Changers by Matt Gemmell
Started 1 July
Finished 7 July
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing is excellent, nothing superfluous, yet everything vividly depicted. I have read some of Matt's other writing and enjoyed it, so I expected to enjoy this, but it was even better than I had anticipated. The final section, in particular, really came to life in my mind. Generally when I read a book, I just read the words, but in this one I could really see events unfold in my mind - very cinematic. I don't like books with unnecessary pages of description and that isn't the case here; the writing hits exactly the right balance for me. No spoilers though - read it for yourself.
I felt the sense of unease early in the book, as the situation developed, until about a third of the way through, when I really did stop in my tracks. It's rare that a novel can produce such an OMG moment for me, but this one did . It really drew me in and kept me reading. I look forward to subsequent Kestrel adventures.
War Brides by Helen Bryan
Started 8 July
Finished 29 July
The opening starts in the present, then goes back to the 1930s, just pre-war. Setting the scene, I'm sure, but it felt a little rushed. Boy-next-door is friends with "worthy" daughter of local vicar. Boy-next-door goes off to the navy, comes back, proposes to worthy girl, goes to the US, is seduced by local scarlet woman, who is hiding a secret, and they return home, to the shock of the jilted "worthy". It all seems very rushed, without much character development. The story does develop nicely, into a tale of life during WW2 in Sussex. The characters are interesting enough, although the depiction of the Londoner felt a little patronising. Dropped aitches everywhere in the text. No reference to rural Sussex accents, of course. I imagine there was a working-class/middle-class divide here.
One of the ladies works in intelligence and she discovers the secrets of the people in the Big House. At that point the story seems to stop rather abruptly and we are back in 1995, where the ladies are reunited, bar one. We find out what has happened to all of them in the intervening years, and it turns out the ladies have gathered to exact revenge by murdering someone; or rather, imprisoning him in a blocked smugglers passage under a gravestone. Yes, it turns out he was a traitor, and responsible for the death of their friend, but they managed this in the middle of the celebration of the re-opening of the church, in a village full of people and television cameras. Oh and one of them recovers some memories after traumatic amnesia: she recalls the apparently failed attempt to rescue her sisters from France, plus the fact that she had a baby who died. The final chapter reveals to the reader that the sisters had been rescued, unknown to any of the ladies, including the older sister. I think it was meant to be a poignant ending but it all felt a bit glib and trite.
Overall I enjoyed the book, but it wasn't particularly well written, nor was it well paced.
Athelstan by Tom Holland
Started 29 July
Finished 31 July
This wasn't a long book at all, but it was interesting. I knew virtually nothing about King Athelstan, yet it turns out he was possibly the first King of all England, rather than King of part of it, like King Alfred was.
Tom Holland makes history accessible and interesting. I am still part of the way through another of his books, about Persia. I took a break, not because it was dull, but because there was so much information about an area so unfamiliar to me.