#Bookswap Book Reviews: Night Waking, Of Bees and Mist, and Harold Fry

Happy Tuesday, readers!  Today we’re bringing you three book reviews from our recent #bookswap, which sent books flying all around the world.  I hope these reviews, by Rachel, Linsey and yours truly, inspire you to get to your nearest library, or to buy them from our AOW Bookshop or from Local Bookshops UK…and to bury your head between the pages and not emerge for hours.    

If you’d like to write a review of the book you received, get writing and send it to us – we are book nerds in the extreme and will ALWAYS want to post a book review.  And we have readers who will ALWAYS want to read a book review.  I tell you, AOW is a match made.        

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

(The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce.  Review by me, book given by Claire who generously sent me two.  Review of the second book forthcoming!)

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Harold.  The premise of his story is a simple one; Harold is old, and in a loveless marriage, and receives a letter from Queenie, an old friend, which informs him she is dying  of cancer in Berwick-upon-Tweed, in Scotland.

What follows is a story of how Harold, driven by  a longing that he cannot identify, and a desire to do something right, just once more, walks to the postbox to post Queenie a letter.  And decides to walk to the next one.  And then decides to keep going.  And doesn’t stop.  And ends up walking from South Devon to Scotland. 

Along the way Harold meets a motley crew of characters, all of whom teach him something, something that ultimately makes him a better person.  He reflects on his past, on the mistakes he has made, on who he wanted to become and who he is.  

“People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.”  

More than anything, this book made me understand that being normal is never the easy option.  It’s a beautiful, surprising book.  In some ways it pulls at you and you begin to fear sadness, and you slow your reading, but you continue because of the sheer adoration you feel for Harold.  And then the story flips you over inside and it becomes one of the most life-affirming books you’ll have read for years.  Sadness becomes happiness becomes a true appreciation for what people are inside, and what they can become if you let them let it out. ”      

Of Bees and Mist  

(Of Bees And Mist, by Erick Setiawan.  Review by Linsey, book given by Laura)

“I received this book from Laura and had never heard of it or seen it before, but reading the blurb I thought it sounded intriguing.

The book tells the story of Meridia, mixing fairytale with family drama and dark secrets. Growing up she watches her father disappear off into mysterious mists, and later in life she observes her mother-in-law releasing the bees of the title. I won’t reveal any more about the story but safe to say Meridia doesn’t have an easy time with her own family or the one she marries into.

I found this book a bit slow to get into (not unusual for me!), but once I got to know the characters I couldn’t put it down. The bees and mist were a little bit confusing, but they didn’t get in the way of the story and I had to keep reading to find out how it would all turn out. The story, the strong female characters and the slight touch of fantasy to this book all made it a good read that I really enjoyed.”

Night Waking

(Night Waking, by Sarah Moss.  Review by Rachel, who writes Flowers and Stripes, book given by Roz who writes at The Olive Dragonfly)


“This was half of my Bookswap from Roz. It’s set in a remote Scottish island and has similarities to Possession, in that there are ancient letters dotted in between the chapters and it’s about trying to uncover what happened in the past. The other thread running through this is domestic. Of a woman who is mother to two small children and is trying to write a book, think about the next step in her academic career, whilst childcare, and whilst her husband is off counting puffins. Nightwaking refers to her desire to sleep, but constantly being woken by the children – each chapter has a vignette of when she’s woken, at what time and what she thinks and feels. 

Moving to a global scale, what would I pawn for sleep? Would I, given the choice, have peace for Palestine or twelve hours in bed? Clean water for the children of Africa or a week off motherhood? The advent of carbon-neutral industrial processes or a month’s unbroken nights? It’s a good thing Satan doesn’t come and chat to the mothers of sleepless toddlers in the middle of the night.’

 Night Waking is also a little about having dreams of escaping to an island, and the day to day reality of it.  I enjoyed it, it felt like a book to read in the bath, not sure if I was in the midst of sleepless nights whether I’d find it comforting, or whether it would make me feel even more exhausted. It was the perfect Bookswap gift – a book by an author I didn’t know and a good easy read.”

Categories: Books
25 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted April 30, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Oh dear, I can feel my bank balance getting another hit! First up is Harold.

  2. Chirsty
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Def up for a bit of Harold once I’ve got a space in my book list!
    Still currently deep deep in The Host from the lovely Bex Olive-Dragonfly (yes, that is a new hyphenated surname I have bestowed. Sorry Bex!) – review to follow once I’ve finished it: its gripping me so far! Love #bookswap!

    • Posted April 30, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Best name ever! I want to be able to say ‘Mr K, darling, the Olive -Dragonflys are popping round for dinner ‘

      You know, in that parallel universe where I call him darling.

      • Posted April 30, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        As long as you mean me and Bex when you say the Olive-Dragonflys are popping round for dinner, I’d hate to miss out on some homemade Anna food!

  3. Fran M
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Currently have my head in the latest Kate Atkinson (god I love her) – but these three have been added to my ‘books to read next’ list (yes, this does exist). Definitely up for joining in with the next sawp whenever that may be :)

    • Posted April 30, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Ooh, I fancy reading the new Kate Atkinson book. Is it good so far?

      • Kate G
        Posted May 1, 2013 at 5:16 am | Permalink

        If you mean Life after Life, Lucy its wonderful – Im only halfway through but I’d really recommend so far! Its my first Kate Atkinson but I’ll be looking out for the others. Very clever and takes you on so many journeys as its not a compleley linear storyline – but for all that its not confusing, just rewarding.

  4. Zan
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Oooh, am liking these! Have been eyeing up the Pilgrimage of Harold Fry for a while… so that’ll go on my list!

    I’m reading two at the moment – well reading one, listening to one (I listen to audiobooks on my commute). Currently reading Gone Girl (to see what all the hype is about!) and listening to The View on the Way Down, which is desperately sad but wonderfully written.

    • Peabody_Bites
      Posted April 30, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      I would be interested to hear what you thought of Gone Girl – I read it as well (to see what the hype was about) but ultimately really didn’t enjoy it and couldn’t quite understand why it had been so universally well reviewed, even by writers I respect. Difficult to go into much detail about it without giving away the plot twists, which makes discussing it on the internet quite challenging!

  5. Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I can’t believe you put me in between two people who can actually write proper book reviews! Loving the sound of the other two here *adds to wishlist*

    • Posted April 30, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Linsey, you’re a wally. (I’m thanking Clare for reintroducing me to this word)

  6. Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Loving the sound of all of these! I am on a shopping ban whilst moving house… do you think this transfers to books? Hmmm….


  7. Emily
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Ah, Harold has been on my ‘Books I want to read this year’ list (it’s a huge list) for a while now. I’ll move it up to the top and add the other two! I am currently reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell although only about 4 pages in so can’t tell you if it’s worth a read!

    • Peabody_Bites
      Posted April 30, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      I thought Thousand Autumns was absolutely wonderful – an extraordinary portrait of Japan as well as being a very compelling read. I really recommend.

      I also liked Harold Fry very much – gentle, charming and very wise.

  8. Posted April 30, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    So glad you liked Night Waking Rachel :) I’ve never heard of either of the other two books, but really want to read about Harold.

  9. Gemma N
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for these, I particularly like the sound of Harold Fry. I am in need of some recommendations at the moment, as I seem to have gone off reading lately.

    I’m not quite sure what happened as I used to really enjoy reading, but over the last couple of years I seem to be really struggling to get into a book, and have started and abandoned quite a few. I am blaming my iphone, as I used to read on the train to/ from work, and now seem to spend it mostly on twitter or playing stupid games, which I’m sure is slowly killing my brain cells and is obviously shortening my attention span!

    Anyway… what I need is a sure fire winner, a book I know will hook me in quickly, easy to read, and that I will want to finish. I need to break the habit of half-finished books.

    Does Harold Fry sound like a good bet? Any other recommendations? To give context a couple of my favourite books of recent(ish) years have been Life of Pi, and Arthur and George.

    • Claire
      Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      Just wondering Gemma – have you ever tried Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books? They’re mostly set in Spain, slightly fantastical like Life of Pi but I found them easy to get into, gripping and with good characters. Take a look at the Shadow of the Wind and The Angels Game on the internet and see if they sound appealing – I won’t be offended if you think ‘eurgh no’ or have already tried them and didn’t like them – reading ruts can be hard to break sometimes!

      • Gemma N
        Posted May 1, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        For some reason I thought I had read Shadow of the Wind, but just looked up the synopsis on Amazon and it doesn’t look familiar. Sounds good I might give it a go, thanks!

  10. Claire
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Anna – so glad Harold was good and can’t wait to read it. These are all definitely going on my list – thanks reviewers and book pickers!

    Currently in the middle of a game of thrones book (blood and gold) but cannot wait for the reading fest I have planned for my holiday in a week and a half :-)

  11. Zan
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    oooh I had that as an audio book not that long ago. I didn’t think it’d be my kind of thing but a friend had sung it’s praises and I thought it was pretty good in the end!

  12. Gemma N
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    That’s one of the ones I abandoned last year. I remember picking it up in Waterstones on a whim, just because I was intrigued by the title! I actually enjoyed it to begin with but think I had a break for some reason half way through and then couldn’t get back into it. Perhaps I should give it another go.

  13. Posted May 1, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    this is going to start getting expensive *orders them all*

  14. Gemma N
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Just wanted to post again to say on Friday I was about to set off on a 2 hour train journey, and decided this was the perfect time to break my reading rut with a good long stretch to get me into something.. so I went and bought Harold Fry (and also The Red House by Mark Haddon – I did look for Shadow of the Wind but without success).

    Train journey flew by and by the time I’d arrived I was a third of the way through the book. Now I’m almost finished, and the book made me cry actual tears on the tube this morning. Not cool. Actually looking forward to my journey home so I can carry on / finish it!

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for recommending a wonderful book, and for renewing my interest in reading in general. Think I’ll be starting on the other book I bought tomorrow, and am going to trawl back through the blog for other book reviews.

    • Posted May 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Gemma, your comment made me jump for joy. Isn’t Harold wonderful?!?

      • Gemma N
        Posted May 7, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        Yes! Although I have wanted to shout at him a little bit a couple of times too. And then felt guilty for it… so much I want to say but won’t as I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone else. I really want to get to the end tonight.. there is a danger I may miss my train stop!

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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