A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

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

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

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

It starts with ballad 295;

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

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

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

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

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

Five Bites

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

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

Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter

IMG_2537Angela Carter has the most fantastical imagination and she gives it full reign here.

It is the story of Sophie Fevvers, aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus, and Jack Walser, an American journalist on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity.

For Sophie Fevvers claims that her wings are real. She is part woman, part swan. She is also being courted by the Prince of Wales, has been painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, and seems to have an unusual control over time.

Walser convinces his editor to let him join the circus as a clown on its European tour. He says it’s to get the scoop of the century but his real motive is love.

There is so much to this book. Drama, passion, curiosity. In it Angela Carter harnesses the impossible and makes it do tricks. This is a terrific book for those that grew up loving Harry Potter but who perhaps haven’t started delving yet into the wealth of books that  paved the way for it.

When I was reading this I found myself doodling with phrases from the book (my version of doodling – I’m not good with a pencil!) which is something I tend only to do when the writing is exceptionally good. One description I loved was this one of Walser “Yet there remained something a little unfinished about him, still. He was like a handsome house that has been let, furnished.” Brilliant!

This one of Fevvers I doodled …

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I think you can guess already that it’s Five Bites from me … and probably the start of a Carter binge!

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.

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

cover96034-mediumIn one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Mexico, just twenty metres beyond the border with America, lives Faustino. A desperate orphan who’s just made a big mistake. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding for a gang he wanted to escape from. Now he and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead.

He’s praying to Saint Death – the beautiful and terrifying goddess who demands absolute loyalty and promises little but a chance in return.

This is children’s literature unlike any I’ve ever read (embarrassingly I’ve no real excuse for reading as many kids / young adult books as I do!) It is aimed at older children, a mature eleven or twelve year old could read it but generally over 13’s. However this is 100% suitable for adults.

It is brash and brutal. And brilliant. There’s nothing I can fault about it at all, the storyline is terrific, the characters utterly believable and their dilemmas beautifully poignant, and the writing is clear and expressive.

What I love about reading books for young adults and children is their honesty. Children have a thirst for the truth, they don’t seem to want to deny the horrors and mistakes in the world the same way that adults do, maybe because they don’t bear the burden of blame for any of it. This is one of those books, a truth-telling book. It peels back the stereotypes of fiesta Mexico – Mariachi bands, Cinque de Mayo,Burritos, Pinantas and the Mexican Wave, and shows the pitiable lives of those living in poverty. But more than that, it shows their humanity.

It isn’t a long book, perfect packing wise for a holiday read. Forget the scandi noir this summer holiday and take this.

5 Bites

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

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

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

IMG_2404I read this book the year it was released and loved it! To be fair it seemed like everyone read it and everyone loved it! It was on the best-seller lists for at least a year! I was a little nervous to re-read it. I always am when it’s a book I loved many years ago, I’m always a little worried that my enthusiasm will come back and bite me as wanton unsophistication!

It tells the story of Tita, the youngest daughter of the all-female De La Garza family. She has been forbidden to marry, like a slave she must look after her mother until she dies. But Tita is in love with Pedro, and he with her. He agrees to marry her Tita’s sister Rosaura and stay on their farm so he can be close to her. But this doesn’t work out quite the way he had hoped.

My memories of this book were of the simple naivete of it. Yeah. Guess I might have got that confused my relative naivete at the time! I needn’t have worried about the books lack of spohistication – just my own! Because although the writing makes this a very easy read that flows like a fairytale, like many fairytales it has darkness and deeper messages within. Also, like many fairytales, it has a few sparks of magic!

I’d forgotten the sub plot about her other sister running off and becoming the leader of the revolutionaries, I’d also fogotten the superb characterisation of Rosaura, complete with jealosy, insecurity and a desperate desire to please her mother and not to be publically humiliated.

The one aspect that could have been twee was the recipes at the start of every chapter. Yet again this escapes being gimmicky. For one thing the recipes are relevent to the story, for another thing they are authentic recipes – not just the burritos or refried beans that many people think of when thinking of Mexican food.

I’m definitely glad I revisited it!

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 Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

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Click here to order from Waterstones

Thaniel Steepleton is getting by rather than living. His job as a telegraphist at the Home Office earns him just enough to support his widowed sister but not enough for him to afford to pursue his love of music. Then one day he returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. It isnt a birthday present from his sister but unfortunately he has no time to investigate further as a credible bomb threat has just come through.

When the watch saves Thaniel’s life in the threatened blast, he starts to investigate where it came from. His search leads him to its maker, Keita Mori – a gentle Japanese man whose seductive world of clockwork and music entrances him. Meanwhile, Grace Carrow will soon be making her entrance into his life but meanwhile she is sneaking into an Oxford library dressed as a man. A theoretical physicist, she is desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry.

This blend of historical fiction and fantasy creates an enchanting steampunk-esque thriller. A character that can remember the future, one that can see sounds, the aforemantioned theoretical physicist, plus detectives from Scotland Yard, Japanese ambassadors, Irish nationalists and cameo appearances from Gilbert and Sullivan show what a talented writer Natasha Pulley is. Each character is utterly believable even if they barely grace the page.

The plot is intriguing but the author also adds in magical details like a clockwork Octopus with a penchant for stealing socks so there is never a dull moment. But these details are never just gratuitous. I can’t say any more than that or I’ll be guilty of spoilers!

One of the things that really sets this book aside though is the attention to sentence structure. That might sound like a very dry thing to say but when a book contains so many teeny tiny nibbles of pure bliss then the dish as a whole is definitely going to be tasty!

If you want some well-crafted escapism pick this up!

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 Trees by Ali Shaw

imageBefore I even start telling you about this book I have to say that I loved loved LOVED it! It is brilliant, stop wasting precious minutes here and go buy it now!

What? You need more persuading? Ok, so this is the story of Adrien Thomas. He’s been suffering from depression and a bit of a mid-life crisis and could easily be seen as a complete loser, his go-getting wife may well have got to the point where she’s going to go and get herself  a different life. But despite this there is something very appealing about Adrian. His honest truculence and determined wishy-washiness is somehow sympathetic.

Then one night, when his misery is compounded by his wife Michelle being away but eased by the joy of a Chinese takeaway, the trees come.

A fully formed forest explodes out of the earth and bursts through floors and walls destroying everything in their path. The devastation leaves death scattered all around and survivors terrified and confused.

Adrien meets hippie Hannah and her teenage son Seb amongst the survivors, at first he spurns their offer of help and friendship business until he realises that no help is coming. They set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, then he plans to go on to Ireland to see if his wife is still alive and still wants him. If he doesn’t chicken out that is.

As I might have already mentioned, I loved this book. The premise was brilliant and very well executed, the characters were all utterly believable and well nuanced and the twists and turns were clever.

If there is ever an apocalypse, I almost want it to be like this!

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.