear that certain characters needed their voices to be heard and refused to let her leave the story there.

Strangely the only thing I felt could have been better about this book was the voices – it’s told from several different perspectives and some of the voices were too similar to one another which sometimes left me a little confused as to who I was hearing from. That eased out by halfway through the book though.

The rest is excellent, a mix of the personal and the political written so realistically you can smell the dust and the scent of Agapanthus around you as you read. Personally I prefer it to Mrs Dalloway, partially because it deals with today’s issues but partly because the writing is more fluid and passionate.

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 -even when we know the authors personally and think they’re utterly lovely!

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 Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

cover108526-mediumAliens are trying to make contact with Julia Glazer; they have been since her mother died. In an effort to escape them she has left her childhood home, a bar called The Stargazer’s Embassy, and moved to New York. It’s easiest to be safe surrounded by lots of people and plugged into a Walkman so you can’t hear them calling.

There she meets and falls in love with a man who turns out to be completely wrong for her – not in personality, just in occupation. He is a psychiatrist studying people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Julia at once knows that if she tells him her secret she could move from lover to patient in the blink of an eye. But keeping her secret proves impossible as she begins to meet his patients, and finds amongst them people who describe exactly the aliens she sees. And who recognise the tattoo on her wrist that her mother had scribed there.

I am not the resident Sci-Fi guru here but I found the premise of the book intriguing… and the fact that it was written by someone who’d won an award for a previous Sci-Fi novel reassured me immensely too. But I have to admit that the cover made me think I was making a mistake.

Thankfully you can’t see the cover when you’re reading it! Also thankfully, my copy was on Kindle so no one on the train could see the cover either as I read it on my commute! And thrice thankfully you really shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover… I really will learn that one day!

Because I really enjoyed this book. It’s a totally different take on the alien abduction genre with a unique, memorable and relatable set of characters. It’s set sometime in the late 90’s but with flashbacks to Julia’s childhood in the 70’s which just adds that cult Sci-Fi feel to it that we all love so well. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll shut up now but get yourself a copy of this even if you have to slip it inside a different cover to be seen with it!

4 Bites

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

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

The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

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

Birds Art Life Death A Field Guide to the Small and Significant by Kyo Maclear

cover95742-mediumI am a book lover and I’m growing to love art through my reading adventures – my beloved partner however is a bird-lover. So when I saw this, I thought maybe it was a book that could help me understand his passion a bit better.

This is the memoir of a writer struggling to find inspiration, her father is terminally ill and this sparks a desire in her for somethiing new in her life. A way to find space to process her turmoil. She sees some photographs from a local birder and something in them catches her imagination. She gets in touch with him and asks him to teach her where to find birds and how to identify them. He starts by taking her to rather urban, unnattractive areas that nevertheless are home for quite a variety of species. Then, as he sees her interest is growing he starts to take her to more rural places and introduce her to less common birds.

This is an interesting meditation on why we humans need passions and creativity. What we gain from them on a personal level and how they help us to contribute to the world in a positive manner. There is little in the way of conundrums or thrills in this book – seeing a rare bird isn’t ever going to save her father’s life or make her next book a best seller or even win her the lottery! It’s what I call a quiet read. But sometimes these quiet reads can have a significant impact. Her search for inspiration, beauty, and solace leads us to a deeper understanding of the nuance of life.

I haven’t been birdwatching with my partner since reading this, I’m not sure that it will ever become my hobby if I’m honest. But I do feel I understand it and respect it more.

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.

Thirst by Benjamin Warner

imageEddie Chapman has been stuck for hours in a traffic jam, in the heat. There are no signs of the emergency services turning up so eventually he decides to abandon his car and run home. He passes accidents along the highway, trees along the edge of a stream that have been burnt, and the water in the stream bed is gone. Something is very wrong.

When he arrives home, the power is out throughout his whole neighbourhood and there is no running water. As his wife Laura finally gets home through similar problems, the pair and their neighbours start to suffer the effects of the violent heat and limited liquid, and the terrifying realisation that no one may be coming to help.

Civilisation starts to breakdown as confusion, fear and hallucinations set in. Eddie realises that nothing else matters than that he and Laura should live – not even the secret shame she’s carried for years.

This is about as harsh and dystopian as it gets. If you liked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road then this will be right up your street (forgive the pun – I can’t help myself!)

It differs in a lot of ways, for me the most striking is the visual setting. The Road is grey and oppressive whereas in this book there is plenty of sun … but plenty of contrast too as their sleeping patterns are so disrupted that a lot of time is spent in the night. The prose is more colourful too.

The key to this working so well though is the characters, Eddie is completely believable. Although his view of what’s happening becomes less and less reliable and he does things that I’m betting he never would have dreamed he’d do before the disaster.

Get yourself a copy of this – and while you’re buying stuff don’t forget to stock up on water just in case!

4 Bites

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

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

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 Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely recommended – 4 Bites!

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

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

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Bites

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

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

Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Bites.

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

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

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

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

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

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

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

4 Bites

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

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

The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Bites.

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

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

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

dark-circleLenny and Miriam are British Jewish twins that grew up in the shadow of The Second World War. But now they’re at the end of their teens and a new decade is beginning. These East End kids have the world in front of them, even if they might need to live on the edge of the law to make a good life for themselve. But then Lenny goes to sign up and it’s discovered that he has tuberculosis. Miriam is examined and she has it too. The pair are sent away to a glamorous sanatorium in Kent at the expense of the brand new NHS.

Life inside the sanatorium is both fascinating and enervating as they make new friends and discover their pasts and personalities while simultaneously succumbing to the ‘cure’ and losing their own. But when Miriam seems in danger of dying a chain of events no one could have foreseen is set in motion.

Linda Grant’s characters are terrific. They’re not perfect but they are full of life. By the end of the first page I knew I wanted to follow them on their journey no matter where it lead. And for the majority of the book I was glad I had. It opened my eyes to the scourge that Tubercolosis was as recently as the 1950’s. It also showed be the birth of the NHS and reminded me just how amazing this national institution of ours is. Instead of dying slow and expensive deaths, Lenny and Miriam were given the chance at happy and successful lives.

The supporting characters were also diverse and well written, giving a microcosmical glimpse of the new worlds of televison, the politics of the day and the attitudes to sex and sexuality.

My only criticism of the book was the end. I know many people want to know what happened to the characters after a book ends but this book follows both of them right to the end of their lives. It really wasn’t necessary nor did it feel that the author had a message to deliver to us readers by sharing the rest of their lives. It’s not awful, just not necessary and takes some of the power out of the story.

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.

Chalk by Paul Cornell

It’s 1983 and Andrew Waggoner is used to being bullied but one day Drake and his gang take things far too far. The violence they perpetrate on him cuts his very soul in half. It can’t be forgiven but Andrew has never been the kind of boy who could take revenge before.

Andrew lives in the eyeline of an ancient chalk horse, standing vigil over a site of ancient power. There he finds in himself an anger that divides him and could easily destroy those responsible.

This might seem like a Young Adult book from the blurb, and indeed it would suit readers of around 13 and older, but it stands it’s ground as a read for adults too.

It is brutal. I won’t tell you what happens to Andrew or what happens as a consequence but I winced and looked away a fair few times. Underlying that though is tenderness of family life, and the normalcy of caring about chart music and Dr Who. There’s also the tension and confusion that comes with having a crush on someone as well as the temptation to bully and harrass those weaker than you. Andrew joins in with bullying the few friends he has and starts a campaign of sexual harrassment against a girl that tells him he’s not even on her list of people she’d send a Valentines Card too. All behaviour that many of us would have experienced at school.

I think one of the things that’s so un-nerving about it is that it seems so autobiographical, Paul Cornell has written for Dr Who in the past so his love of it is well known, and the way the chart hits are woven through it becoming and integral thread of the story reinforces that feeling of familiarity.

The story is great, it’s well paced and things unfold with a feeling of inevitability that echoes that feeling of everything being out of control that plauges teenagehood.Having said that there are twists and there was a few times I worried about the author’s mental health!

The characters aren’t the most richly developed or nuanced that I’ve ever read but their main motivations are apparent enough and in keeping with who they seem to be, and I did care enough about them to read the story through to the end, very quickly in fact, I read it in a day!

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.

Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan

imageJonah Williams was born a slave. On his eighteenth birthday he gathers together a few stolen coins and a knife and flees the South Carolina plantation on which he was born.

With just the clothes on his back, not even a pair of shoes, he starts to run. He doesn’t even have a clear idea of where to head, he just knows to go north so he follows the North Star. During the day and running through the night. Somehow he eludes the men sent to capture him, but when he meets Angel in North Carolina she decides that he is her ticket to freedom and follows him without his permission.

This is one of the books I planned to review for Black History Month last October. But when I looked up the author I found he was white and decided to leave the review till later instead. There is a debate around appropriation and as part of thought process around making such a feature of Black History Month was to put deserving black authors into the spotlight it didn’t seem right to promote this book then.

But this is one of those books that has me in a quandry about the appropriation argument. On the one hand I agree that there is very real discrimination in the publishing industry and this needs to be addressed. However, slave stories are not the only stories black people have to tell and I’m equally  disheartened by the lack of chick-lit,business books, crime and sci-fi written by and featuring black people as I am worried about their stories being stolen to make profit for white writers. (To be truthful few writers make a good living off their writing so that point is moot in many cases.

There is also the fact that this story was in my opinion more respectful of those that escaped slavery than Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad which re-imagined the ‘underground railroad’ that helped many slaves escape, as an actual real train running underground. It was a well written and widely lauded book but for me the concept was deeply flawed, particularly as so many Americans are so gullible they’ll happily elect Trump.

I have to admit though that although the writing in this book is perfectly serviceable, it isn’t as good as Whitehead’s. The charachter development, scene setting and story are all better though so overall I would recommend this above Whitehead’s book for those interested in the lives of those slaves who ran to freedom and the trials they endured. For that aspect alone it is also a better read than Roots by Alex Haley, though I’d also recommend Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi as another great read alongside this one.

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.

A Girl Called Owl by A.J. Wilson

A Girl Called OwlOwl has enough problems, obviously really as her name implies at least one parent with a slightly unusual view on life. In fact her mum is the only parent she has, she’s never met her dad and frankly she’s fed up with her mum refusing to say who he is. It was all right her telling her fairy tales about Jack Frost being her dad but she’s too old for that now.

And now her best friend is going through some family upset and needs her more than ever, and a new boy at school is giving her weird looks. But all that is pushed aside when Owl starts seeing strange frost patterns on her skin, could her mum actually have been telling her the truth about her dad? And what will happen when she enters the magical world of winter for the first time?

This is classic children’s literature – particularly good for those aged 9-13 but as an adult I still enjoyed this. It updates a classic myth but unlike so many ‘disney-esque’ updates that will strip out some of the darkness this one puts it back in. it gives us a story which has real characters with modern-day problems that collide with ancient myths.

The descriptions of the worlds around the characters are breathtaking – this would be a beautiful movie to watch! Although I have to admit I’d be a little afraid to in case it didn’t live up to my imagination!

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 Existence Of Pity by Jeannie Zokan

img_2362Sixteen-year-old Josie Wales is the daughter of Baptist missionaries growing up in Columbia in 1976. Although mostly isolated from the turbulence brewing in the outside world, nothing can protect her from the turbulent times ahead within her own family.

Josie finds herself drawn to the Catholicism of her adopted country, she starts to confide her secrets in their maid instead of in her parents. Just normal secrets, like her new boyfriend but she is to discover that her parents’ have secrets of their own, ones that have the power to destroy their life.

This is one of those deceptive books. It poses a whole bunch of serious moral questions but does so in a voice so young and fresh that a sweet summer breeze seems to be floating around them, whispering to you to relax and take it easy, making it a deceptively easy read.

Not to say there is no action, or conflict, far from it. Josie is battling her entire family in different ways, and she is battling the unnoticed arrogance of the missinary culture. Add to that the danger her brother is determined to court, bringing the violence of Columbia’s mafia to their very door. It is quite startling how the author manges to keep the summery atmosphere going throughout, all to often writers would be tempted to use dark, depressing similes for such events that would have shredded the important physical context of the story.

This book would be a good read for Young Adults and Adults alike. For me with my interest in religions and their affects on the world I found it had a lot to say but yet it never preached. It does have an autobiographical ring to it and I would be interested to see how the author will write other books, this is a strong debut and could be the start of solid career, but I’m a little worried it may be the one book she has in her. I hope not.

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.

Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

img_2365Andy is just at that stage of teenage hood when you drift away from your parents when the carnival comes to his small Irish town.

Though Andy has never been quite like other boys, and he ends up visiting the carnival with his parents. But then he slips into the Hall of Mirrors without them. He is fascinated by the many selves staring back at him. Sometime later, one of those selves walks out rejoins his parents, he knows they will be leaving without him. Leaving him trapped inside the glass.

Mona, an aerial artist who seems unbound by the laws of gravity, snatches him out of the mirror and introduces him to timeless world of the carnival.

And now the two boys are in the world meaning an ancient power has been released…

This book is so far up my cul-de-sac it’s ridiculous… if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I’m powerfully attracted to books with carnivals or circuses in! I blame it on being part of that Cirque Du Soliel generation!

But did it deliver? Well. in most categories that is a resounding yes. But in one it’s a tragic no.

The concept and the story itself are both excellent. How the hall of mirrors came to have its power is brilliant and beautifully executed. The characters are honest and the portrayal of the feelings they all had around the normal separation of child and parent was stunningly good. It added a strong element of literary fiction that elevated the entire book.

The language in the book is beautiful, I learnt words I don’t recall hearing before but in such a way as they added to the narrative instead of interrupting it. And a few of my favourite little-used words were in there too.

So what was wrong with it?

Just one thing, I was three quarters of the way through it and I felt like I was still in the first quarter. That’s not a bad thing but it was a worry, I suddenly thought to myself ‘how on earth is this going to get to wherever it’s going with so few pages left?’ Well it got there by slipping too far into telling not showing. The climax of the story was definitely an anti-climax given that the loser of a fight to the death was announced at the start of the fight.

I’m not sure if the author lost confidence or his editors/publishers urged him to cut it short but I’d just like to say Neil Jordan, if you read this please know that you had me in the palm of your hands, you could have spun it out further, I would have happily gone along on that ride!

Still worth 4 Bites … but I know this author is capable of more!

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.

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

cover103046-mediumWhen Evie Snow finally passes away, surrounded by her loving family, it seems like her life of sacrifice has paid off and her own private heaven awaits. But when she gets there she finds the door won’t open.

Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to the only man she ever truly loved . . .

If you imagine ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’ but re-vamped by Jojo Moyes or Cecilia Ahern then this book is pretty much what you’d get. Pretty much, but not quite. Because Carrie Hope Fletcher has a somewhat more inventive mind so really you’d need to twist in a bit of Lewis Carroll or Erin Morgenstern too.

Now romances aren’t generally my thing, but I tore through this. It was easy to read with characters that were likeable but certainly weren’t too perfect. In fact Evie’s actions annoyed me a bit and I found myself asking why she would give in to her family’s wishes so easily. But then I realised that she had been conditioned to since birth and that sometimes, no matter how much drive a person has, it is impossible to break those chains.

The author is young and this is her debut novel, she has a huge fan base already though as she is a YouTuber, actor, singer and has been starring as Eponine in Les Miserables. She is known to an entire generation as a ‘big sister’ figure and she shares her love of reading with them. This popularity definitely helped make this a best-seller when it came out in hardback last year. It’s about to be released in paperback and I hope it reaches new audiences.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her work and I hope she continues to be brave and imaginative. Her writing is good but I think with time and determination it could be even better, I think she has more stories to share.

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 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.