Hello! It’s somehow book day again… time is going fast! I forgot to write a draft of this post to add to throughout the month so now I’m having to type the whole entire thing during my lunch break (and partly after work because I didn’t get finished at lunch time). As you can see from the title, I am linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I read in February.
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Sequel to Greenglass House. It’s the Christmas holidays again and Milo is looking forward to spending his school-free time with his family, but once again they end up with a whole house full of guests, both familiar faces and new ones. There are fresh clues to uncover as Milo and his friends search for a mysterious map and a famous smuggler’s lost haul. I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the first one. It’s just as charming and there are some fantastic characters (I would love to see Milo and Marzana’s friendship continue to develop) but it did feel a bit too similar to the first book at times. i really enjoyed the aspects of Nagspeake folklore and getting to know something about the world outside the inn. 4 stars.
The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Mila and her sisters live with their brother Oskar in a small forest cabin. It’s been winter in their village for 5 years – so long that Mila’s youngest sister doesn’t remember anything else. Their mother is dead and their father is gone. One night, a fur-clad stranger arrives seeking shelter for himself and his men. But by the next morning, they’ve gone – taking Oskar with them and, as they later find out, all the other boys in the village. Mila is determined to find her brother and bring him back, so with the help of Rune, the Mage, she sets out to do just that. This is well-written, and the beginning in particular is very atmospheric, but the story felt a bit vague. It’s based on folklore and very reminiscent of a fairy-tale but it lacks detail. It’s all a bit simple and most of the characters felt a bit flat – particularly Mila’s older sister Senna and Rune, the Mage. I would have liked to find out more of his back story and motivations. I did really love Mila’s little sister Pipa though. 3 stars.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson. 12-year-old Yanka has always felt out of place in her small village. She was found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby and has always felt drawn towards the forest. When she wakes up one morning to find that her legs have become bear legs, she sets off on an adventure with her house weasel Mousetrap to discover who she really is. Along the way she is joined by a motley crew of animals, all of whom have a lot to teach her about friendship and belonging. This is a wonderful adventure about family, friendship and discovering who you really are. I loved the stories interwoven throughout and the characters Yanka met along the way. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The House With Chicken Legs though. Yanka is a great character but I somehow didn’t feel as attached to her as I did to Marinka. One thing I did like better in this one was the Yaga house – I want it to be my friend! 3.5 stars.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Vasilisa – known as Vasya – the youngest child of Petyor Petrovich, is wild like her mother was. The family lives on the edge of the Russian wilderness (although at that point it’s not Russia yet, but Rus‘), where winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. Vasya spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. But then her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honouring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. In a village caught between a pagan past and the Christian church, Vasya is perhaps the only one who can save her people from what’s coming. This is really well written and I found the Slavic folk tale elements absolutely fascinating. I love Vasya and the various creatures/guardians. However it felt pretty slow at times – it seemed to take forever for the “real” story to get going. I will read the next book because I want to know where Vasya ends up going. 3.5 stars.
Boy, Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. When Boy Novak turns 20, she flees the home of her abusive, rat-catcher father – ending up in Flax Hill, Massachusetts, simply because it’s the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. There she meets Arturo Whitman – craftsman, widower, and father of Snow – a beautiful, cherished child who Boy is instantly smitten by. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird. When Bird is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart. There are a lot of themes in this book. Identity… what it means to be white/black, male/female. Appearances versus reality. There is a LOT to discuss and I feel like it would be a perfect book club book. It’s also really well written. But the plot kind of lost me. I felt like I was missing the whole point of the book. Then a few serious issues came up at the end that weren’t really explored at all and made me feel like I was missing something. The final twist at the end was handled fairly badly (to say how would be a spoiler though) and the book then ended abruptly without the reveal either being tied in to the rest of the plot or the author explaining what she was trying to do by putting that twist in there and having Boy react so badly. I’m not sure what the comparison with Snow White is about either. Sure there’s an obsession with mirrors and beauty but comparing the plot to Snow White seemed very far-fetched to me. 3 stars – maybe more 2.5 now I think about it.
The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club (various authors including Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers). In 1931 Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and 10 other crime writers from the newly formed Detection Club collaborated in publishing a unique crime novel. In a literary game of consequences, each author would write one chapter, leaving G.K. Chesterton to write a typically paradoxical prologue and Anthony Berkeley to tie up all the loose ends. The result was this book. Inspector Rudge does not encounter many cases of murder in the sleepy seaside town of Whynmouth. But when an old sailor lands a rowing boat containing a fresh corpse with a stab wound to the chest, the Inspector’s investigation immediately comes up against several obstacles. The vicar, whose boat the body was found in, is clearly withholding information, and the victim’s niece has disappeared. There is clearly more to this case than meets the eye – even the identity of the victim is called into doubt. Inspector Rudge begins to wonder just how many people have contributed to this extraordinary crime and whether he will ever unravel it… I love the concept of this book and it was interesting to see where each author took the story and what they added to it. Inevitably some chapters were better than others (or possibly more to my taste than others). I found the prologue by G.K. Chesterton surprisingly dull considering I like the Father Brown stories. Agatha Christie’s chapter was good, as could be expected. There were a few other chapters I enjoyed as well, some by authors I didn’t know, and I was impressed with how the last person managed to tie everything together. I had read this before but I was maybe 13 at the time so I obviously didn’t remember the solution! I do recommend it if you’re a fan of classic crime/mysteries – it’s definitely not the greatest detective mystery I’ve read but I still found it fun to see what people managed to do with someone else’s plot. 3 stars.
Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens. A collection of short stories from the world of the Murder Most Unladylike series – including the Detective Society’s first ever mystery, the Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie. There are also tips from Daisy and Hazel on how to found your own Detective Society, a story from “rival” teen detectives (but actually friends) The Junior Pinkertons, and some discussion of real-life unsolved mysteries. It’s cute but ultimately unnecessary. The tips for setting up your own detective agency and writing in code are fun and there are a couple of new stories in there – I enjoyed reading about the Junior Pinkertons case. But ultimately I didn’t think it needed to be a whole separate book. One of the stories is actually included as a bonus at the end of Mistletoe and Murder and I felt like the same could have been done with the rest of the content. Also, I had felt that Daisy was getting better in Mistletoe and Murder, but reading from her perspective in this book she came across as an awful person and horrible friend to Hazel. She’s so possessive of their friendship while at the same time constantly putting Hazel down and treating her like an idiot. And when she’s giving her tips for setting up your own club she also talks directly to the readers as if they couldn’t possibly be anywhere near as clever as the amazing Daisy. Ugh! 2.5 stars.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. When Sydney Green takes part in a walking tour of the Brooklyn neighbourhood she’s lived in for almost her whole life, she is frustrated to find that the tour guide prefers to tell stories of the white people who lived there hundreds of years ago rather than the amazing African Americans – some of whom are actually still living there. Challenged to create her own walking tour if it means that much to her, Sydney decides to do just that, finding assistance from an unlikely – and unwanted – corner, one of the many new arrivals to the block – her neighbour Theo. As more and more FOR SALE signs pop up and the people Sydney has known her whole life gradually disappear – even while Sydney herself is literally battling to hold on to her own house – Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbours may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised. When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other – or themselves – long enough to find out before they too disappear? From reading the synopsis I could not figure out what the actual plot of this book was, I just knew it sounded interesting (and I had seen some high praise for it – I think actually through SUYB). It starts off fairly slow but by the end I was hooked – staying up until the early hours of the morning to finish it. I still have a few questions but overall it was a great read. Not a thriller in the traditional sense but certainly chilling and eye-opening. 4 stars.
Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson. When rookie policeman Ari Thór Arason is given his first posting in Siglufjörður – an idyllic (and remote) fishing village in the very north of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel – far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik, he isn’t expecting much beyond routine small incidents. But then a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, and Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. This is very atmospheric – you can really feel the claustrophobia of the small town, basically cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice. The story itself is verrrry slow, which isn’t always necessarily a bad thing but unfortunately something about the writing style just didn’t jibe well with me. It felt choppy. In fairness to the author it’s possible that something was lost in translation, although I would think the translator would have tried to accurately represent the original style. I also didn’t like Ari Thor very much – he needs to learn to communicate and stop assuming he knows how other people (his girlfriend) feel. Towards the end things started to pick up and there was a bit of action, which bumped this book up from a 2.5 to a 3 star. I probably won’t bother reading book 2 though.
Cinderella is Dead by Kaylynn Bayron. It’s been 200 years since Cinderella found her prince but the fairy tale is over. Siyteen-year-old Sophia knows the story off by heart though. She has to. Just like she and every other teen girl has to attend the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are “forfeit”, leaving the kingdom never to be heard from again. Sophia doesn’t want to go to the ball though. She doesn’t even want to get married – or not to a man anyway. She would rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend. When Sophia’s night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s tomb, where she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all – and in the process, learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew. I enjoyed this book. I do agree with the reviewers who said they would have liked more world-building, but if you view it through the lens of a fairytale of sorts it makes sense in a way for there to just be a kingdom and a forest. I liked Sophia but I would have liked to see her reasons for wanting to change the system developed a bit more. Obviously wanting to defeat the evil and get equal rights for everyone is a good thing – I’m not questioning that. But why does Sophia in particular choose to fight back while others prefer to follow the rules and try to conform no matter how much it hurts them? We are told it has something to do with Sophia’s grandmother, who also rebelled and was taken away, but I would have liked to be shown how her grandmother shaped her thinking. Maybe a scene with Sophia reminiscing about something specific that happened with her grandmother instead of her just constantly telling everybody “my grandmother told me the king is bad and must be stopped!”. The king himself is almost a caricature of evil – towards the end there was a point where I actually had to laugh because it was just getting so ridiculous! (It reminded me of a scene from Death Becomes Her). The twist on the fairy godmother was awesome and she was probably one of the best developed characters in the book to be honest. The romance felt very rushed – I felt like Sophia got over Erin very quickly. I did enjoy the experience of reading the book though and despite its flaws I flew through it, so I’m giving it 3.5 stars.
We Are Giants by Amber Lee Dodds. Sydney thinks her mother Amy is the best mum in the world – even if she is a bit different from other kids’ parents. As Amy explains it, when she was a girl she got to 48 inches tall and then stopped growing right there. It’s the perfect height, in Sydney’s opinion: big enough to reach the ice cream at the supermarket, but small enough to be special. And though Sydney’s dad died when she was only five, her memories of him, her mum’s love and the company of her brave big sister Jade means she never feels alone. When Sydney’s mum is forced to sell her furniture shop and the family moves away from London, things get tricky. Sydney and Jade have to fit in at a new school, make friends, and deal with growing up in a strange town. And the last thing Sydney wants to do is grow up! For such a short book this manages to pack a lot in – family, grief, growing up, dealing with changes and fitting in/making friends – but somehow it doesn’t seem crowded. Sydney’s voice felt authentic (to me – who has no children and clearly hasn’t been a child for a long time!) and I even teared up at one point. Jade’s teenage rebellion felt a bit cliché but still realistic. It’s a great little book for children who are worried about growing up or are struggling to cope with changes. 4 stars.
Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed. Zeba Khan is like any other sixteen-year-old British girl: enjoying herself, waiting for exam results and hanging around with friends. When her parents decide on a family trip to their home country of Pakistan Zeba isn’t exactly thrilled, but she goes along with it. Although she finds it a bit weird that her parents seem very stressed in the run-up to the holiday, she doesn’t really think much of it. It’s been a long time since they went home after all. Then they arrive, and her future is threatened by an unthinkable – and forced – duty to protect her father’s honour. This is a thought-provoking read. I liked that the author made it very clear that arranged marriage and forced marriage are two totally different things, and that forced marriage is actually frowned on in Islam as well (although it still happens). Zebra frustrated me at times – I wish she had just communicated when she had the chance. There is a surprisingly sad part in the middle. Most of the characters were well developed apart from Zeba’s mum, who just follows her husband in everything. I know that was the point – she’s supposed to be traditional and think men know best – but I didn’t understand how she could show literally zero emotion about her own daughter, even when the husband she was supposedly obeying was very obviously upset about what he felt he “had” to do. Zeba’s grandmother was fantastic and I loved how the author showed that the people you would expect to be most traditional in their thinking (the older generation) are perfectly capable of having minds of their own. The ending is a little too predictable and straightforward, but I can’t see how else it should have ended either so I suppose it makes sense. 3.5 stars.
A Wolf for a Spell by Karrah Sutton. Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans – especially witches – but when her family is threatened, she finds herself with no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing, and before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut – and Baba Yaga’s body! Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all. This is an absolutely magical book. The beginning gave me Red Riding Hood vibes, then it changed into something else. It has a definite fairytale feel, which isn’t surprising given it’s based on Slavic folk tales, but it also goes deeper than your traditional fairytale, which I liked. I loved all the characters, but my favourite was actually one of the supporting characters – I loved the raven with all his snark! One thing that didn’t quite work for me was the villain – he felt a bit flat and evil just for the sake of being evil. I guess he wanted power but that didn’t really come through. That’s a relatively minor complaint though – I definitely recommend this book. 4 stars.
Total books read: 14. Books by BIPOC/BAME authors: 4 (not good enough!).
TL;DR: All the children’s books mentioned here are great – I particularly recommend The Girl Who Speaks Bear and A Wolf for a Spell if you like middle grade fantasy. If you (or your children) prefer more realistic stories then We Are Giants is also great. When No One is Watching is fantastic but don’t go into it expecting your typical thriller. I really enjoyed the experience of reading Cinderella is Dead but for me it lacked depth. None of the rest are terrible but they aren’t my new favourites either. Read them if they sound good to you.
That’s all from me. Visit the Show Us Your Books link up for more book reviews!