Book Challenge by Erin 11.0

Hello my lovelies! I promised you my reading list for Erin’s latest reading challenge then promptly went and published two other posts. But now, finally, my list is here. I managed to find a book that was already physically present on my list for every single category, which I’m pretty sure is a first for me. So yay! That definitely won’t be happening for the bonus round though given that for some of these categories I’m using the only book I had that fits. But that’s enough preamble… let’s just get on with it shall we?

challenge books

The challenge will run from 1 July to 21 October 2019 (in whatever time zone you’re in) and as always there are 10 categories and all books must have at least 200 pages.

5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages. Lost Boy by Christina Henry. My friend gave me this book for Christmas 2017, which is just ridiculous and it’s beyond time I read it. By the way, she is my actual real-life friend but she also has a blog all about children’s books and being a student teacher. You should check it out.

10 points: Read a book that starts with “F”Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor. This is one of only two unread books I own that start with F and the other one isn’t long enough! This one has 212 so it just sneaks in. I found it in a free public bookcase and was intrigued.

10 points: Read a book with one of the following words in the title: rain(s), thunder, lightning, or monsoonSchwarzer Regen by Karl Ohlsberg. I thought I was going to actually have to buy a book for this category but luckily I noticed that this German book fit. The title means “Black Rain”. Phew. I actually started reading this one about 3 years ago but didn’t get very far so I’ll be starting over and hopefully finishing this time!

15 points: Read a book with a picture of a building (i.e. a house, a castle, a school, a hospital, etc.) on the coverI, Coriander by Sally Gardner. I don’t even know how long I’ve had this book – it definitely moved here with me from Karlsruhe so at least 4 years. This book has multiple buildings on the cover… look:

20 points: Read a book that the published author uses an initial in his/her nameThe Boy On the Bridge by M. R. Carey. I thought this was a sequel to The Girl With All the Gifts, but actually it seems to be a companion or prequel or something? So no Melanie, which is a shame. I’m still looking forward to it though.

20 points: Read a book with an article of clothing or accessory in the titleDer vertauschte Mantel by Jean-Pierre Gattégno. I almost gave up on finding something for this one, but German came to the rescue again. The title translates as “The Switched Jacket”. The book is originally French and there’s no mention of clothing in that title but I’m reading it in German so it totally counts.

25 points: (in honour of our co-admin) – Read a book set in IndiaThe Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye. I have precisely two unread books set in India and both of them are loooong. This is actually the lesser of the two evils at 960 pages. 960! Is that really necessary? The other one was like 1,400 and something and it’s the first in a series. Why?!

30 points: (selected by Lyndsay L.) – Read a book that has won or been short-listed for the Booker PrizeEileen by Ottessa Moshfeg. Wikipedia says it’s been shortlisted. I had one other option, but I chose this one.

30 points: (selected by Deborah D.) – Read a book about a human with superpowers or supernatural powersThe Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. Some of you may notice this wasn’t on my original Instagram photo. I had actually ruled it out because I figured casting magic spells is different to superpowers – ya know like flying, turning invisible, that kind of thing. But Erin’s co-host informed me that hypnotism is not a superpower but Harry Potter would count. If Harry counts then so does this!

35 points: (selected by Lorraine J.) – Read a book that has the same title as another book in a different genreJoyland by Stephen King. The other book with this title is Young Adult, a graphic novel. No idea what it’s about. This is Stephen King so I’m guessing there’ll be some element of horror in it, although it’s published by “Hardline Crime” so we’ll see. It should be good anyway.

So, that is ten. Have you read any of these? Want to reassure me that I’m making good choices (especially with that chunky 960-pager)? Will you be taking part in Erin’s challenge? Talk to me in the comments.

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40 before 40: progress report 2

In exactly two months it’s my birthday. I will be 36. Closer to 40 than 30. (And still childless, but that’s not a post for today.) It seemed like as good an occasion as any for another progress report on my 40 before 40 challenge. Not that I’ve achieved a great deal since March, but whatever. We’re doing this anyway.

Number 5: Read the rest of the books from the BBC Big Read that I didn’t manage before turning 35

That’s a total of 63 books, and last time I had read 5 of those. Since then I’ve read two more – Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay – to give me a total of seven. Only 56 left to go then.

Number 14: Read 25 non-fiction books

I have read precisely one – Mr Briggs’ Hat: The True Story of a Victorian Railway Murder by Kate Colquhoun. Yeah, I’m not great at reading non-fiction.

Number 14: Read a book published in each year of my life ( =one book each from 1983 until 2023)

Last time, I had read books from 20 years. Now I’m up to 23. You’d think this one would be easy but I keep either reading relatively recent books with publication dates between 2016 and 2019 – years I’ve already completed – or it turns out the books were published in 1978 or something, which is too early. You can see all the ones I’ve read here.

Number 16: Try 10 foods or dishes that I haven’t had before

I managed to eat two new-to-me foods in Spain! In Ronda we went for tapas and I tried oxtails. I’ve had oxtail soup before but this was my first time trying them not all blended into liquid. And in Cádiz Jan and I both tried a cold garlic soup, which is an Andalusian speciality. Both were delicious. With the one I had eaten last time around that leaves me with seven more new foods to try.

Oxtails
Oxtails and chips

And that’s all I’ve got for you today. I’m hoping to have crossed off a big chunk of the books for each year of my life by my next check in. Wish me luck!

 

What I read in May 2019

Hello and welcome to one of my favourite days of the blogging month – Show Us Your Books day with Jana and Steph.
May has been my worst reading month of the year so far. – although “worst” is relative and I still read a lot of books by most people’s standards. Turns out when most of your time is spent as far away from the dust-filled construction site you call a flat there isn’t much time for reading. During the day I was elsewhere, working, then I just about had time to walk home and drop my stuff off before heading back into town to meet Jan for food. Then by the time we got home it was usually pretty much bed time, and I couldn’t even read in bed like normal since for most of the time we had no electricity (and thus no light) in the bedroom. I had hoped to get some reading time in while we were on holiday, but every day was packed full with the result that I actually only finished one book and started another (on the plane home). I did finish that book and read a whole second one on my first day back in Basel though. Result! After that reading became more sporadic again as I spent most of my time trying to free our flat of the dust that coated everything. Nonetheless, I managed to read 9 books, which I shall talk about now.

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Nebelkind by Emelie Schepp (original title: Märkta för livet, title of English translation: Marked for Life). When the head of immigration is found shot dead at his home, there is no shortage of suspects – including his wife – but nobody can explain the presence of a child-sized hand print at the scene. Young and brilliant, but cold and aloof, public prosecutor Jana Berzelius is assigned to lead the investigation. A few days later on a nearby deserted shoreline, the body of a young boy is discovered alongside the murder weapon that killed both him and the original victim. A discovery during the autopsy draws Jana deeper into the case than she ever planned to get – the boy has the name of a God carved into his neck… and so does she. This book is mixture between police procedural and thriller. There were some fast-paced parts that made me want to keep reading, but a lot of it is pretty slow. Main character Jana is so mechanical and distant she seems almost robot-like, which I understand is related to her past but it made it difficult to get to know her. What happened to her was horrible and I should have felt more sorry for her but she was so detached from everyone and everything that I had trouble caring. Her “rival”, police officer Mia, is more human with obvious flaws but she’s also really annoying and I didn’t like her at all! I feel like the reader finds out what’s going on too soon so it’s a really long, drawn out wait for the police to get names and start tracking people down. Overall I would say it could have been a great book if it had been roughly 100 pages shorter. 3 stars.

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine. After the death of her father, Sophie Taylor is forced to find a job. She’s lucky enough to get a position in the hat department of the new department store that’s opening in London – Sinclair’s. When a precious artefact – a clockwork sparrow – goes missing the day before the grand opening, Sophie becomes the chief suspect and is quickly let go. With the help of he friends Lil and Billy, she’s determined to find out who the real culprit is and clear her name. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected to. It’s well written and I liked the characters. But somehow I just wasn’t fully captivated. All the clues or little mysteries seemed to be resolved very quickly so there wasn’t much tension or opportunity for the reader to try and work things out. Towards the end I started to enjoy it more and as I said I did enjoy the characters so I wouldn’t be adverse to giving book 2 a try. 3.5 stars.

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill. Baby is twelve years old. Her mother died when she was a baby and she live in a succession of seedy apartments in Montreal with her heroin-addict father, Jules. While still just about young enough to cling onto childhood, dragging around a suitcase full of dolls on every move, she’s old enough to be tempted by the adult world and feel flattered when her burgeoning beauty draws the attention of the local pimp. This book had been on my to-read list for so long that it never even made it onto Goodreads, so it was about time I read it! I’m not actually sure why I liked this book. It’s absolutely packed with similes to the extent that the writing style should have been annoying. But somehow it spoke to me. I really liked Baby and all I wanted was to take her away from everything and give her a proper permanent home. Jules too, who despite all his problems obviously loved his daughter more than anything. Knowing that there are kids out there who really live like this breaks my heart. There’s a glimmer of hope at the end and I really hope Baby was able to turn things around and live the life she deserved. 4 stars.

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor. In 1986, Eddie and his friends are twelve years old. They spend their time riding their bikes around their sleepy English village. The chalk men are their secret code; a way to leave messages for each other than nobody else will understand. But then a mysterious chalk man shows up that leads the group to a body hidden in the woods. In 2016, Eddie is 42 years old and thinks he’s put the tragic events of the past behind him. Until an anonymous note turns up with a drawing of a chalk man. Now it seems that Eddie is going to have to face his past, one way or another. This book is creepy and suspenseful, but for me there was something missing that stopped it from being a five star read. Some parts were just too confusing. It is well written though and I would definitely give this author another chance. 4 stars.

Chalk Man

More Than This by Patrick Ness. A boy drowns, his final moments spent desperate and alone. He dies. But then he wakes up. Naked and weak, but alive. How is this possible? He remembers dying, the sound of his bones breaking. And what is this strange, deserted place? It looks like an abandoned version of the English town he lived in as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy struck his family and they family moved to America. He begins a search for answers, hoping that he is not alone and that, just maybe, there is more than this. Aargh! How can a book be this long and still leave me with a million questions? It’s engrossing, bizarre, confusing. Every time you think things are going to be explained it only goes so far then leaves you with even more mysteries. I loved it right up until the end, which left me frustrated. I need to know what happened and who or what is real. I still highly recommend this book though. My first by Patrick Ness and it definitely won’t be my last. 4.5 stars.

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus. Ellery has never been to the small, seemingly picture perfect town of Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing years ago, aged 16. And where a home-coming queen was murdered just five years ago. And now Ellery and her twin brother Ezra are being forced to move there, to live with a grandmother they barely know, while their mother goes to rehab. Before school even starts, someone starts leaving notes and threats around town, promising to make home-coming as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then another girl goes missing… I feel like this book took me a tiny bit longer to get into than One of Us is Lying, even though I liked the characters in this one better. But once I did get into it I was gripped and read the entire thing in one go (sitting at the train station waiting to be able to go home). I loved the twins and their friend, Mal. And I did not guess who the killer was. 5 stars. Also, when I went to review this I discovered there is going to be a sequel to One of Us Is Lying and I’m so excited!

There May Be a Castle by Piers Torday. It’s Christmas Eve and eleven-year-old Mouse is travelling to his grandparents with his mum and two sisters. It’s sowing heavily, visibility is bad and they get into a car accident. Mouse is thrown from the car and wakes up in a world that isn’t his own but seems somehow familiar. He meets a sheep he names Bar, who can only say Baaa, and a horse who looks surprisingly like his favourite toy, Nonky, grown huge. Thus begins a quest to find a castle in a world full of monsters, nights and mysterious wizards. A world of excitement, but also of terrifying danger. But why are they looking for a castle? As the book goes on, we realise how this journey has links to the real world and the people Mouse left behind. I absolutely loved this book! It is wonderful, but so sad. I wasn’t sure about Violet’s point of view (it was fine in the beginning but I would have preferred her to stay where she was). The ending is so sad though – I was hoping for a different outcome. I still highly recommend it though, if you’re a fan of children’s books. 5 stars.

Together by Julie Cohen. One morning, Robbie awakes. His wife Emily is sleeping beside him, as always. He gets up, makes coffee and walks the dogs. Then he writes Emily a note and does something that will break her heart. As the story rewinds through their lives, back to 1962, Robbie’s actions become clearer as we gradually learn the story of a couple of a terrible secret that they will do anything to protect. This is a really well written and captivating book. It starts on such a shocking note that I could not put it down until I found out why. What was the big secret? Then when it was finally revealed I didn’t know what to think. I was imagining all sorts of things, but not that! (Other people have said they knew, so maybe I’m just naive.) At the start I really liked Robbie. He seemed so loving and caring. But as the story went on it seemed like no matter what happened he was determined to always get his way. I think I was supposed to see him as a charming bad boy type but he just seemed selfish and controlling. No thanks! Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading this book and did not see the end coming. 4 stars.

Mr Briggs’ Hat: The True Story of a Victorian Railway Murder by Kate Colquhoun. My first non-fiction book of the year! I started it in April and finished on 31st May so it just sneaks into this round-up. On 9 July 1864, after an evening with relatives, Thomas Briggs walked through Fenchurch Station and entered carriage 69 on the 9.45 Hackney-bound train. A few minutes later, two bank clerks entered the compartment to find blood pooled in the indentations of the cushions and smeared all over the floor and windows of the carriage, and a bloody hand print on the door. There was no sign of Mr Briggs. This book tells the story of the investigation into Mr Briggs’ murder as well as giving lots of detail about train travel in Victorian times. It’s quite interesting read but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought there would be more of a resolution and some information on the crime itself/how it was actually committed. Instead it’s more of an examination of the investigative process in Victorian times – I learned more about how the police went about gathering evidence than the actual crime this was supposed to address. Not that all that’s uninteresting but the title was misleading. It’s worth a read if that sounds good to you but I wouldn’t necessarily make it a priority. 3 stars.

So, while I read less than in previous months (and don’t get me wrong, 9 books is still pretty decent), almost everything I read ranged from good to absolutely amazing. Quality over quantity, yes? I’m not even sure I can narrow it down enough to tell you which books I absolutely recommend you should read. But I’ll give it a try:

TL;DR: The three books I absolutely recommend to everyone this month are More Than This by Patrick Ness (YA, I think but definitely interesting for adults. Some kind of dystopian/sci-fi/mystery type thing. Really well written), Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus (YA mystery/thriller. So good!) and There May Be a Castle by Piers Torday (wonderful but sad middle grade fantasy). I also really enjoyed Lullabies for Little Criminals but I hesitate to recommend it because the writing style won’t be for everyone.

Read anything good recently? Check out the link up for more book reviews.

May 2019 recap

Hello my lovelies. Today I’m here to talk about May. Not Theresa May – I have no desire to discuss her or any of the mess that is currently politics in Britain. No, I mean the month of May… and specifically what I got up to in it.

Of course I am linking up with the lovely Kristen for What’s New With You.

whats new with you

In a way, it was a month of two halves. For the first two weeks, we were living on an actual building site while our bathrooms and kitchen were being replaced. That meant our flat had no shower, no toilets and nowhere to cook. We were provided with a portable toilet and a small electric hob, and there was a temporary shower set up downstairs in the drying room. For those who missed it, a couple of photos of what the place looked like, including one of the sink that was installed in the stairwell so we could at least attempt to wash dishes:

During the week, I rented a desk in a co-working space and at night we ate out. Spending as little time as possible at home made things bearable, but it was still a relief when the time came for us to go on holiday! Since we were flying from Zurich airport relatively early in the morning, we decided to go to Zurich the night before (well, Jan just stayed there since it’s where he worked) and sleep in a hotel. I am so glad we did! It meant a night in a dust-free room, a proper shower and a slightly later/less stressful start – we would have had to take a train from Basel at around 6 a.m.!

And then it was off to Ronda, Spain to meet family and friends. We had two full days and an afternoon there with my sister and brother-in-law, sister’s best friend and her boyfriend, my brother, my mum and my mum’s friend. My mum, her friend, Jan, my brother and I all stayed in a lovely apartment while the others were just down the road.

Everyone else left early on the Tuesday morning, but we had decided we wanted to have more than an extended weekend away, so we had booked an apartment in Cádiz for the next two nights. On the way there, we stopped off for a day on Gibraltar. The town is so bizarre – looking at it, you could be on any high street in the UK – there’s Debenhams, Next, Wallis, Dorothy Perkins, multiple fish and chip shops. I even spied my bank (Natwest). The post boxes and phone booths are red and even the bins resembled those I know from Newcastle. But the buildings and trees are all wrong – I’ve never seen purple blossoms in the middle of a British town!

After wandering through the town, we of course took the cable car up the mountain, because what else do you do on Gibraltar? It was amazing being right up close to the monkeys – but also kind of terrifying. Especially when two of them started shouting at each other and it seemed like a fight was about to happen. We were already heading back to the cable car at that point and needless to say we didn’t hang around near those particular apes for long!

We then drove on to Cádiz, arriving around 6 o’clock in the evening, spent the next day there and finally headed to Lisbon via Evora. After two days in Lisbon and a very brief stop in Sintra on our final morning, it was time to fly home. Back in Basel, we stopped for dinner before doing anything else since we had no idea what the state of our flat was going to be…

As it turns out, it was almost finished. We had toilets that actually flushed and a working kitchen (although we waited until after the final inspection to actually use it). I still had another week off work so on the Monday I walked into town very early in the morning so the flat would be free for them to get on with whatever last minute things needed doing. I bought breakfast, which I ate in the park, then went to a café called Unternehmen Mitte where they let you just sit without having to purchase anything. There, I finished the book I had started reading on the flight home. So that killed about 2 hours. I had a wander round town, bought and ate some lunch, then ended up in a bookshop where I was very naughty and bought two books. I then read one of those books sitting at the train station – the only other place I could think of where you can sit for ages without being moved on! My initial idea had been to go back to the park where I had breakfast, but every seat was taken by people on their lunch breaks. Book finished, I went and treated myself to coffee and cake in the restaurant of a department store. Finally, at 4 p.m. I started walking home, arriving to find that the builders had already left. Tuesday was inspection day, so I trailed the construction manager and his assistant as they made a list of all the small things that still needed to be done – cracks to paint over, holes to be filled. I also got official permission to fill the fridge and start putting things back in the kitchen, so that’s what I spent the rest of the week doing. Plus cleaning every single thing. Construction dust gets everywhere! I’ve never hoovered so much in my life Thursday was a public holiday, so on that day I actually had Jan to help. And the new washing machine (in our actual flat!) got used a lot. As did the tumbler dryer, which I am aware is incredibly bad for the environment but with the drying room still out of commission (that’s where the temporary shower resides) and a friend staying over on Saturday, which meant the spare room bedding needed to be freed from dust, we didn’t have much of a choice. You can’t dry sheets and quilt covers on a clothes horse!

Okay, this is already long so just quickly. During those first two weeks when everything was going on, we obviously didn’t want to spend too much time in our dusty, dusty flat, so on 1st May – a public holiday – we went to Porrentruy, which is cute but not that exciting. Then on the 4th the builders needed access on a Saturday (at 8 a.m. – no lie in for us!) so we headed to Lenzburg because it was raining and there was a castle that would allow us to be inside. The following Saturday, Jan had a concert in the evening so we ate lunch in town and did some shopping before he had to leave (and I then followed an hour later to attend said concert).

Lenzburg
Lenzburg Castle

As for yearly goals… I didn’t really keep track of my vegetable intake, but we ate at Markthalle and vegetarian restaurant a lot so I think I got my five portions most days… at least until we went on holiday. Lots of cheese and meat boards were consumed there. I definitely managed to drink enough water for the entire month, which I’m proud of. And I finally actually finished a non-fiction book. I mean, I only want to read ten this year and we’re already nearly halfway through. No big deal…

I think that just about sums up my May. The rest of the time I worked (from a co-working space) and attempted to keep the living room and bedroom free from the worst of the dust – a Sisyphean task if there ever was one! My next post will be my choices for round 11 of Erin’s book challenge, which starts on 1st July. May wasn’t my best reading month (although I managed 9 books, so also not my worst ever) so I am hoping to get lots of reading done over the summer months.

Okay, enough. I seem to have gone back to that old rambling format that I was trying to get away from and I’m sure you’re bored of me by now. Go check out the link up because Kristen is awesome and should be shown all the love. And tell me in the comments what you’ve been up to lately.

Unintentionally imitating art

As you will know if you read my last post, we recently came back from holiday. The final few days of our trip were spent in Lisbon, Portugal. Since we were travelling to hot countries, I had obviously taken summer clothes with me, but it wasn’t until I was actually walking around Lisbon that I realised the dress I had put on that day had a pattern that would have been perfect for one of the beautiful tiles that adorn many Portuguese houses. So, for your viewing pleasure, here is a selection of photos of Portuguese tiles and me blending in so well you’d think I’d done it on purpose…

(I was wearing blue and that seems to be the most popular colour, but not all the tiles in the photos below are blue.)

Lisbon

I’m not really sure how to end this post so uhh, just I guess that’s all folks?

Have a lovely day/week/evening/whatever.

Photo an hour in Ronda (19 May 2019)

¡Hola, mis amigos! Last Sunday was photo an hour day, and it just happened to fall on the first full day of my holiday. We were in Ronda, Spain, where we met up with my sister and brother-in-law, my sister’s best friend and her boyfriend, my brother, my mum and a friend of my mum’s. Let’s see what I got up to that day, shall we?

8:30 a.m. Awake but not getting up yet, so here’s the view from my bed.

9:30 a.m. Now out of bed and having a cuppa.

10:30 a.m. Dressed and waiting for the others to be ready to leave.

11:30 a.m. Admiring the view… the day’s plan being to walk down into the gorge.

12:30 p.m. The start of the journey down.

1:30 p.m. We found water! Hurrah.

2:30 p.m. Back at the top and hitting a bar for some much needed refreshments.

3:30 p.m. Crossing the bridge, and looking down into the gorge.

4:30 p.m. We stopped for lunch… and I also had a beer.

5:30 p.m. Wandering through a rose garden.

6:30 p.m. Back at the apartment to chill for a while… how beautiful is that ceiling?

7:30 p.m. A glass of vino before heading back out.

We went out for dinner after that and I completely forgot to take any more photos, so that’s your lot. Maybe I will remember to post more photos of Ronda at some point, but I wouldn’t hold your breath considering I still haven’t posted must of the ones from our trip around Britain two years ago…

As always, Photo an Hour was hosted by Jane and Louisa. The next one will be on Saturday, 15 June. Make a note of it now if you want to join in!

What I read in April 2019

Hello! It’s the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s SHow Us Your Books time again with lovely hosts Jana and Steph. I read 14 books in April and it’s a real mixed bag – everything from classics to children’s mysteries and even a a spy novel, which is normally so not my thing. Let’s get to the reviews, shall we?

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The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton. Seth is a kitchen boy at the remote Last Chance Hotel. His dad used to be head chef there, until he left apparently under a cloud of suspicion, leaving Seth trapped until he’s old enough to set out on his own. His only chance of escape is to become a famous chef as well. One night a group of special guests turn up at the hotel, who turn out to be magicians participating in a selection procedure to determine the most magical people in the world. Seth finally has the chance to prove himself by making Dr. Thallonius the best-tasting dessert of his life. But then the professor dies and the dessert is blamed – how can Seth prove he’s innocent? This is a wonderful book! Spooky and magical with a murder mystery for good measure. And there’s a fantastic talking cat. I was a little annoyed by Seth’s inability to stand up for himself, but there are some revelations at the end that I hope will make things better in that respect in book two. 4.5 stars.

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. When the four Stanley children meet Amanda, their new stepsister, they’re amazed to find she dresses in strange costumes, carries a crow in a cage and claims to be a witch. Before long, she decides to make the children her “neophytes” and introduce them to the world of witchcraft. Then strange things start happening in their old farmhouse and it’s not long before they discover that the house was supposed to have been haunted long ago. Is the poltergeist back or is there another explanation for all the strange goings on? This a fun mystery with just the right amount of spookiness for a children’s book. Even though it was written in 1971, it doesn’t seem to outdated – other than the kids being left home alone while their parents go into town, etc. But maybe that actually still happens in areas as isolated as the setting for this book. I would have loved this book as a child! 4 stars.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. When Tess Durbeyfield’s father finds out by chance that they’re descendants of the old aristocratic  D’Urberville family, he encourages her to make use of the connection and try to claim a share of the wealth for the rest of the family. But Alec d’Urberville turns out to be a rich scoundrel who seduces her and makes her life miserable. When Tess meets Angel Clare, she is finally offered a chance at true love and happiness, but her past catches up with her and she faces an agonizing moral choice. I really enjoyed this – although “enjoyed” seems a bit mean for such a tragedy. Poor Tess is surrounded by good-for-nothing idiot men. And I include her father in that. She just could not seem to catch a break. As classics go, the language in this one is actually very readable and Hardy managed not to spend pages and pages on pointless descriptions (as in Far From the Madding Crowd were her spent three pages describing a barn!). Victorian double standards make me angry, but the book is good. 5 stars.

The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton. First of all, thank you to Steph (yes, as in the host of this very link-up) for reminding me of the existence of The Gutenberg Project, which is where I found this book and was thus able to read it for free. I love the TV series so the book had been on my wish list for a while. This is basically a series of short stories all featuring the priest, Father Brown solving various mysteries. Chesterton was a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; interestingly, if I hadn’t known this book was published in 1911 (and there weren’t references to 18–) I would have put it more in the era of Agatha Christie in terms of language. It’s still quite readable over 100 years after it was published. I like the TV series better but the book was still a fun read. 3.5 stars.

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard. Alice has acquired brain injury after an assault four years ago. Since then, to put it in her own words, “her electrics have been broken”. Her speech is slow and slurred and she has fits. She writes poems to express all the things she cannot say. She lives with her grandmother, who is sick, and her brother Joey, who looks after her but is also growing up and, just maybe, away from Alice. Manny is from Sierra Leone. He seems to be adapting to life in his new country, but at night he runs to try and escape the demons of his past. One night, he sees Alice sitting on the roof of her home and finds one of her poems. This book is beautiful and heart-breaking. The narrative style is disconcerting at first, but once you get into it you stop noticing (or at least I did) and it really does represent the problems with Alice’s brain perfectly. Joey is a wonderful brother. Despite all the awful things that have happened to both Alice and Manny, I’m really glad I read this book. Plus, it has a pretty cover. 4 stars.

Oktober Bend

 

Avalanche Express by Colin Forbes. A a high level Soviet official has been feeding the West intelligence for a number of years. Now he’s been found out and needs to be extricated to the US. With most of the airports in Europe closed due to snow storms, the only option is to take the Atlantic Express from Zurich all the way to Amsterdam. An armed team of British and Americans are on board to protect him, but there may be a double agent on board the train, and the Soviets will stop at literally nothing to kill the defector. Will anyone make it out alive? I acquired this ages ago when I needed a book set where I live for a challenge, but ended up reading a different one. Now I decided it was time to read it so it could leave my bookcase. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it – spy stories aren’t really my thing – but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s action-packed and thrilling right from the first page. It also helped that I am at least a little familiar with most of the places mentioned so it felt more “real”. 3.5 stars.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain. After her father’s death, Riley MacPherson is returning to her childhood home to clean it out. In the process she discovers a shocking family secret – after a life time spent believing that her older sister Lisa died tragically as a teenager, she now finds that she may not be dead after all. What made her go on the run all those years ago and which other secrets have been kept from Riley? This is a surprisingly quick read considering it’s over 300 pages – I started reading it in the bath and was shocked to find I’d read over half when I came out. It started off really well then it became kind of predictable – as soon as I read the words “she told her everything, even the things daddy didn’t know” I knew what the final outcome was going to be, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to read to the end and find out what happened to all the characters. Riley is annoying at times and the final few chapters read a bit like a soap opera with some really cheesy/dramatic dialogue. Along the lines of “one day you will get your comeuppance, but it won’t be me that causes it”. Nonetheless, I mostly enjoyed the ride. 3.5 stars.

A Singing Grave by Tim Wilson. Twelve years ago a little boy was taken from the camp site where he was staying with his parents and killed. Howard Gandy, a man from the village was convicted of the crime. Philip Springthorpe was one of the witnesses who helped secure this conviction, but to the shock of his daughter, Rebecca, he now reveals he lied. Investigative journalist Adam Dowling is running a campaign to have Gandy released and Philip’s new testimony could be the missing piece that will allow the case to go to appeal. But if Howard Gandy didn’t do it, then who did? I picked this up from a free public bookcase on a whim – I had never heard of the author but the description sounded good. It’s an interesting and suspenseful mystery. Parts are really creepy. At one point I thought I knew who the murderer was, but I was wrong. I’m not really sure what I think of the ending though. 3.5 stars for this one as well.

How Hard Can Love Be by Holly Bourne. Book two in the “Spinster Club” series. Amber’s off to America to spend the summer with her mother, who she hasn’t seen in two years. Even before her mum remarried and had a complete change of personality, she was never the caring type, but Amber is hoping an entire summer together will help them make up for lost time – especially since her step-mum and step-brother make her life a misery at home. In California she meets prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Could he really be interested in feminist, anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie advising and encouraging her from back home, Amber can’t escape the fact that love is hard! I really enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the first one. If I had read this first I’m sure I would have adored it, but I just loved Evie so much in the first book and Amber’s boy troubles seemed so insignificant compared with Evie’s mental health struggles. Sorry Amber! This isn’t just some shallow love story though – there are some deep issues with Amber’s mum being a recovering alcoholic and Amber’s feelings of abandonment. Her family situation really isn’t easy and I felt so sorry for her. And of course the girls still discuss feminism a lot. 4.5 stars. Lottie’s story next. I can’t wait!

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse. Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life with her family in her beautiful, expensive house. But then her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she knew unravels. Left alone with her two sons and eight million pounds worth of debt, Nina is forced to move back to a tiny flat on the estate where she grew up and begins to wonder whether she ever really knew Finn at all. This is an enjoyable enough read but it didn’t blow me away. At times the dialogue seemed somehow… I don’t know… off. Stilted maybe? Also, a few lucky coincidences lead to Nina’s struggles being over relatively quickly – the flat they end up in belongs to a relative and the previous tenants just happen to have moved out just in time, then after applying for job after job that she has no qualifications for, somebody decides to create a job especially for her after meeting her briefly, once, when she turned up asking for a job she obviously could not do. And apparently if she hadn’t pawned her belongings and found a job she and her boys would have immediately been out on the streets starving to death because child benefit and job centres are not things that exist? It’s not a terrible book by any means, but definitely not my favourite. 3 stars.

The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell. After their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to the hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her big brother Seb return home to find it’s been ransacked. Before long, a very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. The two manage to escape, with a little help, but find themselves in an “uncommon” world, a secret underground city called Lundinor where ordinary objects can do extraordinary things – like belts that let you fly. They quickly discover that their family is connected to this amazing world. But evil forces are at large, and they’re convinced Ivy and Seb have something they want. The two need to uncover the family secret before it’s too late. I really liked this book. It’s charming and quirky. Parts of it reminded me of Un Lun Dun – the underground city that’s like the real world, but also not and the ordinary objects that aren’t so ordinary after all. My favourite character is actually a talking bicycle bell names Scratch! One thing that bothered me is Ivy is supposed to be 11 but she often seems much older – and not in a “mature for her age” way, but like there’s absolutely no way she can possibly be only 11. I did really like her but in my head she was much older than the book stated her to be. 4 stars.

Darkhouse by Alex Barclay. This book had been on my shelf for ages but I couldn’t remember whether I’d read it or not. Turns out I had – it just wasn’t very memorable. When a routine investigation ends in tragedy, Detective Joe Lucchesi takes leave from the NYPD  and moved with his wife and son to a quiet village in Ireland. When a young girl goes missing and the village closes ranks , Detective Lucchesi is determined to discover the truth and uncovers a sinister trail that leads right back to the other side of the Atlantic. This was an okay book. There are pretty much two storylines,  one of which is predictable while the other was confusing with too many characters. I don’t regret finishing it but I most likely won’t be continuing the series. 2.5 stars.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. In rural South Africa in the late 1930s, Peekay liveslived with Nanny (his wet nurse), his grandpa and his mother. When his mother has a break down he is sent to boarding school where he suffers horrific bullying by people who hate him for his heritage. After a while his family move home and he’s sent on a long train journey to reunite with them. Along the way he meets train conductor Hoppie Groenewald who introduces him to boxing and teaches him that little can best big,  resulting in Peekay resolving to become the Welterweight champion of the world. The story then follows Peekay for the rest of his childhood until early adulthood. I only read this because it’s on the BBC big read and had no expectations of it at all. In fact,  I put it off for ages. I ended up falling in love with little Peekay immediately and loving the book. A very unexpected 5 stars.

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford. Twelve-year-old Ethel Leatherhead only wanted to get rid of her acne, not turn herself invisible. But that’s exactly what happened when she combined some dodgy Chinese medicine from the Internet with an old sun bed. At first being invisible is terrifying, but then she discovers it’s not so bad at all, as she tries to keep her new power a secret with the help of her friend Boydy. Meanwhile, Ethel’s Gran is acting strangely and Ethel herself (whose mum died when she was very young) is starting to question who she really is. Then one day the invisibility effect doesn’t wear off and Ethel finds herself in the middle of an adventure. This book is good but a little confusing. There are two stories – one with Ethel turning invisible and all the chaos that causes then a second one involving her family and secrets that have been kept from her – and the two things don’t really seem to relate to each other It felt like there was a disconnect between a fun, whimsical story on one hand and a more serious coming of age/self-discovery story on the other. It’s really well written, it just felt like I was reading two different stories that were both not quite satisfactory – the author would have done better to have stuck with one story, I think. It’s set in the North-East of England though so yay for that. 3.5 stars.

That is all for today. Check out the link up for more book talk. And let me know in the comments if you’ve read anything good lately or what you thought of any of the books I read in April if you’ve read them.