Hello everyone. The Show Us Your Books link up is here again, a.k.a the day I discover more books I want to read than on all the other days of the month put together. In June I managed to finish 18 books again, so I won’t ramble on too much but just get on with it…
Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden. I started reading this book on the plane to England then read the final chapter on the morning of 1 June while everyone else was still sleeping. When Tess Devlin bumps into her ex-she’s furious when he acts like he doesn’t know her. An angry phone call reveals that it couldn’t possibly have been him. Meanwhile Frank Lindbergh is attacked in his home by an intruder with his face. Gradually a whole group of people realise they have doppelgangers… and all of them were once involved in a project at a creepy mansion on a hill. This was an interesting concept and nicely creepy. Parts of the story had me gripped, but sometimes the writing felt a bit clunky. The final page was chilling. A decent enough read. 3.5 stars
Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan. I read this book on the way home from England and it was interesting enough to hold my attention through two flights. Margot Lewis is a teacher who also works as an agony aunt for a local newspaper under the name “Amy”. When she receives a letter from someone claiming their name is Bethan Avery and they’ve been kidnapped she assumes it must be a hoax – Bethany Avery has been missing for nearly two decades. But with a girl from her class also missing she reluctantly turns over the letters to the police just in case. Then it turns out the letters are genuine. Unlike most reviewers on Goodreads, I really enjoyed this. I must be slow because I did not see the twist coming until just before it was revealed. Not a perfect book by any means but I liked it. 4 stars.
I Do Not Sleep by Judy Finnegan. Five years ago, Molly Gabriel lost her 20-year-old son, Joey, to a sailing accident. His empty boat was discovered washed ashore on the rocks but his body was never found. Now Molly has returned to Cornwall, the scene of the accident, unable to accept that he’s really gone. Against the wishes of her family, she confronts Joey’s best friend to find out more about what went on that day. The mystery in this book is intriguing, but there are some odd supernatural components I wasn’t expecting. Despite its length, this somehow a quick read. It was 448 pages but it didn’t feel like I read that many words. 3 stars, I liked it okay but wouldn’t necessarily read anything else by this author.
Stitch Head by Guy Bass. At Castle Grotteskew, Professor Erasmus conducts his bizarre experiments on living things. His very first creation – a small, almost-human creature, known only as Stitch Head – has been long forgotten. Poor Stitch Head has spent years trying to get the attention of his creator while also keeping the increasingly bizarre other creations under control. When the leader of a freak show promises to make Stitch Head a star, he wonders whether there is a better life out there for him. But first he has to deal with the professor’s latest creation – a monstrous three-armed creature that’s just smashed its way to freedom. This is a cute, fun little book. I love little Stitch Head and the Creature. I would recommend it for children aged 8+ and all fans of slightly gothic children’s books. It’s the first in a series and I’m looking forward to reading book two. 4 stars.
Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas. Libby Hall never really wanted to be noticed. But after she saves the children in her care from a fire, she finds herself headline news. And horrified by the attention. It all reminds her of what happened nine years ago. The last time she saw her best friend alive. So when she and her husband get an offer to take part in a house swap it seems like a dream come true. But this stylish Cornish home isn’t the getaway they’d hoped for. They make odd, even disturbing, discoveries in the house. It’s so isolated-yet Libby doesn’t feel entirely alone. As if she’s being watched. Is Libby being paranoid or is something strange really going on? This book has so many twists and turns. The moral of the story, apart from how well do you really know somebody, appears to be if something seems too good to be true it probably is. Towards the end, after the reveal, I kept being confused about who was speaking now but other than that I enjoyed this so much more than Local Girl Missing by the same author. 4 stars.
Whisper by Chrissie Keighery. How do you know if your friends are talking about you behind your back or if a boy likes you? They could act innocent, but you’d know from the rumours. You’d hear the whispers. But what if you couldn’t hear those whispers any more? What if everything you took for granted was gone? Being a teenager is hard enough without being deaf as well! This is a lovely book. Demi, the deaf main character, felt so real to me with all her problems – some brought about by her being a typical teenager, being jealous of her older sister and making assumptions about other characters. Yes, people can be mean but I liked how this book showed not everything is about discrimination, although Demi often assumed everything was because she’s deaf. I also loved Demi’s nephew, Harry. He’s so pure and lovely. At one point he says “My auntie Demi can do anything!” Awww. It’s a simple story but really insightful. 5 stars.
Half Life by Shelley Jackson. I’m not sure whether this is supposed to be set in the future or some kind of alternative reality, but either way it takes place in a world where conjoined twins are much more common than in our society because of increased radioactivity. Nora is one such person, and she’s tired of being attached to her twin, Blanche, who has been asleep for the past 15 or 20 years. So she goes to London in an attempt to track down a society that is rumoured to illegally separate conjoined twins (illegal because one always dies in the process). Once in England, Nora’s past begins to emerge and Blanche may or may not be waking up. This book is both fascinating and confusing. I started off enjoying the story and by the end I wasn’t sure which parts had actually happened or to who. The closer to the end it gets, the more bizarre and surreal it becomes. Definitely one that will require a careful re-read in the future. 4 stars.
Der Fremde Gast by Charlotte Link. This has been translated unto English as “The Unknown Guest”. Inconsolable after the death of her husband, Rebecca Brandt has decided to take her own life. But an unexpected visitor keeps her from carrying out her plans, an old friend who shows up at her secluded house in the South of France and bringing two strangers along with him: the students Inga and Marius, who wanted to hitch hike to the sea. Rebecca befriends the two of them and even lets them use her boat. But while they’re out sailing, they get into a terrible fight, and at some point Marius goes overboard. A short time later, his picture appears in the German papers in connection with a murder. Almost all the female characters in this book were weak and annoying, pandering to their husbands’ whims… spending their entire lives trying not to make them angry. Ugh. The plot was intriguing though. There were so many points of view that I was confused half the time, but I had to keep reading because I needed to know how they were all connected. I had a feeling something weird was going on with one person but did not guess the culprit. A high 3 stars but not quite a 4. Would 3.75 be too weird?
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Finally I got to read this one! Everyone has been raving about it but I was waiting until I could find a cheap copy. Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, sticks to her routine, and doesn’t really talk to anyone. She has learned how to survive but it’s very clear from the start that no matter what she says she is not completely fine. I honestly don’t know how to review this book. I didn’t really like Eleanor at first – I mean, she really isn’t very likeable to be fair. But I did feel sorry for her. She had totally grown on me by the end and I wanted the best for her. There’s a twist at the end that I did not see coming. I don’t want to say more. Honestly I think it’s best to go into this one knowing very little about it. 5 stars – probably my favourite book of the year so far.
Paperweight by Meg Haston. Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped. In her life. And now in an eating-disorder treatment centre. She doesn’t plan to stay there for long though. There are only twenty-seven days until the anniversary of her brother Josh’s death—the death she caused. And if Stevie gets her way, there are only twenty-seven days until she, too, will end her life. I really enjoyed this book – as much as you can say you “enjoy” this subject matter. Stevie is a hard character to like – she’s so cynical and mean at the beginning. But I kind of get it and she does change/grow as the book goes on. There are some great side characters – I love her room-mate Ashley! I cried towards the end so obviously this book got to me. I can’t comment on how accurate the eating disorder/treatment side to it was having never been in that situation but it felt realistic to me. 4 stars.
Steps to the Gallows by Edward Marston. When the editor of a newspaper that regularly reveals the details of political and sexual scandals and publishes caricatures of public figures in compromising situations is killed, a group of amateur sleuths called the “Invisible Detectives” (according to the blurb – this doesn’t come up in the book) are hired by the man who financed the production of the paper. He wants the killer brought to justice and the scandal sheet revived. Meanwhile the actual police are also on the case, and are not happy that the amateurs are butting in. Kezzie gave me this book when I met up with her last August and I only got round to reading it now. Shameful! I enjoyed the story but some of the dialogue was a little clunky. Nobody uses anyone’s name that much! It’s pretty much a standard murder mystery/amateur sleuth novel in the vein of Agatha Christie, etc. but with weapons experts instead of old ladies. This is book 2 in a series but not having read the first one wasn’t an issue. 3.5 stars.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. As a result she knows things nobody would ever expect… for instance that her family has moved to the island of Vane because her father is fleeing a scandal. And when her father is discovered dead she knows he was murdered. Hunting through her father’s possessions, Faith discovers a strange tree that only bears fruit when she whispers lies to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. Can the lie tree help he find her father’s murderer? I absolutely loved this. It’s dark and twisted and so interesting. Faith is a fantastic character and I just know that one day she’s going to show everyone that women are just as good as men. 5 stars.
Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm. It’s 1953 and 11-year-old Penny dreams of a summer of butter pecan ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But she she’s not allowed to go swimming because her mother’s afraid she’ll catch polio at the pool. To make matters worse, her dog, Scarlett O’Hara, is sick. Her favourite uncle is living in a car. Her best friend is turning into a criminal. And no one will tell Penny the truth about how her father died. This book is based on Jennifer Holm’s own Italian-American family and it’s wonderful. Heart-warming, amusing, historically insightful. Penny is a great character. After the story, the author has included photos of her family members who inspired the book’s characters. 5 stars.
Cloud 9 by Alex Campbell. If there was a wonder-drug to make you feel happier, would you take it? In this book’s society, everyone takes a drug called Leata. With no side effects, it’s the perfect pick-me-up. Well, almost everyone takes it. Tom’s dad has always been against Leata and the company that makes it… and now he’s dead. Tom begins to suspect it wasn’t an accident and that there’s something odd going on with Leata. Meanwhile, his next-door-neighbour Hope is a YouTube star and blogger who honestly believes in Leata’s power to make the world a better place (her father is also a lawyer for PharmaCare, the company that make the drug, so she may have other reasons for being the perfect Leata advocate…). Tom and Hope used to be best friends, now they don’t talk any more. But they’re going to have to work together to figure out what’s really going on. I really enjoyed this. It seemed believable and really made me think about the influence of social media as well as society’s obsession with happiness and putting on a positive front to fit in. How many people really want to know how you’re feeling when they ask “how are you?”. I hated Hope at first but it was quickly obvious something more was happening beneath the surface. I had a bit of an issue with the ending, but I won’t go into that here for fear of spoilers. Overall I thought it was a really good story though and a nice introduction to dystopia for teens. 4 stars.
What Came First by Carol Snow. This book is told from the perspective of three women. All Vanessa wants for her 29th birthday is an engagement ring from her boyfriend, Eric. Instead she gets a mix CD and learns that her boyfriend is not interested in having children with her, ever. Wendy and her husband struggled to have children and eventually decided to use a sperm donor. Now her twins are 5 and completely out of control while her husband spends all his time playing computer games. Wendy feels like she got the raw end of the deal. Laura is a single career woman. She never needed a man to have a baby… just an anonymous sperm donor. Now her son, Ian, wants a sibling and she’s determined to grant his wish. Her search ends up bringing the three women together. I liked most of this book but I didn’t love it. Vanessa really annoyed me – I did think Eric treated her badly and I could understand why she was upset but she was just so whiny all the time, about everything. Also I didn’t get the part where Laura had to spend 10 minutes in the toilet every day with an OPK… yes the instructions say to look at it within 10 minutes but the line comes up pretty quickly. She really didn’t need to be sneaking off for 10 minutes every day and being grateful that her assistant was more interested in her phone… that part just felt like an excuse for Laura to get in another dig about her assistant. I gave this one 3 stars.
Der Mann von Nebenan by Amelie Fried. This one hasn’t been translated, but the title means “The Man from Next Door”. After getting divorced, Kate has recently moved to the countryside with her son. Not long after she arrives, she finds a woman lying dead in a field. Not really, the idyllic village of her dreams. Luckily she has nice neighbours… but gradually the man next door gets more and more pushy. Is he really as friendly as he seems? Kate and her new friends decide there’s only one thing for it: the neighbour has to be dealt with. This is such an odd book. The murder at the beginning never actually seems to be cleared up, although there is a detective who shows up at the weirdest times. One of Kate’s neighbours practices what seems to be some kind of voodoo – at one point casting a love spell for Kate (which apparently works?). And the drama with the next-door neighbour takes an unexpected turn. It was a pleasant enough read and quick to get through – kind of chick-lit-ish with a slight twist – but not one I would say people need to rush out and read. If it hadn’t been in a free public bookcase I wouldn’t have picked it up. 3 stars.
Peas and Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners by Sandi Toksvig. This is literally what the title suggests – a book about manners. How should yo eat peas? What do you do if people are making a noise in the quiet carriage? How to behave when living with other people. It’s framed as a series of letters to the author’s niece, each followed by a section on how to behave in a certain situation. I was intrigued by the title and had seen a good review on it so decided to give it a go. Unfortunately it was fairly useless for me – it didn’t tell me anything about how to behave that I don’t already now. I liked Sandi Toksvig’s writing style and the beginning of the book, about the history of manners, etc., was really interesting. I also found the little asides about the origins of words interesting. Overall it was okay, a relatively quick read, but I’m not really sure who I would recommend it to, if anyone. 3 stars. At least I got to cross another non-fiction book off my list…
The Humans by Matt Haig. When Professor Andrew Martin solves a maths problem, aliens decide he needs to be eliminated because the human race is not ready for this kind of knowledge. One of their number is sent to invade his body so they can also get rid anyone with whom he has shared his findings. But then the alien tasked with taking over his body starts to experience life and discovers he actually rather likes being human. This book disappointed me. I thought I was going to absolutely adore it, but for some reason I didn’t. The perspective is interesting and I found myself agreeing with a few things (humans are absurd!) but overall it just didn’t really do it for me. It’s a good book, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great one. Also, the writing style seems almost but not quite patronising, which may be the point given the narrator but I don’t like feeling as though authors are trying to tell me I’m not clever enough. My favourite part was the list at the end (if you want to know what that means you’ll have to read it). I know other people have loved it, so if you think it sounds interesting I would say give it a go, but for me it was just 3 stars – not the 5 I expected to give it.
And that’s it for today. 18 books described and reviewed. Sorry it’s so long again! I’ve only read 4 books so far in July, so maybe next month you’ll get lucky and my round-up post will be shorter 😉
Have you read any of these books? DO you agree with my thoughts? Or have you read something good recently that you think I should try too? And if you haven’t had enough book talk, go and check out the link up for more reviews and recommendations.