October Books List

Saturday, 31 October 2015

A round-up of the books that I read last month:-

(1) Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Historial Fiction / Magical Realism: "Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow."

I do love it when authors take an old fairytale/folktale and retell it in their own vision. The Snow Child is based on the old tale of an elderly couple who create a child out of the snow who then comes to life, but in this version, it's heavy on the magical realism which makes things much more abstract. The setting is horribly bleak; our couple here are Jack and Mabel and they've re-located to the harsh environment of Alaska to start their lives over after Mabel gave birth to a stillborn baby. As you can probably imagine, Alaska is freezing cold and it's difficult to survive out there. The prose describes this beautifully, however it does become a little repetitive as the story goes on because the winter just doesn't end and the main theme of child loss can start to grate a little.

I enjoyed it as there were some beautifully written paragraphs and many thought provoking moments, especially further along once the story really gets going, but this was a slow burner for me. [3/5]

(2) A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCallum
Non-Fiction/ Environmental/ Food: "A third of all that we eat, and much of what we wear, relies on pollination by honeybees. So if — or when — the world loses its black-and-yellow workers, the consequences will be dire."

There aren't many more chilling statements that have been made about the death of the human race than this:- "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.” –Albert Einstein.

A World Without Bees was published back in 2008 so some of the information feels a little dated now as more research has been done, however I would still recommend this to anyone who is looking to brush up on some background info. It looks into some of the possible causes of the declines in honeybee populations around the world, so the use of pesticides and intensive farming is discussed as well as diseases and the phenomena of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), whilst giving a good overview of how essential bees are to sustain ourselves and our ecosystem. A sobering book to pick up. [3/5]

(3) Upstairs At The Party by Linda Grant
Contemporary / Mystery: "If you go back and look at your life there are certain scenes, acts, or maybe just incidents on which everything that follows seems to depend. If only you could narrate them, then you might be understood. I mean the part of yourself that you don't know how to explain."

This is such a hard book to review without giving away spoilers so I won't go into much detail about the actual story. Set in the early 70s, our protagonist, Adele, sets off to a newly opened University on a full student grant and a cheeky lie, in the hopes of escaping a dismal and uneventful future in her sleepy, working class, northern town. At Uni, she settles in and makes friends, but soon becomes transfixed with the mysterious Evie who is like no-one she has ever met before. 

Upstairs At The Party is a wonderfully written, wholly intelligent, coming-of-age story as Adele tells us her life story, focusing on the events that happened on her 20th birthday which will lead her to thinking about a certain mystery for decades to come. I'm quite obsessed with the 60s and 70s, so this book really intrigued me and I found myself yearning to have been born at the same time that Adele was so that I could have potentially experienced a completely different life at University. Set against a backdrop which saw huge changes in society and public attitudes, the rise of feminism, and all the politics that went along with it, would have been utterly fascinating. And of course, getting a Uni education for free would have been the icing on the cake! [4/5]

(4) The Last Day Of A Condemned Man by Victor Hugo
Classics / Literature: "A man vilified by society and condemned to death for his crime wakes every morning knowing that this day might be his last."

My token horror read for Halloween was a bit of a strange choice this year as I usually go for something more mainstream like Stephen King or Clive Barker, but this one was on a display when I was at the library so it came home with me. Victor Hugo's classic novella, The Last Day Of A Condemned Man should be situated at the top of everyone's classic horror literature pile as it provides the reader with the most chilling fictional account of the last day of a man who has been condemned to death (the title is pretty self-explanatory then). I had to check several times that this was indeed a fiction book because Hugo's prose is so brutally realistic that the man's narrative could easily pass for a series of actual final diary entries. 

Written in a way to humanize prisoners and to protest against the death penalty to the French society at the time, Hugo poignantly does not disclose the crime that the man has committed which has caused him to be in this situation. In leaving this out, the reader can't judge the man, instead we can only read his pleas, and put ourselves in his shoes as this man counts down the hours until his fateful death finally arrives. Truly one of the most horrifying books I've read in a long time. [4/5]

What have you been reading lately?

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  1. Way back when, I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame and it blew me away. I've never heard of The Last Day of a Condemned Man, though!

    1. I love The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Victor Hugo in general - one day I'll be brave and attempt to read Les Miserables!


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