The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

imageToru Okada’s cat, oddly named after his wife’s brother who they don’t like, has disappeared. His wife is upset about this and as she is working and he isn’t she begs him to look for it.

This sets him on a journey where he will meet a succession of characters who all have their own stories. He is also being bothered by a woman who is phoning him claiming they know each other and making increasingly lewd suggestions.

As the story continues, normality gets snipped away at until it seems the pleasantly bland Okada has a much bigger purpose than anyone could have imagined.

I read this book first back in 1999 when I was pregnant and I was so taken with it I almost named my child after one of the characters! It’s a long book and kept me company many a night through a stressful time. Revisiting it has been strange to say the least, I saw it on audible and the idea of spending 26 hours in its company was more than I could resist.

The book is still good, Haruki Murakami has such an intimate and conversational tone to his writing and shares his characters idiosynchrocities in such an affectionate and humble manner that it is impossible not to care for them. Which is just as well as otherewise it really would be hard to spend 26 hours in the company of a man who is ostensibly looking for his cat!

Of course the plot does go further than that (no spoilers here though so you’ll have to read it if you want to know how!) and the stories of those he meets on his journey are fascinating and varied too.

I have to say that I wouldn’t recommend listening to this on audiobook. The reader was talented but several of the characters voices really grated on me, one of which was quite a prominant character so I spent far too long listening to her voice!

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 Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

img_2254Albert Mirrells is a young city man striding into the future when he meets his young cousin from the Yorkshire at the Great Exhibition. Though at first inconvenienced by meeting the simple country girl he is soon beguiled by her teasing intelligence and her sweet song voice.

So years later when he hears that Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth and charged as a changeling by her own husband, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak to look into her death. But superstitions are yet to be swept away by progress in this old nook of the world and he soon finds himself caught up in tales of the ‘Hidden People’ and struggling to find any rational explanations. Could the old folk tales be true?

There’s a quote that says easy reading is difficult writing and this book is totally true of that. I read it in one sitting, in about four or five hours, and then felt a little guilty as the author has clearly worked damn hard on this and it probably took a couple of years to write and rewrite. I have put it straight in my ‘re-readable’ pile though so hopefully that’ll give it more of the time it deserves in future.

Although it’s set in a summer that won’t end, this gothic grown up fairy-tale is ideal reading for autumn or winter nights too. There’s a blood-curdling mystery, an unreliable narrator, sullen villagers, folk songs, dandelion clocks, fabulous Yorkshire dialect counterpointing with formal Victorian speech, trains and fairies – I don’t really know what more you can ask for!

The author has skillfully woven traitorous threads and true together so you’re brain will be thinking ‘hang on a sec…’ several times throughout the narrative but unless you’re cleverer than me (which is possible I know!) you will still be surprised by the ending.

4 very satisfied 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.

Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun

cover89737-medium-1Taduno is living a quiet almost dreamlike exile in the UK when a stained brown envelope arrives from his homeland. He knows at once that things are not right with the love he left behind and feels he has no choice but to return no matter the danger he may be in.
When he arrives home he finds that no-one recognises him, not his neighbours, not his girlfriends little brother nor anyone else. He was a famous singer whose face was everywhere so this is particularly odd.

He discovers his girlfriend Lela has been abducted by the government – to get her back he has to sing their praises but he has lost his voice as well as his identity. He must find both but lose his integrity to secure her release.

This is an unusual book, it deals with violent and corrupt oppression in a gentle and lyrical fashion. There’s a little magic realism thrown into the mix and it has a parable like quality to it.

The writing is good, the descriptions of the town he lives in in England is excellent so I felt drawn in straight away. His descriptions of his home are a little sketchier – it could be just that I found them harder to see as I’ve never been there though.

His characters are good as far as they go but my criticism of the book is that females are pretty much completely absent. Even his girlfriend who is more of an abstract figure who is used as a catalyst rather than a real living breathing human being. Though this does add to the fairytale like effect I do think it’s unnecessary and it ends up as a flaw.

The hero is a very likeable character and his dilemma and how he eventually deals with it makes sense. It isn’t an overly long book but you’ll enjoy the time you spend reading 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.

Roofworld by Christopher Fowler

imageLondon in the 1980’s has a secret people never see. A refuge for the misfits and outcasts of society that towers above the dirty city. But Roofworld, with its complex laws and codes and decaying system of cables and wires is at war. And if evil wins it will take possession of the city below next.

Robert is looking for the author of a little known book to try and buy the film rights from her, sadly he is a little too late, she was murdered during a robbery the week before. But he does meet Rose, who tells him about her daughter who she thinks has been kidnapped and is being held in Roofworld. They get pulled into events up above – not always the perfect scenario for Robert as he  discovers he’s not good with heights!

This was Christopher Fowler’s first book – he’s gone on to become quite the prolific author having written more than 40 books including the ‘Bryant & May’ series. He specialises in unusual plots and peculiar happenings set in the real world so he’s a good bet for fans of Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch.

And this is certainly an unusual plot full or peculiar happenings! If I was rating this on plot alone it would definitely get 5 bites! If I was rating it  on writing alone it would probably get  bites too – even though he’s written so much this book was still peppered with lovely lines and fresh metaphors that made me feel like I was there.

The only thing this falls down on is the characters, they’re not awful, but they feel a bit lazy. Robert seems like a slightly less interesting version of Richard Mayhew – the protagonist of Neverwhere (written by Neil Gaiman in 1996 – though I’m not suggesting there was any plagiarism going on), Rose is cool but we never get beneath the surface and the police characters are very formulaic. The two dominant characters fighting it out on the roof tops could be fascinating but we don’t really get to learn much about them until too late.

I have to say that this would make a cracking movie though, or a graphic novel, but as a novel I can only give it 3.5 bites – readable, and fairly enjoyable but not earth-shattering. I’m interested to read some of his more recent works though now.

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.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

51iGDacIBML._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Tara was fifteen when she vanished after an argument with her boyfriend. There wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him but her family never spoke to him again.

Now, 20 years later, Tara has just knocked on her parents door.  She’s  dirty and dishevelled, her father doesn’t recognise her at first but her mother faints at the sight of her.  They phone her brother Peter and together they hear her story of twenty years spent travelling the world, this epic journey was apparently taken on a whim.

But her stories don’t quite add up,  and she doesn’t look more than a day older than when she left. Eventually she tells Peter and her one time boyfriend Ritchie a different story – but one so strange her family fear she’s lost her mind.

I listened to this rather than read it, it was in fact the first audiobook I ever listened to (about 5 years ago) and listening to it again gave me a new appreciation of it. The reader is so important with an audiobook and John Lee was excellent! It’s mainly told from the male perspectives (Peter’s, Ritchie’s and excerpts from her psychiatrist’s book on her) and his voice was utterly believable throughout.

The story itself was far better and more nuanced than I remembered – and I remembered it fondly! The worlds the author builds and the characters that inhabit them are completely believable, whther they are set in the ‘real world’ or not! It’s a magical tale and deals with whether those of us that travel can ever truly come home as well as questioning the reality we take for granted.

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.

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.

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.

The Wolf In The Attic by Paul Kearney

imageAnna Francis is almost 12, when she was younger she had a mother and a brother as well as her father. They all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world. Now it is 1929, her mother and brother are dead. She and her father live in a tall old house in Oxford and she just has her doll for company.

She sees a fight that ends in a murder, then she stumbles across a community of gypsies. One of their number guides her home but before long she finds herself searching for the gypsy community again. Looking for a new home and protection from an ancient evil that seems to be following her.

If you enjoy Philip Pullman’s writing there’s a damn good chance you’ll enjoy this. I was a little unsure at the very beginning – Anna’s voice seemed a little young to me and althouth this is a young adult book I worried it might be pitched a little younger than I had thought. That wouldn’t have made it a bad book by any means, but it would have made it a little less enjoyable for me!

But Anna’s voice, and the author’s writing settles into a richer, moe mature voice quite early and from then on I was hooked. The atmosphere of the setting is pervasive and the characters are magnetic. I would have read it in one sitting if I could, as it was I read it in two!

It’s not quite as masterfull as Philip Pullman, but well worth a read and I’ll be looking out for his next book! It would also translate well to screen – I can see it having a gorgeous steampunk styling!

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.