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.

Men by Marie Darrieussecq

imageI’d just read Heart of Darkness when I saw this book about a white french actress (Solange) who falls for  charismatic black Hollywood actor, Kouhouesso. Kouhouesso wants to move into directing and has a very ambitious project – a movie of Heart of Darkness to be filmed actually in the Congo.

Solange follows him to Africa, saying no to other roles offered to her in the hope of playing the female lead in the film but mainly because she’s pretty obsessed with him.

This is billed as a “witty examination of romance, movie-making and clichés about race relations.” And it’s written by an award winning writer known for being an intellectual, supporting left-wing politicians and having a thing or two to say feminism (both that she is one and that she couldn’t be further from being one!) I felt like I should be onto a winner with this.

But alas and woe is me and all those sad damsel-in-distress expressions, I was let-down! Deserted! Callously abandoned! Much like the actress in this book.

To be honest this left me deeply uncomfortable and as if the stain of it’s liberal racism was all over me. Because this book is racist. I’m sure it doesn’t mean to be, but it is. To begin with I can’t imagine an intelligent, well-connected black actor wanting to remake Heart of Darkness – a book that really doesn’t have any black characters. The only one with any dialogue in it says about 3 servile sentences and ends up dead pretty quickly. Considering that black actors and directors are still hugely under-represented in Hollywood it’s no surprise that any that are there are getting busy making amazing films like 12 Years A Slave.

Then there’s the female character. Well to be honest I’m not entirely sure I can even call her a character. She has a backstory at least – a son left with her parents many years ago so she can pursue her hollywood dream. But even though this dream was strong enough for her to abandon her child it isn’t strong enough to stop her dropping it instantly to moon around after a man she’s pretty sure doesn’t love her …! Her attempts to manage her first ‘real’ interracial relationship show just how racist middle-class France still is, the things she worries about are about as bizarre and objectifying as you can get. Though to give credit where it is due the book does highlight a couple of micro-aggressions so strongly that almost anyone could see how appalling they are.

The plot isn’t awful, just not good enough.

1 Bite

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 Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

cover78254-mediumIt was love at first sight – I saw a whole display of this book in Waterstones window and I knew I had to have it! Of course that first glimpse was all about me not the book … I was waiting to go on holiday to France by train and here was a book about reading on a train in France!

Guylain Vignolles lies to his mother about his life. She thinks he works in publishing but in fact he works at a book pulping factory, a hell for a man that loves reading. Every morning on the train he indulges his main pleasure in life . . . he reads aloud from pages he saved the previous day from the jaws of the monstrous pulping machine.

Then, as getting off the train one day he finds a USB stick with the diary of a lonely young woman, Julie. He falls in love with her words and so begins a new quest for him, to find her.

I saved this book to read on the train on the way back from the south of France – then I almost suffered a disaster when my iPad wouldn’t charge! Luckily it was a short read and I finished it just minutes before my iPad died! The credit for that goes to the author though, not for the length of the book but the vibrancy that kept me reading even though I’d had next to no sleep and I was in a rocking carriage!

Guylain seems a man who is barely living, yet he is a man of exquisite taste in people. His two best friends are two of the most intriguing people I’ve ever met in the pages of a book, and they define him absolutely. Then Julie’s diary begins and her way of thinking and use of language is quite beguiling.

This is a lovely read whether you are on holiday or on your weekday commute. It surprised me, I thought I’d enjoy it as an easy, uplifting  holiday read but the characters make it more than that.

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.

Summer at Skylark Farm by Heidi Swain

cover88547-mediumHonesty Alert! I got this book for the title – my best beloved older sister actually has a farm called Skylark Farm so it would have been rude not too! There was no blurb when I downloaded it so I only had the cover to go on – it looks pretty twee but sometimes we all need a bit of escapism so I thought I’d give it a go! I found a blurb for it online later – here it is and with no big surprises…

“Amber is a city girl at heart. So when her boyfriend Jake Somerville suggests they move to the countryside to help out at his family farm, she doesn’t quite know how to react. But work has been hectic and she needs a break so she decides to grasp the opportunity and make the best of it. Dreaming of organic orchards, paddling in streams and frolicking in fields, Amber packs up her things and moves to Skylark Farm. But life is not quite how she imagined – it’s cold and dirty and the farm buildings are dilapidated and crumbling. But Amber is determined to make the best of it and throws herself into farm life. But can she really fit in here? And can she and Jake stay together when they are so different? A story of love in the countryside from the author of the bestselling The Cherry Tree Café. Perfect for Escape to the Country dreamers, Cath Kidston fans and Country Living addicts!”

Regular readers of this blog will no that this definitely isn’t my usual cup of tea, nonetheless I quite enjoyed this. The writing isn’t brilliant – but it’s also not awful. The characters are fairly two-dimensional (especially Jake) but they’re likeable at least. There’s also a little more tension than the average romance – not just “will they / won’t they”

It hasn’t converted me to the genre, (and my sister’s farm is better – it has goats!) but it gave me a bit of light relief in a week when I couldn’t believe how horrible the world had become.

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.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

imageIt’s 1945, and Claire Randall and her husband Frank are on their second honeymoon in the Highlands of Scotland. Separated by war, during which time Claire served as a nurse and Frank worked in MI6, this is their opportunity to rediscover each other and truly start their married life. Frank, history professor and genealogist, is also using the trip to learn more about his heritage. His six- times-great-grandfather, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall was a captain of dragoons, stationed in the Highlands around the time of the Jacobite Rebellions.

During the festival of Beltane (Celtic May Day), Claire goes alone to the standing stones of Craigh na Dun to study some unusual plants she saw growing there. Claire touches the great stone at the centre of the circle, causing the stone to scream. Disorientated, she staggers towards it and when she wakes, she discovers she has been transported back to 1743.

Rescued from Frank’s less than chivalrous relative “Black Jack” by a clan of Highlanders, she is taken to Castle Leoch, where the chieftain Callum MacKenzie puts her to work as a healer, whilst trying to discover what a lone Englishwoman was doing in the Scottish countryside dressed only in her shift. Claire’s tale of a widow subjected to highway robbery while trying to get to France to see her family doesn’t wash, and Callum suspects her of being a spy.

And so, Claire must try to find a way home: to escape Castle Leoch and return to Craigh na Dun and therefore to the 20th Century and Frank. What she doesn’t count on is the growing feelings she has for Jamie Fraser, clansman to the MacKenzies, or the sadistic nature of Black Jack who also has questions about this unusual Englishwoman.

I have to admit that I got hooked on the TV version before I read this book (not something that happens very often), but this is one of the rare examples of a TV show that does its source material proud. If you are looking for perfect writing, it’s not for you. Fairly soon after Claire finds herself in 1743, she seems to have adjusted to it. There isn’t a lot of emotion in this part, certainly not much sense of panic or desperation. She mentions a need to get back to Frank a couple of times- it seems like lip service really. What really makes the book pop out is the characters. The relationship between Claire and Jamie develops wonderfully. Claire has just enough pig-headedness to stop her from being a complete Mary Jane, and Jamie is hot headed, brave and handsome. Black Jack has layers to his character which also keep him the correct side of stereotype.

This is a fun book. It’s not too serious. It’s long, but very easy to read. It’s twee in some places and predictable in others, but fun. I’ve already bought the next book in the series!

PS- You should totally watch the TV show!

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Vinegar Girl – The Taming of the Shrew Retold by Anne Tyler

cover90226-mediumKate Battista is stuck running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and flirtatious younger sister Bunny. Her forthright personality is always getting her in trouble at the nursery school she works at too. But at least she has the handsome Adam at school to distract her.

Her father has a pressing problem of his own – he’s on the verge of a scientific breakthrough that could help millions. But his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. So he decides to ask Kate to marry him and is baffled at her fury! The two men start a touchingly ridiculous campaign to win her round.

There’s been quite a trend for retelling classic stories over the last few years – The Austen project saw writers Val McDermid and Alexander McCall Smith re-writing Northanger Abbey and Emma respectively (amongst others). Now The Hogarth Press are retelling some of Shakespeare’s tales. Already retold this year is Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap in Time (based on A Winter’s Tale)  and a new version of The Merchant of Venice (Shylock is my Name by Howard Jacobson) The Tempest, retold by Margaret Atwood, should be forthcoming in September. Some of these have worked brilliantly – bringing a whole new side of the story to life, and some not so much.

This one starts really well, the setting makes sense and the characters are not only believable but different enough from other iterations of them to stop them feeling predictable.

Anne Tyler’s writing is sparky and I was half way through it before I knew it. I enjoyed the dynamics between the characters and watching their relationships develop. I have to say I was surprised by the ending, and it wasn’t completely to my liking but then authors don’t owe it to their readers to give them everything they want! I’d still recommend it – after all you might like the ending more than I did!

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 Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

9780349141077A.J. Fikry owns the only book shop on Alice Island and an extremely rare copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlane.

But neither of these is bringing him any joy since his wife died. Then one night, when he’s passed out drunk, Tamerlane is stolen.  Shortly after a baby is left in his shop with a note from the suicidal mother. A.J does the right thing and calls the police straight away, in a small place like Alice Island he sees the same officer he reported Tamerlane’s loss to. Before he knows it, and without quite knowing why,  A.J decides to adopt the baby and his life is turned inside out.

The story follows A.J and his daughter through her growing up in his bookshop – frankly for BookEaters like us this is a dream childhood! As the book spans so many years it could easily have lacked tension and become a little dull, but thereis a great cast of supporting characters and  several subplots within this that keep you turning the pages. It has a little romance, some family drama and of course the mystery of the missing copy of Tamerlane.

The writing is subtle, I barely noticed it. But for some stories that’s exactly what you need, it had enough strength and wit to carry the tale but it never pushed it out of the way to take centre-stage.

It’s not a life-changing read (except it might strengthen your dream to run away from it all and open your own bookshop on an island somewhere and if you then follow that dream it could be lifechanging!) But it is a very enjoyable 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.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

imageAnnie McDee is trying to get over her ex-husband, she met someone nice at an art gallery and against her better judgement she is cooking him dinner so he doesn’t have to spend his birthday alone. Whilst looking for a present for him she see’s an old painting in a dingy antique shop – she’s buys it on a whim not realising it is a missing masterpiece.

Before she knows what’s happening she is being swirled into the greedy, deceptive world of high art. But will Art seduce her or imprison her?

Newspaper reviews have called this ‘clever, funny, beguiling’ ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘totally delicious’. It’s also been shortlisted for The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. With all that you’d expect this book to be a cracker wouldn’t you? I did, hence me parting with my hard earned cash to get me a copy (okay so I used a book token in Waterstones and technically I only paid £6 for 4 books but that’s just nitpicking!)

So is it the worth my £1.50 and all those accolades? Honestly? No.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, definitely worth £1.50 … But all those accolades? Shortlisted for the Bailey’s prize? Absolutely not. But what’s worse is that it could have been far better. It just needs a really good edit. For a start the prologue needs to be cut – that was so bad I almost didn’t bother reading on, if you get this book then do yourself a favour and skip those 19 pages. It could also do with losing around another hundred pages. This story is told by far too many perspectives, although Hannah Rothschild is a talented character writer. Personally I would cull the ‘voice’ of the painting for a start. It adds no information of value and is quite frankly annoying.

There are some very appealing characters in here though, and the story is entertaining even if it’s a little farcical. There’s a little bit of everything in it, love, pathos, greed, poverty, riches beyond your wildest imaginings and the power of art. It’s been compared to Wodehouse which is maybe a little over-generous but it is amusing.

Overall I’d have to award it 3 Bites, it’s good, just not brilliant.

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.

Sleeping With your Best Friend – Rosa Temple

rtwriter_cover2I’m not sure what to make of this novella, if I’m honest. It’s the kind of book that is pleasant enough to read but didn’t really make me think, and in all honesty – I think I could have predicted the ending by the start of chapter three.

The story is told from the point of view of Lori, whose best friend Julia has been by her side since they were both five years old. They have never once fallen out in all that time, despite going to the same university, living together and double dating two best friends. All very cosy.

Things start to unravel when Lori and Sam are about to get married. Julia is, of course, her bridesmaid, although things are a bit awkward as she’s just split up from Matt, the best man. Are you following? Anyway, it all gets too much for Julia who decides to leave the country a week before the wedding and start a new job, as you do, and can’t make it back for the wedding at all, let alone to be a bridesmaid. Lori is upset but the wedding goes ahead and then a shocking revelation made by Sam on the honeymoon sets in motion a chain of events that are, well, in all honesty entirely predictable.

Lori finds out why her best friend left the country, returns to get her own back and the resulting mess is comedic in places, well written, but just not that believable or engaging. Bed-hopping and revenge are written in the blurb so it’s fair to tell you that of course Lori ends up sleeping with someone she shouldn’t. But the way it happened just left me cold; I don’t know, it just felt odd to me.

The resolution to the story was just as I expected (perhaps Rosa should change the title?) and I had been expecting a plot twist to knock my expectations off balance a bit but there really wasn’t one.

I have to say that I did like Rosa’s writing style, it’s upbeat, humorous and above all for a self-published novel she’s taken great care to get it properly edited. The idea is good and with a bit of suspense, a plot twist or maybe a bit more character development it could have been really good. 

As it is, I’ll give it 2.5 bites.

Sarah Clark
I have been reading since the age of four and before I was 11 I’d managed to wangle an adult library membership so that I could take six books out at a time.
I love chick lit, thrillers, biographies and historical novels, and the books that have inspired me the most are The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Me Before You….
I’ve even written a novel myself, called Viva Voluptuous, and joined the Book Eaters to give me a legitimate excuse for reading even more.