Saturday, 30 December 2017

2017 Loose Ends (aka Quickie Reviews)

As the end of the year draws near it's time to talk about some of the books I never got around to reviewing. I do have some full reviews still left to write but the following books are all personal reads from the last few months, including those Non-Fic November books I never blogged about...

I remember reading about Christopher Knight online when his story first came to light, presumably that article was the precursor to The Stranger in the Woods, told by journalist Michael Finkel. Although the subtitle is The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, the fact that the text is sprinkled with nuggets of information about hermits throughout history and the world, shows that there are probably plenty of hermits still out there, just probably not in America.

Knight doesn’t try to deny his multiple crimes of theft, and I think there is an aspect to his story that is incredibly sad. There’s no actual way of living the life he wanted in the western world. You are expected to have money and live in a fixed abode. He just wanted to live by himself surrounded by nature, and unfortunately to achieve this he ended up stealing, although usually only small items and generally from holiday cabins.

Once arrested he went to prison and Finkel attempted to befriend him, despite him not really wanting to talk. He struggled to adapt to life in the real world and I just wished he could have found a way to stay in the woods. Who doesn’t want to escape people sometimes?

Modern life seems set up so that we can avoid loneliness at all costs, but maybe it’s worthwhile to face it occasionally.

The other book I read for Non-Fic November was The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young which has recently been republished. Rosamund’s family gave up commercial farming so I was a bit confused as to how they actually run the farm now and this wasn’t really explained. It doesn’t really go into the detail of running a farm but is more a collection of anecdotes about the cows and their little foibles. All the cows are named but there are so many named it’s hard to keep track.

There were some interesting facts, like how cows in pain will chew on willow (willow bark being an early form of aspirin) and how their family units work. It felt a little bit whimsical in places, especially when she kept saying the cows were talking to each other (or not talking as the case may be). I would say it’s more of a book to dip in and out of rather than read in one go.

I also started reading V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy, devouring A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows back-to-back. I will definitely be making it my aim to read the third book in 2018.

I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.


I loved the world-building, set in parallel Londons, Red, White, Grey and, once upon a time, Black, each with varying levels of magic, Grey having the least and being most like the real world. Kell is an Antari who has the rare power of being able to travel between the Londons, carrying messages between the leaders.

Lila is from Grey London, a thief who wishes to be a pirate, and through a series of events she finds herself in Kell’s London and discovers that magic is real. I liked the political manoeuvring, and there is a great cast of characters. It’s fast paced and kept be gripped (and it’s been a long time since I read series back-to-back).

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu is a little bit like an American version of Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club. Vivian’s high school has a toxic atmosphere where the misogynistic behaviour of the football team is practically encouraged by teachers and the girls punished. Whilst all the examples are things that do happen, the concentration of events made me just hate this school and all the adults that let it slide.

Their loud boy voices, laced with Mountain Dew and the knowledge that the world belongs to them, ring through the halls, echoing off the walls, making my skin crawl.

However, the point of the book is that Vivian starts a secret feminist ‘zine pointing out the sexism at school and urging Moxie girls to fight back. As a way of highlighting crappy behaviour, the book works but I found Vivian a bit of a boring character.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter is a poetic novella about a mother in a flooded Britain. The
writing is beautiful and does read like a long form poem. Shortly after giving birth, she is forced from her London home by rising water. She must attend to the needs of her tiny infant, from the panic when she thinks she's left the nappies behind to seeking shelter and safety further north. There are losses and huge life changes, but as the title suggests it also has hope. It may be the end of one way of life but the start of something new.

It's really a lovely little book about motherhood and survival, although I can understand the style might not be to everyone's taste.

Other books I've read over the last couple of weeks include La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, Monstress: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu + Sana Takeda, Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, all of which I hope to write proper reviews of in the new year. I also still need to review the amazing Circe by Madeline Miller as I read it so far ahead of publication date.

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