Mini Book Reviews: November & December 2018

I’ve been trying to mix up the pregnancy diary and maternity style posts along with my usual content – so including travel, reviews, books and whatnot in between them so as not to alienate readers who aren’t interested in the pregnancy stuff (because I totally understand if you’re not!) – but it turns out that’s really difficult! There are only so many hours in the day and, as I hit 33 weeks, my motivation is starting to plunge back to levels similar to that of first trimester. Does anyone else find that the more you have stuff coming in that you need to do, the more you put everything off?! My inbox is, once again, a total mess, and I have half-written drafts and titles for posts all over my calendar that I just keep dropping and dragging a week into the future. Argh.

Anyway, one thing I’ve managed to do lately, thanks to the frankly unprecedented amount of time I’ve spent in the bath over the past few weeks, is read. And yet I haven’t written any reviews of these books lately! So before they get on top of me too, here are the books I read in November and December and some quick thoughts on them:

Killer T by Robert Muchamore* – 6/10

Plot: Harry is a teenage journalist, trying to get by in his new move from the UK to the US, when an explosion, caused as we soon found out by Charlie, a younger girl, throws their lives into chaos. This friendship begins just as gene editing takes off. But alongside this comes the deadly virus Killer T – a result of terrorists getting their hands on synthetic gene editing material.

My thoughts: I’ve got to be honest, if I’d seen this book cover on the shelves, I never would have picked it up – it looks completely not my style at all. It was the mention of a killer synthetic virus that did it, a favourite topic of mine – I’m weird, I know. Personally I like plots where there’s an insight into what caused the virus (check!) and the world post-virus (check again!) so this one definitely appealed to me in those respects. I can’t say I didn’t like this book – it was good and kept me interested until the end. But I did find the pacing pretty slow, especially for such a thriller style plot, and the characters somewhat bland – or at least, they were fleshed out but didn’t quite feel relatable enough for me to enjoy them. The time jumps that often spanned years at a time often left me wanting more, but at least worked to cover a long time period where we see Charlie and Harry grow from confused children to adults trying to function in an unfamiliar world. It was interesting, but not a favourite.

Secret Passages in a Hillside Town by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen* – 7/10

Plot: Olli Suominen is a publisher in a small town and lives a pretty simple normal life, where his main frustration is frequently losing his umbrellas. When an old love interest, Greta, comes back into his life, things begin to go awry and the plot takes an unexpected turn.

My thoughts: While this book started off just as I would expect from the description and the cover – a fairly mundane account of a publisher in a normal Scandinavian town – in fact, both the plot and the style ended up being quite unexpected. The plot focus around magic realism was really quite lovely, making the mundane into something special that made you think. And the big plot point – which I can’t reveal as it would be a huge spoiler! – even though I figured it out a bit before, wasn’t the direction I’d thought we would go at the beginning. I loved the normality mixed with the strangeness, although I’d have preferred the plot to have pushed on more quickly in the beginning.

The Hypnobirthing Book by Katharine Graves*

I was given this book as part of both the hypnobirthing courses I’m taking – one online and one offline (which we’ve now completed). I keep saying I’m going to do a whole post (or more!) about hypnobirthing – and I promise I will! – but this book was an excellent introduction and overall view of what I’ve learned in the courses. Not only was it inspirational, as promised, but it was also down-to-earth in a way I didn’t expect, highly logical and honestly just really interesting to read.
I’m honestly going to recommend hypnobirthing to anyone who’s pregnant (it’s not what it sounds, I swear!) and this book could make an excellent standalone resource, with Katharine’s teachings and explanations being very clear and engaging.

The Clockmaker’s Daugher by Kate Morton* – 8.5/10

Plot: Elodie is a young archivist in London who comes across a leather satchel with an old photograph and an artist’s sketchbook with a drawing of a house on a riverbend. The house feels instinctively familiar to Elodie, but she can’t figure out why. This plunges us into the tale of the house, Birchwood Manor, on the banks of the Upper Thames, and its history all the way back to 1862, when a group of artists spend their summer at the house, ending in tragedy and a missing heirloom.

My thoughts: Somehow I’ve never read a Kate Morton book before, although they’ve always seemed just like my thing. On reading this one, I’ve decided – yes, they definitely are my thing! Set across multiple time periods, with a hint of the gothic, a splash of mystery, romance and even the supernatural, it’s got all the elements of an excellent book. Throw in that fantastic plot and you’ve got me hooked! The only place I’d say it falls down is that, at times, the multiple characters were a little confusing – each section was told from a different viewpoint, which meant that the characters’ stories were cleverly intertwined with some appearing in each others’ stories, but there were a lot of them!

XX by Angela Chadwick* – 8/10

Plot: In a not too distant future, ovum-to-ovum reproduction, allowing two women to conceive without the need for a man, is a reality. Rosie and Jules are among the first couples to trial it, but are up against fierce opposition from people all over the country and the world. While they try to keep their involvement under wraps to protect themselves and their unborn daughter, someone has leaked the news – it can only be someone close to them.

My thoughts: Books like this are a tricky topic – they can so easily be mistaken for a feminist rant or manifesto while people forget to look at the storyline behind it. I personally really enjoyed it on both levels. Understanding how the world might react to news like this was fascinating, but the plotline beneath it, with the well-developed and easily relatable characters of Jules and Rosie, was just as powerful. It delves deep into their relationship and how it’s affected by not only this as a new technology, but simply by pregnancy itself. Reading it while pregnant wasn’t exactly the easiest thing, but it was fascinating. It’s one I’d definitely recommend.

Truly Happy Baby by Holly Willoughby

This was a Christmas gift from Ben that I’d been debating over buying, and I’m really glad he did buy it for me! I’ve always loved Holly Willoughby’s charisma and personality since my days of watching This Morning as a student, so having her words to guide me into a new stage of life was excellent. What’s so wonderful about this book is that it’s down to earth (which seems to be my phrase for pregnancy and parenting!), with her own first hand experience, but also the confidence to tell you to trust your intuition too. Holly doesn’t lecture on what you should and shouldn’t do, instead she offers practical advice alongside what worked for her and others. Her voice really shone through in this and I’ve found myself saying multiple times lately: “Holly says…” I’m excited to put more of the book into practice!

The Winters by Lisa Gabrielle – 9/10

Plot: Based around the infamous Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Winters gives us a modern and updated take on the classic story. A whirlwind romance in the Caribbean, where our unnamed narrator lives, results in her returning to Asherley, the Long Island mansion of her new, wealthy fiance Max Winter. Her presence is at once unwelcome and echoes of Rebekah, his previous wife, haunt her at every turn, from the servants who still talk about her, to her obsessed and rebellious teenage daughter, Dani.

My thoughts: Having read and enjoyed Rebecca a few years ago, I was intrigued by a modern take on it, although I had concerns that it might be too much of a spin off. Fortunately, this is a book that stands alone in its own right – you could read this without knowing the backstory of Rebecca and very much enjoy it for the story it tells.
I loved the characterisation in this – both that the new Mrs Winter isn’t a simple flaky character and the new teenage Dani Winter – wow, she’s a whirlwind of a character! She brings vibrancy and life to this novel, as well as being a little bit scary.
The plot is twisty and turny – excellent! – packed full of secrets and lies. It does the original justice and adds a wonderful modern twist. This was my last read of 2018 and quite possibly one of my favourites too!

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