Wow, it’s the final normal Show Us Your Books link-up of the year! (There will be a special one later in the month as usual for people to share their favourite books of 2020, but this is the last one that’s just a “what I’ve been reading lately”). I’m pleased to say I’m ending things on a high note – so many good books this month! I was taking part in Believathon, which is a readathon for children’s books, so most of these are middle grade. Apart from that I read one young adult book, one adult crime novel in German and an adult contemporary, maybe romance but not really, novel. If that doesn’t sound like your thing please feel free to come back next time – I won’t be offended. And now I need to get on with the books because I have a lot to get through!
Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens (Murder Most Unladylike #5). Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge, where Daisy’s brother is studying. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms – but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College. Two days before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. At least, it appears to be an accident – until the Detective Society look a little closer, and realise a murder has taken place. Faced with several irritating grown-ups and fierce competition from a rival agency, they must use all their cunning and courage to find the killer (in time for Christmas Day, of course). After being slightly disappointed with the previous book I was pleased to find that I absolutely LOVED this one. No more silly school girl squabbles distracting from everything that makes this series great. I feel like Hazel is really growing into herself and coming out of Daisy’s shadow. This was a really Christmassy read as well (despite the murder) – I could almost taste the mince pies! I can’t wait to see what the next book brings. 5 stars.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Ten-year-old Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home, and Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, boarding a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. This is a quick but powerful and thought-provoking read that’s partially based on the author’s own history. I feel like the verse format made it less detailed than I would have liked but I did enjoy it. 4 stars.
Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies #2). When children start to go missing in her home town, suspicion falls on Corinne LaMer (for reasons you will know if you read the first book). To clear her name and save the children, Corinne goes deep into the ocean to find Mama D’Leau, the dangerous jumbie who rules the sea. But Mama D’Leau’s help comes with a price. Corinne and her friends Dru, Bouki, and Malik must travel with mermaids across the ocean to the shores of Ghana to fetch a powerful object for Mama D’Leau. The only thing more perilous than Corinne’s adventures across the sea is the foe that waits for her back home. This is an excellent follow up to the first book. There is definitely more action in this one! I loved the mermaids and it was nice to see some side characters developed a bit more. A couple of times I felt like it was going on for too long – there had already been a whole adventure, they weren’t even home yet and the main problem remained unresolved. But overall I really enjoyed it. I listened to this as an audiobook, which was great because there are songs in it and the narrator sang them. 4 stars.
The Haunting of Peligan City (Potkin and Stubbs #2). Apparently November was the month of continuing series! Three months have passed since Lil and Nedly – Potkin and Stubbs – solved their first case. And now, once again, odd things are happening in peligan City. Strange things are afoot at the doll hospital. But investigation turns up no more than an odd new owner. More important is the mysterious epidemic of deaths at the notorious Fellgate Prison. And when the Klaxon breaks the news that City Hall is hushing up that ghosts are real and are terrorising the city, mass hysteria reigns in Peligan City. Will Lil and Nedly – with the help of private investigator Abe McNair – get to the bottom of the case before any more trouble happens – and will they be the first to the scoop? This is very creepy and atmosphereic with an intriguing mystery. The villains are genuinely scary! I think everyone but Lil probably knew what was going on with her mum but another twist was slightly unexpected. Lil was less annoying in this one – it’s hilarious how seriously she takes herself – and I adored Margaret the dog, especially at the end. I do love that there are actual adults involved in this series when things start to get dangerous, but Lil and Nedly still work out a lot on their own. I’m looking forward to reading the third – and final – book. Not quite 5 stars, but definitely a 4.5.
The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes. Aveline Jones is not looking forward to spending half term with her aunt while her mother visits her grandmother in hospital.But things suddenly get much more exciting when the avid reader of ghost stories discovers a spooky old book. Not only are the stories spine-tingling, but it once belonged to Primrose Penberthy, a young girl who vanished mysteriously, never to be seen again. Intrigued, Aveline decides to investigate Primrose’s disappearance. But now someone… or something, is stirring. And it is looking for Aveline. Another one with a truly spooky atmosphere. I love the writing – so evocative! The small seaside resort in the off-season vibe is spot on. I loved that the adults didn’t dismiss Aveline or treat her like an idiot. I just wish it had been a bit longer with more time for the search for the missing girl. The ghost in this is genuinely scary! I didn’t realise it was the first in a series – I will definitely be reading the sequel. 4 stars
The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson (Truly Devious #3). The first book on this list that isn’t middle grade – this one is young adult. I actually don’t know what to say about this one without spoiling the first two. Stevie has discovered the identity of Truly Devious. She’s actually done it – solved the case of the century. Or at least she thinks she has. Then another accident occurs at the school as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm – and a murderer. Okay, first of all there wasn’t as much action in these books as the previous ones. Honestly I think the plot could have been wrapped up just as easily in the book 2, but obviously the author wanted to be able to sell an extra book. There is a twist at the beginning that I didn’t see coming. Since we already found out the solution to the original murder in the second book this one was mainly about where Alice ended up and who was responsible for the deaths in the present, and the answer to that second part was underwhelming to be honest. I don’t regret finishing the trilogy but I have no interest in Stevie’s next mystery. Overall I found this trilogy disappointing. 3 stars for this installment.
Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales (Pages & Co. #2). Back to the children’s books! In the first in this series, Tilly and her friend Oskar discovered they could bookwander – actually go inside books and meet the characters – and also solved the mystery of Tilly’s mother’s disappearance when she was just a baby. extreme group of Librarians have taken over the British Underlibrary and they want to restrict bookwandering. Tilly and Oskar believe that The Archivists are the key to restoring balance – but nobody has seen them for thousands of years, and most people think they never really existed anyway. Is a journey to the French Underlibrary and a peculiar book of fairytales, the key to discovering their whereabouts? But wandering into fairytales is dangerous and unpredictable, and the characters aren’t as they seem. Soon, Tilly and Oskar realise that villains don’t just live inside the pages of books. Sometimes, you don’t get to live happily ever after… I enjoyed this book even more than the first one, and I LOVED the first one. Tilly and Oskar make such a great team. Tilly was a little naive and made some silly decisions but I feel like that just made it more realistic – she is a child after all. It was really interesting finding out more about the history of bookwandering and Tilly’s grandparents. I would have loved to continue reading immediately if only I had the third book. 5 stars.
Escape from Aurora by Jamie Littler (Frostheart #2). In the first book, Ash discovered that he was a Songweaver – someone who can do a kind of magic through song. This resulted in him being driven out of the only home he had ever known by the villagers who were terrified of Songweavers. Ash and his Yeti guardian, Tobu, ended up boarding The Frostheart, hoping to find out what had happened to Ash’s parents. Now Ash and the rest of the Frostheart’s brave crew have finally arrived at the majestic stronghold of Aurora – and Ash’s mind is blown. It’s an extraordinary place – unlike anything he’s ever seen – and he can’t wait to solve the next clue that will lead him to his parents. But it’s quickly clear that even Aurora isn’t safe for Song Weavers. A fanatical Pathfinder captain has turned the city against Ash and his kind – and it’s not long before the Frostheart has to make another break for freedom. But when a vicious Wraith attack leaves Ash, and his friends stranded on the ice, they will have to use all their strength and cunning to reach safety. But what they find is even more incredible. I read this book almost in one go (with a break to make food) over the course of about 4 hours because I genuinely could not put it down. It was SO good! It took me on a journey that left me absolutely reeling. I love what we’re learning about the world now and how it was in the old days. And the revelation at the end made me wanting more, RIGHT NOW! Sadly book 3 isn’t even out yet. Aaah, I cannot believe I have to wait! 5 stars.
The Missing Diamonds (Agent Zaiba Investigates #1) by Annabelle Sami. Eleven-year-old Zaiba is obsessed with crime. Her Aunt Fouzia runs a detective agency back in Karachi and has turned Zaiba on to the brilliant Eden Lockett Mysteries. She has every book in the series – and the quilt cover, and the phone case. All she needs now is a crime to solve and she may get her chance sooner than she thinks. At her cousin’s Mehndi party, Zaiba gets her first challenge: to discover the identity of the VIP staying at the same hotel. With the help of her best friend Poppy and brother Ali, Zaiba puts her sleuthing skills to the test. And when the celebrity’s precious dog disappears, along with its priceless diamond collar, it’s up to the trio to save the day! This is a cute, fun mystery. A Secret Seven/Famous Five/Nancy Drew for the modern generation. I love Zaiba, Poppy and Ali. I especially like that Ali is treated as a proper character in his own right and not just the annoying little brother tagging along. It was easy to solve the mystery as you were following along – the clues were all there – and I’m sure kids will feel a real sense of accomplishment if they manage to work it out before the reveal. I also really enjoyed how Zaiba’s aunt takes the three investigators seriously and doesn’t treat them like stupid kids, and I appreciate the step-mum who is actually nice. It’s also great that British-Pakistani children will get to see themselves represented in a book like this, where their race/religion/differentness aren’t the focus. 4 stars.
Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby. Sixth-grader Fig (actaully Finola) loves her dad and the home they share in a beachside town. She does not love the long months of hurricane season. Her father, a once-renowned piano player, sometimes goes looking for the music in the middle of a storm. Hurricane months bring unpredictable good and bad days. More than anything, Fig wants to see the world through her father’s eyes, so she takes an art class to experience life as an artist does. Then Fig’s dad shows up at school, confused and looking for her. Not only does the class not bring Fig closer to understanding him, it brings social services to their door. As the walls start to fall around her, Fig is sure it’s up to her alone to solve her father’s problems and protect her family’s privacy. But with the help of her best friend, a cute girl at the library, and a surprisingly kind new neighbour, Fig learns she isn’t as alone as she once thought… and begins to compose her own definition of family. This book is so emotional. I wanted to wrap Fig and her dad in a blanket and keep both of them safe. I don’t know if the bipolar rep is well done since I have no experience, but I appreciated how Fig is never ashamed of her dad – even if she is embarrassed by his actions occasionally, which honestly just seems realistic and she is always aware that he can’t help it, that he’s sick. It is a lot for an 11 year old to deal with and I was so glad when Mark stepped in and persuaded Fig’s dad to see a doctor. Hopefully it will show kids in difficult situations that it’s good to ask for help when things get to be too much. And through it all Fig and her dad’s love for each other shines through. Fig has a little crush on an older girl at the library, Hannah, and it’s so cute. I definitely recommend. 5 stars.
Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby. 12-year-old Amira lives with her sea-witch mothers and a jinni called Namur, who is a cat-like companion to Amira. She has spent most of her life at sea, but when their dhow (boat) is damaged in a storm, they are forced to dock at an island while they wait for it to be repaired. On her first market day, Amira meets a boy Leo who has his own jinni – something that is very rare. When a giant bird-like creature that seems to feed off people’s emotions takes Namur, Amira set off on a journey to try and find him – and also possibly find out something about themselves and the magical connection they have with their jinnis. This is a magical, heartwarming adventure. I loved the characters and especially the family dynamics between Amira and her mothers. In between chapters, the narrator comes in with little comments or asides and that irritated me slightly at times – I just wanted to stay in the action – but that’s a minor niggle. Overall it’s a delightful book and I definitely want to continue the series. 4 stars.
Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #3). In her home city, Morrigan Crow was known as a cursed child, doomed to die at midnight on her 11th birthday. Instead, in the first book, a man named Jupiter North appeared while she was waiting to meet her fate and whisked her away to a place called Nevermoor where she had to compete in a series of trials against other children to gain a place in the mysterious and prestigious Wundrous Society, and learned that she was a Wundersmith, which means she has special powers. In the second book, Morrigan and the other children who had passed the trials started their studies at the Wundrous Society and Morrigan solved a mystery. In this book, Morrigan and her friends have survived their first year as proud scholars of the elite Wundrous Society and proven their loyalty to each other as a unit. But a strange and frightening illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning infected Wunimals (special animals that can talk) into mindless, vicious Unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. And with the city she loves in a state of fear, Morrigan quickly realizes it’s up to her to find a cure for the Hollowpox, even if it will put her – and everyone in Nevermoor – in more danger than she ever imagined. This was my most anticipated book of the year and, thankfully, it did not disappoint. first couple of chapters were a little slow and I was worried it wasn’t going to live up to my expectations but once it got going it really got going! Fenestra was fantastic in this one and I loved how Morrigan’s unit stuck up for her. The new information about the world and past Wundersmiths is so interesting and I can’t wait to learn more! 5 stars.
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll. 11-year-old Addie, who has autism, lives in a small village just outside Edinburgh. When she learns about the countless women in Scotland who were killed in the witch trials, including many in her own village, she starts a campaign for a memorial to them. Addie knows there’s more to the story of these “witches”, just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, stand up to her bullies, and make her voice heard? This is such a powerful and moving book. It made me cry, but parts of it were also so, so heart-warming. I absolutely LOVE Audrey, the new giel who befriends Addie. Every child deserves a friend like her. As for the horrible, bullying teacher, Miss Murphy, I can’t remember that last time I hated a book character this much. She should not be allowed anywhere near children! Every child should read this book – either to see themselves represented or to gain some understanding (and hopefully empathy) for what life is like for people who are not neurotypical. 5 stars.
The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. But that’s not easy when your grandmother is a Yaga, guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife, and you live in a house with chicken legs that wanders all over the world, often picking up and leaving after just a few days. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties – and no playmates that stick around for more than a day. So when she stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules… with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife. I loved everything about this book. Marinka, Jack, Benjamin, THE HOUSE! There’s adventure, friendship/found family, unexpected twists. Ican’t believe it’s taken me this long to read a Sophie Anderson book and I will definitely be picking up her others. 5 stars.
Wer Wind Sät by Nele Neuhaus (Bodenstein & Kirchhoff #5). First adult book of the month! There doesn’t seem to be an English version of this, so here’s my translation of the title: He Who Reaps the Wind. Police detective Pia Kirchhoff has just returned from a holiday when her colleague, Oliver von Bodenstein, calls to tell her a body has been found. A night watchman has apparently fallen to his death at the headquarters of a company that builds wind turbines. When the corpse of a hamster is discovered on the boss’s desk, the two detectives start to think it may not have been an accident after all. The plot thickens when a farmer, who refused to sell a plot of land to the company for one of their turbines – despite being offered €2 million for it – is also found dead. Was it is children, who are all broke and wanted him to sell the land , preferably yesterday? The other members of the environmental action group, who appear to have hated the farmer and all have their own motives for not wanting the wind turbine? Or did the turbine company have something to do with it after all? I read the first book in this series years ago and I remember liking it. This one was fine but definitely way too long. There was so much going on, and half of it seemed to be irrelevant. A semi-connected side story involving a woman named Annika was way more interesting than the main murder investigation, but it seemed to end very abruptly without ever being properly resolved. It was still a decent read and I really wanted to know who had done what but it could have done with being about 200 pages shorter. 3 stars.
The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. What do you do when the girl next door asks you to write her biography? Alastair Cleary is the kid everyone trusts, but he doesn’t really have many friends, mainly hanging around with his neighbour, Charlie who is obsessed with video games. Alastair hasn’t really thought about Fiona Loomis much recently. They used to be friends when they were little, but as their families drifted apart so did they. Now Fiona wants Alastair to write her biography. He’s initially flattered, but then Fiona claims that in her basement, there’s a portal that leads to a magical world where a creature called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. And Fiona’s soul could be next. If she really believes what she’s saying, Alistair fears she may be crazy. But if it’s true, her life could be at risk. It’s up to Alistair to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality and figure out what’s going on. This isn’t a bad book by any means. The writing is good and the plot is intriguing, but also kind of confusing at times. I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is – some of the themes seem to mature for middle grade but I’m not sure teens would be interested in reading about 12 year olds. I have no idea what actually happened at the end but there is a sequel so maybe things are explained a bit more there. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m intrigued enough to want to continue though. I think it suffered a bit from me having read it after so many absolutely amazing, magical books that I truly loved. 3 stars.
The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell. On a cold February afternoon, Stella catches sight of a man she thinks she recognises, which immediately causes her to fall into panic. At the same moment on the other side of the globe, in the middle of a crowd of Chinese New Year revellers, Jake realises that things are becoming dangerous. They know nothing of one another’s existence, but both Stella and Jake flee their lives: Jake in search of a place so remote it doesn’t appear on any map, and Stella for a destination in Scotland, the significance of which only her sister, Nina, will understand. I’m not really sure what this is. It’s not a romance, although the two main characters do fall for each other, I guess. It’s more of a story about two sisters. Or maybe about how what happens to you as a child continues to affect you as an adult. This was actually a re-read for me, but the only thing I remembered was one scene where Stella tries to wake her sister up one morning and discovers she’s ill- Literally everything else had completely gone from my memory, and I’m already starting to forget the details again even though I only finished this about a week ago! Stella and Jake’s stories are given equal attention, but somehow Jake’s seemed irrelevant – it felt like it was really about Stella and Nina, not Stella and Jake. 3 stars.
TL;DR. I can’t say I really recommend either of the adult books I read this month, and I found the Truly Devious series disappointing (if you want a teen crime-solving series, try The Good Girls Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson. Or go ahead and read this series if you want – it’s not like it was actually bad, just not as good as I wanted it to be). The children’s books, on the other hand, were all amazing or at least good. The Riverman was my least favourite out of all of them but even that I wouldn’t necessarily not recommend. It just couldn’t quite measure up to the others I read in November. A lot of these are sequels, so obviously read the previous book(s) first. But honestly, I think you should read all of them. Especially the Frostheart series. And the Nevermoor series. And A Kind of Spark… I think you get the picture.
Have you read anything good lately? Check out the link up for more book recommendations – especially if you’re looking for some that aren’t children’s books 😉