35 before 35 – the results

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It has been three whole days since I turned 35 so I suppose you could say this post is late. I’ve been trying to think how to write it. After all, there’s not much point in just re-listing all the things I had planned to do when you can just check the master list here and see all the things I have an haven’t done. So, instead, a summary:

Out of 35 goals, I completed 18. That means I did not complete 17… so I did just over half. Of those I didn’t complete, I only read 21 out of 50 non-fiction books, so less than half for that one, but I read 69 out of 132 books for the BBC Big Read, meaning I managed more than half for that one and only have another 63 left to read before I turn 40.

Number 27 on my list, spend the night in a wine barrel, I’m just not that bothered about any more and number 3, learn Spanish, was a silly goal anyway. What does “learn Spanish” even mean… how much would I have had to learn in order to consider it complete? For number 33, have a poem published, I can say I tried. I submitted three poems to a competition and not one of them got through. Not even an honourable mention. I was quite proud of one of them as well! Oh well, their loss… right? 😉

Overall, I am very pleased with what I did manage to do. The main goal was to be able to look back when I turned 35 and be able to say I have done things with my life… I have read, learned, travelled and had experiences. And I can certainly say that! I may not have managed to see the Northern Lights (yet) but I did visit not just one but two new continents (overachiever ;-)) having travelled to both Taiwan and New Zealand in the past 5 years. Drinking champagne in Champagne and seeing three World Cup rugby matches were fantastic experiences and 69 BBC Big Read books isn’t bad considering the length of some of them (looking at you Anna Karenina). Now on to 40 before 40! I have a feeling the next five years are going to be interesting whatever happens with my list 😉

Taiwan
View of Sun Moon Lake from Wen Wu Temple, Taiwan
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The books I read in July 2018

Hello! My 35 before 35 challenge is now officially over (as of yesterday), but I’m not going to talk about that yet because today is Show Us Your Books day! This post isn’t going to be quite as long as the last one… in my monthly recap, I told you I read 6 books for Erin’s challenge, finished a book I started in June and read 3 full other books. I actually read 4 other books (I had forgotten one), so that gives me a total of 11 books to review this time round. Still a lot, but not quite as bad as 18 😉
I’ll just get on with it shall I?

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Books for Erin’s challenge first, then the rest.

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville (read for the category: a book that’s been on your TBR the longest). I actually bought this book for Jan a while ago for his birthday or something. I thought it might be something we would both like to read. When I checked my Goodreads to-read list, this was the book that had been on there the second longest (the first book I added was too short for the challenge). This is a story about an alternative London… “London through the looking glass”, as it’s described in the blurb. Un Lun DUn = un-London, obviously. Un Lun Dun is where all the lost and broken objects from the original London end up – and sometimes people too. Where words are alive, carnivorous giraffes roam the streets, and a talking book tells a prophecy of a hero who will save them all. I loved this book! All the characters are fantastic. I never thought I would end up adoring a smelly milk carton – you’ll have to read it to find out what I’m on about ;-). Deeba is an awesome character and definitely not “just a sidekick” (again, you’ll have to read it). I also love the cover – it’s so delightfully creepy. 5 stars.

Red Ribbons by Louise Phillips (read for the category: a book with an alliterative title). The body of a missing schoolgirl is found buried in the Dublin Mountains, her hands clasped together in prayer, two red ribbons in her hair. When another girl’s body is discovered 24 hours later, the hunt for the killer reaches epic proportions. Criminal psychologist Kate Pearson is called in to help, but the more she discovers about the killings, the more it reminds her of a terrifying event in her own past. Meanwhile, Ellie Brady has been institutionalised for 15 years, for the killing of her twelve-year-old daughter, Amy. After all this time, does Ellie hold the key to finding the killer of the Dublin schoolgirls? I thought this was reasonably good for a debut, but for me it didn’t quite live up to all the rave reviews. Some of the dialogue in the beginning felt a bit stilted, but it got better as the book went on. I really enjoyed the parts from Ellie’s perspective. 3.5 stars.

The Irish Cottage Murder by Dicey Deere (read for the category: a character who shares your profession). The second book in this series describes the protagonist as a translator of children’s books. In this one it turns out she’s actually interpreting (but also does translating – just not during this book). Still close enough to my profession, I guess. So, Torrey Turret accepts an invitation from a stranger who spills soup on her at a restaurant to stay at his Irish castle while she’s interpreting for a conference in Dublin. Not long after she arrives, she stumbles on a murdered man in the forest near the castle. When a priceless heirloom disappears and an old secret from her past surfaces, all fingers point to Torrey… and when her host, too, is murdered it doesn’t look good for her. If she doesn’t find out who really did it, she faces ruin… and gaol. An easy read and entertaining enough if you can ignore all the inconsistencies. It’s supposed to be set in the 90s but it feels like a much earlier time period. And why would an American be employed to interpret between French and Hungarian? That’s not how it works! I also found the number and combination of languages Torrey speaks implausible. But the murder mystery aspect was interesting and I didn’t guess who was responsible. A low 3 stars, but I enjoyed it enough not to go all the way down to 2.

Love Always by Harriet Evans (read for the category: a book with an emotion word in the title). The book begins with Natasha Kapoor on her way to Cornwall for her beloved grandmother’s funeral. This trip reunites her with her large and complicated family for perhaps the last time: Summercove, her grandparents’ beautiful house by the sea, is being sold. Along with it go a generation of memories and perhaps the key to the death of her aunt Cecily many years ago at just fifteen years of age. When she finds the opening pages of Cecily’s diary, written the summer she died, she final begins to learn all the family secrets she never knew. But where is the rest of the diary? There is so much intrigue and family drama in this book. Who is doing what with whom and who is guilty of what? Not high literature but fun to read. Not as fluffy as I expected from the cover picture. 4 stars.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (read for the category: title starts with N). Morrigan Crow is a cursed child. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears and whisks her away to the safety of a town called Nevermoor. There, Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each with an extraordinary talent. But Morrigan insists she doesn’t have a talent… so how will she ever pass the final trial? I loved this! It’s such a fun read. The trials were not what I was expecting. The characters are fantastic – Hawthorne is so fantastic and I adore Fen. I definitely want to read the next book. 5 stars.

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio (read as my freebie book). This book reminds me of The Secret History in a way, in that there’s a group of friends one of whom has ended up dead – an accident or murdered by his friends? Who knows. As the book begins, Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day of his release, he is greeted by Detective Colborne – the man who put him in prison. Colborne is retiring, and now he wants to know what really happened a decade before. Oliver agrees to tell him, strictly off the record. Ten years ago, Oliver and his friends/house mates were drama students at an exclusive university. Early on, the friends notice that they are always cast in similar roles that seem to match their off-stage personalities – villain, hero, temptress. When the teachers change the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and eventually tragedy strikes. One of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless. I loved The Secret History, but I think I actually liked this one even more – probably because I can’t relate to ancient Greek studies, whereas quoting Shakespeare is right up my alley (except in my case not as an actor, but a reader). While similar to The Secret History, I found this to be an excellent story in its own right. Some people might find the constant dropping of Shakespeare into ordinary conversation annoying, but I didn’t. 5 stars.

So, that was the books I read for Erin’s challenge… six down in month one, four more to go. Now for the rest of the books I read.

In Wahrheit wird viel mehr gelogen by Kerstin Gier. This book doesn’t exist in English, so my rough translation of the title is “In truth, we tell a lot more lies”. Carolin is 26 and recently widowed. Now, while still grieving, she has to fight over an inheritance with her stuffy ex-boyfriend (who happens to be the son of her dead husband!) and his annoying family. So it’s no wonder Carolin gets drunk for the first time ever, starts seeing a therapist and spends a small fortune on shoes. And constantly feels like she’s surrounded by idiots… because, oh yes, Carolin is a genius! Luckily Carolin is not alone in her darkest hour, and with the help of her family and a new friend she is able to get through it. This was a fun read. I really liked Carolin, and I’m glad she didn’t get over her loss by getting into a new relationship straight away, which is what usually seems to happen in this type of book! 4 stars.

I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson. At 12 years old, Emma Freke is almost 6 feet tall with bright red hair – which makes it difficult not to be noticed. And on top of that there’s her name, which her wacky, hippy-ish mother didn’t bother to say out loud before putting it on the birth certificate. She’s certain that if she ever meets her father’s family she will figure out her place in the world – but she’s never even met her father, never mind the rest of them. Then she receives an invitation to attend a Freke family reunion. This is a lovely little book about finding your identity and being yourself. Emma’s mum wasn’t the best – she acted like a petulant teen most of the time – but I liked that she had her back when it actually mattered. 4 stars.

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron. Nadia lives in Canaan, a walled-in city where life is safe, structured… and every twelve years everybody forgets what’s come before. In Canaan, your book is your whole life… the place where you write down everything about yourself: your job, who your spouse and children are, where you live. It’s the only way to know who you are after the Forgetting. For everybody except Nadia, that is – Nadia does not forget. When begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the Forgetting approaches, the two of them need to find a way to battle an unexpected threat to the city. I absolutely loved this. Yes it was confusing at first but after a while it properly sucked me in and I *needed* to know what was going on. I was not expecting what Nadia and Gray found behind the wall, although I did have a suspicion about a certain character after a conversation they had with Nadia. Gray’s constant smirking was kind of annoying, but the story had me enthralled enough not to care. 4 stars.

Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson. This was the book I had forgotten to include in my monthly round-up, so clearly it was very memorable. Leigh Nolan has just started her first year at Stiles College where she is studying psychology. Her high-school boyfriend, the over-achieving, ambitious Andrew, is also there. Leigh is excellent at psycho-analysing herself and everyone around her, but totally misses the obvious.. like the fact that her boyfriend is a selfish jerk and his room-mate, Nathan, is actually rather lovely. It’s a cute book with a fairly predictable romance. There was one scene that made me uncomfortable involving an oblivious and very stereotypical Chinese character named Li Huang – I’m not even sure what the point in him being there was. I guess that part was supposed to be funny, but it just felt racist and unnecessary. Nathan is lovely (of course) and Andrew deserves a slap. My favourite character was Rebekah, who Leigh was mentoring as part of her course. I would happily read a whole book about Rebekah. Overall a fun read but very forgettable. 3 stars.

Katherine by Anya Seton. My final book is one I started in June and managed to finish in July. This is a BBC Big Read book that I’ve been putting of for ages, mainly because I have no interest in the love affairs of royalty, even if it is based on a true story. I eventually forced myself to read it by taking it with me when I had to go to the office – there’s nothing like a two-hour train journey each way to make you happily read whatever’s available! I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected. It’s an interesting read and now I want to learn about the real Katherine Swynford. 4 stars.

I also started reading The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy, but since I only finished it in August I’ll tell you about it in next month’s round-up.

And that was my reading month of July. A fair few 4 and 5 star books there, so I’m happy.
What have you been reading lately? Check out the link up for more book reviews.

A Photo an Hour: 28 July 2018

It’s been over a week since I took part in photo an hour, but this is the first chance I’ve had to actually sit and write a blog post (on my lunch break no less, because when else could I possibly find time for my blog?). Some of you might have seen my live hourly posts on Twitter. For the rest of you, here’s what I got up to on photo an hour day.

9:30 a.m. Up fairly early for a Saturday having been driven out of bed by my boyfriend snoring! Making a cuppa before it gets too hot.

10:30 a.m. Time for some breakfast… toast with cheese.

11:30 a.m. Doing some cross for a card that will be sent to a post pal.

12:30 p.m. Another photo an hour day, another photo of my shower! About time I got clean.

1:30 p.m. Taking away some recycling. It’s quiet hours so I can’t do the glass (plastic goes inside the supermarket so I can’t get in trouble for making a noise)

2:30 p.m. Home and settling down for a late lunch.

3:30 p.m. At some point while I was out Jan got out of bed so I can finally give the place a much-needed hoover!

4:30 p.m. Jan is off to his Basel Tattoo performance (this was the last day of the Tattoo) and I’m changing the bedding.

5:30 p.m. Folding some clean laundry before it gets out of hand again. Not sure why the ironing board is out but it makes a useful surface.

6:30 p.m. I wanted some fresh air so I decided to visit the cows on a nearby farm.

7:30 p.m. Back home and the dishwasher has finished, so while tea is in the oven I’ll empty it.

8:30 p.m. Tea time! Bake potatoes and hummus. Not pictured but consumed: raw carrots.

9:30 p.m. Back to cross stitching. Nearly finished!

10:30 p.m. Off to bed with a book. Funnily enough, I still haven’t actually finished this book because I got distracted by the Internet 😉

And that was my fairly boring day. A busy week at work always means lots of housework waiting for me on Saturday.

As always, the link up was hosted by Jane and Louisa.

Recent doings #30

Hi friends! Can you believe it’s August already? That means I will be turning 35 this month! And with so much of my 35 before 35 list left undone 😉 I have done a lot of the things on the list though – and also quite a few that weren’t even on there so I’m fine with it. Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves… today I’m here to talk about what I’ve been doing in July.

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Eating. Lots of salad – it’s been far too hot to cook! Trying to eat fish twice a week. And before you start thinking how virtuous I am, a  lot of ice cream has also been consumed 😉

Reading. I didn’t manage to read as much this month partly thanks to work being crazy busy and also because I had a lot of cross stitching to do and also I feel like work has been trying to drown me in translations…. I did so much overtime in July! I managed to read 6 books for Erin’s challenge though, plus 3 other full books and I finished one I had started in June. I also started 2 other books for Erin’s challenge but one I couldn’t manage to get into and the other is long so I haven’t finished it yet.

Watching. Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars… which means we’ve actually finished a whole series. Woo! Also football because World Cup and Young Sheldon.

Cross stitching. Birthday season has begun! Actually, it started with my mum’s birthday on 26 July but I didn’t stitch her a card this year so the first cross stitched card was one I started last month for my friend’s son’s 1st birthday. I then stitched a card for another friend’s son, whose birthday is on 27 August. Next up are my brother’s birthday (1 September) and my godson’s birthday (13 September). And I also started my Christmas stitching in July… yes, I know that sounds crazy but past experience tells me if I don’t want to be stressed in December I have to start now.

Going. Up mountains. As I mentioned last month, we took an overnight trip to Vitznau on Lake Lucerne on 30 June. On 1 July we took the cable car from Vitznau up to the Wissifluh – part of Rigi – then drove down to Stans and went up the Stanserhorn. We saw loads of butterflies on both mountains. I’ve never seen so many different types outside of a butterfly house! It was pretty amazing. Then last Sunday we spontaneously decided to drive to French-speaking Switzerland last week – St Ursanne and Neuchâtel.

butterfly

Seeing/hearing. The Basel Tattoo! Jan was performing with the tattoo choir again and I had a ticket for the first Saturday. It’s definitely an experience I can recommend.

Buying. Too many books, as usual. Also a bird necklace from Etsy. Anything else? A birthday present for my friend’s son, which also happened to be books 😉

Wishing. Things would cool down just a little. This is Switzerland – there’s no need for it to still be 28°C at 9 o’clock at night!

And that was basically my July. Work, boil to death, prepare food that preferably doesn’t involve generating more heat, attempt to sleep even though I apparently live in an oven, wake up, repeat. With a little trip at the beginning and end of the month to balance things out.

How was your July? Anything new you want to share? Check out the link up to see what other bloggers have been up to lately.

Roar, roar, dinosaur!

Hello friends! I keep meaning to post more frequently but I’ve been absolutely snowed under at work recently. It’s as if all our customers somehow sensed that my colleague is on holiday and chose that very moment to decide they need all the translations into English. And of course 90% of it falls to me. We do have access to freelance translators, but if it’s in any way urgent or my colleagues just don’t feel like asking around I get to do it. Lucky me! Anyway, I wanted to at least pop in and say hi, so I thought I would show you a card I cross stitched a couple of weeks ago for one of the Post Pals children.

dinosaur card

Happy weekend everyone. If it’s as hot where you are as it is here I hope you find a way to keep cool!

The final 15 things to do before I turn 40

With my 35th birthday (and thus the end of my 35 before 35 challenge) exactly one month away, I thought it was time I posted the third and final part of my 40 before 40 list. Part one is here, with the first 15 items, and part two is here with 10 more. That leaves 15 for me to reveal today.

Bird

  1. Get a dog
  2. See the Northern Lights (rolled over from the last list)
  3. See a play on the Seebühne (floating stage) at the Bregenzer Festspiele.
  4. Make chicken Kiev – you can’t get them here and surely it can’t be that hard?
  5. Get the tattoo I’ve been planning for a while – first I have to find a decent tattooist and someone who can draw it for me!
  6. Bake and decorate a cake
  7. Read The Canterbury Tales – my grandma bought this for Jan a few years ago and neither of us has even looked at it yet!
  8. Get a new dining table – we currently have 2 IKEA cheapy ones, which are fine (except that one has been on the balcony and is looking rather weathered!) but by the time I’m 40 I want to own a half-decent table!
  9. Remove all my books from my dad’s house, either by having my dad take them to charity shops or bringing them to Switzerland. I usually bring a few over every time I visit. By the time I reach 40 I hope to have completed the process!
  10. Bring my doll’s house over from England. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to do this but it’s mine and I want it!
  11. Go whale watching – this was on my last list and I still want to do it!
  12. Take a trip to the Farne Isalands. I haven’t been since I was a kid and I’ve been meaning to take Jan for years.
  13. Get to my goal weight… but I’m not telling you what that is 😉 I will say that I am 7 kg above it right now.
  14. Take an in-person course or join a group – it doesn’t matter what as long as it’s something that makes me get out there and interact with actual people. (Scary!)
  15. … I am leaving the final one open for now. If anyone has any suggestions please tell me in the comments (not bungee jumping). Otherwise I will definitely think of something to put here at some point.

The books I read in June 2018

Hello everyone. The Show Us Your Books link up is here again, a.k.a the day I discover more books I want to read than on all the other days of the month put together. In June I managed to finish 18 books again, so I won’t ramble on too much but just get on with it…

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Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden. I started reading this book on the plane to England then read the final chapter on the morning of 1 June while everyone else was still sleeping. When Tess Devlin bumps into her ex-she’s furious when he acts like he doesn’t know her. An angry phone call reveals that it couldn’t possibly have been him. Meanwhile Frank Lindbergh is attacked in his home by an intruder with his face. Gradually a whole group of people realise they have doppelgangers… and all of them were once involved in a project at a creepy mansion on a hill. This was an interesting concept and nicely creepy. Parts of the story had me gripped, but sometimes the writing felt a bit clunky. The final page was chilling. A decent enough read. 3.5 stars

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan. I read this book on the way home from England and it was interesting enough to hold my attention through two flights. Margot Lewis is a teacher who also works as an agony aunt for a local newspaper under the name “Amy”. When she receives a letter from someone claiming their name is Bethan Avery and they’ve been kidnapped she assumes it must be a hoax – Bethany Avery has been missing for nearly two decades. But with a girl from her class also missing she reluctantly turns over the letters to the police just in case. Then it turns out the letters are genuine. Unlike most reviewers on Goodreads, I really enjoyed this. I must be slow because I did not see the twist coming until just before it was revealed. Not a perfect book by any means but I liked it. 4 stars.

I Do Not Sleep by Judy Finnegan. Five years ago, Molly Gabriel lost her 20-year-old son, Joey, to a sailing accident. His empty boat was discovered washed ashore on the rocks but his body was never found. Now Molly has returned to Cornwall, the scene of the accident, unable to accept that he’s really gone. Against the wishes of her family, she confronts Joey’s best friend to find out more about what went on that day. The mystery in this book is intriguing, but there are some odd supernatural components I wasn’t expecting. Despite its length, this somehow a quick read. It was 448 pages but it didn’t feel like I read that many words. 3 stars, I liked it okay but wouldn’t necessarily read anything else by this author.

Stitch Head by Guy Bass. At Castle Grotteskew, Professor Erasmus conducts his bizarre experiments on living things. His very first creation – a small, almost-human creature, known only as Stitch Head – has been long forgotten. Poor Stitch Head has spent years trying to get the attention of his creator while also keeping the increasingly bizarre other creations under control. When the leader of a freak show promises to make Stitch Head a star, he wonders whether there is a better life out there for him. But first he has to deal with the professor’s latest creation – a monstrous three-armed creature that’s just smashed its way to freedom. This is a cute, fun little book. I love little Stitch Head and the Creature. I would recommend it for children aged 8+ and all fans of slightly gothic children’s books. It’s the first in a series and I’m looking forward to reading book two. 4 stars.

Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas. Libby Hall never really wanted to be noticed. But after she saves the children in her care from a fire, she finds herself headline news. And horrified by the attention. It all reminds her of what happened nine years ago. The last time she saw her best friend alive. So when she and her husband get an offer to take part in a house swap it seems like a dream come true. But this stylish Cornish home isn’t the getaway they’d hoped for. They make odd, even disturbing, discoveries in the house. It’s so isolated-yet Libby doesn’t feel entirely alone. As if she’s being watched. Is Libby being paranoid or is something strange really going on? This book has so many twists and turns. The moral of the story, apart from how well do you really know somebody, appears to be if something seems too good to be true it probably is. Towards the end, after the reveal, I kept being confused about who was speaking now but other than that I enjoyed this so much more than Local Girl Missing by the same author. 4 stars.

Whisper by Chrissie Keighery. How do you know if your friends are talking about you behind your back or if a boy likes you? They could act innocent, but you’d know from the rumours. You’d hear the whispers. But what if you couldn’t hear those whispers any more? What if everything you took for granted was gone? Being a teenager is hard enough without being deaf as well! This is a lovely book. Demi, the deaf main character, felt so real to me with all her problems – some brought about by her being a typical teenager, being jealous of her older sister and making assumptions about other characters. Yes, people can be mean but I liked how this book showed not everything is about discrimination, although Demi often assumed everything was because she’s deaf. I also loved Demi’s nephew, Harry. He’s so pure and lovely. At one point he says “My auntie Demi can do anything!” Awww. It’s a simple story but really insightful. 5 stars.

Half Life by Shelley Jackson. I’m not sure whether this is supposed to be set in the future or some kind of alternative reality, but either way it takes place in a world where conjoined twins are much more common than in our society because of increased radioactivity. Nora is one such person, and she’s tired of being attached to her twin, Blanche, who has been asleep for the past 15 or 20 years. So she goes to London in an attempt to track down a society that is rumoured to illegally separate conjoined twins (illegal because one always dies in the process). Once in England, Nora’s past begins to emerge and Blanche may or may not be waking up. This book is both fascinating and confusing. I started off enjoying the story and by the end I wasn’t sure which parts had actually happened or to who. The closer to the end it gets, the more bizarre and surreal it becomes. Definitely one that will require a careful re-read in the future. 4 stars.

Der Fremde Gast by Charlotte Link. This has been translated unto English as “The Unknown Guest”. Inconsolable after the death of her husband, Rebecca Brandt has decided to take her own life. But an unexpected visitor keeps her from carrying out her plans, an old friend who shows up at her secluded house in the South of France and bringing two strangers along with him: the students Inga and Marius, who wanted to hitch hike to the sea. Rebecca befriends the two of them and even lets them use her boat. But while they’re out sailing, they get into a terrible fight, and at some point Marius goes overboard. A short time later, his picture appears in the German papers in connection with a murder. Almost all the female characters in this book were weak and annoying, pandering to their husbands’ whims… spending their entire lives trying not to make them angry. Ugh. The plot was intriguing though. There were so many points of view that I was confused half the time, but I had to keep reading because I needed to know how they were all connected. I had a feeling something weird was going on with one person but did not guess the culprit. A high 3 stars but not quite a 4. Would 3.75 be too weird?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Finally I got to read this one! Everyone has been raving about it but I was waiting until I could find a cheap copy. Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, sticks to her routine, and doesn’t really talk to anyone. She has learned how to survive but it’s very clear from the start that no matter what she says she is not completely fine. I honestly don’t know how to review this book. I didn’t really like Eleanor at first – I mean, she really isn’t very likeable to be fair. But I did feel sorry for her. She had totally grown on me by the end and I wanted the best for her. There’s a twist at the end that I did not see coming. I don’t want to say more. Honestly I think it’s best to go into this one knowing very little about it. 5 stars – probably my favourite book of the year so far.

Paperweight by Meg Haston. Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped. In her life. And now in an eating-disorder treatment centre. She doesn’t plan to stay there for long though. There are only twenty-seven days until the anniversary of her brother Josh’s death—the death she caused. And if Stevie gets her way, there are only twenty-seven days until she, too, will end her life. I really enjoyed this book – as much as you can say you “enjoy” this subject matter. Stevie is a hard character to like – she’s so cynical and mean at the beginning. But I kind of get it and she does change/grow as the book goes on. There are some great side characters – I love her room-mate Ashley! I cried towards the end so obviously this book got to me. I can’t comment on how accurate the eating disorder/treatment side to it was having never been in that situation but it felt realistic to me. 4 stars.

Steps to the Gallows by Edward Marston. When the editor of a newspaper that regularly reveals the details of political and sexual scandals and publishes caricatures of public figures in compromising situations is killed, a group of amateur sleuths called the “Invisible Detectives” (according to the blurb – this doesn’t come up in the book) are hired by the man who financed the production of the paper. He wants the killer brought to justice and the scandal sheet revived. Meanwhile the actual police are also on the case, and are not happy that the amateurs are butting in. Kezzie gave me this book when I met up with her last August and I only got round to reading it now. Shameful! I enjoyed the story but some of the dialogue was a little clunky. Nobody uses anyone’s name that much! It’s pretty much a standard murder mystery/amateur sleuth novel in the vein of Agatha Christie, etc. but with weapons experts instead of old ladies. This is book 2 in a series but not having read the first one wasn’t an issue. 3.5 stars.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. As a result she knows things nobody would ever expect… for instance that her family has moved to the island of Vane because her father is fleeing a scandal. And when her father is discovered dead she knows he was murdered. Hunting through her father’s possessions, Faith discovers a strange tree that only bears fruit when she whispers lies to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. Can the lie tree help he find her father’s murderer? I absolutely loved this. It’s dark and twisted and so interesting. Faith is a fantastic character and I just know that one day she’s going to show everyone that women are just as good as men. 5 stars.

Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm. It’s 1953 and 11-year-old Penny dreams of a summer of butter pecan ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But she she’s not allowed to go swimming because her mother’s afraid she’ll catch polio at the pool. To make matters worse, her dog, Scarlett O’Hara, is sick. Her favourite uncle is living in a car. Her best friend is turning into a criminal. And no one will tell Penny the truth about how her father died. This book is based on Jennifer Holm’s own Italian-American family and it’s wonderful. Heart-warming, amusing, historically insightful. Penny is a great character. After the story, the author has included photos of her family members who inspired the book’s characters. 5 stars.

Cloud 9 by Alex Campbell. If there was a wonder-drug to make you feel happier, would you take it? In this book’s society, everyone takes a drug called Leata. With no side effects, it’s the perfect pick-me-up. Well, almost everyone takes it. Tom’s dad has always been against Leata and the company that makes it… and now he’s dead. Tom begins to suspect it wasn’t an accident and that there’s something odd going on with Leata. Meanwhile, his next-door-neighbour Hope is a YouTube star and blogger who honestly believes in Leata’s power to make the world a better place (her father is also a lawyer for PharmaCare, the company that make the drug, so she may have other reasons for being the perfect Leata advocate…). Tom and Hope used to be best friends, now they don’t talk any more. But they’re going to have to work together to figure out what’s really going on. I really enjoyed this. It seemed believable and really made me think about the influence  of social media as well as society’s obsession with happiness and putting on a positive front to fit in. How many people really want to know how you’re feeling when they ask “how are you?”. I hated Hope at first but it was quickly obvious something more was happening beneath the surface. I had a bit of an issue with the ending, but I won’t go into that here for fear of spoilers. Overall I thought it was a really good story though and a nice introduction to dystopia for teens. 4 stars.

What Came First by Carol Snow. This book is told from the perspective of three women. All Vanessa wants for her 29th birthday is an engagement ring from her boyfriend, Eric. Instead she gets a mix CD and learns that her boyfriend is not interested in having children with her, ever. Wendy and her husband struggled to have children and eventually decided to use a sperm donor. Now her twins are 5 and completely out of control while her husband spends all his time playing computer games. Wendy feels like she got the raw end of the deal. Laura is a single career woman. She never needed a man to have a baby… just an anonymous sperm donor. Now her son, Ian, wants a sibling and she’s determined to grant his wish. Her search ends up bringing the three women together. I liked most of this book but I didn’t love it. Vanessa really annoyed me – I did think Eric treated her badly and I could understand why she was upset but she was just so whiny all the time, about everything. Also I didn’t get the part where Laura had to spend 10 minutes in the toilet every day with an OPK… yes the instructions say to look at it within 10 minutes but the line comes up pretty quickly. She really didn’t need to be sneaking off for 10 minutes every day and being grateful that her assistant was more interested in her phone… that part just felt like an excuse for Laura to get in another dig about her assistant. I gave this one 3 stars.

Der Mann von Nebenan by Amelie Fried. This one hasn’t been translated, but the title means “The Man from Next Door”. After getting divorced, Kate has recently moved to the countryside with her son. Not long after she arrives, she finds a woman lying dead in a field. Not really, the idyllic village of her dreams. Luckily she has nice neighbours… but gradually the man next door gets more and more pushy. Is he really as friendly as he seems? Kate and her new friends decide there’s only one thing for it: the neighbour has to be dealt with. This is such an odd book. The murder at the beginning never actually seems to be cleared up, although there is a detective who shows up at the weirdest times. One of Kate’s neighbours practices what seems to be some kind of voodoo – at one point casting a love spell for Kate (which apparently works?). And the drama with the next-door neighbour takes an unexpected turn. It was a pleasant enough read and quick to get through – kind of chick-lit-ish with a slight twist – but not one I would say people need to rush out and read. If it hadn’t been in a free public bookcase I wouldn’t have picked it up. 3 stars.

Peas and Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners by Sandi Toksvig. This is literally what the title suggests – a book about manners. How should yo eat peas? What do you do if people are making a noise in the quiet carriage? How to behave when living with other people. It’s framed as a series of letters to the author’s niece, each followed by a section on how to behave in a certain situation. I was intrigued by the title and had seen a good review on it so decided to give it a go. Unfortunately it was fairly useless for me – it didn’t tell me anything about how to behave that I don’t already now. I liked Sandi Toksvig’s writing style and the beginning of the book, about the history of manners, etc., was really interesting. I also found the little asides about the origins of words interesting. Overall it was okay, a relatively quick read, but I’m not really sure who I would recommend it to, if anyone. 3 stars. At least I got to cross another non-fiction book off my list…

The Humans by Matt Haig. When Professor Andrew Martin solves a maths problem, aliens decide he needs to be eliminated because the human race is not ready for this kind of knowledge. One of their number is sent to invade his body so they can also get rid anyone with whom he has shared his findings. But then the alien tasked with taking over his body starts to experience life and discovers he actually rather likes being human. This book disappointed me. I thought I was going to absolutely adore it, but for some reason I didn’t. The perspective is interesting and I found myself agreeing with a few things (humans are absurd!) but overall it just didn’t really do it for me. It’s a good book, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great one. Also, the writing style seems almost but not quite patronising, which may be the point given the narrator but I don’t like feeling as though authors are trying to tell me I’m not clever enough. My favourite part was the list at the end (if you want to know what that means you’ll have to read it). I know other people have loved it, so if you think it sounds interesting I would say give it a go, but for me it was just 3 stars – not the 5 I expected to give it.

And that’s it for today. 18 books described and reviewed. Sorry it’s so long again! I’ve only read 4 books so far in July, so maybe next month you’ll get lucky and my round-up post will be shorter 😉

Have you read any of these books? DO you agree with my thoughts? Or have you read something good recently that you think I should try too? And if you haven’t had enough book talk, go and check out the link up for more reviews and recommendations.