Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

cover92853-mediumEverybody knows the story of Anna and the King of Siam – or at least they think they do. Way back in 1956 20th Century Fox released their musical based on this book and the world fell in love with Anna Leonowens and her almost love affair with the King of Siam – a man that seemed to respect her intelligence but remained would still happily have bedded the beautiful teache if she hadn’t been pining still for the memory of her husband.

I loved “The King and I”, and still do. I also loved the 1999 dramatisation of it “Anna and the King” which starred Jodie Foster and was more focussed on the social and political aspects rather than just the beautiful woman wearing beautiful dresses against a beautiful backdrop.

But neither come close to the book. First released in 1944, Margaret Landon used a memoir written by Anna Leonowens and fashioned them into a compelling narrative of her time in Siam. Anna Leonowens was used to life abroad, but in 1862  travelling into a country that was not part of the British Empire was incredibly risky. Still, as a widow she needed to earn money to support her children, young Lois who stays with her, and her daughter Avis, sent back home to a boarding school.

Leonowens considered herself a modern woman, a woman of science. As such she often found herself in opposition to the traditions of Imperial rule and Court life. She found slavery particularly abhorrent and wasn’t overly keen on how women were treated either. Throughout her career there she fought oppression at every turn, even when her household was attacked and her life and that of her young son endangered.

Throughout all of this though there is also a tremendous appeciation of Siam and a love for her friends there, including the King and many of his wives. A wisdom seeps through the pages and a resilience. She always knew she could never win every battle but she fights on anyway without getting too depressed or angered by those she loses. This grace is a trait which helped her and her causes enormously.

There are some moments when the narrative’s dramatic tension dips, and I have to admit I there are times when the constant attitude of the East learning from the West got on my nerves a little, I’d love to read Prince Chulalongkorn’s version of events. Was it Anna Leonowenss’ influence on the young prince that led him to abolish slavery in Siam and introduce democratic reform, or was it influence from somewhere else? Although having said that, even if he wasn’t as influenced by her and the West as is implied, Anna Leonowens is still a legendary feminist figure and I would encourage everyone to read 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 Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Bites

 

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

The Spire by William Golding

UnknownHere is a novel that illumes the Dark Ages like no other. It doesn’t bathe the whole era in light, instead a single beam lands on Dean Jocelin, a man with a vision, and through him it shows all the passion and human folly that has always been in the world.

Dean Jocelin is convinced that he has been called upon by God to show his greatness and inspire his humble flock. He will do this by building a great spire on his cathedral regardless of the fact that his master builder advises against it as the cathedral was built without foundations. For Dean Jocelin the odds being stacked against it will prove God’s greatness. As the spire rises so does the tension until everyone is at breaking point.

William Golding is best known for Lord of the Flies, a classic that thousands of school children read every year at school. I’ve never read it, I’ve heard so much about it that I’ve never felt the need. Until now. Golding’s writing is exquisite. He is a true master of literature and there wasn’t a single thing about this book that I didn’t love. The characterisation is superb, I listened to this as an Audiobook read by Benedict Cumberbatch and he portrayed them all brilliantly- maybe in the case of Jocelin a little too brilliantly!

But his characterisation are not the only star of this book, the descriptions of the settings are phenomenal too. In the blurb for this book it is described as “a dark and powerful portrait of one man’s will, and the folly that he creates” and although it is powerful I have to take issue with the word dark. This book exposes darkness but it does so with light, and the darkness is in the shadows of buildings and people.

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.

Roots by Alex Haley

haley_rootsWhen I was a child Roots was a cultural phenomenon. It spent 22 weeks at the top of The New York Times Best Seller List and was made into a TV series that EVERYBODY watched. It changed people.

But as I was only little I only got to hear about it and see snatches when I’d sneak downstairs for a drink, which would be a lot when it was on!

But it was published 40 years ago this year. Has it stood the test of time and does it still have something important to say?

It follows the story of Kunte Kinte from his birth in a small village in The Gambia through to his kidnapping and being taken as a slave to America. We stay right with him as he tries to understand the land he’s been taken to and as he attempts to escape. We continue to follow him as he slowly, begrudgingly settles into slave row and eventually finds love and even has a child of his own.  The book continues to trace the lives of his descendents for the next six generations.

Now this makes it sound like it’s a HUMUNGOUS book, I mean it’s got to be longer and more confusing than war and peace right? Wrong. It is long, coming in at just over 800 pages, admittedly with very tiny writing, but the story is very clear and totally absorbing. We stay with Kunte Kinte (and his family) for around half the book then spend a good couple of hundred pages with his grandson Chicken George (and family), before continuing down the family line.

This book is both incredbibly harrowing and very uplifting. It’s definitely still worth the time to read, I felt I’d learned quite a lot of truths about the facts and horrors of slavery after reading it. It reminded me that the slave trade and indeed racism in America today isn’t just an American problem, us Brits might have abolished slavery more than 30 years before they did but the people that bought the majority of the slaves to America and set up the practice were the English.  That being so it is encumbent on us to do more to help eradicate it, both in the U.S and here. If all you do to help is get a better understanding that’s still something and I would strongly recommend this book for that.

It also reminded me that the African’s that were stolen were not the savages that they were beclaimed to be then, in fact their civilisation was just as valid as our own, a large amount of them were muslim and although the society Kunte Kinte came from had a version of slavery it was nothing like the brutal slavery that was inflicted on them. There ‘slaves’ were better off and more respected than most English peasants in fact. Their society also held women and men in very different roles and would definitely be considered sexist by todays standards, however, when compared to the staatus of women in western society at the same time they certainly weren’t worse off.

Which brings me neatly to my only criticism of the book, which is that although the author clearly respects women immensely, they didn’t get much of the spotlight in this book. Kunte Kinte had female as well as male descendents but the men get a lot more ‘column inches’ than the women.

Overall though, not to be missed!

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.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

cover87393-mediumWoman on the Edge of Time was first published 40-years ago, it became a classic, painting a picture of two possible futures and how even the most downtrodden could fight for the happier one. Connie Ramos, a Mexican American woman living in New York. Connie was once ambitious and determined, she started college, but then she had her dignity, her husband, and her child stolen. Finally they want to take her sanity – but does she still have it to steal?

Connie has recently been contacted by an envoy from the year 2137 who introduces her to a time where men and women are equal, the words he and she are obsolete having been replaced by the word per (short for person). All forms of sexuality are celebrated as are all racial genetics. It isn’t quite a perfect world, there are minor jealousies and tensions between lovers and a war still being fought on the outer boundaries, but to Connie it’s a revelation. Now she’s been unjustly committed to a mental institution, and they’re putting electrodes into her brain, when she tries to reach the future next it’s entirely different, a horrific place for women to live. Does Connie hold they key to which becomes our future and if so does she have the strength to turn it?

Today Ebury Publishing have released a 40th anniversary addition, a new generation get to meet Connie. I have to applaud them, they’re having a great month for feminist literature, just a couple of weeks ago they also released Shappi Khorshandi’s Nina is Not Ok and now this!

To my shame I missed this first time round, I don’t know how, I’ve read a lot of feminist literature but this passed me by. I’m so glad to have read it. I have to admit that when I first started it I was in a dark place and the first few pages with their bleak portrait of exploitation was more than I could take. I had to set it aside for a couple of weeks. If I’d known where it was going I wouldn’t have, just a few pages later it blossomed and it would have lifted me right out of the funk I was in.

I can’t express how much I loved this book – it’s definitely one I’ll re-read and one I want passionately for you to read too. This isn’t just a ‘feminist book’, it’s also a brilliantly written sci-fi classic. It’s interesting to read this with fresh eyes in 2016, still over a hundred years away from the two possible predicted futures, and see our progress towards them. When Marge Piercy wrote this the idea of wearing computers as watches or using gender neutral pronouns was pie-in-the-sky as was the thought of the majority of women having plastic surgery. Reading it now it seems like it could’ve been written just yesterday. We’ve still all got choices to make – which future will you fight for?

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.

Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

UnknownHeart of Darkness is the tale of Marlow and his journey up the Congo River where he  meets  Kurtz, a man reputed to have great abilities. He tells of seeing natives enslaved and describes the contrast between the impassive and majestic jungle with the cruel industry of the  white man’s tiny settlements.

The Russian claims that Kurtz has enlarged his mind and cannot be subjected to the same moral judgments as normal people. Apparently, Kurtz has established himself as a god with the natives and they appear to obey his commands.

Marlow listens to Kurtz talk while he pilots the ship, and Kurtz entrusts Marlow with a packet of personal documents, including an eloquent pamphlet on civilizing the savages which ends with a scrawled message that says, “Exterminate all the brutes!” Kurtz then dies, and Marlow determines to see his fiancée. She still idolises him so Arlow lies to spare her feelings telling her Kurtz’s last words were her name when really they were “The horror! The horror!” Eventually he returns to Europe and goes to see Kurtz’s  fiancée.

Reviewing this book at this time is really hard for me. I could talk about the writing, the lush descriptions, or the historical context and why this book was important then, but none of that feels right.

Because as I write this black men and women are dying at white hands just as they are in this book. And, just as in this book, their voices and faces are passed over, they don’t seem to count for anything. So much so that when I typed the first sentence of this paragraph the w of white autocorrected to a capital but the b of black hadn’t.

I felt uncomfortable reading this book so I think you should read it too. Notice if you will, just how much black lives don’t matter in this story. Remember Britain’s role in the slave trade. And see why the movement and hashtag #BlackLivesMatter really does matter. And please, if you’re white never try to say ‘but all lives matter’ because white lives have and still do matter – they don’t need a hashtag or a movement. Black lives do.

 

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.

Nimisha’s Ship by Anne McCaffrey

I was watching Interstellar the other day and two things came to mind. Firstly, everybody should watch this film; it’s brilliant and dramatic and intense and amazing. Secondly, Nimisha’s Ship by Anne McCaffrey. That’s very random, I hear you cry but bear with me because there is a very good link.

NimIn Interstellar, the central premise is that a wormhole has opened up near Saturn and habitable planets are being scouted as a solution to Earth’s growing environmental crisis. In Nimisha’s Ship, the main character is ensnared by a wormhole and later discovers habitable worlds…. So a bit the same! At least enough that after having watched Interstellar I had the urge to reread Nimisha’s Ship!

Nimisha Boynton-Rondymense is one of the First Families of Vega- an elite social class with wealth and respect. Her father allows her to assist him in the design of his space ships at the Rondymense Ship Yard which supplies, amongst others, the Vega military. After his untimely death, she takes over the running of the yard, and his quest for the perfect space-going yacht. When she is satisfied with her design she takes it on a test run… straight into the maw of a wormhole and through to the other side of the galaxy. Bummer.

All is not lost though as her superior vessel makes it through relatively undamaged and there are three habitable planets within a convenient distance of the wormhole exit. Nimisha sets off to explore and discovers company- survivors of a previous wormhole victim. Hooray!

Back on Vega, however, Nimisha’s half brother is using her disappearance as a way of regaining control of the lucrative ship yard and will stop at nothing to achieve his nefarious goal… including harming Nimisha’s eleven year old daughter. Bummer.

This is the second Anne McCaffrey I have reviewed for TBT and the reason is simple- I read A LOT of her books growing up, and I read them repeatedly. It’s been interesting however rereading them after time has passed and having a new perspective on them. When I was younger, I adored Nimisha’s Ship. I thought it was exciting, adventurous and very much wanted to experience the same things Nimisha and her friends were. I was gutted that McCaffrey hadn’t written a sequel but was always hopeful that she would.

Rereading it now, I still very much enjoyed it but viewed it with a more critical eye- it’s an enjoyable book. It’s adventurous, it has interesting characters and I still wish there was a sequel. I’m aware now though that, with McCaffrey’s demise in 2011, this is a hopeless wish, as, frankly, the less said about McCaffrey’s chosen successor, her son Todd, the better.
Nimisha’s Ship has its faults- there is no real antagonist throughout the book, and Nimisha herself is charmed with many good qualities but not any flaws that would make her a more realistic character. She overcomes obstacles with an ease that makes any tension in the book dissipate rapidly. Her daughter’s character suffers from this too- everybody loves her, and she’s good at everything etc.
McCaffrey though is a master world-builder, and the world she has created in Nimisha’s ship is no exception. The background details, the hints at unusual cultures, the far reaching scope all help to overcome the flaws and make Nimisha’s Ship a very good read.

A book for entertainment purposes, not too taxing but transports you to another world. 3.5 bites.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Hallucinating Foucault by Patricia Duncker

Click to buy from Amazon or support your local bookshop by buying it from them.
Click to buy from Amazon or support your local bookshop by buying it from them.

This was lent to me by a friend, she said I had to read it, that I would love it. No pressure!

It tells the story of a postgraduate student, he’s writing his thesis on the work of the famed writer and once ‘infant terrible’ Paul Michel. He is also falling in love with a fellow student who is studying Schiller’s work with an inspiringly singular intensity.

His girlfriend convinces him that if he really cares about Paul Michel, he should rescue him from the insane asylum he has been interred in since vandalising a graveyard the week after his hero Foucault’s death. 

Although hesitant at first, eventually he is persuaded and sets off to France in search of him. He first finds the authors letters to Foucault and discovers just how deeply he loved the philosopher. Is this what drove him mad? 

This book made me feel intelligent, ignorant and nostalgic all at the same time.

I felt ignorant because I have never read Foucault and hadn’t heard of Paul Michel. He and his books were written so vividly that I felt sure he must be a real author. 

I felt intelligent because regardless of my ignorance, this story carried me along effortlessly. It’s written in the first person and it felt like the author was relating his tale to me, a respected friend. The fact that this book was recommended to me by a friend whose intelligence I respect boosted that feeling I’m sure.

The nostalgia was a weird feeling though. It really felt like I was reliving a portion of my own life. Possibly because it is set in 1993, when I could have been writing my own thesis if I had only bothered to go to Uni! 

But as high brow as this book sounds it is never stiff or formal. It also isn’t really about Foucault or great literature. It’s about the meeting of minds, love and madness. Three sides that create a real love triangle.

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.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee

AsIWalkedOut
As it’s a classic you should easily be able to grab a copy of this from your local independent bookshop. But you can always click the pic to grab a copy from Amazon.
Back in 1934 Laurie Lee decided it was time to leave home and make his own way in the world. He was just 19 and did this the way many 19 year olds of today do – on a whim.

But England then was very different and instead of catching a train or jetting off on a gap year, Laurie slings a change of clothes and his beloved violin in a bag and sets off to London on foot.

It’s summer, and he is in no hurry, surviving off the charity of strangers, coins from playing his violin and the bounty of the land, he paints such a gorgeous picture of pastural England that you’ll need to lock your door before you start reading else you might set off yourself!

Once in London he makes a living labouring and playing the violin, but his ambition to write is keen and he befriends a couple of young poets and even manages to get one of his own poems published.

But soon the tug of the world is too strong to ignore, he knows the Spanish phrase for ‘Will you please give me a glass of water?’ and on the strength of this decides to heads for Spain. Landing at Vigo in the north he starts travelling South. Slowly learning the land and the language but quickly learning that the country is headed for a civil war.

The language in this book is beautiful. I was in love from the very first sentence; “The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world.” I’d never read Laurie Lee before but I knew I was in the hands of a true word-smith.

And the language is what kept me reading, it is so beautiful and evocative that I’m seriously considering painting passages from it all over my writing nook to inspire me – if you’re a writer you need to read this mans words.

However as a memoir of such an enthralling part of European history I felt it could have used a little work. True it’s an honest memoir of his experiences but a little less focus on his views whilst travelling and a little more focus on the lives of those he met would have improved this immensely.

He was a young man it’s true, and when young we often suffer from seeing only with our own eyes, but I felt as if he didn’t grow up at all throughout the whole book. In fact it was only when he returned home that his life in Spain and the reality of what was happening there seemed to hit him at all.

The epilogue, where he tries to get back to Spain to help, has convinced me to read the final instalment in his auto-biography when I get the chance, and the language in this book means I’ll certainly be re-reading it so it is still very deserving of ….

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 Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

The Snow GooseIn 1940 between May 27th and June 4th a remarkable story of heroism and humanity unfolded on the beaches of Dunkirk. Hundreds of thousands of Allied troops were trapped against the sea, pinned between the English Channel and the German Army with little hope of rescue. The shallow, sloping beaches did not allow for access by the bigger boats to enable mass evacuation and although the stranded troops could be seen they could not be reached. Fishermen and yachtsmen from harbours and estuaries along the coast of England set out in many types of small boat to act as ferries between the beaches and the transport ships waiting to take the troops to safety. In one week over 330,000 troops were rescued and many tales of selfless heroism were told.

Philip Rhayadar, a small, stocky artist with a hunched back and a claw hand, has settled into an abandoned and redundant lighthouse. Here, safe from the judgemental assumptions and rejections of others, he paints the beauty he sees all around him. His works are “masterpieces, filled with the glow and colours of marsh-reflected light… the loneliness and the smell of the salt-laden cold, the eternity and agelessness of marshes, the wild, living creatures, dawn flights, and frightened things taking to the air and winged shadows at night hiding from the moon.”  Philip harbours no bitterness towards a society from which he feels excluded and he finds respite from the loneliness by caring for the exhausted and hungry birds that flock to the marshes in the winter. One day a young girl arrives bearing an injured snow goose and, overcoming her fear of the ogre that local legend makes Philip out to be, she and Philip work together to heal the bird and, in doing so forge a lasting link. This link draws her back to the lighthouse each winter with the seasonal return of the snow goose. Several years pass and Fritha becomes a young woman, but war has arrived and everything is changing, including how Philip and Fritha see each other. But their time has run out and Philip has set his heart on sailing his little boat across the channel. He is answering the call to save the men who are “huddled on the beaches like hunted birds, Frith, like the wounded and hunted birds we used to find and bring to sanctuary”. Their farewell has been criticised for its sentimentality and the fairytale transformation of how they each view the other, yet to me, there is still a touching poignancy with all that is suddenly realised left unsaid.

Like many people I was introduced to The Snow Goose as a child. I had no concept of where Dunkirk was nor what 330,000 troops would look like, but the story captivated me. My father gave me the book and told me it was a war story about the rescue of many, many men, so when I opened the cover and started reading about the wild solitude of the Essex coast I was convinced he had made a mistake. My 1953 copy has just 25 pages yet the story is neither hurried, nor lacking in description and the account of the actual rescue is related in snippets barely totalling five pages. The prose encapsulates the barren, forlorn and eerie atmosphere of the marshes in winter, where the only sounds come from the wild birds and the rushing wind. Dialogue is minimal until we come to the tales of the rescue, these are then related in a simple fashion and with little preamble, by conversations between a Rifleman and an artilleryman, and a pair of officers. The change in tone from the earlier prose reinforces the shocking contrast between Philip’s almost hermit-like retreat and the scenes on the war-torn beaches. Before you have time to realise it the story ends, the cycle of loss and redemption and loss again has completed another circuit and the loop is tied off.

I love this story, it is so short that I can devour it between dessert and coffee, but it is lodged in my heart. No matter how many times I read it I will still want to read it again, and I will still be giving it the perfect 5.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

Clickity click for Amazon or pop along to your local library of indie book shop
Clickity click for Amazon or pop along to your local library of indie book shop
Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher is a big fat book. Huge. Gargantuan. Colossal. Behemothic. Leviathan. Cyclopean. Titanic.

Sorry, I got slightly carried away by all the exciting synonyms for huge but you have to admit that, at 1040 pages in paperback, it’s not a one-hander! In fact, it’s one of the books I have on my book shelf but also on my ereader because of its size. Well, I say it’s because of its size but in truth, it’s also because I can’t actually pick up the physical book any more without the binding falling even further apart, and random pages falling out!

Safe to say, this is one of my most read and most loved books. I read it when I’m happy. I read it when I’m sad. I read it when I am stressed or when I want to shut the world out. I read it every summer holidays and every Christmas holidays. I read it on planes, trains but not automobiles. If I don’t have time to read it all, I just put a random page number into my ereader and start from there- there’s no need to remind myself of the story, I already know it.

Coming Home, for me, is emotional perfection.

Which doesn’t blind me to the fact that, actually, it’s a book with a few flaws despite its emotional heart.

Set initially in Cornwall in the 1930s, it follows the story of Judith Dunbar who,  when her mother and little sister return to the Far East to be with Judith’s father, is sent to a boarding school in Penzance. Whilst at school Judith meets Loveday Carey-Lewis, youngest and most pampered daughter of a rich Cornish landowner who takes her home to Nancherrow. The characters are many and varied, and are, in the main, well rounded and relateable. Judith, however, could do with more growth and more openness in how she is written- by the end of the book, I don’t feel I know her any better than at the beginning. This doesn’t prevent me connecting with the book, in fact I wonder if it facilitates it by virtue of allowing me to put myself in her place. I see a lot of my friends and family in Pilcher’s characters and, frankly, could easily imagine my life being Judith Dunbar’s if I had been born in a different year!
The story continues into the war years, and the book does suffer somewhat from the rose-tinted spectacle approach but is still accurate enough to satisfy the historian! In fact, that’s one of the reasons I love it so much. It gives all sorts of little tidbits about the war which turn out to be wholly accurate and real (Yes, I have checked the more obscure ones!), and the Naval parlance is also accurate.

I didn’t actually live in Cornwall when I first read this book but now that I do, it just increases my enjoyment of reading it- I know all of these places!! Even the ones she makes up a name for! (Porthkerris? Yes, ok if you insist!) Pilcher grew up here in Cornwall and her love for the county shines through her wonderfully evocative descriptions. She makes Cornwall sound amazing all year round- although I do question the number of magical summer days with no rain they seem to have!

This certainly isn’t high literature but that isn’t why I read it. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to be whisked away for a few hours (actually many hours).

5 bites (but really 4 if I’m being more objective about it)

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Vacillations of Poppy Carew by Mary Wesley

Click for Amazon or rummage in a book shop!
Click for Amazon or rummage in a book shop!
Mary Wesley CBE (1912-2002) was 71 before she wrote for adults and in the last 20 years of her life she published 10 bestsellers. Drawing upon the social upheaval and revolution in sexual mores that arose between the 1930s and 1960s her books are a delightful glimpse at the idiosyncrasies and values of the English upper class. Written with an economical but wry touch she focuses on mannerisms and style rather than in-depth character development and she neatly ridicules values and assumptions as old and new worlds collide. Often employing stereotypes in order to make a point, Wesley sets them up like skittles as she reveals them for what they are.

Poppy is presented to us numb with grief and shock from the revelation that her beastly, long-term boyfriend Edmund, has dumped her for another woman. In the midst of this turmoil she rushes off to see her terminally ill father, only to have him laugh himself to death with relief at her news. Bruised, confused and hurting Poppy moves into her father’s house to make funeral arrangements and promptly discovers that there was a great deal more to her dad than she ever knew and that she is now most comfortably provided for. Following her father’s last wishes she ignores convention and arranges for a full rococo funeral with horse hearse, mutes, plumes and trappings, and thus opens the door to a remarkable array of people, who all go to great lengths to avoid being honest about their feelings for each other.

Among this panoply of characters is a pig farmer with a soft heart, a novelist with writer’s block, an elegant, elderly beauty and several members of the landed gentry and horse-racing community. As the funeral wake warms up, the evil Edmund and his fiancée, Venetia arrive. Edmund is already finding that his new inamorata has more backbone than he does and that it is highly unlikely that he will be the one wearing the trousers as their relationship develops. Seeing an opportunity to return to more comfortable ground he whisks Poppy into his car and almost before she knows it he has her on a flight abroad with him. His job is to negotiate with the Minister in charge of the Government run tourist board in a minor and politically volatile un-named North African country. Here Wesley displays her wit to great effect as she imbues Edmund with the stereotypical traits of a public school twit and sets him in an alien culture where he mistakenly believes himself to be in a position of influence. Meanwhile the love struck pig farmer is in hot pursuit of them having lost his heart to the fair Poppy as she stood by her father’s coffin, the blocked writer is rethinking his literary plan to bump off his erstwhile wife, and the Right Honourable undertaker is having difficulties with his stablegirls.

I read this in 1986 and have revisited it several times. Light and wittily observant it is refreshing to laugh at the characters’ predicaments and to be entertained by their flaws, mannerisms and actions. There is no manipulation of our emotions, no need for us to bond with these characters or to fret over their woes and yet each character is just likeable enough to make the various outcomes a satisfactory resolution.

A 4 bite snack.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Time Machine by H G Wells

This classic work should be easy to find in your local independent book shop.
This classic work should be easy to find in your local independent book shop.
One evening, our narrator attends a dinner party hosted by an acquaintance with a scientific obsession. He wishes to prove that time is a dimension and that it can be travelled through. The evening is full of spirited scientific discussion and culminates with the host showing his guests a model of a time machine he has constructed. When he turns the lever the “Time Machine” disappears. It has travelled in time the host announces.

The next week our narrator returns for another dinner party. But to his guests consternation, the host is not there, but he has left a note inviting his guests to start eating and promising his imminent return. Is he travelling through time? 

True to his note he soon returns, but he is dirty and disheveled and insisting on eating and bathing before telling them the story of his unbelievable journey through time.  

This tiny 1895 novella had a huge impact. With it, H.G. Wells invented the time traveling genre! And hugely strengthened the dystopian genre which at that time only had a handful of novels to recommend it. 

He used it not only to inspire the imaginations of his readers but also to provoke their intellects. Not so much to get them all working on building time machines of their own but more to make them think about the society they were living in and what might become of it.  His tale is a clear warning that inequality and the abuse of the poor would end with them rising up over a physically weak aristocracy. A warning that still hasn’t been heeded!

Regardless of its social message it is still a fantastic story. It cracks along at a heck of a pace and the scene setting is utterly believable. The characters though are a little thin, but not so much that it hampers the readers enjoyment.

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.

Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell

Lord of The Silver Bow
Click here to get a copy from Amazon.

If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this book which is the first in a trilogy by David Gemmell. It is set in Ancient Greece and Asia Minor (now Turkey) during the build up to The Trojan War. The story follows the fortunes of a young boy called Xander who, on his first time aboard a boat, gets caught up in the most dramatic story of Ancient times.

Through Xander’s eyes we can marvel at the golden city of Troy and are introduced to our main characters: Helikaon, Argurios and the Lady Andromache. All three are paragons of virtue, courage and honour, but they have their faults and weaknesses, being all the more likeable for it.

In this book, Xander is very naïve, tossed on the currents of life as well as literally tossed on the currents of the sea. He doesn’t play a huge role in the rest of the trilogy but he bookends the tale, again taking a lead role in the final chapters of Fall of Kings and, in his small way, he shows more courage and heroism than most of the leading characters.

These books are my favourites of anything I have ever read. This first one is now lovingly bandaged with sellotape as I’ve read it so often. I adore the settings and the drama but what draws me back again and again is the characterisation and the emotion which comes as a result. Still, I have to read chapter thirty-five through a blur of tears.

Through Gemmell’s writing, within the space of a couple of lines, I have felt a strong empathy with a murderous pirate, a greedy merchant and a deadly assassin as well as the more likeable characters.

One of my favourite characters is Odysseus. In traditional Greek tales he is a handsome God-like hero. This Odysseus is overweight and extremely ugly. He is, however, a wonderful story-teller and through his tales we learn how he created his own myth as well as providing much of the supernatural mythology of Ancient Greece.

Owing to its huge cast, I found myself getting a bit confused the first time I read this, particularly in the first few chapters. If that happens to you, please persevere, then hopefully you’ll come to love this wonderful series as much as me.

A no brainer – five bites. Or am I allowed to give it six?

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Restoree by Anne McCaffrey

restoree
Click through to Amazon, or pop in to your local library
Restoree is the tale of Sara, a  girl escaping the drudgery of country life in order to study in New York, who gets swept up in a mass alien abduction by a race intent on, essentially, restocking their larder. She witnesses all sorts of horrific sights in what amounts to a human abattoir which sends her into deep shock. When she recovers her sense of self, she finds herself on what she knows to be an alien (albeit populated with very human humanoid aliens) world in a skin that is not the one she remembers. She is one of a number of pretty female attendants in a strange asylum whose job it is to care for catatonically insane men. She quickly realises that her charge, a man named Harlan, has been drugged into this state and uses her wits to free him. Harlan was the Regent for the underage Warlord (and also his nephew) of the planet, Lothar, which is frequently attacked by the same aliens who kidnapped Sara- the Mil. What follows is a race to have Harlan restored as Regent in order to save the Warlord and Lothar from the machinations and greed of the usurper before his actions destroy them all.

This was Anne McCaffrey’s first book, first published in 1967, and it is well known amongst McCaffrey fans that she intended the book as a ‘jab’ against the way women were portrayed in 1960s sci-fi.

I have read this, and many other McCaffrey books many many times. My mother first introduced me to Anne McCaffrey when I was around 11 or 12 and Restoree has always been one of my favourites. It has a good premise, is an easy well-paced read, has elements of sci-fi, adventure, romance, horror and definitely fulfils the notion of a book taking you away to somewhere new. For the younger me it was exciting and adventurous; the main character had been almost as bookish as I was and yet she ended up having an incredible adventure and was an active participant in a world- changing event! It was pure escapist fun, and had the added bonus of clearly being an example of a strong independent heroine- Anne McCaffrey had said so.

Which is where it falls down a bit upon rereading as an older and wiser 30-something. McCaffrey may have meant the book to be an indictment on the portrayal on women in science fiction as passive swooning crying bystanders to the action but actually, that’s kind of what Sara is. Yes, she uses her wits to free Harlan from his drugs, she sails and runs with him, she provides valuable information and is a key part of the political manoeuvres that follow, but digging a little deeper, her character is an example of the very thing McCaffrey was trying to protest against and she does actually swoon quite a lot! As the story continues, she becomes increasingly passive and spends a lot of time being reassured, patronised and used as a political tool by the men in the story. The only other female character of note is also conspicuous in her lack of real contribution to the story.  Lothar is a society where women are ‘claimed’ and all the important political and military decisions are made by men. Women aren’t even considered for anything outside of traditional occupations, looking pretty and bearing children for the good of Lothar.

So, older me is slightly disappointed. Yes, it’s still adventurous, and yes, I would still dearly have loved there to be a sequel, and yes, it’s still a pretty decent read… but it isn’t what it claims to be.

Younger me gives Restoree an emphatic 5 bites and wants it to remain on record as one of her favourite books, opening the doors to more and more sci-fi reading.

Older me gives Restoree 2.5 bites and despairs ever so slightly at how women were viewed in the 1960s.

I think averages out to 3.75 bites which is a little too specific! So….

3.5 bites

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Click for Amazon, although being a TBT, there will be lots of copies in second hand bookshops and libraries
Click for Amazon, although being a TBT, there will be lots of copies in second hand bookshops and libraries

I briefly mentioned this book in my last ‘what are we reading’ post at the beginning of February. It is the first in the Amelia Peabody mystery series… I’m now reading the fifth which should give you some indication of how this review is going to pan out!
As I previously mentioned, Amelia Peabody is a Victorian era self-proclaimed spinster who has the good fortune to be pretty wealthy. This means she can pick and choose the strict social conventions of the time that she will pay heed to and is considered merely eccentric rather than scandalous; it also means she can up sticks and travel to Egypt to indulge in her fascination of Egyptology. She travels via Rome where she meets Evelyn, a young woman who has been led astray by a nefarious man and is therefore a social outcast and ruined forever and ever. Amelia doesn’t give two figs about this particular social convention and so hires Evelyn to be her companion (not so much for the chaperonage but more for the actual company).
When the two ladies get to Egypt they briefly meet the Emerson brothers, Radcliffe and Walter. Walter’s a bit wimpy but dreadfully clever and lovely. Radcliffe (only ever to be known as Emerson) is a full on alpha male who is shouty, and bearded, muscly and grumpy but with a fabulous sense of honour and dedication to his noble cause of archaeology etc. Emerson and Amelia do not have a particularly amiable first meeting which clearly a sign of what’s to come
Cue the appearance of the despicable rascal that ruined Evelyn- throw in her cousin who has a dynastic agenda and some mysterious nocturnal disturbances and the ladies hasten to start their Nile trip. During their exploration, Amelia and Evelyn encounter the two brothers again, at their excavation. Emerson is dreadfully unwell and Amelia steps in to nurse him back to health. This is where the story really gets going. Mysterious Mummy appearances, accidents and restless natives lead Amelia to the conclusion that something is definitely fishy about the whole situation and she will not rest until she has got to the bottom of it.

I’ve been a bit wordy in my description of the opening few chapters of Crocodile on the Sandbank, and admittedly this is something that the novel occasionally suffers from. On the whole, however, it is a riotous narrative, casually satirising the adventure novels of the 1930s. Amelia is a fabulous protagonist and you will be cheering for her and her parasol at every turn! She is strong-willed, wonderfully ahead of her time, kind, compassionate, and intelligent. Her fellow heroes are equally well endowed with wonderful qualities although Elizabeth Peters is careful to give them vices and character flaws to balance them out.

The plot is fairly ridiculous but as it is lampooning the 1930s adventure serials, it is fittingly ridiculous. And come to think of it, it is actually a good mystery to try to solve. I don’t think seasoned readers of Agatha Christie would have any trouble discovering the villain but working out all the whys and wherefores is diverting.

Upon finishing I immediately borrowed the next book in the series and am now on my fifth- this sums up my recommendation to you all!

I am going to take a break after this one but not because they have become any less entertaining!

4 bites for this little morsel

 

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

a-suitable-boy
You should have no problem picking this up from your local independent book shop or second-hand book shop … but you can click to buy from Amazon if you want.
“A desperate mother ventures to deploy
Fair means or foul to net a suitable boy.”

There are many things I enjoy about writing on this blog. As a book lover I enjoy delving further into a story, and really thinking about what makes it work (or not!) I also like being able to think about the books that have influenced me over the years which is what our throwback Thursday feature is designed for.

I first read “A Suitable Boy” when I was at university, travelling across London on the tube, some 9 years after it was originally published. It is an epic of a novel, coming in at 1474 pages in my copy. No real surprise then to say I haven’t read it again since university. Despite this, I can still picture scenes in my head. Images of the foulness of the tanning pits explored by Haresh Khanna; flies buzzing over earth stained red by the expectoration of paan- juice; the joy and colour during the festival of Holi.

The book is set in the fictional city of Brahmpur in 1950’s India. At its heart, this is the story of the search for the suitable boy Mrs Rupa Mehra is trying desperately to find for her daughter Lata. Within the search religion and caste are both important factors for Mrs Mehra. They are a Hindu family, and Mrs Mehra has narrowed her search down to Haresh Khanna the business man, and Amit Chatterji the poet. Lata herself falls in love with Kabir Durrani, fellow student, cricketer and Muslim. Horrified, Mrs Mehra sends her daughter away to Calcutta.

The role of women is interestingly explored. The more modern aspect of Indian society is demonstrated by Lata’s friend Malati who has chosen to do medicine at university, and is able to choose her own relationships. Mrs Mehra reflects the more traditional aspect of Indian society, with Lata torn between a desire to follow her heart setting her own course through life, and duty to her mother. Compare this to the love affair between Maan Kapoor and the courtesan Saeeda Bai which also transcends religious boundaries, and causes scandal and gossip but is not forbidden, and it easy to see the difference in the world of women and men.

Religion is a central theme of the book, and deftly approached by Seth. Land reforms threaten the Khans, and tensions are high following the decision to build a Hindu temple which will sit between Alamgiri Mosque and Mecca. India and its people are trying to define themselves in these changing times, but the wounds of recent conflict are very much present.

There are a lot of characters. Beautifully developed, sometimes difficult to keep track of, although the family trees at the start of the book help. The language is poetic, as you would expect from Seth. Even the 19 parts of the books are described in rhyming couplets on the contents page. There is so much to this book. So much to learn and take from it, but the characters and beauty of the writing will draw you in and keep you reading. And you will be glad you did.

4 and a half 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.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Click here to grab a copy from Amazon or pop along to your local independent book shop for a copy.
Click here to grab a copy from Amazon or pop along to your local independent book shop for a copy.
Flora Poste has had an excellent education courtesy of her travel addicted parents leaving her in boarding schools pretty much every day of her life. When they both die of Spanish flu she finds she has “every art and grace save that of earning her own living.” She can’t abide the idea of working for a living so she decides to take advantage of the fact that “no limits are set, either by society or one’s own conscience, to the amount one may impose on one’s relatives”.
She goes to stay with distant relatives at the isolated Cold Comfort Farm. Her relatives there — Aunt Ada Doom, the Starkadders, and their extended family and workers — feel obliged to take her in to atone for an unspecified wrong once done to her father.

But all is not what you might expect at Cold Comfort Farm; Aunt Ada Doom seems to be mad, daughter Judith is fixated on her youngest son (Seth, a smouldering heap of mocking sexuality) her husband Amos is a zealot and there are countless other long-festering emotional problems amongst the rest of the inhabitants.

As Flora is a level-headed, urban woman, she sets herself the task of resolving all this turmoil with modern common sense, regardless of whether they want her help.

But all is not what you might expect with this book either, it may sound like a comedy of manners in the style of Jane Austen mixed with the Bronte’s, but it is in fact, a very clever parody.

Stella Gibbons work, first published in 1932, mercilessly pokes fun at both great works of literature and the modern manners of the day. This Mickey-taking is quite skilfully done; so much so that if it wasn’t for the foreword in the form of a letter, I would probably have thought it was serious attempt at a novel in this vein.

Reading this 84 years after it was written does present a couple of problems however. The first is that as she is parodying a variety of works of great literature, the style of the novel seems quite clumsily stitched together in places; it swings from a light Austen-like voice to brooding Hardy-esque passages.

The second problem with it is that although it was written in 1931 it was set at an indeterminate point in the future, roughly twenty years ahead. This isn’t mentioned either in the foreword or in the blurb on the back. This had the unfortunate effect of catapulting me out of the narrative several times wondering what on earth was going on. At one point I was so confused I wondered if it had actually been written much later; if it was indeed a parody of a parody.

That notwithstanding I enjoyed this book, it was a fairly quick and easy read yet still made me think about the morality of ‘sticking your oar in’. Ms Gibbons also had a real talent for dialogue which helped create a fascinating world.

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.

The Body In The Library by Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library
Clickity click… or go to the library. They ALWAYS have Agatha Christies…
Agatha Christie is one of my favourite authors. There is something sublime about snuggling up in my nice cosy bedroom whilst a storm is raging outside and losing myself in one of her murder mysteries. I’d be hard pushed to pick a favourite between Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and even harder pushed to pick a favourite book.

The Body in the Library was the first Agatha Christie I read, and seemed a perfect choice for my TBT review.

Colonel and Mrs Bantry wake up one day to find a glamorous blonde strangled to death on the hearth rug in their library. Just as puzzled as the police by this, Mrs Bantry calls upon her bff, Miss Marple, to investigate. The girl is swiftly identified as Ruby Keene, a dance hostess at a nearby hotel and Miss Marple and Mrs Bantry head off on a ‘quiet holiday’ to the same hotel. What follows is a fabulous take on a crime staple- a dead body left in an incongruous location.

Initially it seems like a murder mystery taken straight from the game Cluedo- it was the Colonel, in the library with the rope!
However, Christie weaves her usual magic and introduces a number of other suspects, dropping clues here and there until you have no idea who the killer is., and yet, the big reveal always makes complete sense.

Ruby Keene was to be adopted by wealthy invalid, Conway Jefferson, and as impeding sole heir of his fortune, Jefferson’s family become suspects. Throw into the mix a tennis coach who is not who he seems, an apparent bumbling man of leisure who was the last to see Ruby alive, and a hot headed film producer, and the suspect list is reassuringly large. It certainly keeps you guessing throughout!

Although the second of the Miss Marple novels, and 15th mystery (The Thirteen Problems is before this), it does actually serve as a good introduction to Miss Marple and her methods. Miss Marple has the mind of a sink, she believes in the good and the evil of humanity, and despite her kind old lady persona, has a razor sharp intuitive mind and frankly brilliant deductive reasoning skills.

I recommend giving this a try. You won’t be disappointed!

4 bites

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Scapeweed Goat by Frank Schaeffer

Click here to buy from amazon, or see if you can get a preloved copy like I did!
Click here to buy from amazon, or see if you can get a preloved copy like I did!
I love independent bookshops, and I picked this up when one of my local ones was having a sale. Second-hand books were being sold off for 2 for a pound! Well, obviously I couldn’t resist that and dived in to spend a happy half hour browsing. As usual my eyes wandered and I started browsing the books not on the sale shelf too…

The Scapeweed Goat with its bizarre cover picture couldn’t fail to catch my eye. It was first published in 1989 and the blurb quickly persuaded me it was worth a lot more than the princely sum of £1.00 that they were asking for it and soon it was on its way home with me, ready to share itself once more.

The first paragraph reminded me of Cold Mountain – a book that beguiled me with its poetic prose whilst assaulting me with the harshness of life. And in some respects The Scapeweed Goat does that too. However, this story covers the yearning of the human spirit to be looked after. Ironically it examines it through the eyes of a pioneer wishing to live in solitude with his new wife.

Written as a confessional journal of an old man, J tells the story of what happened in wilds of America back in 1899, when his idyllic life with his young wife was disturbed by the arrival of David. David has escaped from a nearby utopian community and is being pursued by guards desperate to get him back, the ramifications of this change J’s life forever.

It is an absorbing narrative and though parts of it are fantastical to our modern minds it is nevertheless utterly believable and authentic.

Frank Schaeffer is a fantastic writer and this should join the ranks of Lord of the Flies and To Kill A Mockingbird as a manuscript offered to our youngsters to stimulate their minds.

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.

Swan Song by Robert McCammom

Click here to go to Amazon to get a copy ormaybe have a browse in your local second-hand bookshop!
Click here to go to Amazon to get a copy ormaybe have a browse in your local second-hand bookshop!
When Robert McCammom wrote this back in the mid 80’s (it was published in 1987) he was already an established author specialising in writing horror stories that nodded towards the corruption of power. More than once he’d pitted angelic good against devilish evil.

Of course, back in the 1980’s the biggest fear everyone harboured was world war three. The war that would unleash nuclear fury to destroy the world. McCammom took this fear and married it to his already successful themes of demonic evil and magical good to create this epic tale.

After the bombs hit on July 17th the few survivors surface and try to scratch their existence. Not because they want to so much as because their human nature won’t let them just lay down and die. The first half of the book introduces us to hate-filled supernatural being overjoyed at the destruction of the world. Sister, an ex mad bag lady who finds herself on Fifth Avenue where she picks up a huge chunk of melted glass that enclosed huge jewels as it hardened, only realising later that the glass somehow has magical properties. Swan, a child who’s stripper mother has just left her abusive boyfriend, tearing Swan away from the only joy she knows, gardening.

Through the nine hundred odd pages (or over 33 hours if you listen to it on audiobook as I did) you follow these three and a host of supporting characters through their journey through the long nuclear winter. When they meet in front of ‘God’ a final showdown between good and evil will decide whether the world will be washed clean by another disaster or allowed to live.

What Robert McCammom does really well is to create believable characters that you care about. Although on the surface this seems to be about good versus evil he shows the negatives of his good characters and positives of his bad characters. He shows you what motivates them. This skill supports the reader through their long long read!

He also lays enough hints at what might happen to keep you curious, what is this ‘evolution of humankind’ spoken about? How come seeds sprouted where Swan slept? And why is Sisters glass leading her to Swan?

However, there are a few things that I did not like about the book. The beginning was all wrong and almost lost me, I knew the nuclear war was going to happen so spending time watching the President prevaricate about it seemed wasted. As it happens that thread is returned to much later in the story so it was necessary, but I still think the start of the book should have focussed on Swan or Sister. It would have made the president’s dilemma more tense if the reader already cared about some of the characters.

It is overlong, with some sharp editing the book could have been cut down by at least a quarter without losing much of importance. His writing is often overly descriptive too. He is particularly fond of metaphors and although some were good a lot were a little cliched.

I wouldn’t rush out to buy more of his books in a desperate hurry but I may well read him again in the future, I’d like to try something a bit more recent from him next time though to see if his writing has improved and his message become stronger.

2.5 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.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Often described as one of Terry Pratchett’s best works, Guards! Guards! is the first of the Discworld novels to centre on the men of the Night Watch. The Night Watch are a ragtag band of men charged with keeping law and order in Ankh-Morpork, although with an official Assassin’s Guild and Thieves Guild, this isn’t exactly a demanding job.

Captain Sam Vimes is the jaded alcoholic leader of the Night Watch which also includes the cynical Sergeant Colon, the reprehensible Corporal Nobbs and the earnest new recruit Constable Carrot. It falls to them to save the city from a new doom- the kind of doom that breathes fire, eats maidens and is generally going to lower house prices in most neighbourhoods (perhaps not The Shades)- and they rise to the challenge admirably adequately eventually.

guards
Click for Amazon or find in your local library
This was my first successful attempt at reading a Terry Pratchett book. When I was younger I tried and tried to get into the Discworld books, especially after playing and enjoying the frankly amazing computer game set in Discworld (coincidentally it was loosely based on this book!), but was never able to get past the first few pages. And honestly, I missed out. Clearly I just wasn’t ready for the subtlety and surrealism that permeates the Discworld.

Guards! Guards! was recommended by fellow Book Eater Kelly and is a fantastic introduction into the Discworld universe despite being 8th in the series. This is partly due to the introduction of the Night Watch as characters, and particularly assisted by the naivety of Constable Carrot, the world’s largest ‘dwarf’… we could be clueless about Mrs Palm and her daughters together!

Delightfully dotty and marvellously madcap, Guards! Guards! weaves several strands of storytelling into an exciting and epic tale of the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night’s dragon-fuelled plan to overthrow the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and replace him with a puppet king so everyone can all stop feeling oppressed.

“And the people next door oppress me all night long. I tell them, I work all day, a man’s got to have some time to learn to play the tuba. That’s oppression, that is. If I’m not under the heel of the oppressor, I don’t know who is.”

It is funny, fast-paced, and filled with an amazing amount of detail. I’m very much looking forward to further exploring the Discworld. Any recommendations for which one next?

4 bites

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Mr. MacGregor by Alan Titchmarsh

Click here to buy from Amazon or browse the charity shops ypurself ... you can get a book and help another at the same time!
Click here to buy from Amazon or browse the charity shops ypurself … you can get a book and help another at the same time!
A few weeks ago whilst waiting for an appointment in town I looked for some reading material in a charity shop. I noticed a novel by Alan Titchmarsh. I know of him from gardening shows on television. Intrigued I picked it up and read the blurb on the back cover. It read similar to other romance stories, but Alan Titchmarsh … I did not know he wrote stories. From the inside of the back cover, I noted that he had written a few others.

As both a budding writer and a dabbler in plants I thought I’d give the book a whirl. Nothing much to lose (it was only a pound) and I might learn something new. So clutching my purchase I set off for one of the coffee shops and started reading “Mr. MacGregor”.

Right from the start you are pulled into the story, immersed in it. The story is not only about Rob MacGregor and Kathleen,  but also about those people who touch their lives. In each encounter with a character, the character comes over as distinct in both character and voice. Alan’s descriptions of situations and people are done with a light touch; just enough to allow you to form your own picture.

After reading the first few chapters I had to attend my meeting and it was with some regret that I closed the book. Over the next few weeks, I only had a few snatched moments to continue reading about the life and adventures of Rob MacGregor. Finally, I could not face it anymore. I had to know. Does Rob get the girl? Does Jock recover? What happens to Bertie Lightfoot and Guy D’Arcy? These were but a few of the questions that were nagging at me.

So disregarding all the other activities clamouring for attention I took a day off. Finally, I could indulge in an absorbing read with no interruptions. Within moments, I was immersed in the world of Rob MacGregor. I could now experience his family, friends, adversaries and the plants that form the backbone of the novel.

Make no mistake Alan Tichmarch is a story craftsman with a deft and light touch who from the start pulls you into the story and takes you on a ride through all the highs and lows of his characters. I have purposely not told you much of the story as I have no wish to destroy any of the fun you will experience when reading Mr. MacGregor for yourself.

As the tagline states: When Rob MacGregor is picked as the new presenter of a struggling gardening programme, he quickly becomes a favourite with everyone. And that’s half his trouble …

5 bites

Jenny
I love chewing over all kinds of books, but my favourite flavour has to be science fiction.
I also particularly enjoy reading fantasy and historical fiction.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere
Click the picture to buy this from Amazon. Or have a good browse around your local independent bookshop – it may be there and it’ll be a lot more fun!
A dark tale of self-sacrifice and heroism, Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, a Scotsman in London whose rather ordinary life is turned upside down, inside out, and back to front as a result of a moment of kindness. After rescuing a raggedy injured mysterious girl named Door from mysterious assassins, his dull existence in London Above (the London we know) is erased and he is forced to enter London Below (the London we really really don’t know) to track down Door and search for a way to restore his life. Door, however, has her own problems- namely the brutal massacre of her entire family to avenge…

In Neverwhere’s London Below, Gaiman creates an eerie, more literal, otherworldliness to the London that we know and love/hate*.

(*delete as applicable)

Of course there is an Earl in Earl’s Court, and why wouldn’t there be an Angel called Islington? Shepherds in Shepherd’s Bush? Yep, but you wouldn’t want to meet them! Knightsbridge? I think you’ll find that’s Night’s Bridge and it’s freaking scary!

Richard’s journey through the mysterious underside of London is littered with references to tube stations, notable landmarks and historical references which helps to create a well fleshed out and rounded world. There is a richness to the writing and Gaiman’s imagination creates bizarre alternatives to our London that actually seem really quite plausible and reasonable! Character actions are rooted in human feelings and motivations and you can’t help but see echoes of people you know in the central characters.

Aspects of London Below are creepy, terrifying and slightly nauseating (Yes Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar, I’m referring to you) and the inhabitants- the people who fell through the cracks in London Above- are of such variety and depth that this world is brought to life by Gaiman’s expressive and believable prose. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty sure this is actually a non-fiction biography of Richard Mayhew…

Neverwhere started life as a 1996 BBC series and was my first introduction to Neil Gaiman- Thank you BBC!- but I can safely say that, as with so many books/TV series/films, the book is better than its more visual counterpart. So much better that I hadn’t realised the TV series had come first until checking facts for this review!

I adore Neverwhere. It has captured my heart and soul, and I will admit to spending my infrequent trips on the London Underground creating London Below scenarios in my head.  And I’m sorry but I’m not sorry for it!

Read this book. Trust me.

5 bites

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
Click the picture to buy this book from amazon. Or don’t and buy it from your local independant bookshop instead!

This book was published over 20 years ago, but I read it for the first time this month and have to admit I hadn’t come across the title or the author before.

Cloudstreet is essentially about two families- the Pickleses and the Lambs- who both live in the same huge, ramshackled house in Perth Western Australia.

In a life defined by bad luck Sam Pickles is left the house by his cousin Joel in his will. In an attempt to make some money Sam lets one half of the house out to the Lamb family who have also had their share of misfortune.

A spiritual family, the “Lambs of God” receive their own miracle when their favourite son Fish nearly drowns and is seemingly resurrected. But their belief in God is destroyed when his parents Lester and oriel realise that “not all of Fish Lamb had come back.” Fish is left with a hunger to return to the water, and his family must deal with the aftermath of the tragedy.

The book follows the two families through the Second World War, and into the 1950s and 60s. This book covers such a changing time for the country, and occasionally a critical look at its past that it’s not surprising it is a set text for English literature students in Western Australia.

Historical events are eluded to in Winton’s poetic prose. When talking about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan he writes:
“Somewhere a bicycle rings. Somewhere else there’s a war on. Somewhere else people turn to shadows and powder in an instant and the streets turn to funnels and light the sky with their burning. Somewhere a war is over.”
The tenses and perspectives can change within each small, brilliantly titled chapter. To me this feels deliberate and could be a consequence of who the narrator is and where they are, but could also be frustrating at times.

I found it difficult to get into the book initially. The dialect used takes time to adjust to, and the lack of quotation mark around dialogue which was a struggle to start with. But the characters hooked me in and kept me reading. Each is so well developed. Gambler Sam with his missing four and a half fingers; his drunk, promiscuous wife Dolly, and tough, stubborn daughter Rose. And the Lambs. Poor Fish, desperate to be back in the water; his brother Quick who wishes it had been him, not Fish that nearly drowned; and their parents Oriel and Lester, hard working, grieving. I really cared about what happened to them. One of the most interesting characters though is the house itself, with a dark history and movements in the shadows that give this novel an almost gothic quality in places. Ghosts that only Fish can see inhabit the library in the “no-mans land” in the middle of the house.

This is a book of symbolism, of religion and history. It is beautifully crafted and the characters leap off the page. It certainly transcends genres. The end result is like experimental gastronomy. An interesting mix of flavours that seem to compliment each other well, but that won’t be to everyone’s taste.

3 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.