What I’ve Read: October/November

Book reviews November

I have been completely useless with my reading for a variety of reasons of the past couple of months, blah blah blah excuses excuses! Mostly I’ve just been busy doing everything else, plus Ben makes me watch Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares when we go to bed and turns the light down to a point where I physically can no longer see words on a page – mean, I know! I have had reduce my Goodreads Challenge amount, and I’m still not sure I’ll hit it, but never mind. I also decided to mix things up and add in pictures of the front covers of the books too – so crazy over here!! So here are the books I’ve read recently:

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A Swarming of Bees by Theresa Tomlinson – 5.5/10 (Kindle version)

I can’t even remember when I picked up this book, but I think it was during an Amazon Kindle books sale, and I was drawn to it because of the mention that it was set at the Monastery in Whitby at the time of the Synod in 664 – Whitby is fairly local to me, so I know it pretty well and thought it would be interesting to read more about its (partly fictional but based on facts) history. The central character is Fridgyth, an old herb wife, originally of the pagan religion, who now works at the monastery under the ruling of fiercely independent Abbess Hild. The Synod (a real historic event in which the date of Easter for Britain and the type of tonsure the monks wore was decided) is the turning point of the book – everything is running fairly smoothly, but it makes life altering decisions for the people of the monastery. It also hits at the same time as a deadly plague reaching Whitby, strangers arriving at the Monastery, and deaths that don’t seem to be caused by the plague. The story eventually falls into an almost “murder mystery”, although with little urgency until the end. I did enjoy it, but mostly because I was interested in the history of the area and I already knew a bit about the religion at the time (Saints such as St. Bede and St. Cuthbert come into the story at times). The plot itself was a bit slow for me though and I wouldn’t be quick to recommend it unless you’re already interested in that time or the area, but it was certainly interesting. Even better, we managed to visit Whitby while I was reading it, then travelled back home across the moorland on the route they would have taken in the book too, so that was pretty awesome 🙂
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Dark Prayer by Natasha Mostert – 7.5/10 (Kindle version)

I’ve read a few of Natasha Mostert’s books already (reviews for: Windwalker, The Midnight Side and The Season of the Witch), then I spotted this one on NetGalley and knew I was bound to enjoy it. Like The Season of the Witch, the central plot of this novel revolves around memory, although this one delves deeper into the study of it and the effects of toying with it. Eloise Blake is not the person she once was, literally. With a new name and identity, she’s on the run from her old life as Jenilee Gray which she has absolutely no memory of – she is in a fugue state, but no one knows why. James is brought in by her concerned godfather to bring her home to him. With Eloise/Jenilee now a devoted parkour runner, he manages to make his way into her life through their common interest. But her life is plagued with memories, voices and hallucinations that seem to have no relevance to her at all, or even seem to be her memories. What unravels is far more complicated than any of them can imagine, unveiling a secret society, almost cult like, devoted to Mnemosyne, which both their parents along with other friends were involved in, in which they play God with memory, attempting to come up with formulae to delete or restore memories. It’s a fairly fast paced novel, with a good mystery and clues scattered throughout in the form of Jenilee’s mother’s diary. As with her other novels, the action based scenes are the most gripping (eg: cave diving in Windwalker and exploring the memory palace in The Season of the Witch), and the parkour scenes in this are no different. It wasn’t my favourite of her books, but still a really good read. As with The Season of the Witch, I found the topic of memory really interesting and could have read more and more about the research and experiments that were being done.

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The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan – 7/10 (Kindle version)

Now this is a bit of an odd one, and it’ll be hard to tell you about it in a review like this without you reading it! I had a Waterstones gift card, so I decided to choose some books to read I’d had on my list for a while, and unless you’re kind of a book crazy person like me, you probably won’t understand how exciting this was – I have hundreds on my list, and I only picked three for now, but it was the best! From that pile, I picked this one to read first because it was short and looked like a quick read.
I’d read various reviews on this already, so I knew what was coming, and it’s no surprise to tell you that the story follows the lives of four siblings who range from 6 to 17 in the days, weeks and months shortly after both their parents die. The “pull” of this book for a lot of people is the taboo subject that it covers: incest. Though this is introduced almost immediately, along with the topic of death, let me tell you: the book isn’t about incest at all, it is rarely mentioned, and is not the main subject – obviously it’s just highlighted by most readers because it’s a strange and uneasy topic. In reality, the story doesn’t actually move along very much at all. It’s more of an in depth study into what might happen in a world without parental supervision – the children try to continue with their lives, pretending everything is normal even though it’s not, as they’ve hidden their mother in the basement with a covering of cement. It’s set throughout a long hot summer in England, and you really get that lazy, hazy feel of summer in the city, that you’re not necessarily seeing everything clearly.
It was an interesting read, and one that wasn’t particularly difficult to get through, but not my favourite. I’ve read Ian McEwan before and would definitely read more in future.
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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – 7.5/10 (Kindle version)

Neil Gaiman is not an author I’ve read before, but I’ve heard only good things about his writing. I’m not sure whether this book would slot into adult or young adult fiction, due to the subject matter and the writing style – for me, it was an easy read to get through in terms of the story and writing and definitely had elements of young adult, although I’ve seen people claim that you need to be a “grown up” to be able to really understand the story including the nostalgia of childhood being far in your past.
The blurb tells you that a man (unnamed through the story, I now realise) has returned to his childhood home for a funeral and ends up at the farm at the end of the lane he only half remembers from when he was seven. As he arrives, all his memories from that time come flooding back, beginning with a dead man in the family car. I was half expecting a kind of murder mystery going back to childhood where you finally understand what actually happened, but that’s not the journey this book takes you on at all. It’s far more magical (literally!), dark and unimaginable than you’d ever think. Involving the ever mysterious Hemlocks, a pond that’s really an “ocean” and a character more terrifying as a human than a monster could ever be, it’s a fascinating read giving an insight into childhood, memory, fantasy and adulthood.
Strangely, even though these are all the things I usually like in a book, there was still something slightly missing for me, and I think it was the writing style and voice that the recollection took, although without that style, the book wouldn’t be what it is. But there were elements that were amazing and I read it pretty quickly, not wanting to put it down. This is another author I’ll definitely be back to read soon.
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