What I read in September 2020: Part 1

Hello! The Show Us Your Books (sixth anniversary!) link up is tomorrow, but I read quite a few books again in September so I’m splitting my recap into two posts, one today and one tomorrow. Here is the first part, with nine books. Most of these books are YA and middle grade (apart from Black Eyed Susans). If that’s not what you’re looking for check back tomorrow – I have a couple more adult books then. In the meantime, I shall get on with today’s reviews.

Solitaire by Alice Osman. Victoria, or Tori, Spring has just started Sixth Form. She likes to blog and she likes to sleep and that’s about it. Apparently “last year” she had friends, although I’m not sure how given she seems to hate everyone. But that was before A-Levels and university applications. And before everything that happened with her brother Charlie. (Trigger warning for self-harm and eating disorders here). Now there’s Solitaire. And there’s Michael Holden. Tori doesn’t know or care what Solitaire are trying to do and she definitely doesn’t care about Michael Holden… honest. is a quick and easy read, which is good because it meant I didn’t waste too much time on it. Maybe I’m just too far away from my teen years but I could not relate to Tori at all. I understand that she’s supposed to be suffering from undiagnosed depression but she’s also just a horrible person. Not that there’s anything wrong with unlikeable characters, but she’s not even unlikeable in an interesting way. She’s just plain mean and looks down on everyone (except her brother and *maybe* his boyfriend). Even when she’s being self-depreciating and calling herself mean it’s clear that she still thinks she’s better than everyone else. Like “Oh, I’m so mean having these bad thoughts but also X really *is* terrible and unworthy of my attention”. I also found the plot pretty predictable. It was kind of obvious who was behind Solitaire and also obvious what was going to happen with Michael. Meh. 2 stars (because I actually liked Nick and Charlie).

The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle by Deva Fagan. All Prunella wants is to be a proper bog-witch. Unfortunately, her curses tend to do more good than harm. When her mixed-up magic allows a sneaky thief to escape her grandmother’s garden, Prunella is cast out until she can prove herself. It’s hard enough being exiled to the unmagical Uplands, but travelling with the smug young thief Barnaby makes it even worse. He’s determined to gain fame and fortune by recovering the missing Mirable Chalice. And to get what she wants, Prunella has help him, whether she likes it or not. This is fun read with a fairly obvious message about not judging people based on what you’ve been told. The story is a little simple but it was a quick and cute read. 3 stars.

Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan. Asha lives on the family farm with her mother in rural India. Her father is away working in the city, and when the money he sends stops suddenly, a ruthless moneylender ransacks their home and her mother talks of leaving. Guided by a majestic bird which Asha believes to be the spirit of her grandmother, she and her best friend Jeevan a pact with her best friend, Jeevan, to find her father and save her home. But the journey is dangerous: they must cross the world’s highest mountains and face hunger, tiredness – even snow leopards. Will they make it? is a gorgeous book full of adventure with a slightly magical aspect. I felt like some parts were rushed through a bit so they didn’t evoke my emotions quite the way I felt they should have. But overall it’s a great little read. I loved all the descriptions of India and especially the food references. 3.5 stars. And the cover is gorgeous!

The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk. Autumn always knew exactly who she was: a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan has always turned to writing love songs when his real love life was a little less than perfect. But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered. Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind. This book is sad, but ultimately hopeful. I feel like it was spread a bit thin by focusing on 3 main characters, and I never really connected with the whole Autumn/Dante thing or cared as much about Autumn a the other 2 characters. I liked Shay’s part best, mostly because I absolutely adored her friendship group. 3.5 stars.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. Kyle Keeley is the class clown and a huge fan of all games – board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the construction of the new town library. And Kyle is lucky enough to win a coveted spot as one of twelve kids invited for an overnight sleepover in the library, where they get to spend the entire night playing lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route and win an extra special prize. This is a cute, fun read. A little predictable and of course the “nice” kids who work together win, while the nasty ones get their comeuppance. If I’d read it as a kid I would definitely have been writing down every book referenced that I hadn’t already read to try and track it down at my library. As an adult I was pleased when I understood a reference. 3 stars.

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin. Left with three other girls in a grave shrouded by black-eyed Susans, Tessa alone survived, her testimony helping to put a killer behind bars. Sixteen years later, with he execution date rapidly approaching, Tessa is starting to wonder whether she really did the right thing. Because someone is planting black-eyed Susans outside her window. Someone is sending her daughter sinister messages. And there’s a lawyer telling her the man about to be put to death is innocent. I really liked this. It’s more suspense/mystery than true thriller – there are no real scary moments (for Tessa maybe after everything she’s been through but nothing that had me worried as the reader). I enjoyed all the DNA and forensics stuff, and I was not expecting what happened at the end. I was entirely fooled by the path I think the author was trying to take me down, although the clues were there and I feel like I could have known what happened if I was paying attention. 4 stars.

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan. Armed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England in search of her father, who abruptly stopped contacting them a year earlier. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At home her mother’s heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat. This book is told in verse and it’s very quick read – I read it in about 30-45 minutes. I enjoyed it but I almost felt like it was over a little too quickly. I would have liked more of Kasienka’s memories of her life before England. I was really glad when she stood up to her bullies and realised it’s okay to be different. 3.5 stars.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. But on the first day of his senior year, Greg Gaines thinks he’s figured it out. The answer to the basic existential question: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad? His strategy: remain at the periphery at all times, being friendly with all the groups but not friends with any of them. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics. But then Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel, who has just been diagnosed with leukaemia. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives. I really don’t know what to say about this book. There are a few funny parts but mostly it’s just annoying. Especially Greg. I was hoping he would get better as the book went along, maybe redeem himself by actually being a real friend to Rachel? But nope… right the way to the end I just wanted to punch him. And Rachel was so bland and almost pointless that I literally felt nothing when she died. The only decent character was Earl. I felt like cheering when he finally told Greg exactly what everyone else should have been telling him throughout the entire book Points for being a semi-realistic teen cancer book, I guess. People don’t change their entire personalities overnight and become inspirational philosophers just because they’re dying. It’s just a shame Greg was a colossal idiot whose only personality trait, apparently, was trying not to *have* a personality so nobody would notice him. 2.5 stars.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again. Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who who is struggling to cope with his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all… even without arms. I adored this. Aven is a fantastic character, I loved how positive and proactive she was (most of the time) even while feeling vulnerable and I liked how she was there for Connor. Even if she was a little pushy at times her heart was in the right place. The little mystery was fun. The ending is maybe a little too sweet but this is a children’s book after all. I will definitely be reading the sequel! 4.5 stars. I recommend this one for fans of Wonder.

That’s it for today. Tune in tomorrow for more book reviews! And in case anyone couldn’t be bothered to read the entire post even though there are only 9 books here (and honestly why I you looking for book recommendations if you can’t even read a whole blog post?)…

…TL;DR: I highly recommend Black Eyed Susans if you like thrillers and Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus if you’re into children’s books, and I recommend Asha and the Spirit Bird, The Beauty That Remains and The Weight of Water if they sound interesting to you. I most definitely do not recommend Solitaire or Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

15 thoughts on “What I read in September 2020: Part 1

  1. Black Eyed Susans sounds pretty good! I always think about getting more into YA because there are SO many amazing and diverse storylines, but usually I find myself too far away from those years to really get into what’s going on. I’m so glad they exist for younger readers/readers that enjoy them, though!

  2. I liked Black-Eyed Susans – I feel like I did kind of figure things out, though, but it’s still a good one. I really want to read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library- it seems fun! I’ve never read Solitaire, but Nick and Charlie have their own story in the graphic novels Heartstopper and I loved the first two volumes.

    -Lauren
    http://www.shootingstarsmag.net

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