What I read in November 2019: part 1

Please note: all but one of the books here are children’s books (middle grade). If you have no interest in those types of books then there’s no need to continue reading.

Hello lovely readers. I hope you are all well? Everything here is a mess – and I mean that in the most literal sense. I would be ashamed to let anyone inside my flat right now! Must sort that out this weekend. But that isn’t want I want to talk about today.

This month I’m doing something I don’t usually do and splitting my reading recap into two parts. There are just sooo many books to talk about! This post is part 1 and then I will post part 2 on Show Us Your Books day, which is 10th December. I will, of course, be linking both posts up with Jana and Steph when the time comes. This post will feature the books I read from 1-14 November (you’ll see why later) and then the next one will be all the books I read in the second half of the month.

So, let’s get on with it shall we? Most of the books I read in November were for Believathon, or the Believe in the Impossible Readathon – a readathon dedicated to children’s books… or what’s called “middle grade” these days (there was no such category when I was growing up! My library had a picture books/beginning readers section, an 11+ section, then all the other children’s books were just on shelves in the middle. And bookshops went by age, with a “teens” section after the “8-12” category. But I digress). I read one book that wasn’t a children’s book, so I’ll talk about that one first and then go through all the Believathon books in the order I read them.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I found this in a café in Karlsruhe and decided to read it since it was only 46 pages long. This is essentially an essay, based on a Tedx Talk. It talks about blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious behaviours that are ingrained in society and that marginalise women around the world, often without people even realising or noticing what’s happening. Honestly, there wasn’t really anything in there I hadn’t thought of before but she articulated her thoughts very well. I read most of the book out loud to Jan and it led to an interesting discussion, so that was cool. It’s possibly a little simplistic for me personally but sadly there are many people out there who need this issue to be spelled out to them in simple terms. 4 stars. I do think everyone should read it but, like I said, it was a little simplistic for me.

Okay, now the “serious” stuff is out of the way, let’s get on to the children’s books!

Believathon

The Trouble with Perfect by Helena Duggan. This is the sequel to a Place Called Perfect. For Believathon, I read this book for the prompt “a book with a strong sense of friendship”. In book 1, Violet and her friend Boy uncovered the secrets of the scarily perfect town and saved its residents – I won’t say from what, you’ll have to read it for yourself. Now Violet and the townsfolk are enjoying their new freedom, but have they really seen the last of the bad guy from the first book? Why is Boy acting strangely? And who is masterminding a scary zombie army? Another creepy, quirky adventure in the “Perfect” universe. I didn’t love this quite as much as the first one. It started off pretty slowly and I wasn’t immediately sucked in. The “twist” of whodunnit was obvious to me – although in fairness I’m an adult and have read a lot, so it may be different for the actual intended age group. Once the proper action started things picked up and by the end I didn’t want it to be over. I now NEED book three. 3.5 stars

Ella on the Outside by Cath Howe. I read this one for the prompt “a book with real-life issues”. Ella is new in town, and in school. She doesn’t know anyone or have any friends, and she’s keeping a terrible secret. When Lydia, the most popular girl in school, befriends Ella she can’t believe her luck. But what does Lydia really want? And what does it all have to do with Molly, the quiet, shy girl who won’t talk to anyone? This is a lovely story about friendship, trying to fit in and the struggle to do the right thing. The author captured the struggles of wanting to be liked at school really well. I really felt for Ella, and for Molly as well. 4 stars.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. I read this one for the prompt “a book set in the past”. Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she becomes fascinated with the world of science. But it’s 1899, and Callie is soon faced with the realities of life as a girl at the turn of the century, at a time when women’s place is most definitely in the home. This is a great introduction to historical fiction for children. I loved the character of Callie – her determination and constant questioning of the world around her. It’s quite a slow book and there isn’t much of a plot as such. Honestly I was slightly bored in the middle. But it’s still a good book and the right kind of child (with an interest in history, science and feminism) would surely find it fascinating. 3 stars.

Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood. I read this for the prompt “a book with an animal character”. It’s the first in the “Five Realms” series. Three young siblings (anthropomorphic rabbits) are on the run from the villainous Gorm tribe – former rabbits gone bad – who have killed and enslaved their clan. Podkin, once destined to be clan leader, has always been spoiled and sheltered, but now he must act bravely as he, his older sister, and baby brother flee for their lives. Along the way, they meet allies and at last they are ready to face the Gorm and attempt to rid the land of their evil presence. This is cute. It reminded me of the Redwall series mixed with Watership Down, but less dark than the latter – there are a few dark/creepy parts but tame compared with what I remember of Watership Down! 4 stars.

The Owl Service by Alan Garner. I read this for the prompt “reread a personal childhood favourite”. Alison hears scratching in the attic above her room, but all that’s up there is a stack of dusty old plates. Alison then discovers that if she traces the pattern of flowers from the plates, she can make the resulting drawings into a paper owls – owls that disappear when nobody is watching. With every vanished owl, more and more strange things happen around around Alison, her step-brother Roger, and the caretaker’s son, Gwyn. It all seems to be wrapped up in a local Welsh legend involving a tragic love story that has repeated itself for generations. I loved this book as a child and read it several times. Reading it now as an adult parts of it are pretty confusing and I’m wondering how much of it I really understood back then. That doesn’t seem to have ruined my experience in any way though. I didn’t find it quite as creepy now – parts of it terrified me when I was 9! It’s still an excellent book but I don’t think everyone would appreciate it. 4 stars

6th November was the first of Gav’s Believathon special events, and was designated as Roald Dahl day. So the next three books I read were extras and not for any prompts (although they could have fulfilled some).

Esio Trot by Roald Dahl. Mr. Hoppy is in love with his downstairs neighbour, Mrs. Silver; but she only has eyes for Alfie, her pet tortoise. Then one day Mr. Hoppy comes up with a brilliant idea to get Mrs. Silver’s attention. Will his plan work, and what’s going to happen to Alfie? It used to be one of my favourite Roald Dahl books but reading it as an adult it’s not one of his best. It’s a cute, fast read but Mrs Silver is silly enough to actually be kind of annoying. It’s still a fun read though so I’m giving it 3.5 stars

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. When James’s parents were eaten by a rhinoceros, he was sent to live with his nasty aunts.Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker call him names, beat and starve him and make his life a misery. Then James meets a man who gives him some magic crystals. Instead of consuming them, he accidentally drops them magic crystals by the old peach tree, and strange things start to happen. The peach at the top of the tree grows and grows until it’s as big as a house. When James discovers a secret entranceway into the fruit and crawls inside, he meets wonderful new friends – including a ladybird, a spider and a centipede – and begins the adventure of a lifetime. I am pleased to say this book still holds up rereading it as an adult. I love the mixture of magic, imagination and actual, real facts about the various insects. It gives an important message about looking after nature, even the tiniest insect, while still being a cute and fun book. Sometimes that kind of message can get a bit preachy, but not in this case. It’s maybe not quite as polished as some of his later books but I still really enjoyed it. 4.5 stars.

The BFG by Roald Dahl. One silvery, moonlit night, Sophie is natched from her bed by a giant. Luckily for her, the BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly – not like the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher. If any of those had caught her. she would have been eaten for breakfast. When Sophie hears that the other giants are off to England to guzzle dozens of children, Sophie is determined that she’s going to stop them – and the BFG has to help! Will they manage it? Roald Dahl’s books can be pretty brutal, but I do love the way the BFG mixes up his words in this one. And Sophie is such a clever little girl. For childhood nostalgia reasons, I’m sticking with a 5-star rating. This one was always my favourite Roald Dahl book (and I loved the old animated film).

Back to the official categories 🙂

A Tail of Camelot (mice of the Round Table #1) by Julie Leung. As you can see, this one is another first in a series. I read this one for the prompt “a book featuring a myth or legend”. Do I really need to tell you what legend it features? Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of the day he will become a Knight of the Round Table like his father and grandfather before him. For generations, his family has led the mice that dwell beneath the human Knights of the Round Table, defending the castle they all call home. When his grandfather Yvers is assassinated, the whole of Camelot is at risk. The other mice suspect the animals who live outside the castle, in Darking Wood, but Calib isn’t convinced. Can Calib convince the Mice of the Round Table and the Darklings to put aside their differences and fight together against a threat that’s bigger than either of them? I loved this! It’s Knights of the round table meets Redwall! The book started off a little slow but it soon picked up and the second half was a real page turner. Calib is a fantastic character. Highly recommend to fans of Arthurian legends looking for something a little different. 4.5 stars.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I read this for the prompt “read children’s classic”. DO I really need to give you a synopsis? Alice is getting bored of sitting beside her sister on the bank, so when she sees a white rabbit with a watch, she follows it, falls down a rabbit hole and a whole adventure with strange characters ensures. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It’s just as whimsical and fun as I remember it being when I was young. There’s a reason this one’s a classic. 5 stars.

More About Paddington by Michael Bond. I then decided to read a second classic book, since it was Gav’s classics weekend. This is book two in the Paddington series, and consists of a series of short stories following events in the little bear from Darket Peru’s life. In this one Paddington experiences his first Bonfire Night and buys Christmas gifts for the Browns, among other things. I absolutely adored this. I love Paddington! Even a shopping trip becomes an adventure with him around. 5 stars.

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky. I read this book for the prompt “read a creepy or atmospheric book”. Young Juniper Berry knows her mother and father aren’t the same people they used to be – and not just because the formerly struggling actors are now world famous. She can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right with them. Then, one rainy night, she finds out she’s right. It’s up to her and her new friend Giles to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t. This book gets very creepy in parts. Not for children who are easily scared! I love Jupiter. She’s brave and selfless and remains true to herself until the end. Giles annoyed me. He is very unfair to Juniper at some points. But other than that I liked this book a lot. It’s a little Coraline-esque but not quite as scary. 4 stars.

Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson. I read this for the prompt “read a seasonal book”. It’s the final book in the Moomins series. Various familiar characters from the previous books – including Snufkin, the Hemulen and Fillyjonk – come to visit the Moomins to escape from various problems in their lives. When they arrive, the find the Moomin family not at home, but decide to stay anyway. This book is strange – a Moomins book with no moomins in it! It’s a slightly bleak but a weirdly compelling read. 3.5 stars.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. I read this for the prompt “a book with a magical element”. Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But Xan, is actually a good witch and has no idea why all these babies are being abandoned. Each year, she rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight along the way. Then one year she accidentally gives a baby girl moonlight, causing her to become enmagicked. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own, so she takes her to her home in the forest where she lives with a swamp monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge – with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch… This book is so beautifully written and the story is utterly charming. I adored how it turns concepts of good and evil on their heads. Fyrian, the tiny dragon has my whole heart ♡ It’s a very fairytale-esque book and fairly dark in places (just like the original fairytales) but nonetheless a gorgeous book. Highly recommended to anyone aged 10+ 5 stars.

Frostheart by Jamie Littler. This was the group book for Believathon. Way out in the furthest part of the known world, in a tiny stronghold cut off from the rest of human-kind by monsters that lurk beneath the snow, a young boy named Ash awaits the return of the parents who disappeared many years ago. Ostracised for singing a forbidden lullaby to remind him of them, Ash spends most of his time trying to avoid his grumpy Yet guardian, Tobin. When a brave rescue attempt reveals he has amazing magical powers – and causes him to be banished from the only home he’s ever known – he’s whisked aboard the Frostheart, a ship-like sleigh packed full of daring explorers whose mission is to explore faraway lands. Can they help Ash find his parents? This book starts with a bang (or rather a monster attack) and the action just doesn’t stop. Parts of the plot were a little predictable but I loved the characters. Especially Lunah. The one annoying thing was that I didn’t realise this was the first in a series so now I have to wait to find out whether Ash ever does find his parents. But overall Jamie Littler has created a fantastic world, and his illustrations are also stunning. 4 stars.

Frostheart was the final book from my original Believathon list, but with the month only half over I decided I would try to complete every prompt twice. I finished reading it on the 14th, so I am stopping this post here and part 2 will be all the books from my second go at the various prompts. And if you haven’t been counting along and were wondering, there are 16 books in this post, 15 of which were for Believathon.

TL;DR. Oh man, I don’t know what to tell you here. Honestly, I recommend all of them so if you couldn’t be bothered to read the post it’s your loss. If you insist then I particularly recommend The Girl Who Drank the Moon, A Tail of Camelot, Juniper Berry and Frostheart. And if you haven’t read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland then you really should be questioning whether you even had a childhood. (I’m kidding… but you really should read it).

Okay, that’s it for now. Look out for part two in a week and a bit.

24 thoughts on “What I read in November 2019: part 1

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed Podkin,i love that series, likewise The Girl who Drank the Moon. I agree about Perfect being a bit obvious, I really enjoyed book 1 but wasn’t as taken with book 2. I really need to read The Owl Service! Great work getting through so many!

      1. I look forward to seeing your thoughts. If my tbr wasn’t disastrously old and wobbly I’d read it too but I can’t justify it when I have SO many others waiting that I’m really excited for!

  2. Such a useful post for me! I love hearing about new children’s books to read! I bought Frostheart recently- haven’t read it yet!
    I just read The Princess who Flew with Dragons which was and now I am reading, “The Night i met Father Christmas which seems like an interesting spin on A Christmas Carol!

  3. I’m excited to check out almost all of these! I love Roald Dahl and look forward to revisiting him with my children (We’ve already done Matilda but I love lots of his others too)

  4. i really enjoyed We Should All Be Feminists but agree about it being a bit simplistic. definitely agree that some people need to read it and have it spelled out to them like that, but they are likely the people who won’t read it anyway.

  5. I’ve got six middle-grade books I need to mix in with the rest of my TBR for my daughter’s battle of the books (she’s in seventh grade). And I always feel a bit guilty that there are so many classics I haven’t read. I’ve been disappointed with Roald Dahl a few times though…

  6. I’ve skimmed a few of these but only really read the Roald Dahl books. I don’t *love* his stories but my coworker despised his books. It was almost comical. We were given lots of options for novels to do with our class and she adamantly would not go near him. We all had little idiosyncrasies like that though. (Like I really dislike the color red and wouldn’t have it anywhere in my classroom lol.)

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