What I read in January 2019

Hello lovely people. It’s the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s time for another round-up of what I’ve been reading. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

Most of the books I read were for Book Challenge by Erin 10.0, which I realise I never actually posted about on here, so I’ll add the categories after the book title/author. I read 11 books, which is a decent number but not as many as in other months. I blame the fact that I read two classics, which both seemed to take me forever to read! Anyway, I should get on with the reviews…

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Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (challenge category: read a friend or family member’s favourite book – this is my grandma’s favourite book, apparently). The book starts with farmer Gabriel Oak meeting a woman named Bathsheba Everdene who has come to stay with her aunt. After roughly two conversations with her, he falls in love and asks her to marry him, which he refuses. A short time later, she disappears from the village to take up her position as farmer of a large estate near Weatherbury on the death of her uncle. Farmer Oak then loses all his sheep, meaning he can no longer be a farmer, and through a series of coincidences ends up working as a shepherd on Bathsheba’s farm. Another farmer falls in love with Bathsheba and then a third person comes into the mix, but I don’t want to say too much about what happens with all these suitors in case I spoil things.
First of all, I have to say Hardy doesn’t half go on! At one point there was literally a three-page description of a barn and the positions of the people within it. More than once I found myself thinking “get to the point will you!”. It is an interesting story and towards the end especially it picks up a bit as Hardy finally leaves off describing and starts getting to the action. Bathsheba is a strong and independent woman for her time (insisting on running the farm herself, for instance) but is remarkably silly at times. 3.5 stars.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (challenge category: read a book that has won a Newberry Award). Mrs Frisby, a widowed mouse and mother to four small children, has a problem. She needs to move her family to their summer quarters immediately before the farmer ploughs the land it’s on, but her youngest son Timothy is gravely ill with pneumonia and if he moves he will certainly die. Fortunately, she meets the rats of NIMH, an extremely intelligent group of animals who have the perfect solution to her dilemma and the means to help her.
Where has this book been all my life? I mean, given it was published in 1971 it definitely existed before I did so why did nobody ever tell me about it? It’s adorable! I loved the rats’ story and Jeremy the crow. The start is a bit slow, but I actually don’t mind that… I kind of liked the contrast between everyday mouse life at the beginning and the extraordinary story of the rats later on. I could see some children getting bored before it reaches the “exciting” part, but it’s 5 stars from me.

The Dinner by Hermann Koch (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a language that isn’t your native language). This is the story of two couples who meet at a fancy restaurant for dinner. Things start off harmlessly enough, with talk of work, films, and holidays, but all is not as it seems. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son, and together their sons have committed a horrific act that has triggered a police investigation. Just how far is each couple willing to go to protect those they love?
This book is so odd… not so much a roller coaster as a spiral into madness. Which isn’t too say I didn’t enjoy it… although “enjoy” seems like the wrong word given the subject matter. It’s strangely compelling… like a train wreck that you just can’t look away from. I don’t want to say too much – I went into it with little idea of what it was about, and I honestly feel like that’s the best way. I would say if you’re at all intrigued read it (but if you don’t like violence steer clear). Also, it goes off on tangents a lot. 4 stars.

The Never List by Koethi Zan (challenge category: read a book that starts with the letter N). For years, Sarah and Jennifer kept the Never List: a list of things to be avoided at all costs. Never go out alone. Never get in the car. But one night they broke their own rules, with horrifying consequences. Ten years later, Sarah is trying to forget her horrible ordeal and get on with her life, but it seems the killer hasn’t forgotten her! This book is so disturbing, and filled with twists and turns. I was not expecting the final reveal at the end at all! (Some reviewers have said it was obvious, so maybe I’m just not clever enough?). My only issue is that the writing style occasionally seemed slightly juvenile, which briefly threw me out of the story. But generally it sucked me in and had me up way past my bedtime reading just one more chapter. 4 stars.

The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan (challenge category: read a book with exactly six words in the title). Until I started this book I had forgotten I’ve actually read one by this author before (The Long Weekend is a scary middle-grade thriller, this one is YA). After Jay’s father died, life was hard for her and her mother, but they managed to get by. Now they’re moving in with relatives, including an aunt who has super strict rules on how Indian girls and boys should act. Jay will be expected to have only Indian friends, if she has any at all. How can she see her school friends, Chloe and Matt? But forcing her to conform to Indian customs and traditions is only the beginning of a nightmare for Jay. When her life implodes, how can she hide the shame and how will she find a way to keep going?
I don’t want to spoil anything but I do feel like this needs to be said… this book involves a sexual assault. If that’s not something you can read about then avoid this one. This is a really hard book to review partly because of the subject. It’s raw and seems realistic. Not what I would call an “enjoyable” book but it’s well-written and compelling. I really felt for Jay and was her mother’s response to what happened was perfect. 5 stars.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Astri is a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After her aunt sells her to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America with the “goatman” in pursuit. This book reads like a mixture of historical fiction and a fairytale, with the main character drawing constant comparisons between folk tales and her own situation. It’s a really well-told story and I enjoyed it but it’s quite dark with death, violence and subtle references to sex. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone under about 12 or 13. 4 stars.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Another one of those supposed classics that I somehow missed as a child. This is the only book I read in January that wasn’t for Erin’s challenge. Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He’s been practising all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, the new kid – a girl no less – outruns everybody. Not the most promising start for a friendship, but Jess and Lesley quickly become inseparable. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen. Then tragedy strikes. This starts off as a lovely story about a friendship between two people from totally different backgrounds. Then it gets really sad and the bubble of innocence is burst. I’m not really sure why it’s labelled as “fantasy” though – it’s clear all along that Terabithia only exists in Jess and Lesley’s imaginations. Anyway, 4 stars.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). For some reason I always thought this was a ghost story. It’s not. However, it is among the first mystery novels and may have been the first novel written with multiple narrators. On a moonlit London road, Walter Hartright encounters a mysterious woman dressed all in white who asks him from directions. He then discovers she’s escaped from an asylum. Not long after he travels to Cumberland where he is hired as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe. Of course, he falls in love with Laura but can’t do anything about it because 1) she’s rich and upper class while he’s the opposite and b) she’s already engaged to be married to Sir Percival Glyde, baronet. Gradually Walter and Marian become convinced that Sir all is not as it seems with Sir Percival and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco. This is a fantastic book. For a classic the language is actually quite readable. Wilkie Collins was a great writer. My only complaints are it was about 200 pages too long and I would have liked Marian to play more of a role in the last third. I imagine this book must have been a true sensation in its time. 4 stars.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (challenge category: read a book set in Europe – it’s set in Ukraine). I’ve owned this book for years, having bought it after enjoying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A young American man arrives in the Ukraine searching for the village of Trochenbrod, where his grandparents came from, and  the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis fifty years ago. He is aided in his quest by Alex, a similarly-aged young man who has been hired by his father to act as a translator, Alex’s “blind” grandfather and a “seeing-eye bitch” named Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. This book was a mixed bag. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, then just as I started to get into it there would be a slow/weird part. I liked Alex’s letters and story but couldn’t really get into the Trachimbrod parts until close to the end. Also, the “young American man” is Jonathan Safran Foer… the book is a fictionalised version of his family background and he inserted himself into the story, which was just weird. I gave this 3.5 stars, mainly for the Alex parts and because it’s set in Ukraine.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (challenge category: freebie). My mum lent me this book so I needed to read it before travelling to England so I could return it. I feel like everyone has read this recently so I’m not sure I need to summarise it, but I will anyway. Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, charming and a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew, and is sent to Auschwitz on the first transport. There, he is put to work in the privileged position of Tätowierer– the tattooist – marking his fellow inmates with their prisoner numbers. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance. With a new purpose, Lale is more determined than ever to survive is time in the camp. This story is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It’s hard to know how to rate this book. The actual story is compelling but it feels like something is missing in the execution. The writing is too simplistic for the momentous events and at times it’s feels almost detached. At the same time I could not stop reading. I gave it four stars on Goodreads mostly because I felt bad giving it three.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (challenge category: a book that has been made into a film). I just sneaked this one into January – I read it on the way to England on 31 January, finishing about 10 minutes before we landed in Newcastle. Substance D, or Death, is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way on to the black market. It destroys the link between the brain’s two hemispheres, leading to disorientation and ultimately brain damage. Bob Arctor is an undercover narcotics agent trying to find a lead to the source of supply, but to avoid blowing his cover he has to become a user, not realising that he’s becoming just as addicted as the people he surrounds himself with. This is billed as science fiction, but really I think it’s more dystopian. Apart from a special suit Bob wears when reporting to his superiors there’s not much in it that points to science fiction (although it was written in the 70s but set in 1994, so maybe the future setting is what made it science fiction at the time?). Anyway, this was not what I was expecting. The writing style is easy to read and the story is strangely compelling considering it’s basically the ramblings of a drug addicts who is slowly losing his mind. 4 stars.

And that’s it for January. Have you read any of these? If so, do you agree with my review? Check out the link up to see what the rest of the SUYB community has been reading recently. You know you want to add more books to your list 😉

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Beautiful stars

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, but things kept getting in the way.

A few weeks after we lost the boys, I unexpectedly received post from the lovely Alison, aka Fat Dormouse. Inside the envelope was a card with a lovely message that made me cry and a beautiful zentangle.

stars zentangle

It’s now hanging in the corridor, just outside our bedroom, where I can look at it every day and remember our tiny stars. Once again thank you so much Alison for thinking of us.

The kindness of fellow bloggers never fails to amaze me. From wonderful gestures like this to a simple email just to check in and see how I’m doing. It is all appreciated. I may have never met most of my long-term readers, but I consider each and every one of you a friend ❤ (My real-life friends have been fantastic too but the kindness of what are, essentially, “Internet strangers” is honestly overwhelming.)

January 2019

Ah, January. The month that should have been my last one at work before going on maternity leave. Instead it’s just the start of what feels like it’s going to be a long year. I mean, there’s still a chance I could end up with a baby in 2019, a December baby could still happen, but it’s hard to believe I’ll ever be able to conceive again when some days I find it hard to believe I ever conceived in the first place. A combination of that, the cold, dark days and the relentlessness of work made it difficult to be positive. Mostly I was just tired. I either need a holiday or spring to hurry up… or a combination of both. I’m okay though. Some days are just hard.

Anyway, I’m here to talk about what I got up to in January. And to link up with Kristen, of course, because link ups seem to be the only thing I post these days!?

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We started the year with a slow day. I mean, we were up relatively early to have breakfast with a friend who had stayed the night, but neither of us actually left the house on 1st January. We watched something. I don’t remember what. The BFG? Or was that in December? Maybe it was The Jungle Book. No clue. Then I started my first book of the year, which was Far from the Madding Crowd if you’re interested. It took me days to finish.

2nd January was my last day of freedom, and Jan was also off because it’s a holiday in Zurich. Berchtold’s Day. Don’t ask me! We got a car and drove to Einsiedeln. There’s a big abbey there that I can only show you the outside of because you’re not supposed to take photos of the inside. Some people were, of course, but I am a good girl ;-). There was snow, so that was nice… but cold! We then went to a café and had hot chocolate and cake. We wanted to drive to Glarus then to Lake Lucerne and finally to Schwyz, but once we got to Glarus we discovered that the pass to get to the lake was closed and we had to drive back the way we had come. We stopped at a shopping centre where we found some mini drawers for my craft stuff then we drove to the motorway and just came straight back to Basel. Schwyz will have to wait for another day.

Einsiedeln Abbey

My first day back at work was a long one because I had to be in the office on my 2nd day, meaning I worked 9.5 hours on my first day back to make up for only working 6.5 hours the following day (and even though my working day is shorter when I go into the office, it’s a two-hour train ride to get there, so overall the day is longer). I was so glad my first day back was a Thursday and the weekend came after a mere two days!

The first weekend of the year was pretty uneventful. On the Saturday we went to the furniture shop where we bought the light for our “home office”. It hasn’t been working properly for a while and Jan wanted to ask them about it. There’s another branch of the place where we bought the mini drawers in the same area so we also went there and bought a third set. I finished reading Far from the Madding Crowd and started my second book of the year. Sunday was going to be the day the tree came down (6th January… it’s the tradition) but we discovered it wouldn’t be picked up until the 14th so we decided to let it stay for another week. Last year we took the tree down on the 6th then realised too late we had to wait 2 weeks for another collection day so it sat on the balcony for ages and dropped needles everywhere. So this year it stayed. I did take down most of the other decorations on the 6th though. And we hung this year’s calendar… most likely the last time it will show the correct month until about April (typing this has reminded me that 7 days into February it hasn’t been changed yet). I started stitching my grandma’s birthday card then stopped when I ran out of the right thread colours – the two colours I needed to complete it were ordered but hadn’t arrived yet.

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Jan took the legs off two of the sets of drawers so I could stack them

The following weekend was a fairly boring one. Saturday was mostly housework and I wrote two pen pal letters… I’m way behind on my replies! Sunday we took the tree down ready for collection the next day. The living room looks so boring and empty. The threads I needed for my grandma’s card hadn’t arrived, so instead I started cross stitching a motif to make a birthday card for a friend’s son. I still haven’t actually made the card and his birthday is in 8 days so I need to get a move on. While I stitched we continued watching Season 2 of Pushing Daisies.

On weekend number three, Saturday happened to be photo an hour day. You can see my hourly photos here. It was sunny, so in the afternoon we decided to take a drive out. We went to Burgdorf in Emmental. The castle turned out to be closed for renovation so we didn’t stay long. We then drove towards the mountains but it got dark fairly quickly so we didn’t stop anywhere else, just took the scenic route back to the motorway then came home. We watched the final episode of Pushing Daisies while eating dinner. I am so mad that it was cancelled. There are things I need answers to! Sunday was a lazy day. I started cross stitching a unicorn that would later become a card for a Post Pals child and we watched some random stuff on TV, including Tatort. The threads I needed for my grandma’s card finally arrived the next day (Monday), so I spent that evening working hard to get it finished so it could be posted.

On the fourth and final weekend of the year, Jan had a choir rehearsal weekend so I had the place to myself. Saturday was the first deep-clean day of the year… I’m determined to at least keep that resolution (not doing so well on the drinking water one). I changed the bedding, cleaned the oven, hoovered and mopped, scrubbed the shower. I also picked up a prescription and took books to a free public bookcase. Not bad! Sunday was my grandma’s 80th birthday, so I called her, of course. (We spent the following weekend in England so we could celebrate with her, but that’s for February’s recap.)

In between weekends I worked, shopped, cleaned. I’ve been cooking a lot of soups/stews/broths lately – it’s the only way to cope with the grey miserableness of January. That and chocolate, which I’ve definitely consumed too much of recently. Thankfully all the Christmas junk food is finally gone so I can stop making a pig of myself now…

So that was January. February is a short month and then March brings my due date, two days later it would have been my other grandma’s 90th birthday and at the end of the month it’s Mother’s Day in the UK. Can’t wait to get that one over with!

I hope your January was a good one. How’s everyone doing with their yearly goals so far? Don’t tell me you’ve all given up already 😉 Check out the link up to see what’s new with everyone else.

Style Imitating Art: Blue and Brown

I wasn’t planning on doing another outfit post so soon, but then I saw the SIA inspiration and instantly had an idea for what I could wear, so here we are.

The inspiration for this round is a photo that host Daenel took herself. How cool is that?

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I owned every item I’m wearing in my outfit before we moved to Switzerland, which means they’re at least four years old.  Also, two of the items have already featured in past SIA’s – the brown skirt just last week and the brown long-sleeved top back in November. But without further ado, I shall show you what I came up with:

brown and blue outfit

I can’t remember where the skirt is from, the long-sleeved top I think is C&A (or maybe H&M) and the blue top is Primark. The boots are from a shop called Humanic and are Marc O’Polo brand (they were half price and I adore them!).

Close ups of my jewellery:

The necklace was a gift from Jan years ago. The earrings were also a gift – I think from my dad. They’re Tiger’s Eye, which I was always under the impression was the birthstone for Leo (does anyone remember those zodiac birthstone birthday cards you used to get? Leo was always Tiger’s Eye), although the Internet seems to be under the impression that Tiger’s Eye is Gemini. I don’t care – I shall continue to claim it for Leo.

If it weren’t for this link up, it would never have occurred to me to combine brown and blue, but I actually think it looks good together. Thanks for the inspiration, Daenel!

What would you wear for this challenge? If you would like to take part, send a photo of your outfit to livingoutsidethestacks@gmail.com by Tuesday, 29 January. You don’t have to have a blog and you can also just send a photo of the clothes if you prefer not to appear in the picture yourself. There will be a round-up of all submissions on Wednesday, 20 January on Daenels’s blog.

A Photo an Hour: 19 January 2019

Hello lovely readers! On Saturday, I took part in the first photo an hour day of 2019 via Twitter, and now I’m finally getting round to also posting the photos on my blog. So here’s what I got up to.

10 a.m. Out of bed and wearing my new slippers. Very cosy they are too!

11 a.m. Aww, my tea mug loves me.

12 noon. Made it to the post office to pick up a package before it closed, now doing a bit of shopping.

1 p.m. “Helping” Jan make the office light work… which at that point manly involved watching and waiting (my main job was to hold the light up in the air while he attached it to the ceiling).

2 p.m. We wanted to go out since it was actually sunny so I started looking up places to go.

3 p.m. Finally on the move!

4 p.m. Emmental! We reached our destination not long after that photo.

5 p.m. Back in the car heading closer to the mountains. We were in Burgdorf, if you’re wondering.

6 p.m. Still in the car. It’s hard to take photos in the dark!

7 p.m. Almost back in Basel.

8 p.m. Fooood! Leftovers from the night before plus some refried beans from a tin. It tasted nicer than it looks 😉 (Inside the tortilla was chicken, avocado, tomatoes, cheese and lots of garlic).

9 p.m. Making us both hot drinks.

10 p.m. Reading in bed.

11 p.m. It’s good night from Eeyore (and good night from me).

And that was all from that day. If it had been up to me, we would have gone out sooner and had time to stop off somewhere else before it got dark, but Jan wanted to get the light sorted, which is legitimate.

How was your Saturday? Did you do anything nice?

Style Imitating Art: Blue Irises

Hello friends! Time for another style imitating art post – the first of 2019.

The inspiration this time was the Van Gogh Painting “Still Life With Irises”:

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I love the blue of the flowers! Unfortunately the only item of clothing I could think of with roughly that shade of blue is a summer dress and I didn’t fancy freezing. So here’s what I chose instead:

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The flowers are purple rather than blue but I thought the flowers plus green leaves were a decent match for the painting. The skirt is the wrong shade, really, but it kind of represents the beige-y surface the vase is standing on. Not the best interpretation, but I quite like it.

My grandma gave me the top last year and it’s actually the first time I’ve worn it. The label says it’s from Dorothy Perkins. The skirt is old and I don’t remember where it came from. I was also wearing purple tights, which you obviously can’t see on those photo but actually the skirt is long enough that you can’t see them at all when I’m wearing shoes.

How would you interpret this painting? If you want to join in, you have until tomorrow (Tuesday, 15 January) to send a photo of your outfit to 14shadesofgreyblog@gmail.com. Flat lays are fine if you prefer not to show your face.

What I read in December 2018

Somehow it is the second Tuesday of the month, which can only mean one thing: book day! December was a fairly busy month, but that did not stop me from cramming in as much reading as I could. In the end, I managed 12 books. Admittedly the majority were children’s books, but reading is reading, so yeah…

Linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books, of course.

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Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry. I mentioned this book in my round-up of the year as having my favourite cover of 2019. Calliope June has Tourette syndrome, so she sometimes makes faces or noises that she doesn’t mean to make. When she moves yet again, she tries to hide her Tourettes at school on the advice of her mother and a previous doctor. But it isn’t long before the kids at her new school notice she’s different, labelling her a freak. Only Calliope’s neighbour, Jinsong who is also the popular student body president, sees her as she truly is – an interesting person and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public? This is a simple book, but somehow beautiful. Calli’s parts are written in verse, which can be annoying but the format is perfect for Calli’s voice. I wanted to give her a hug every time someone was mean to her, and I was so glad she decided to ignore the bad advice at the end and finally got to be herself. 4 stars.

Forget Me Not

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler. Okay, first of all when I read this book I had no idea Daniel Handler was Lemony Snicket! I mean, I’ve never read a Lemony Snicket book so it’s probably irrelevant but I just thought I’d get that out there. Anyway, this book is written in the form of letters from sixteen-year-old Min to her ex, Ed. The letters document their relationship and explain the random items she’s returning to him in the same box as the letters. I don’t know about “why we broke up”…. I feel like the title should have been “why we should never have got together in the first place”. Min is an artist and the entire book goes on about how “different” she is. Ed is a typical jock and so not her type. There seemed to be so many things Min was unsure of about Ed, but then just kind of brushed aside. Anyway, I don’t know how to review this book. The main character was kind of annoying at times but I really liked the concept and a few of the anecdotes from her relationship. I gave it 3 stars because I did kind of like it, but probably wouldn’t read it again.

The Imagination Box by Martyn Ford. Timothy is an orphan who has been adopted by a couple who own a hotel. His mum and dad are always busy and he’s on his own a lot, which is how he meets Professor Eisenstone, a guest at the hotel. The professor introduces Tim to his invention… a box that can produce anything you can imagine (with some restrictions, e.g. you can’t imagine “hot ice” – you would just end up with water). When the professor goes missing, Tim knows he has to investigate, so he sets off with a talking finger monkey named Phil to find the professor. I enjoyed this book. It’s great fun and I LOVED Phil the monkey. A lot seems to happen at the end and I could barely keep up, and some of the characters weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked, but generally I really enjoyed it and I think the target audience would too. It’s the first in a series so hopefully some of the gaps will be filled in later. 3.5 stars.

The Snow Sister by Emma Carroll. The holidays aren’t very joyous in Pearl’s family ever since her sister Agnes died. It’s nearly Christmas and Pearl has a tradition – every time it snows, she makes a snow sister. When Pearl’s father receives a letter about an inheritance, Pearl’s mother sends her to the shop to buy ingredients for a real Christmas dinner, but things don’t go quite as planned and she ends up having to stay the night at Flintfield Manor. Will she make it home for Christmas? This is a cute, heart-warming tale with a lovely message. The old-fashioned setting is perfect for the story and Pearl is a great character. A lovely children’s book. 4 stars.

Dead Scared (Haunt #1) by Curtis Jobling. After being hit by a car, Will finds himself in hospital where nobody can see or hear him and realise he didn’t survive the accident. At his funeral, he discovers that somehow his best friend, Dougie, can still see him and, in an attempt to figure out why Will didn’t move on, the two of them decide to investigate a school rumour – is there really a ghost haunting an abandoned building on the school grounds and if so why? What they discover is a long-buried mystery, which stretches its fingers right into the present. This is a surprisingly good book. I loved Will’ s sense of humour and his friendship with Dougie. This seems to be part of a series so I’m hoping we’ll find out more about how being a ghost works and some of the other characters – and possible eventually who was actually driving the car that hit Will. 4 stars.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. Yes, I read an actual adult book! I started this one in November, then continued when I went to work in December. Apparently four 2-hour train journeys weren’t enough to finish so I forced myself to read the rest in the bath. Ha. Anyway, I suppose most people know what this is about? I had never seen the film (well, I once saw the very beginning) but I had a vague idea. The book is more a series of semi-related short stories than a novel, really, and all told from different perspectives. Half the time I had no idea who was currently narrating or how much time was supposed to have passed… while I can read Scots dialect it made all the voices blend into one so I had no idea who was currently supposed to be talking, and it almost felt like it was only written that way to prove a point. I liked it better than I expected to though. 3 stars and finally another BBC Big Read book crossed off the list.

Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie. Lauren has always known she was adopted, but she knowns nothing about her birth family. While researching for a school project, Lauren comes across a website for missing children, where she discovers a girl who looks a lot like her; a girl who was taken from her parents over 12 years ago. Could her parents really be kidnappers? With the help of her best friend, Jam, Lauren makes it her mission to find out where she came from. was a very quick read. The concept was interesting (although it’s at least partly been done before… obviously Sophie McKenzie never read The Face on the Milk Carton) but the writing seemed almost too simple… yes, it’s for teens but I read plenty of teen books with much more complicated writing styles (even those obviously aimed at younger teens like this one is). The main character seemed quite childish for a 14 year old, and she’s also very whiny and self-centred. I also would have preferred it if Lauren and Jam really had stayed “just friends” as they insisted they were from the start. The relationship aspect was predictable and seemed unnecessary. Not a terrible book but not one I would necessarily recommend. 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 on Goodreads.

Plain Jane by Kim Hood. At nearly 16, Jane has lived in the shadow of her little sister Emma’s cancer diagnosis for over three years. But even before that, she always thought of herself as “Plain Jane”, the boring, ordinary counterpart to her talented dancer sister. Now though, with her parents struggling to cope financially and emotionally, Jane’s life in her rural mining village seems to be a never ending monotony of skipping school, long bus rides to the hospital and hanging out with a boyfriend she doesn’t even know why she is with. Nobody seems to notice or care what’s going on with Jane, and in fact even she is finding it increasingly difficult to care. I really liked this book. Some people have said it seemed a bit dull at the start, but that was clearly related to Jane’s state of mind and it was clear (to me) that something would have to give – she obviously wasn’t happy and it felt like something was bubbling beneath the surface. I was really concerned for Jane and kept wishing she would stop pretending everything was fine and give her parents a chance to notice that she needed help.
I always find it interesting to me to read a “child cancer book” that doesn’t focus on the child with cancer but on their sibling, who is obviously also affected by what’s happening within the family. It gives a different perspective to the one that feels like it’s been done a million times. Four stars.

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. Despite being part-way through way too many books, I couldn’t resist starting this one on Christmas Day! After working in the field for the maximum allowable time, NGO doctor Olivia Birch is returning home for Christmas. The only problem is, she’s been in Liberia treating the deadly Haag virus (seemingly a fictional version of Ebola) and she and her entire family need to be quarantined for 7 days. While Olivia struggles to come to terms with what she thinks of as first-world problems, her frivolous younger sister can think of nothing else but her upcoming wedding. Meanwhile every member of the family seems to be hiding a secret… what will happen when they all come out? This is a quick and quirky read all about how just being related doesn’t necessarily mean you actually know each other. It has its flaws but I really enjoyed reading it. Perfect escapist Christmas fodder. 4 stars.

100 Cupboards by N.D.Wilson. Somehow I didn’t realise this was the first book in a series. Like I have time to commit to another one! Anyway, 12-year-old Henry has been sent to the small town of Henry to stay with his aunt, uncle and three cousins. One night, he hears a bang on the attic wall above his head and wakes up to find plaster dust in his hair and two knobs in the wall, which turn out to be doors. Gradually, a total of 99 cupboards are revealed, and Henry and his cousin Henrietta (yes, really!) soon discover that they are not just cupboards, but portals to other worlds. This is a creepy children’s fantasy book. Parts of it are a little slow and confusing, other parts are really good. There are some Arthurian-seeming elements, which I enjoyed and the whole going through cupboards thing made it seem a little Narnia-esque. If I had realised from the start it was a series I might have given it a higher rating, but as it was I gave it 3.5 stars. Hopefully some of the confusion will be cleared up in book 2!

In the Night Room by Peter Straub. This book started off well but then just got really weird. It seems to be some sort of sequel to Straub’s previous book, lost boy lost girl. Or at least that book is mentioned in this one as having being written by a main character in this book? Anyway, the plot:  Willy Patrick, the respected author of the award-winning young-adult novel, thinks she is losing her mind again. The first time was after her husband and daughter were murdered. Now she is haunted by the knowledge that her daughter, Holly, is being held captive in a fruit warehouse. Except she can’t be, because of the aforementioned being murdered thing. Meanwhile, author Timothy Underhill, who has been struggling with a new book about a troubled young woman, is confronted with the ghost of his nine-year-old sister, April (also murdered, many years ago) and starts receiving strange, fragmented emails from dead classmates and acquaintances. There are books within books within books, characters who were dead or maybe not, or possibly were never even real at all. It all just felt unnecessarily confusing. I loved Ghost Story but this one just wasn’t for me. 2 stars.

The Fairy Doll by Rumer Godden. Did I quickly read a 96-page children’s book at the very end of December just so I could add one more book to my total count for the year? As a matter of fact, I did! Nobody is sure where Fairy Doll came from, but she has always been at the top of the Christmas tree. Elizabeth is the smallest in the family. She is always getting into trouble and her brother and sisters are forever laughing at her and bossing her around. She’s convinced she’s useless. Then Great-Grandma gives Fairy Doll to Elizabeth and suddenly she finds she can do things. Is Fairy Doll magical or was it Elizabeth herself all along? Slightly old-fashioned but very sweet and charming. I loved the glimpses into a child’s imagination – sawdust as fairy sand and a shell for a bed. I also like how it’s left to the reader to decide whether the Fairy Doll is actually magical. 4 stars.

And that concludes the round-up of books I read in December. In case you’re interested, the total number of books I ended up reading in 2018 was 168 (plus some I started but never finished and one started in 2017 that I read more of but still haven’t finished).

What have you been reading recently? Anything you would like to recommend?

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