Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson

IMG_2625
The blurb for this book is brilliant so instead of trying to create a new and more accurate one for you as I usually do I’m just going to let you read the original…

Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past – with fatal consequences.

In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. And murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.” 

I had this on my kindle for an age before I finally got round to reading it. I’m not sure why exactly but I had a strong feeling Id enjoy it and I just wanted to wait until the ‘right’ time to read it! When I finally did start it I was both annoyed at myself for waiting so long and also a little bit smug that I still had it there to read.

As gothic mysteries go this is close to perfect. The writing is erudite and laced with regret, the villain so evil that reproach slides off him like slime down a sewer and the settings are darkened with soot and scented by sewers. The main characters are complex and all seem to have shameful secrets clipping their wings.

Yet even with it being as gothic mystery as a gothic mystery could be, it is not cliched. There is sympathy and understanding for the other characters and a sense of realism that makes the reader believe this could really have happened. It’s a very visual book too and would make a great film to watch in the autumn or winter with a crackling fire and a hot chocolate with a nip or two of something stronger in it!

Treat yourself!

Four Bites

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

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

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

the-watchmaker-of-filigree-street
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.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

imageIn Everfair Nisi Shawl has taken the real and horrific events of King Loepold’s colonisation of the Congo and spun them through the prism of ‘what if’.

She came up with an alternate history with overtones of steampunk. In this history the native population gained access to steam technology including Dirigibles by way of the Fabian Society. Their allies have also purchased land from Leopold and set up the state of  Everfair; a safe haven for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated. Together they fight back against Leopold’s disgusting murderous excesses to protect the land of Everfair.

That concept, that cover – I was sold. Then when I found out I’d be able to review this for Black History Month I was over the moon- I couldn’t wait to read it and share a glowing review stressing that black authors could write in any damn genre they wanted and do it well.

They can of course, but sadly this wasn’t the book to prove that. I just couldn’t get into it and I ended up putting it down twice and picking up other books before finally putting it down and giving up on it before I was half way through.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what was wrong with it, if indeed the fault was in the book not in me. I think in the end it came down to two things, the structure of the book wasn’t great – it should maybe have started later in the story and flashbacked more to establish characters motives etc. The other thing was that there were quite a lot of characters and I got confused between them – particularly the white characters so I was then unsure about motives and whether a particular character would do a certain thing only to eventually figure out I wasn’t reading about who I thought I was reading about!

Even though I didn’t finish this I don’t want to rate it too low. I have a feeling that if I pick it up again in another 6 months and have another bash at it I might finally get it and love it.

So for now – 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.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

imageThe next huge YA crossover book! Those adults that loved Philip Pullman’s writing and JK Rowling’s world creation will love this.

It opens with a quote from Dickens’s Dombey and Son: “Those who study the physical sciences, and bring them to bear upon the health of man, tell us that if the noxious particles that rise from vitiated air, were palpable to the sight, we should see them lowering in a dense black cloud above such haunts, and rolling slowly on to corrupt the better portions of a town. But if the moral pestilence that rises with them could be made discernible too, how terrible the revelation!”

This book, set in an alternative Victorian England takes that premise seriously. Here sin appears as smoke on the body and soot on the clothes. Children smoke furiously from birth and the ruling elite are sent to boarding school to learn to control their desires and contain their sin. They are spotless.

Thomas and Charlie attend such a school in Oxfordshire but then on a trip to London, a forbidden city shrouded in smoke and darkness, they witness an event that makes them question everything they have been told. There is more to the world of smoke, soot and ash than meets the eye and it seems there are those who will stop at nothing to protect it.

There are a lot of great Young Adult stories and many older adults read them too (you’re only as old as the books you read? 😉). But few of them have writing as good as this.  For the first few chapters I found myself stopping and re-reading many sentences, smiling to myself at the simple joy of language used well. But then I became too engrossed in the story and then the damn book went and finished!

I utterly recommend this, it’s got it all, plot, characters, ideas, adventure, love, passion and a great villain!

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.

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood

image It’s 1904 and Kitty Hayward is stranded on Coney Island after her mother vanishes. She’s alone, hungry, penniless, and far away from her native England.

She meets a con artist who convinces her to work a job with him in return for a decent food. Then he introduces her to the unusual cast of characters at Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, a museum of oddities. But it seems that even the unusually talented inhabitants of Magruder’s may not be a match for the plague that is creeping across Coney Island.

I was so intrigued by the blurb and the cover of this book that I requested it a full six months ahead of it being released. Then I practised incredible will power by not reading it for a further five months! I know! Not bad for a certified book addict!

When I finally started it though I was disappointed – there were a lot a characters being introduced pretty much all at once and even though they all have very strong personalities it was a little muddling.

However, by the time I was about quarter of the way in my confusion had settled down and I’d got the hang of who was who. The story line started to bed in too and from that point on I started to fall in love with it. So top tip – start this book on a day when you can settle down to read for an hour or two straight and you’ll probably avoid that confusion.

As well as Kitty and the con-man, there are some great characters in this book including the first officially gender-fluid character I have ever read, a black quadriplegic curator, a wealthy son of a businessman,  an Uzbeki mad scientist, a sentient machine, a boy who feeds fleas and many others. But the characters are all well-loved by the author, their faults and foibles treated with as much respect as their strengths and sympathies.

The storyline, once it gets going properly, has enough peril to stand on it’s own so it doesn’t get subsumed by the characters.

It’s hard to think of books that are similar to it, but if I had to I’d suggest that if you like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman or Ben Aaronovitch books but you also like The Winters Tale by Mark Helprin then you’ll love this!

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 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.