November 2020 wrap up

It’s that time of the month again, isn’t it? The one when I list all the things I read in the last thirty days, where people who don’t like to read lengthy reviews can have a look at some quick thoughts about books, and where I talk about the books I haven’t reviewed for one reason on another.

It was a poor month for new favourites, but I managed at least to read a couple of really nice things, among all the disappointments. Four of the books I read were 2020 releases, one was a reread, five were fantasy, one a sci-fi, and three horror.

Let’s just get into it, shall we?

The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens (1969)

Norman Zweck was a child prodigy, the pride of his parents, until something happened. Now forty-one and still living with his father and younger sister, he’s sorely trying his family’s patience, until his father finally decides that the hospital is the best place for him. The sudden change forces all of them to reconsider how it all started, and explore how much each of them is guilty for the situation they are in today.

Winner of the second Booker Prize, this is a story about a dysfunctional Jewish family, and how the pressure of expectations and the things we don’t communicate can bring us to the brink of collapse. A really interesting read, despite being written in a pretty annoying style.
You can read my review here.

The Cavern by Alister Hodge (2019)

A sinkhole opens up an unexplored cave system near Pintalba, Australia, and a group of amateurs cave enthusiasts decides to explore it before anyone else. Little do they know, something else is lurking in the dark tunnels, and it’s really hungry.

A horror set in cave, with narrow, twisty tunnels, plenty of dark corners, and some kind of monster? Sign me in!
Or at least that’s what I thought when I heard about this book. Sadly, it didn’t live up to the expectations at all, and I’m still angry at how such a good premise could be wasted. I go more in depth – and with some spoilers – in my review, if you’re interested.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King (1983)

Dr. Louis Creed just moved with his family to Ludlow to start a new job, and his new life seems almost too good to be true. There’s also a little pet cemetery in the woods behind his new house, where generations of children have buried they beloved pets. But there’s another burial ground farther back, one that’s far more sinister than the pet cemetery, and way more powerful.

A masterful exploration of grief disguised as a horror story. True, the horror is mostly subtle and not downright terrifying – at least not until the end – but an undercurrent of unease is present throughout the whole book. It’s a good one, if a little too wordy at times, but it’s hard to talk about it without spoilers – and it’s best enjoyed knowing as little as possible, in my opinion. You can read my review for more non-spoilery thoughts.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (2020)

Lin is the emperor’s daughter, but her father thinks she cannot take his place until she regains her memory. Bent on proving her worth, she decides to learn how to master his bone shard magic without his help.
Jovis is a smuggler travelling between the islands of the empire in the hope of finding the boat that took away his wife seven years ago. Despite his best efforts, he gets involved with the rebellion, a group of people who think the emperor’s rule has finally run its course.

I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed by this one. I was expecting the beginning of a new epic adult fantasy series, but this book felt more YA to me. Some of the characters didn’t add much to the plot, and I never felt like there was enough tension to keep me engaged. The plot twists were also not too subtle, and I’m still debating if I want to read the sequel or not. The world-building and the magic system were interesting, though, so who knows? There’s still some potential there.
Read my review for more details.

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin (2005)

Do I really need to sum up the plot of this one? I think after Game of Thrones, pretty much everyone knows what the story is about. This is the fourth instalment in the series, and the one where the story starts to diverge significantly from the tv show. That said, it was a long one, and as much as I love the story and characters, it was hard at times to get down and read just because so much of the time it felt like nothing was happening.

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin (2011)

Pretty much the same goes for this one: it’s a long one, and not entirely fun. Sure, some characters that were missing from the previous one finally come back here and we see where they ended up, but sadly once again a lot of the characters looked like they weren’t doing anything so interesting. The ones I was most curious about (Bran, Arya, Sansa) have little to no space at all, while others – like Jon Snow or Victarion Greyjoy – feel like they’re just going in circles. Danaerys was still more or less interesting, as were the few chapters from Cersei’s perspective; Theon was probably my favourite point of view character, and Quentyn a wasted opportunity. Did I miss anyone?

The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie (2020)

David, Deacon and Beth meet up again after many years at the funeral of their childhood friend Emily. They were the only survivors of a mysterious cult that committed mass suicide after months of near-starvation and mutilation, and even though they found their own ways to cope with the trauma, there are still things they don’t know or understand about that last night. They will have to leave with its shadow for the rest of their lives, unless they go back to Red Peak and face their nightmare once and for all.

This was… strange. I was expecting a lot more horror and a lot less existentialism, to be honest. I really enjoyed the parts set in the past, where we could see how the group transformed from an idyllic christian society to a doomsday cult, but I couldn’t care less about the parts set in the present. The ending was a big WTF for me, and it squashed what little enjoyment I had found in the rest of the story.
You can read my review if you’re curious about my thoughts about it.

The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky (2020)

Manet is an Amanuensis of the God-King, trained in the seven perfections to master her body and mind to the peak of human performance. When a mysterious locket is delivered to her home, she embarks in a quest to unveil its secret, uncovering the truth behind the myths and stories about the God-King’s ascent, and her own identity as well.

This was so good. The style chosen by the author could be an obstacle for some people, but I personally loved it. The whole story is written in second person, through the dialogue of the people Manet meets along the way. There are no descriptions of setting or actions, and even Manet’s own words can only be guessed by the reactions of the people speaking to her. An interesting experiment, and one that proved you don’t need thousands of words to convey information about characters and world-building. See my review if you want to know a little more.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020)

Nora can’t seem to make a right choice. All her life she’s had to deal with regrets, some bigger than others, until a particularly bad day convinces her that she’s just not good at this thing called “life”. That’s when she finds herself in the Midnight Library, a building that holds all of her possible lives in book form. She’s given the chance to try them, one by one, undoing her regrets and exploring the consequences, but will she find the perfect life for her?

This book made me angry. Aside from being extremely predictable, the message was as delicate as a meteor crashing in your backyard. The characters were unrealistic, the dialogues cringey, and the message ended up muddled in the end. I understand why people would like it, but at the same time, why? The premise is intriguing, but the execution feels like a school project, and with the same depth.
Read my review for more angry thoughts.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie (2009)

Monza Murcatto was the most famous mercenary in Styria, head of the Thousand Swords, until the day her employer decided she was too popular for his taste. Left for dead, broken and alone, the only thing that keeps her going is the thought of exacting revenge on the seven people who caused her demise, and she’ll need the most dangerous – and untrustworthy – people to help her.

This was really good. Not the most original plot – revenge story, let’s kill the obstacles one by one, that kind of stuff – but as usual Abercrombie does an excellent job at characterisation and manages to pull a twist or two. A standalone set in the same world as the First Law trilogy, it’s the perfect choice if you want something gritty and violent but don’t feel like committing to a longer series.
You can read my review here.

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard (1962)

What happens when global warming melts the ice caps and the earth is transformed in a sort of primordial jungle? That’s what Dr Kerans and his team are trying to document, at least until they realise that it’s not just about flora and fauna; something deeper is happening to the human species itself, and none knows what it means.

I don’t want to be more specific than that because I think the most interesting part of the novel is finding out what’s going on, and how the changes are affecting the human population. It’s an interesting premise – and one more pressing than ever – but aside from that, the book suffers from a pretty underwhelming style and some issues probably due to the time it was written.
I’ll have a review up in the next couple of days, if you’re interested in knowing a bit more about it.

So these are all the books I read in the month of November! December promises to be a busier one though, so who knows how much reading I’ll be able to get done.
What was your favourite book you read in the last month? And have you read any of the ones I mentioned?

Stay safe, and happy reading!

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