What I read in February 2020: Part 1

Hello friends! Even though February was a short month, I managed to read a lot, so I am splitting my book round-up into two again. As you can tell, this is part 1. I will publish part 2 next week, on Show Us Your Books day and link both up with Steph and Jana. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

The Toymakers

Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver. Liesl lives all alone in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother, with only the shadows and mice for company. But then a ghost named Po and his pet, Bundle, appear from the darkness. That same evening, an alchemist’s apprentice named Will, accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable. That innocent mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey. I found this book randomly on Scribd and thought it sounded cute. I ended up really liking it. It’s a story about grief but it’s magical and adorable. I loved the characters – Bundle is my favourite ♡. There are some cliché elements and the good and bad characters are very much black and white, but nonetheless it’s an enjoyable and fast read. 3.5 stars.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else. Then one day, after a silly argument, Jack stops talking to Hazel. Then he disappeared into the forest with a mysterious woman in white. Now it’s up to Hazel to go into the woods too and rescue him, because that’s what friends do – even if Jack doesn’t want to be friends any more. This is a retelling of The Snow Queen, but because of the title I kept thinking it should be Hansel and Gretel! Anyway, this is such a sad book. I felt really bad for Hazel, not fitting in and not being able to understand why (it’s because the rest of them are sheep and you are awesome!). Once Hazel entered the woods/other world, I loved all the references to other fairytales and stories, and how the author turned them on their heads and nothing was as it seemed. 4 stars.

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter… It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment. The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into the midst of this family business comes young Cathy Wray, a girl with a secret, running away from a shameful past. But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own… My friend gave me this book for Christmas 2018 and it took me way too long to get around to reading it. When I finally did, I was expecting something magical and wonderful and escapist. And the first half truly is . I felt so nostalgic for my own childhood. Then it gets darker… war comes and some people end up changed forever. The second half of the book absolutely devastated me. There is also a theme of sibling jealously running throughout, and I honestly may never forgive one character for what he did. Nonetheless, I 100% recommend. 5 stars.

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson. When daydreamer Clementine discovers a mysterious house standing in the middle of town that was never there before, she is pulled towards it by a powerful sense that it has something to do with the mother who left when she was very young. Inside, she finds the house full snowglobes, each containing a trapped magician, watched over by Gan, the bitter keeper of the house. Inside one of the globes is Dylan, a boy who teases her at school but now needs her help. So Clem ventures into the snowglobes, rescuing Dylan and discovering her own powerful connection to the magic of these thousand worlds. This is very magical and I loved the parts where Clem and Dylan were journeying through all the different snowglobes. Clementine’s relationship with her father is lovely. But Dylan’s story felt somewhat lacking, like it had been tacked on to provide a reason for Clem to enter the snowglobes in the first place. It’s still an enjoyable read, I just feel like more could have been made of it. 3.5 stars

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his Christmas holidays relaxing. But on that first icy night, the guest bell rings. Then rings again, and again. Soon Milo’s home is full of mysterious guests each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and his new friend Meddy must untangle the clues and investigate the mystery to discover the truth about Greenglass House. I absolutely adored this book. It’s so fun! Milo is a fantastic character and it was great to see his confidence develop throughout the book. I also loved that his (adopted) parents are there throughout the story, albeit busy trying to run an inn. There’s no conveniently getting the parents out of the way so the kids can investigate like in so many children’s books – Milo has to sneak around a lot and he does end up getting in trouble a couple of times! This would have been a perfect Christmas read. If I wasn’t on a book buying ban I would definitely have devoured the sequel by now. 5 stars.

Nevertell by Katherine Orton. Twelve-year-old Lina was born in a Soviet labour camp, a place of hunger, cruelty, and deprivation, and has never known the world outside. Then one night she escapes with her best friend Bogden, into the frigid Siberian winter, vowing to find her way to Moscow and her long-lost grandmother who she hopes will help her rescue her mother. But out in the snowy wilderness, the pair are soon pursued by a vengeful sorceress and her pack of shadow wolves. The children will need every ounce of courage – and a whisper of magic – if they are to survive. This is a fast-paced and magical adventure. I felt like some of the characters could have been developed a bit more but I loved Lina. The atmospheric writing is excellent – I could really picture the snowy conditions. I wasn’t sure about the ending though. 3.5 stars.

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. Fiftenn-year-old Zoe has a secret. A dark, terrible secret that she can’t tell to anyone she knows. Then one day she hears about a criminal, Stuart Harris, who is on death row in Texas. Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder. So Zoe starts writing him letters, telling her story and confessing the secrets that keep her awake at night. I enjoyed reading this book. There is an issue with consent at the beginning that is never actually resolved and Zoe makes a lot of stupid decisions. So many things could have been resolved if she had just communicated with people. Lots of typical teenage drama that could have been avoided. But despite that something about it kept me reading. And honestly the drama is very realistic – I know my friends and I had a lot of drama as teens that could easily have been resolved if we weren’t all so ridiculous. I absolutely LOVED the glimpses into Zoe’s family and her sibling relationships. I don’t think this book would be for everybody, but despite the few issues I had with it, I’m giving this 4 stars.

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens. It’s the school holidays and Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a trip on the famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that everyone in the first-class carriages has something to hide. Then there is a scream from one of the cabins, and a wealthy heiress is found dead, But the killer has vanished – as if into thin air. Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked room mystery – and with several other sleuths on the case, they are determined to be the ones that solve it! I’m really enjoying this series. This is book 3, and I think it’s my favourite in the series so far. It’s great fun and a wonderful tribute to Agatha Christie. I enjoyed seeing Hazel’s father in this one and I liked how it incorporated some of the background issues of the political situation in Europe at the time without getting bogged down in too much detail. I also like how this book addressed xenophobia and the way people who are different are treated – it was a bit of a theme in the first two books, but it really comes into play here. I’m looking forward to continuing the series. 4.5 stars.

Nooks and Crannies by Jessica lawson. She, sweet Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, although her horrible parents think the only thing she’s good at is being a nuisance. Her only friend is her pet mouse, Pemberley, with whom she shares her dingy attic bedroom. Then one day Tabitha and five other children receive a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere. None of them sure why they’ve been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed. When the children start disappearing, all Tabitha’s investigative skills are put to the test as she attempts to solve the case and rescue what just might be her first ever real friends. This is such a fun mystery! I loved the descriptions of the house – especially the library. I want it! Tabitha is a fantastic character (with truly horrible parents – think Roald Dahl style). Her pet mouse is awesome and I really enjoyed all her detecting. There was at least one Americanism that threw me out of the story briefly (I don’t think “trash” was British English even hundreds of years ago) but that’s a minor detail. I also guessed part of the reveal and I thought the ending was a bit too happily-ever-after but I had so much fun reading it. A fully deserved 4 stars.

The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. It doesn’t matter that Megan would rather be at the mall, Cassidy is late for hockey practice, Emma’s already read every book in existence, and Jess is missing her mother too much to care – the new book club is scheduled to meet every month and the girls will attend. But what begins as a mom-imposed ritual of reading Little Women soon helps four unlikely friends navigate all the drama of middle school – from stolen diaries to fashion-fiascos. This is a cute read. I enjoyed the facts about Little Women and Louisa May Alcott interspersed throughout the books. There were a couple of things I wasn’t happy about – remarks are made about one character based on her weight, including by adults. This particular person isn’t very nice but I feel like making fun of her size instead of calling out her meanness is a bad message. There’s also a totally cliché environmentalist character. Even as a non-vegan I know it is actually possible to make food that is both healthy/vegan and tasty! However, it is a fun and fast read. If you want to give it a go, I recommend reading Little Women first otherwise you will be spoiled. 3 stars.

So, that is 10 books and somehow 8 of them are children’s/middle grade books (Ketchup Clouds is young adult). Not intentional, I promise! For those who couldn’t be bothered to read all of the above:

TL;DR. I highly, highly recommend The Toymakers. It is magical and wonderful and devastating all at once and I loved it. I also highly recommend Greenglass House for fan’s of children’s books (and actual children, of course). And if you haven’t discovered the Murder Most Unladylike series yet and you’re into mysteries check that out. None of the books I read this month were really bad though, so if any of them sound like your thing then do check them out.

I shall return next week with reviews of the other ten books I read in February.

12 thoughts on “What I read in February 2020: Part 1

  1. Thanks for the tip on reading Little Women before The Mother-Daughter Book Club! I haven’t read it yet but both are on my TBR. I was on the fence about Ketchup Clouds, and even with the issues you described I think I will be adding it!

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