Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

imageIt’s hard being a hip graphic designer in a Recession hit San Fransico. Clay Jannon has lost his job as an award winning web designer and a mixture of desperation and curiosity, has driven him into working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Mr Penumbra is charming and affable and Clay quickly decide to use his marketing skills to attract more customers. The few the store has do come in regularly, but they never seem to buy anything. Instead these ‘members’ borrow bizarrely obscure volumes from the back of the store, and it seems that each book leads them to the next in a very specific order.

Intrigued, Clay embarks on a complex analysis of the customers’ behaviour, getting his friends and new girlfriend (a Google employee who found the store from his online advert!) to help him. But when Mr Penumbra discovers their investigations he sets them on a path to a far bigger secret.

Obviously it’s hard for a BookEater to resist a book set in a bookstore, it’s where we all dream of spending our time after all! Throw in a mystery that can be solved by reading books and it’ll take a lot to disappoint!  Thankfully the only thing that was really bad about this book was the protagonist’s name! I was grateful it was told in the first person so that I wasn’t confronted by it too much!

I subverted things a little by listening to this rather than reading it, and it works very well as an audiobook, the reader sounded right and I felt like I was hearing Clay’s story first-hand. It felt very natural, his friends and flat mates were completely believable which really helped ground the more fantastical elements.

What I loved most about this book though was how it mixed a love of modern tech with a love of old books. Often these two are set up in competition with each other (like in The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon) here they work collaboratively.

Definitely an enjoyable read for a book lover!

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.

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.

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.

The Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka

imageMarina Lewycka is best known for writing A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. This book, already shortlisted for the annual Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize (which the Short History won back in 2005) might beat it into the shadows!

It’s set in North London in modern day. Berthold Sidebottom (named for the architect Berthold Lubetkin who his mother hints might be his real father) invites an old Ukrainian lady to move into his mother’s flat with him, after his mother befriended her in the hospital as she lay dying.

This might sound like a mad thing to do but grief makes you mad – as does the chance you might lose your council flat!

His next door neighbour Violet is discovering that her new job in International Wealth Preservation is not as glamourous as it sounds, in fact she feels rather dirty helping ridiculously rich people profit from the poor and avoid paying taxes.  When their flats are threatened by a new development Violet galvanises the residents into action, even the greiving Berthold.

This book is so clever and so so funny. It is multi-layered with a host of multi-faceted characters. It is a love letter to a London that is fast vanishing and a persausive missive to everyone to commit to community spirit.  It’s a keleidoscope – with every twist and turn it shows a different pattern created by the colourful characters, and you’re never sure what pattern will be revealed next.

There are mysteries, drama’s,  romances, crimes, humour, pathos and victories in this book. I fell in love with Victoria and with Berthold’s mum pretty much as soon as I met them, and my creeping sympathy for Berthold grew stronger with every struggle he faced.

Put this review down and go grab yourself this book now!

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.

Burmese Days by George Orwell

imageGeorge Orwell’s first novel is set in 1920s imperial Burma, a place he knew well. U Po Kyin, a corrupt Burmese official wants to raise his standing with the white rulers. To do so he plans to destroy the reputation of the Indian Dr. Veraswami., friend of John Flory, an embittered  35-year-old teak merchant who both loves and hates Burma and the Burmese.

Flory would like to help his friend but he knows his own standing among his fellow Europeans is shaky. He has a ragged crescent of a birthmark on his face and his politics aren’t quite the thing. When he meets Elizabeth Lackersteen, He is immediately taken with her and they spend some time getting close, Lost in romantic fantasy, Flory imagines Elizabeth to be the sensitive non-racist he so much desires, the European woman who will “understand him and give him the companionship he needed.”

I chose this book partly because I loved 1984 so much when I read it recently,  and partly because my partner was about to leave to work in Burma (Myanmar as it’s known now) for 2 months. Call me soppy but I wanted to feel close to him while he was gone and so immersing myself in a book set where he was seemed like the ideal solution.

They say the past is another country and this book is set almost a century ago, lots has changed in Burma since then but somehow Orwell’s description of the country and climate still made me feel like I had a sense of being there with him. Not surprising when this book was based on his time spent there.

But this book did make me uncomfortable in other ways. The casual, ingrained racism of the white society is thrown into sharp relief. To think that this was my grandparents generation is sickening. What is as bad if not worse is seeing how Dr Veraswami internalises this racism and believes wholeheartedly that the white people are superior. It shows how damaging racism is and how hard it is for those subjected to it to push through it. The same of course applies to people subjected to sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc.

A powerful book, and one that shouldn’t be left in 1984’s shadows as it still has much to teach us.

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.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

imageShortlisted for last years Booker Prize, Satin Island is the story of “U” – a ‘corporate anthropologist’ working for an elite consultancy.

Like me, U doesn’t really understand what that title means but his employers have set him two tasks. First, he must assist in the launching of a great, epoch-defining project which no one, least of all its own architects, fully understands. Second, he has been asked to compose the seemingly impossible: the Great Report – an ethnographic document to sum up our age. Again, something that nobody really understands but he’s getting paid for it so hey-ho!

Like I would faced with such a couple of hugely vague and pretentious task, U procrastinates. He becomes obsessed with oil spills and dead parachutists believing there to be a secret logic that binds these and will reveal the very fabric of our times.

I can see why this was short-listed for the Booker Prize, it is a very erudite novel. But I can also see why it didn’t win, it’s not really a novel for a start, it’s more an essay in which not much happens, well, maybe U has a nervous breakdown but even that is a bit vague. Mainly we get to know how clever U (and therefore the author) is. I was particularly disappointed by how the main characters girlfriend was written about, most of the way through the novel she is mentioned only in the context of his having just had sex with her and nothing about her character or the impact she had on his life. When she finally did get a bit of the spotlight she was far more interesting than the “hero”.

It is worth a read, if you want to challenge your intellect rather than be entertained. But with this could have been much better.

3 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 Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

26619902Veblen is your typical kooky pixie girl, as typical as a kooky pixie girl can be anyway! She is a passionate defender of the anti-consumerist views of her name-sake, the iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen. She’s an amateur translator of Norwegian, a well-conditioned people pleaser and a firm believer in the magic of squirrels.


Her fiancé, Paul is the son of good hippies who were bad parents, as a result he is trying to be a no-nonsense, high-flying neuroscientist with no time for squirrels. It looks like he’s on track to succeed but how will his relationship with Veblen fare if he does?

Somehow they manage to survive Paul starting a new and not completely ethical job, and then meeting each other’s families. But as Paul starts to see the shit underneath the shine of his job and Veblen starts to talk to squirrels, their relationship suffers.

This has just been long-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Personally, although I enjoyed the book overall, it was a little over wordy and over worthy, for my taste. But the characters were sharp and incisive and that kept me reading. Although they were quite extreme I think everyone could recognise relationship dynamics that they’ve seen or experienced. The over-wordiness does mean that it’s visually appealing, I can imagine this as a film in glorious technicolour!

The author also manages to build a lot of tension through the sub-plots and supporting characters so although it seems like it is just an emotional dissection there are actually some very real dissections going on and even some explosions so the story does keep moving!

3 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.

Down Station by Simon Morden

imageMary is trying to stay out of trouble, mainly to prove she can. So she makes sure she’s not late for her shift picking up rubbish from the tracks of London Underground.

Nearby, young wannabe engineer Dalip, is struggling to replace loose rails with Stanislav and his gang. He’s determined to learn every aspect of rail engineering.

When the tunnel shakes and a ball of fire rampages through the Underground, Stanislav’s gang runs, so does Mary together with her colleagues. They join forces but not all of them make it through the service tunnel. Reaching a door, the fire not far behind them, they step through…and find themselves not on a London street but on a wild shore backed by cliffs and rolling grassland.

The way back is blocked. Making their way inland they meet a man dressed in a wolf’s cloak and with wolves by his side. He speaks English and has heard of a place called London – other people have arrived here down the ages – all escaping from certain and immediate death in London. None of them have ever managed to get back but apparently there is one survivor that holds the key to getting back and maybe to saving London. They set out to find this mysterious survivor completely unprepared for everything this new land has to throw at them.

Simon Morden is an acclompished Sci-Fi writer, he’s the author of the Metrozone series and is a bona fida rocket scientist (no really!). It’s small wonder then that this book engulfs you straight away and you feel it’s heat on your back long after you’ve finished it – much like that fireball in London he writes about!

He’s an excellent world-builder, his descriptions of London are just as good as those of the world he made up and that makes the new world very easy to buy into.

But I have to say what really did it for me were the characters. They are such a diverse bunch but completely naturally so, no matter they’re background they are all Londoners. As an ex-Londoner I appreciated seeing characters I know I would see everywhere in the city.  Even those that left London in previous times were believable and creatures of their own context.

I enjoyed the whole book – and I’ll definitely read more from him – including another in this series if he’s planning one!

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 Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

imageThis book, released in June last year is just all over our Instagram feed! It is so beloved so when I got offered a free copy to review I almost bit that hand that was feeding me I was so keen to see what all the fuss was about!

The Reds are serfs, ground down by extreme poverty and all desperately picking out the best lives they can from the scraps thrown them by the elite Silvers. But in this world it isn’t just wealth that makes the Silvers powerful, they each possess some kind of superhuman power, the ability to control water, or metal or maybe to read minds or even control them.

Mare Barrow is a Red, she can’t find work so she picks pockets to help support her family but soon she will be conscripted into the army as all u employed Reds are and forced to fight for the further enrichment of her Silver overloads. Then, in the nick of time, she gets a job in the Silver Palace and discovers very publicly that she possesses a deadly power of her own. The Silver King can’t just kill her so she is declared a long-lost Silver princess and engaged to the younger Silver prince so they can keep her close and under control. But Mare won’t be pacified by riches and starts helping  the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, hoping to bring down the Silver regime.

This book has elements of many popular YA books, there’s a little X-Men, a little Hunger Games, a little divergent, there’s also a bit of a love quadrangle going on so this book would have to be really badly written to have failed!

It isn’t the very best writing I’ve ever read if I’m completely honest, but it isn’t badly written at all. The mashing together of so many bits of popular YA books could have ended up being hard to stomach, but in fact have created a satisfying meal. Quite a more-ish morsel at that, which is just as well as the author is clearly savvy anough to know that most YA books work best if they have a sequel or more to follow. Hollywood loves a franchise after all. Book two – The Glass Sword – just came out a couple of weeks ago. I’ve had the pleasure of reading it already (thanks for the free copy of this too Orion!) and although I don’t want to say too much about it so that I don’t spoil it for you I will say that it does not disappoint. It takes the main characters through some savage challenges and I’m looking forward to the next in the series!

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.

Kinnara by Kevin Ansbro

imagePhuket, Thailand, seemed to be the perfect getaway choice for twenty-two-year-old Calum Armstrong, regardless of the fact it was supposed to be a romantic holiday and he’s just broken up with his girlfriend he goes anyway.

He makes friends with locals and falls in love with the spirit of the place, so much so that the next year he decides to take his new love there. Only to find his last trip had serious ramifications and this one is going to be the weirdest and most dangerous holiday he could imagine.

Kevin Ansbro’s book is a bit of a love letter to Thailand, a place that it seems clear he adores and finds deeply inspirational. The Thai characters and scenes are beautifully described and very realistic.

The English sections of the book sadly don’t live up to their eastern counterparts, the characters are ok, but the dialogue between them needs to be sharpened up a bit and they all need a little more depth adding. They’re not bad, but I think the author could polish them a little more.

The plot is difficult to describe without giving away spoilers but it has a mystical element to do with regret and redemption that works well, the ending felt a little rushed but not so much that I felt cheated.

Overall this is a good work from an indie author, perfect for a holiday or weekend read when you want to escape but you still want your read to mean something.

3 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.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

imageThere are scenes in this book that will stay with me for life.

Victor loved his mother, and his step dad loved them both, but when she died, they fell apart and a few years on Victor is homeless and his dad misses him every day.

He’s returned to Seattle now, and is working up the courage to visit his dad when he stumbles upon the peaceful protest against the World Trade Organisations conference. He knows his dad is amongst it somewhere, he is the chief of police so he couldn’t be anywhere else.

But the protest does not go as peacefully as planned, when a protestor tries to protect Victor from some aggressive police tactics a chain of events is set in motion that makes every second more dangerous than the last.

The story is told from six perspectives – Victor, his dad, the cop that’s aggressive towards him and his partner, the protestor that tries to protect him, and a delegate from Sri Lanka trying to make it through the crowd to a meeting that could dramatically change the fate of his country.  Although that sounds like a lot, Sunil Yapa is a skilled writer and each voice is recognisably different. Memories of each characters pasts are dwelt on momentarily within the chaos which helps us empathise with all the characters – the heroes are flawed and the anti-heroes have good sides. These are carefully place in the narrative so that they add to it rather than distract from it and as the peaceful protest moves towards a volatile situation the tension really builds.

There are some very intense and upsetting scenes in this book, and once or twice I had to put it down for a few minutes. But it was compelling and drew me back in.

This book wouldn’t be for everyone, it is quite political but I felt it offered up a smorgasbord of opinions and it didn’t preach. The fact that I felt it supported my political beliefs may be more down to me and how I responded to it than actually down to the author.  You’ll have to read it yourself and make up your own mind about it’s message – feel free to share it in the comments below!

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.

River of Ink by Paul M M Cooper

imageSet in medieval Sri Lanka, this is a story of love, treachery, a dictator King and a cowardly poet that somehow manages to inspire a revolution. Asanka is the King Parakrama’s poet, he has fallen in love with a palace serving girl, Sarasi, and when the invading barbarian Magha of Kalinga conquers, he betrays his King to save his love.

The new King decides that giving the people a translation of the holy Sanskrit epic, the Shishupala Vadha, will help them love him and he commissions Asanka to write it. This book is Asanka’s confession, written to Sarasi, explaining how events spiralled out of his control.

Because this is written in the second person it has a very intimate tone which draws you in straight away. That it starts with the country under threat of imminent invasion loads on the tension so it’s easy to keep reading. A potential revolution keeps the story flowing as does the desire to see what happens next in the translated epic – itself a rollicking tale of love and betrayal!

imageBut the real strength of this book lies in it’s beautiful writing. I mean really, stunningly beautiful writing. I found myself stopping to re-read many sentences just to enjoy their poetry, and in a few cases I felt compelled to lift a sentence from the text and create an image out of it to share such as this one.

Sometimes writing that is too beautiful will disrupt a story, but not in this case. In this case it twines round the reader, reaching right into the heart and binding them tight to the tale.

If you enjoyed the writing style in The Book Thief then I’d bet on you enjoying this too. It’s released tomorrow so go grab yourself a copy. Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending us one free to review. Our reviews are always our honest opinions regardless of whether we get books free or not but it’s such a bonus when it’s this good!

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.

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

imageAll identical twins are tempted to pretend to be each other, particularly when they are young. Helen and Ellie decide to do just this one day. Helen doesn’t think Ellie will manage to imitate her very well, after all she is the leader, the bright one, the popular one, and Ellie just trails around after her. But Ellie surprises her. Then surprises her even more when she refuses to swap back…

Suddenly her sister has everything, her toys, her clothes, her friends, her glowing record at school and the favour of her mother. Now she is the one being taken out of normal lessons for special help, and her frustration at the unfairness of it all is attributed to the cord getting wrapped around her neck during birth just like her sisters tantrums had been. Meanwhile Ellie is blossoming.

The story is told in first person by Helen as it happens and simultaneously from the modern day Helen’s in third person. The Helen of today is a drug addict going by the name of Smudge, and Ellie, now a popular TV personality is in a coma after a car crash.

This is a short book, but it’s packed full of tension and pulls you in right from the start. I read this in pretty much one sitting. It is brilliantly written and raises questions about the role of nuture in childcare, portrays the effects of gas lighting, sibling rivalry and mental illness without ever once being preachy or hysterical, or more importantly diverting from the story.

This is a true psychological thriller and a stand out debut. It could easily be this years ‘Gone Girl’. Read it now! Everyone will be talking about it in the next few months!  I hope we get to see a lot more from Ann Morgan’s pen.

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 Eight by Katherine Neville

imageCharlemagne, Holy Emperor of half of the known world is given a chess set, but when he starts to play it becomes apparent that this set isn’t just a thing of beauty, but a thing with a power all its own. He buries it, and sets protection around it that stays in place for a thousand years. But even this can’t stop the rumours of its powers and when revolution flames through France it is unearthed for its own protection. Mireille de Remy and her cousin Valentine are two of the nuns from Montglane Abbey that must scatter the pieces throughout the world to stop their power being abused.

So begins the game, almost two hundred years on people are still trying to collect all the pieces when Catherine Velis, a computer expert, is sent to Algeria to create a program for the newlyn formed OPEC and becomes enmeshed in the game.

I first read this book in my early twenties, then I reread it, reread it and reread it again. I loved it! I wasn’t alone, back in the early 90’s this was a ‘cult bestseller’, one of few books on the market then to combine the thriller genre with history and spirituality.  So when I saw that it had been re-released for Kindle I grabbed a copy quicker than you can say ‘one-click’!

I was worried, would it live up to my high expectations? I could really only remember snatches of it – that it was to do with chess and the Fibonacci theory was in it and that I’d liked the main character. Thankfully it did not disappoint! Reading it again I remembered that it wasn’t just the main character I’d liked but pretty much all of them. There are a host of strong, intelligent women in this book and they are ably supported by interesting male characters.

There’s action and adventure enough for any lover of thrillers and there’s a dash of romance, a huge mystery and some magic. What else could you want?

Eat it up quick – you won’t regret it!

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 Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

imageRoy Courtenay might be knocking on but he’s got one last con in him. Or maybe even two, he likes the sense of victory he gets from it. Even though these days its just lonely old widows he’s conning out of their nest eggs rather than the complicated, high stakes cons of old. He thinks they deserve it they’ve been complacent all their lives, never lived on the edge like him.
But Betty is elegant, she was an academic in her day – could she be the lady that finally changes everything for him?
This is Nicholas Searle’s first novel and it is a cracker! We meet the oh-so-charming Roy just as he is about to meet Betty, and the chronicling of their relationship is punctuated by flashbacks of Roy’s past misadventures. Is Roy really just a trying to survive, or is he a selfish old sod, or something much worse.
This tale has a few delicious twist but it keeps you wondering if it is a story of revenge or redemption until the last few pages.
The authors handling of characterisation is both deft and intricate, Roy is a study in charcoal and shading, the light shining out of the spaces left blank. Whereas Betty is a watercolour, the subtle beauty catches the eye and draws it over the surface until you stand back and see her depths.
I loved this book, I had a really hard time putting it down and I thoroughly recommend you pick it up!
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 Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

imageJohanna Sinisalo might not be well known in the UK yet but mark my words she will be!

She is exceptional both in her ideas and in her execution of them. I won’t lie, when I first read the blurb of this book I was intrigued, but I was also worried. Here is what it says…

“The Eusistocratic Republic of Finland has bred a new human sub-species of receptive, submissive women, called eloi, for sex and procreation, while intelligent, independent women are relegated to menial labor and sterilized so that they do not carry on their “defective” line. Vanna, raised as an eloi but secretly intelligent, needs money to help her doll-like sister, who has disappeared. Vanna forms a friendship with a man named Jare, and they become involved in buying and selling a stimulant known to the Health Authority to be extremely dangerous: chili peppers.”

I worried that it might either be a rip off of The Handmaidens Tale, or worse (much worse) 50 shades of grey.

Thankfully it is neither – it might share a little if the same DNA as The Handmaids Tale, but it is a completely different story. It also has a little of the DNA of 1984 and A Brave New World. It is a child of a great dynasty but Sinisalo brings her contemporary experiences to the table too. Vanna is a brilliant character, and you’ll really care what happens to her. Finland as an “eusistocracy”—an extreme welfare state—that holds public health and social stability above all else, is believable, and just as sinister as any other controlling state. I doubted that using Chili peppers as an illegal stimulant and possibly hallucinogenic drug would work, but by the end I was tempted into trying them myself!

This book blew hot panic and intense melancholy through me. Read it.

5 hot 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.

Swallow The Sky – A Space Opera by Chris Mead

imageCarson is a mailman delivering mail from planet to planet 8,000 years after human’s were forced to colonise the universe.

His stop off at Kaimana offers him the chance to explore for more antiques, a sideline that is a much a passion as the chance to make profit. But things start going badly wrong when he wakes up with a dead woman in his bed. It soon becomes clear he is being set up by a wealthy megalomaniac who wants him to steal an ancient cassette tape in return for his freedom. But when he finds the cassette contains the secret location of Earth’s lost treasures, Carson is determined to capture the bounty himself.

This book is pure escapism. Imagine Indiana Jones set in space and you’ll start to get the picture! Actually one thing you won’t have to do much of whilst reading this is imagine – the author built all of these worlds so expertly that you’ll feel like you are right there with Carson on every planet and space ship he’s on.

If I was to be really critical of this I could lament the fact that it has no deep moral meaning or mention that the characters aren’t deeply tortured individuals wringing out every last drop of emotion they have. But to be honest this is a good-time, holiday read sort of novel and it doesn’t need to be high literature. The characters are believable and the good guys have moral centres and are likeable so that’s good snout for me.

A great read, and thoroughly recommended!

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 Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

image“Word (wurd)

noun

1 A human relic, now obsolete.

2 archaic A discrete unit of meaning that when synthesised with other such units may make a small scratch in the skin of time.”

In a parallel New York books, libraries, and newspapers have already become historical items. Much as in our own world, most communication and entertainment is streamed to handheld devices known as Memes.  These devices are smart enough to dial the doctor before we know we’re sick, or prompt us with words we can’t recall. Of course not quite everyone is in thrall to them, Anana has endured numerous lectures from her father -the chief editor of what is going to be the last ever edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language.

Then, just days before her father’s dictionary  is due to be released, he vanishes.

Anana, having recently been dumped by the popular and successful Max, turns to her bookish colleague Bart  to help. Soon they are embroiled in a bizarre mystery but can the find the answers they need before they, and the rest of North America, succumb to the growing “word flu” pandemic.

Ok, you all know I’m a book fiend! I devour them so quickly I should have a permanent case of book indigestion so I found the thought of ‘word flu’ fascinating. But I’m also a bit of a device fiend! I’m rarely seen without my phone or iPad near me even if I’m not using them. So I was also a little hesitant to start this, I was listening to the AudioBook version (on my phone of course!) and I was a bit worried it might turn into a 16 hour lecture on the perils of modern technology!

I was hooked by this though. It is clever, really clever, but at the same time it’s full of human foibles, unrequited love, complicated family relationships, sinister conspiracies, clumsy get rich quick schemes, scholarly superheroes, city life, nicknames and everything else the human condition entails. I found myself listening to it at every available opportunity.

It’s written for the young adult market, and I’d definitely recommend it for over 13’s, but it’s another one that bursts right out of that genre and can easily take a  place at the table next to any thriller.

Sink your teeth into it. You won’t regret 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 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

imageWhen Tom Joad is paroled from prison and gets back to the farm he grew up in he finds it deserted. He’s told his family were evicted by the banks just like all the other farmers, and are staying with family nearby.

He finds them loading a converted Hudson saloon with their few remaining possessions; with no work nearby they’ve no option but to cross the country to seek work in California. They’ve seen flyers promising plentiful work and good wages.

Traveling west on a road crowded with other migrants, they hear stories from others. Some returning from California, warning them that the state is swamped with migrant workers being exploited.

John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel doesn’t flinch from examining the causes and effects of America’s Great Depression. It’s message is vital, particularly in today’s world when financial inequality is leading to the same disastrous consequences. However, I have to admit that I really struggled to get into this book, even though I knew I wanted to read it.  The problem was that the description of the environment, although beautiful, went on for far to long. We don’t even meet him (or anyone) till the second chapter.

Once the characters came in and their story started to unfold, I appreciated his lyrical style and descriptive power much more. Vignettes were sprinkled throughout the narrative and and some of them are breathtaking.

This book has been on many curriculums for many years for a reason. But I think it has a flaw in it, it never quite brings the reader into the skins of the characters. We end up watching their desperate struggle from a distance, allowing us to disassociate ourselves. I think if we had been bought right into their souls and forced to see their hardship through their own eyes this book might have done what it set out to do, stop us dehumanising people and treating them as less important than profit.

It’s still a great book, and if you haven’t read it you definitely should.

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 Leopards of Normandy: Devil by David Churchill

imageBack in 911 the King of France signed a treaty with Rollo the Viking and gifted him a large parcel of land, this was the founding of the Normans. We’re then introduced to his  descendants,  this book, which is the first of a trilogy,  looks mainly at Robert the Magnificent (also known as Robert the Devil) who became the first Duke of Normandy in 1027.

Robert was the second son of Rollo’s son, as such when his father dies he has to make his own way in the world, he claims one of the further castles of the province but in so doing causes a war with his brother … and falls in love with  Herleva, a tanner’s daughter.

Meanwhile in England his aunt Emma, the great Queen of England, is struggling over the succession to her husband Canute’s throne, could this weakened England be ripe for invasion?

This is excellent historical fiction. It’s full of action and well depicted characters, most of whom were real people in history whose deeds were documented. It is full blooded fiction though, vibrant and stitched together with beautifully imagined detail.

Of course we can never know what historical figures thought or felt for sure, here the author portrays Robert’s relationship with his sons mother as the love of his life. The woman he wanted to marry but couldn’t because of her social station. There is a certain amount of evidence to support this theory and it definitely makes for a more sympathetic hero. His love for his son adds to that, a son who started life with the moniker William the Bastard but who will be remembered eternally as William the Conqueror.

The next book will tell his story so I think I’m going to be in this for the whole trilogy! If you like your historical fiction to take no prisoners then maybe you should join me 😊

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.

Splintered by A G Howard

Click here to buy from amazon or pop to your local book shop for a copy.
Click here to buy from amazon or pop to your local book shop for a copy.

This isn’t so much a sequel to Alice in Wonderland as a complete reboot.

Alyssa Gardner has grown up denying that the Liddell curse has affected her. It might have sent her mum to the asylum but she denies that she is hearing bugs talk and simply shuts them up by turning them into art. But when her mum is threatened with electric shock therapy she finds the courage to dive head first into Wonderland – determined to clear up all the messes Alice left behind in order to lift the curse.

Once in Wonderland she finds there’s more to the story than she could have possibly imagined. Even more confusing is her relationship with best friend and next door neighbour Jeb who’s followed her into wonderland. Could romance be blossoming? Not if Morpheus, Alice’s old friend the Caterpillar, has  anything to do with it!

This is firmly aimed at the Young Adult market and should appeal to those over the age of ten. The romance in it is descriptive but still fairly innocent. The characters aren’t the most complex I’ve ever read but they’re interesting and believable enough. But the plot is what really makes this book. It has more twists and turns than a very twisty-turny thing! A fair few of which I did not see coming!

I listened to the audiobook version and the narrator was pretty good, her cockney accent wasn’t brilliant but it was at least a notch above Dick Van Dykes! However this is one I’d recommend buying to read rather than listening too.

4 bites

Published by Abrams

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 Night Clock by Paul Meloy

imagePhil Trevena is an outreach worker trying to help people with mental health issues. But suddenly his patients are dying and if he is not to be blamed for this, he needs to find out why.

Whilst his picking up some clothes for one of his hospitalised patients the man phones him and tells him  he needs to find Daniel, that Daniel will be able to explain what is happening. But when he reaches the hospital to drop off the clothes, his patient is dead – he died half an hour before making that phone call to Phil …

Paul Meloy’s debut novel reimagines our world, introducing a parallel plane which threatens to overwhelm our own if not kept ticking by the Night Clock. Daniel turns out to be a time traveling hypnopomp (can’t help you, I have no idea what a hypnopomp is either and I’ve read the book!) and he and Phil have to team up with the Firmament Surgeons (good guys) to stop the Autoscopes (bad guys) invading our plane.

I read this through the kindness of the publishers Solaris who gifted me a review copy through NetGalley and I requested it because it promised to shatter “our preconceptions about creativity and mental illness”.  Sadly I’m not sure it really does this.  It basically suggests that those that suffer hallucinations are actually travelling to other planes, not an original idea if we’re completely honest …! It’s also one that is a little unsophisticated.

The story itself is good, I did enjoy it. But if I’m completely honest I had very little idea what was actually going on most of the time! There were too many characters and their voices weren’t distinct enough. Their connection to the story was confusing for quite a long time too.

But the main character is interesting, and there are some gritty issues involved so it’s not a book that shies away from a challenge.

3 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.

Over The Tightrope by Asif Ismael

image1984 is long gone, but Pakistan in 2050 is living its own disturbing dystopia.

Ismaeel, a Pakistani-American graduate student, ran from there years ago. Leaving behind his ultra religious father and all that was expected of him. Now living in New York he can’t resist the opportunity to try the psychedelic ayahuasca. He hopes it will both sever him emotionally from his father and prove the dissertation he’s been writing – that there is no such thing as paradise and hell.

But his spirit journey brings him to a mysterious prophet who tells him he has to help them clean up a big mess. He must return to Pakistan, posing as a true believer to regain the trust of his estranged father – now a prominent extremist in the brutal regime that controls the country. Coming out of his trance he tries to deny his destiny, but circumstances conspire to convince him to meet it.

This story has hints of The Celestine Prophecy and The Alchemist but stirred through it are the stronger spices of Brave New World and 1984. There’s also a heavy pinch of humour reminding me of my favourite author Tom Robbins – particularly his Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. Honestly, seeing this on a menu would have me salivating! I prayed that the chef wouldn’t mess it up!

Luckily for me he didn’t. The writing was incredibly vivid and the story cracked on. It did have one slow patch very near the beginning of the book and for a few minutes I started to worry that it wouldn’t reach its potential. But in hindsight that slow patch was like the bit on a roller coaster when it’s straining to the top, as soon as it got there the story whooshed off and I read it in two days!

I liked that it forced me to question my own assumptions on what does and doesn’t constitute islamophobia. It also raised questions on the power of charisma and the power of family love.

The protagonist, Ismeel was a likeable and believable character. Not perfect thankfully and so I enjoyed his journey. Most of the other characters were well drawn even if they weren’t quite so vibrant. Tarzan is a terrific character too so look out for him. I would have liked to see at least one more female character, in a role that wasn’t a love interest. But although females in this particular vision of a Muslim dystopia are veiled figuratively as well as literally I was glad that the main female character Laila was quite sassy and took the lead in getting what she wanted.

This is a debut novel so I’m hoping the author keeps writing. I’ll definitely be back for more!

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 Tube Riders by Chris Ward

 

Click the picture to buy from Amazon
Click the picture to buy from Amazon

It is 2075 and Britain is now Mega Britain. Cut off from the rest of Europe and under the sole control of a man known only as the Governor. He rarely appears but rumours of his extraordinary powers keep the populace in check.

But teenagers must still blow off their frustrations so in the abandoned London Underground station of St. Cannerwells, a group of misfits calling themselves the Tube Riders meet regularly. They are a group of orphans, but together they are a family of sorts – Marta is their leader, a girl haunted by her brother’s disappearance. Paul lives only to protect his little brother Owen. Simon is trying to hold on to his relationship with Jess, daughter of a government official. Guarding them all is Switch, a young man with a flickering eye and a faster knife, who cares only about preserving their legend as they play their dangerous game with trains.

Everything changes the day they are attacked by a rival gang. While escaping, they witness an event that could bring war down on Mega Britain. Suddenly they are fleeing for their lives, pursued not only by their rivals, but by the brutal Department of Civil Affairs, government killing machines known as Huntsmen, and finally by the inhuman Governor himself.

Chris Ward has a good idea for a novel here and he executes it well to an extent. There is plenty of action with characters facing danger at every turn and surviving as much by luck as by skill. The characters are drawn well enough for us to care about them and their reactions are believable.

The only place this goes wrong is that the author tells the story from too many different points of view. His omniescent narration swoops down into pretty much every speaking role! Luckily he does this well enough for it not to be confusing but it does at times mean he’s doing too much telling and not enough showing. This would definitely have been better and even more compelling if he had limited the viewpoint to maybe three of the main characters or maximum five, not twelve.

A good read though – 3.5 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.