What I read in February 2020: part 2

Hello hello! I promised you the second half of my February reading re-cap today so here it is. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books of course.

show-us-your-books-2016-300by300

Malice by Keigo Higashino. Best-selling author is found brutally murdered in his home the night before he’s planning on leaving Japan for Canada. His body is found in a locked room in a locked house by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have seemingly rock solid alibis. Police Detective Kyochiro Haga immediately recognises the dead man’s best friend Osamu Nonoguchi as a colleague from years ago when they were both teachers. As Kaga investigates, he discovers that Nonoguchi’s relationship with the deceased was far from being as amiable as he claims. But in this tale of cat and mouse, the question Kaga has to answer isn’t necessarily who or how, but why? This is interesting. I don’t think I’ve read a mystery quite like it before. We find out relatively early on who the culprit was, with the rest of the book being dedicated to why. It ends up being almost a puzzle within a puzzle. The writing style is fairly simple and straightforward, almost irritatingly so at first although once I got into the story it didn’t bother me do much and I can’t say how much of that was down to the translator. 3.5 stars.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. This book is exactly what it says it is – a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Princess Bride by the actor who played Westley. I found it fascinating and loved every page of it. 5 stars.

If There’s No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Lena Wise is always looking forward to tomorrow, especially now her senior year is about to start. She’s looking forward to spending lots of time with her friends and finishing off her college applications. And maybe she’ll even finally tell her best friend Sebastian that she’s been in love with him for years. But then one night she makes a simple mistake that has devastating consequences. Now Lena isn’t looking forward to tomorrow any more. Not when nothing is ever going to be the same again. Not when nobody, including Sebastian will ever be able to forgive her for what happened. For what she let happen. I found this kind of boring and cliché. As soon as I heard the prologue, I knew what the “decision” was going to be (and by the way, I hate it when prologues are literally just an extract from later in the book). The message is important and I loved the character of Sebastian, but Lena really annoyed me. The whole first half of the book is about how she’s “different” because she reads books and the fact that she reads must have been mentioned about 80 times… including descriptions of the book she’s reading (that makes her oh so quirky and different because even if other people do read, they’re reading other things). There were some parts I really enjoyed but ultimately this felt like something that’s been done before and done better. I don’t expect it to stick in my memory for long. I should add that I listened to this on Scribd and the person reading really annoyed me. She made Lena sound like this breathy, annoying teen which surely is the opposite of what was supposed to be implied? Regardless, 2.5 stars.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. Born in a Soweto shack in 1961, Nombeko Mayeki was destined for a short, hard life,. until she was run over by a drunken engineer and her luck changed. Alive, but blamed for the accident, she was made to work for the engineer – who happened to be in charge of a project vital to South Africa’s security. Nombeko was good at cleaning, but brilliant at understanding numbers. The drunken engineer wasn’t good at anything, except drinking, and so he made a mistake. A big one. And Nombeko is the only one who knows. Now she finds herself on the run from the world’s most ruthless secret service – with three Chinese sisters, twins who are officially one person and an elderly potato farmer. Oh, and the fate of the King of Sweden – and the world – rests on her shoulders. I don’t even know what to say about this book. It’s utterly bizarre. I enjoyed roughly the first half, but then it just got more and more ridiculous until I found myself wishing the author would get to the point already. The writing style is strangely reminiscent of a children’s book, which I actually didn’t mind. Three stars because I did like quite a bit of it, but I felt like it went on for far too long. Even when it seemed to be coming to a conclusion the author just had to keep adding more and more random details!

The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald. When Abi receives a phone call in the middle of the night, she knows it can’t be good news. But she isn’t expecting to hear that her teenage daughter has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain dead, she’s also pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. Then Abi sees the bruises around Olivia’s wrist. When the police unexpectedly rule Olivia’s fall an accident, it’s up to Abi to try and find out what happened to her daughter. Was it really an accident? Or something more sinister? enjoyed this book. It’s very suspenseful and full of twists. More mystery/family drama than thriller but that’s okay. It’s marketed as an adult book but honestly it read like YA to me. But again, I’m okay with that. I did not guess what happened although in retrospect I probably should have. If you often guess the outcome of thrillers you may find this one too predictable. 3.5 stars.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she doesn’t mind. She’s happy to go to school and work towards her dream of becoming a teacher one day. A spanner is thrown in the works when Amal’s mother falls ill after giving birth and Amal has to stay home to look after her siblings. But she still finds a way to learn anyway. Until she accidentally annoys the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, and is forced to work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt. Life at the opulent Khan estate ishard  for Amal – especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams. This is a powerful and thought-provoking book. Some of the characters felt a little flat but Amal and her sister are awesome (I loved the part where her sister brought lessons home and wanted to teach Amal so she didn’t have to miss out). Amal is so brave. I think this is an important topic for children to read about but parents or teachers should be ready to discuss it and answer any questions. I wouldn’t just leave them on their own with it. 4 stars.

The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan. When twins Arthur and Rose were little, they were heroes in the Land of Roar – an imaginary world that they found by climbing through the folding bed in their granddad’s attic, filled with dragons and mermaids, ninja wizards and adventure. As well as things that scared them… especially a very creepy scarecrow names Crowky. Now the twins are eleven, Roar is just a memory – especially for Rose who considers herself too old for games. But when they help Grandad clean out the attic, Arthur is horrified as Granddad is pulled into the folding bed and vanishes. Is he playing a joke? Or could Roar actually be real? It’s up to the twins to return to Roar one last time to save their granddad. I flew through this book in two hours so I must have liked it! The world is fantastic – so magical. It reminded me of Narnia crossed with Peter Pan. The pictures are also amazing. Crowky, the evil scarecrow/bird mixture looks genuinely creepy! I would *not* want to bump into him! However, I really did not like Rose. She was supposed to have turned into this horrid girl who just wanted to grow up and worried about what people thought of her, but it didn’t sound like she was a nice person when she still played with Arthur either. It is definitely enjoyable and I do want to read the sequel when it comes put but it’s just a little weaker than some of the excellent children’s books I’ve read over the past few months. 4 stars,

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks it will be an easy way to make some money – show up, answer a few questions and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking… and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly. For some reason I was under the impression that Jess and Dr. Shields knew who each other was from the start and were manipulating each other, but that’s actually not the case at all, so I’m not sure where I got that from. Anyway, the beginning of this was quite slow but from about the halfway mark I was hooked. Parts of it are genuinely creepy and I found myself actually afraid for Jess’s safety. Some parts are unrealistic and I wasn’t sure about the ending, but overall I enjoyed the ride. 3.5 stars.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell. Fifteen-year-old Ellie was her mother’s golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone. Now it’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter. And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet, making her think that maybe she can actually move on – at least until she spends the night at Floyd’s house and meets his nine-year-old-daughter. Poppy is precocious and pretty – and the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age. And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back. What happened to Ellie? Where did she go? This is very suspenseful and full of twists and turns. I guessed some of the twists but there were a few things I wasn’t expecting, and it didn’t matter anyway because the writing alone made me want to keep reading. The ending made me really emotional – poor Ellie (and Poppy too). 4 stars.

Poppy Mayberry, The Monday by Jennie K. Brown. Imagine if your teacher could read your mind just because she was born on a Thursday? Or the kid next to you in class could turn back the clock just because he was a ‘Wednesday’? In the town of Nova, all of this is normal. Poppy Mayberry is a Monday, which means she should be able to move things with her mind… but her Monday telekinesis still has some kinks, and that plate of spaghetti she’s passing may just end up on someone’s head. And if that wasn’t bad enough, practically perfect Ellie Preston is out to get her, and Principal Wible wants to send both of them to summer school – Poppy to work on her powers and Ellie to learn when not to use hers. It’s enough to make a girl want to disappear…if only she were a Friday! This book is so cute and fun! I love the idea of having powers based on the day of the week you were born on (although I was born on a Saturday so I wouldn’t get any powers in Nova. Boo!) I did guess where some of the story was going – there were enough hints throughout! – and it was obvious that Poppy and Ellie would end up being friends, but it was a really enjoyable read. I definitely want to read book 2 and see how things continue to develop. 4 stars.

And that’s it. Ten books here plus ten from part 1 makes 20 books read in February. Not bad for a short month. I also decided to give up on a book I started two years ago (!). Bad Unicorn by Platte F. Clark is a book I started reading with the intention of seeing whether it was something my brother might like, but said brother is 13 now, I put this book down in April 2018 after 120 pages and I have no desire to pick it back up. I felt like it was trying too hard to be quirky and funny and nerdy and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters. So off to the free bookcase it goes.

TL;DR. If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride definitely read As You Wish! Then She Was Gone is really well written but don’t go in expecting a traditional thriller. And I recommend all three middle grades: Amal Unbound, The Land of Roar and Poppy Mayberry, although none was a five star read for me. The rest are mostly fine – read them if you like the sound of them – except If There’s No Tomorrow. I don’t recommend that one.

Tell me what books you’ve been enjoying recently, and don’t forget to check out the link up if you haven’t already.

What I read in February 2020: Part 1

Hello friends! Even though February was a short month, I managed to read a lot, so I am splitting my book round-up into two again. As you can tell, this is part 1. I will publish part 2 next week, on Show Us Your Books day and link both up with Steph and Jana. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

The Toymakers

Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver. Liesl lives all alone in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother, with only the shadows and mice for company. But then a ghost named Po and his pet, Bundle, appear from the darkness. That same evening, an alchemist’s apprentice named Will, accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable. That innocent mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey. I found this book randomly on Scribd and thought it sounded cute. I ended up really liking it. It’s a story about grief but it’s magical and adorable. I loved the characters – Bundle is my favourite ♡. There are some cliché elements and the good and bad characters are very much black and white, but nonetheless it’s an enjoyable and fast read. 3.5 stars.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else. Then one day, after a silly argument, Jack stops talking to Hazel. Then he disappeared into the forest with a mysterious woman in white. Now it’s up to Hazel to go into the woods too and rescue him, because that’s what friends do – even if Jack doesn’t want to be friends any more. This is a retelling of The Snow Queen, but because of the title I kept thinking it should be Hansel and Gretel! Anyway, this is such a sad book. I felt really bad for Hazel, not fitting in and not being able to understand why (it’s because the rest of them are sheep and you are awesome!). Once Hazel entered the woods/other world, I loved all the references to other fairytales and stories, and how the author turned them on their heads and nothing was as it seemed. 4 stars.

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter… It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment. The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into the midst of this family business comes young Cathy Wray, a girl with a secret, running away from a shameful past. But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own… My friend gave me this book for Christmas 2018 and it took me way too long to get around to reading it. When I finally did, I was expecting something magical and wonderful and escapist. And the first half truly is . I felt so nostalgic for my own childhood. Then it gets darker… war comes and some people end up changed forever. The second half of the book absolutely devastated me. There is also a theme of sibling jealously running throughout, and I honestly may never forgive one character for what he did. Nonetheless, I 100% recommend. 5 stars.

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson. When daydreamer Clementine discovers a mysterious house standing in the middle of town that was never there before, she is pulled towards it by a powerful sense that it has something to do with the mother who left when she was very young. Inside, she finds the house full snowglobes, each containing a trapped magician, watched over by Gan, the bitter keeper of the house. Inside one of the globes is Dylan, a boy who teases her at school but now needs her help. So Clem ventures into the snowglobes, rescuing Dylan and discovering her own powerful connection to the magic of these thousand worlds. This is very magical and I loved the parts where Clem and Dylan were journeying through all the different snowglobes. Clementine’s relationship with her father is lovely. But Dylan’s story felt somewhat lacking, like it had been tacked on to provide a reason for Clem to enter the snowglobes in the first place. It’s still an enjoyable read, I just feel like more could have been made of it. 3.5 stars

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his Christmas holidays relaxing. But on that first icy night, the guest bell rings. Then rings again, and again. Soon Milo’s home is full of mysterious guests each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and his new friend Meddy must untangle the clues and investigate the mystery to discover the truth about Greenglass House. I absolutely adored this book. It’s so fun! Milo is a fantastic character and it was great to see his confidence develop throughout the book. I also loved that his (adopted) parents are there throughout the story, albeit busy trying to run an inn. There’s no conveniently getting the parents out of the way so the kids can investigate like in so many children’s books – Milo has to sneak around a lot and he does end up getting in trouble a couple of times! This would have been a perfect Christmas read. If I wasn’t on a book buying ban I would definitely have devoured the sequel by now. 5 stars.

Nevertell by Katherine Orton. Twelve-year-old Lina was born in a Soviet labour camp, a place of hunger, cruelty, and deprivation, and has never known the world outside. Then one night she escapes with her best friend Bogden, into the frigid Siberian winter, vowing to find her way to Moscow and her long-lost grandmother who she hopes will help her rescue her mother. But out in the snowy wilderness, the pair are soon pursued by a vengeful sorceress and her pack of shadow wolves. The children will need every ounce of courage – and a whisper of magic – if they are to survive. This is a fast-paced and magical adventure. I felt like some of the characters could have been developed a bit more but I loved Lina. The atmospheric writing is excellent – I could really picture the snowy conditions. I wasn’t sure about the ending though. 3.5 stars.

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. Fiftenn-year-old Zoe has a secret. A dark, terrible secret that she can’t tell to anyone she knows. Then one day she hears about a criminal, Stuart Harris, who is on death row in Texas. Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder. So Zoe starts writing him letters, telling her story and confessing the secrets that keep her awake at night. I enjoyed reading this book. There is an issue with consent at the beginning that is never actually resolved and Zoe makes a lot of stupid decisions. So many things could have been resolved if she had just communicated with people. Lots of typical teenage drama that could have been avoided. But despite that something about it kept me reading. And honestly the drama is very realistic – I know my friends and I had a lot of drama as teens that could easily have been resolved if we weren’t all so ridiculous. I absolutely LOVED the glimpses into Zoe’s family and her sibling relationships. I don’t think this book would be for everybody, but despite the few issues I had with it, I’m giving this 4 stars.

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens. It’s the school holidays and Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a trip on the famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that everyone in the first-class carriages has something to hide. Then there is a scream from one of the cabins, and a wealthy heiress is found dead, But the killer has vanished – as if into thin air. Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked room mystery – and with several other sleuths on the case, they are determined to be the ones that solve it! I’m really enjoying this series. This is book 3, and I think it’s my favourite in the series so far. It’s great fun and a wonderful tribute to Agatha Christie. I enjoyed seeing Hazel’s father in this one and I liked how it incorporated some of the background issues of the political situation in Europe at the time without getting bogged down in too much detail. I also like how this book addressed xenophobia and the way people who are different are treated – it was a bit of a theme in the first two books, but it really comes into play here. I’m looking forward to continuing the series. 4.5 stars.

Nooks and Crannies by Jessica lawson. She, sweet Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, although her horrible parents think the only thing she’s good at is being a nuisance. Her only friend is her pet mouse, Pemberley, with whom she shares her dingy attic bedroom. Then one day Tabitha and five other children receive a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere. None of them sure why they’ve been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed. When the children start disappearing, all Tabitha’s investigative skills are put to the test as she attempts to solve the case and rescue what just might be her first ever real friends. This is such a fun mystery! I loved the descriptions of the house – especially the library. I want it! Tabitha is a fantastic character (with truly horrible parents – think Roald Dahl style). Her pet mouse is awesome and I really enjoyed all her detecting. There was at least one Americanism that threw me out of the story briefly (I don’t think “trash” was British English even hundreds of years ago) but that’s a minor detail. I also guessed part of the reveal and I thought the ending was a bit too happily-ever-after but I had so much fun reading it. A fully deserved 4 stars.

The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. It doesn’t matter that Megan would rather be at the mall, Cassidy is late for hockey practice, Emma’s already read every book in existence, and Jess is missing her mother too much to care – the new book club is scheduled to meet every month and the girls will attend. But what begins as a mom-imposed ritual of reading Little Women soon helps four unlikely friends navigate all the drama of middle school – from stolen diaries to fashion-fiascos. This is a cute read. I enjoyed the facts about Little Women and Louisa May Alcott interspersed throughout the books. There were a couple of things I wasn’t happy about – remarks are made about one character based on her weight, including by adults. This particular person isn’t very nice but I feel like making fun of her size instead of calling out her meanness is a bad message. There’s also a totally cliché environmentalist character. Even as a non-vegan I know it is actually possible to make food that is both healthy/vegan and tasty! However, it is a fun and fast read. If you want to give it a go, I recommend reading Little Women first otherwise you will be spoiled. 3 stars.

So, that is 10 books and somehow 8 of them are children’s/middle grade books (Ketchup Clouds is young adult). Not intentional, I promise! For those who couldn’t be bothered to read all of the above:

TL;DR. I highly, highly recommend The Toymakers. It is magical and wonderful and devastating all at once and I loved it. I also highly recommend Greenglass House for fan’s of children’s books (and actual children, of course). And if you haven’t discovered the Murder Most Unladylike series yet and you’re into mysteries check that out. None of the books I read this month were really bad though, so if any of them sound like your thing then do check them out.

I shall return next week with reviews of the other ten books I read in February.

Six degrees of separation: From Fleischman is in Trouble to…

This was fun last time, so I thought I’d do it again. This link up is hosted by Kate from Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is that everyone starts with the same book and then adds six more to the chain, each one somehow relating to the one before. Then we see where everyone’s chain took them.

This time around, the starting book is Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

Fleishman

I had never heard of this book before, but the synopsis tells me it’s about a man who has recently separated from his wife. One day, she drops their kids off at his place and disappears. This tells the story of him searching for her while juggling his job and parenting their two children. I feel like it’s quite unusual to read about divorce and relationship breakdowns from the man’s perspective, but here’s another book that does that…

Man and Boy by Tony Parsons. This is about a man who, on the eve of his 30th birthday, makes a stupid mistake, which results in his wife moving to Japan, leaving him to raise his son alone.

My next link is a little tentative as it’s based solely on a word in the title…

Swan Boy by Nikki Sheehan. I haven’t actually read this yet, but it’s about a boy called Johnny who has recently moved house, and therefore schools, and has to deal with a bully. Then a chance encounter with a swan sparks a series of events that result in Johnny playing the lead in a school ballet. There seems to be a magical element to it as well. It sounds like it’s going to be a fun read!

Let’s move on to another book featuring ballet…

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. I adored this book as a child and read it over and over (seriously, you should see the state of my copy!). This is the story of three sdopted sisters, Pauline, Petrova and Posy, who ended up taking ballet lessons and, later, performing to help earn money for the family.

My link between this one and the next book is adoption.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. This is a fun children’s mystery set at a smuggler’s inn during the winter. The main character, Milo, is adopted and while the story is not about that, his being adopted does play on his mind a lot (although he clearly loves his adopted family and wouldn’t change his life for anything).

Another book featuring a hotel and a mystery is Winterhouse by Ben Guterson. Interestingly, the main character in this one is an orphan, so there’s another connection! Although according to the synopsis, Elizabeth Somers sadly didn’t end up in a loving family. I haven’t read this one but I really want to!

For my final link, I am going to go with a character name. As I’ve mentioned, Winterhouse features a girl named Elizabeth, which brings me to…

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. Elizabeth is not the main character in this Instead it’s the story of Maud – her best friend – who is suffering from dementia and has a few things muddled up but is determined to find out what’s happened to Elizabeth. The lengths Maud goes to to try and find her friend are really touching and I found this a really good depiction of dementia. I recommend this book.

And that’s six, which wraps up this chain. Go here to find out where everyone else’s journey took them (you can find all the links in the comments on the host’s post).

If you were to make a chain, what links would you use?

What I read in January 2020: Part 2

Hello! As promised, I am now going to recap the rest of the books I read in January. And of course I am linking up with Jana and Steph for Show Us Your Books.

show-us-your-books-2016-300by300

Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winter. Jemima Small just wants to fit in. But it’s hard when she’s the exact opposite of her name – she#s sick of everyone at school calling her “Jemima Big”. Being forced to join the school health group – aka Fat Club – doesn’t exactly make things better. And she can’t even apply for her favourite TV show without worrying everyone will laugh – even though she knows she has a good chance of winning. But Jemima also knows that the biggest stars in the universe are the brightest. So maybe it’s her time to shine. I loved everything about this book! Well, I didn’t love the bullying, obviously, but I did love how Jemima dealt with it and realised what was important. Some of the other characters aren’t as well fleshed out (like the others who are singled out as being overweight/forced to join the so-called “fat club”) but Jemima herself is fantastic. I also loved Jasper, her big brother – despite being annoying and occasionally joining in on the teasing he did seem to love her and want to look out for her, and her friend Miki is amazing. 4.5 stars.

Pog by Pádraig Kenny. David and Penny’s strange new home is surrounded by forest. It’s the childhood home of their mother, who’s recently died. But other creatures live here too. Magical creatures – like Pog. He’s one of the First Folk, charged with protecting the boundary between the worlds. As the children explore, they discover monsters slipping through from the place on the other side of the cellar door. Meanwhile, David is drawn into the woods by something darker that lures him in with promising that there is a way to bring his mother back. This is a story about grief and monsters that’s surprisingly creepy at times (for a children’s book) but also heart warming. I would love a friend like Pog! 4 stars.

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.” It’s also famous for being the scene of a crime – shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed “Truly, Devious.” Now true-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan. She intends to solve this cold case. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. Now Stevie finds herself investigating two mysteries. After seeing many rave reviews of this book I was expecting to love this book. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked it – enough to read about two thirds in one sitting then finish it in my lunch break the next day – but I wasn’t completely bowled over. I liked Stevie a lot, and also some of her fellow students. And I’m intrigued by the mysteries but parts of the book were pretty slow. Also, I’m annoyed by the ending. Cliff hangers are one thing but this felt like the author had run out of time or something. It was just so abrupt! I wish someone had warned me not to start this one unless I could read book 2 immediately. Nonetheless, 4 stars.

Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrian Edmonson. When seven-year-old Tilly’s dad builds a time machine in the shed and asks her what time he should take her back to, there’s really only one answer. She wants to go back to her sixth birthday party, when she ate too many cupcakes and her mummy was still here. But then something goes wrong! Tilly’s dad gets stuck in the past and only she can save him! Thus starts an exciting journey through time. Will Tilly and her dad make it back in time for tea? This book is so cute and fun (but also emotional). Tilly is very resourceful – she reminded me a bit of Kevin from the Home Alone films, but nicer and better behaved. A fantastic time travelling adventure children at the younger end of middle grade (probably around 6+). 4 stars. (Oh, and apparently those with more cultural awareness than me will have heard of Adrian Edmondson from his role in the TV series The Young Ones.)

Tilly

Wormwood Gate by Katherine Farmar. Aisling and Julie are bickering, as usual, when they are almost run over by a white horse with a red mane. Suddenly, they find themselves somewhere else… in a city that’s Dubmin, but not quite. Three castles for three Queens blaze on the horizon and pigeons and seagulls are at war with one another. Can Aisling and Julie find the Wormwood Gate and get back to Mortal Realms? And could it be possible that they like each other more than they first thought? This book has a few bad reviews on Goodreads (although in fairness it currently only has 12 reviews total), but I actually quite liked it. The world building could have been more detailed but it was a quick, fun read with nods to folklore and other stories (I liked the white rabbit). It’s not exactly a fantasy masterpiece but not everything has to be! A high 3 stars.

So Long At the Fair by Christina Schwarz. Is it possible to be in love with two women at the same time? This is a question Jon has been asking himself frequently these days. He’s loved is wife Ginny ever since they were back at school together and he was afraid to even talk to her. But recently, he’s been becoming increasingly infatuated with his Freddi, his colleague at the ad agency, where late-night brainstorming sessions devolve into giggles and sexual attraction. This book covers one day in Ginny, Freddi and Jon’s lives, while also weaving in stories from their families’ past. This book is quite honestly boring. I finished it because I was in a train with nothing else to read and the writing is decent, but I honestly couldn’t have cared less about the story. The affair is totally cliche and the story from the past seemed entirely unnecessary. The original synopsis says ” Ginny is getting closer and closer to a thirty year olds secret” but there’s never even the slightest hint of her finding out anything about the past. Only the reader realises what went on! 2 stars.

Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson. Luke falls. He’s new in school, and on his first day, he has an epileptic fit in front of the whole class. As it turns out, he has much bigger issues too. Esther falls. In love. It’s wonderful – but there’s a shadow that she can’t identify and she can’t make go away just by loving Luke. Luke’s experience has taught him to despise himself; Esther’s self-belief is fragile. And love is not as easy as it looks. Will they be still falling at the end of term? I liked this book well enough but I didn’t love it. The two main characters are interesting but I didn’t like how a particular situation was resolved, or not really resolved to be honest. Part of the reason I picked this book up is because it’s set in Belfast and that part I did like – it’s a nice change to read about teens who are neither American nor English! 3 stars.

The Night She Disappeared by April Henry. This was a reread – I read it for the first time five years ago. Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also works part-time as a delivery girl at Pete’s Pizza. One night, Kayla – another delivery girl – goes missing, having swapped shifts with Gabie. To her horror, Gabie learns that the supposed kidnapper had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working. Unable to get past the thought that she was supposed to be the actual victim, Gabie becomes obsessed with finding Kayla and teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete’s. Together they set out to prove that Kayla isn’t dead – and hopefully to find her before she is. This is a fast-paced book that had me hooked from the very beginning. I didn’t remember most of what happened from my first read. I really liked the mixed media approach with interviews, newspaper articles, etc. I feel like some parts could have gone into more depth but overall it’s a good read. 3.5 stars.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to move into their minivan… again. Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s Jackson’s old imaginary friend. Now he’s back in Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything? Considering this book is literally called Crenshaw, the imaginary cat features surprisingly little. Instead it’s a sweet but sad book about a boy who is terrified of becoming homeless again and feels like he has to be the adult in his family because his parents won’t take anything seriously. It seemed to dwell on the past a lot with Jackson’s memories of when the family had to live in a minivan before – I would have liked to have seen more of the present day situation and especially of his friend Marisol who seemed awesome! Not as good as The One and Only Ivan but still a good read. It would be a good way to introduce topics like homelessness and poverty to children. Also, I listened to this on Scribd while cleaning so I do wonder if I might have got into it more if I actually read it? 3 stars anyway.

Chances by Freya North. When Vita’s relationship with Tim ended, they both knew they had to move on but Vita’s struggling to come to terms with Tim’s new girlfriend. And the fact that she and Tim own a gift shop together doesn’t exactly help matters! Meanwhile, active and outdoorsy Oliver runs his tree-surgery business as calmly as his home – but his love life is intensely private. When Vita and Oliver’s paths cross at a pear tree, he seems to her to be the perfect man. But  will she ever be able to compete with the memories of his late wife? As spring turns into summer, both Vita and Oliver are given choices and chances. But will they take them – or walk away? I have enjoyed Freya North books in the past but this one was just okay. The main character, Vita, is supposed to be this amazingly sweet human being who everybody loves (literally there’s a scene where someone shouts at her on the phone and it’s all “she didn’t know how to react –  nobody ever shouted at Vita”), but for the first half of the book I honestly just found her annoying. Things improved once Vita and Oliver finally got together and I loved Jonty, the teenage son, but overall this book is distinctly average. 2.5 stars.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Young, handsome and fabulously rich, Jay Gatsby seems to have it all. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life, Gatsby is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon, this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel. lot of people seem to love this but for me it was meh. I just didn’t care about any of the characters or what they did. The writing is good but the story is boring – as evidenced by the fact that it took me 3 days to read (and my copy was only 192 pages long). I honestly only finished it because it’s on the BBC Big Read. Meh. 2 stars.

TL;DR. Again, I don’t have loads that I would wholeheartedly recommend, but this half is definitely better than part 1! Jemima Small Versus the Universe is fantastic if you’re into middle grade/YA (it’s kind of between the two… older middle grade and younger teens). I also recommend Pog and Tilly and the Time Machine if you’re into children’s books – or have kids to share them with. Maybe Crenshaw as well. Truly Devious is a decent enough mystery but make sure you have book 2 on hand to avoid being completely disappointed with the lack of any sort of reveal at the end!

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for you. Check out the link up for more book reviews!

What I read in January 2020: Part 1

One month of reading is done already and it was a good one in terms of quantity. Quality… I shall let you see for yourself. There were a couple of gems in there but also some duds. Since I managed a whole 22 books, I’ve decided to split my recap up again, so this will be part one and part two will be published tomorrow (hopefully!), which also happens to be Show Us Your Books day. I will then link up both posts with Jana and Steph. Sounds good? Okay. Let’s get on with it then.

show-us-your-books-2016-300by300

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland. Over 30 miles from the nearest town, and several miles away from their nearest neighbour, sisters Nell and Eva experienced a near-idyllic childhood. Despite the fact that their happy world is rocked when their mother dies of cancer, they and their father are determined to carry on even as society gradually decays and collapses around them. There is talk of a war overseas and upheaval in Congress, but it still comes as a shock when the electricity runs out and gas and groceries are nowhere to be found. When their father is killed in an accident, and a dangerous stranger arrives at their door, the girls are forced to confront the fact that they must find some new way to grow into adulthood. I loved the writing style and really enjoyed the beginning, then there’s a disturbing event in the middle (*SPOILER* and I’m not even talking about the rape scene that occurs randomly out of nowhere!). Then the end is just bizarre. I still enjoyed the experience of reading it, I’m just not convinced about the events of the story. 3.5 stars.

My Mum Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. Jess and Tracy Beaker are the perfect team. Jess thinks Tracy is the best mum ever (even when Tracy shouts at her teachers). Tracy is fun and daring, but she also works hard to give Jess the family home she desperately wanted when growing up in the Dumping Ground. Their flat may be small and a bit mouldy, but they’ve made it a home anyway. But when Sean Godfrey –Tracy’s rich new boyfriend – comes onto the scene, Jess is worried things are going to change. What if Sean wants to turn Jess’s brilliant mum into a new person altogether? Sean’s superstar mansion and fancy cars might have been Tracy’s childhood dream, but maybe the Beakers’ perfect home was right in front of them all along. I loved watching the Tracy Beaker TV series back when I was at university (yes I was too old for it; no I didn’t care), and I enjoyed the original books when I read them for the BBC Big Read a few years ago. So when I saw that there was a new one, I both wanted to find out what had happened to Tracy and was apprehensive that it might ruin the originals. As it turned out, I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the earlier Tracy Beaker books but it was nice to revisit her as an adult and learn what she’s up to now. The book is written from Tracy’s daughter’s perspective and I kept being thrown out of the story when she used words and phrases that I couldn’t imagine any ten year old saying – no matter how intelligent. It was a nice quick nostalgic read though. 3.5 stars. (But a better 3.5 than the last one. Hmm. Ratings are hard.)

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone. Jane’s days at a Midwest insurance company are perfectly ordinary. She blends in well, unremarkably pretty in her floral-print dresses and extra efficient at her low-level job. She’s exactly the kind of woman middle manager Steven Hepsworth likes – meek, insecure, and willing to defer to a man. But plain Jane is not all she seems, and nothing can distract her from going straight for Steven’s heart. She will allow herself to be seduced into Steven’s bed, insinuate herself into his career and his family, and expose all his dirty secrets. Then she will take away everything that matters to Steven – just like he did to her. This is such a great book. At first the narrator’s voice reminded me of the main character from the Girl in 6E, but Jane quickly became very much her own distinct person. I absolutely loved this and will definitely read the sequel at some point. 5 stars.

Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson. Once it had been the great forest of Lythe – a vast and impenetrable thicket of green with a mystery in the very heart of the trees.  And here, in the beginning, lived the Fairfaxes, grandly, at Fairfax Manor. But over the centuries the forest had been destroyed, replaced by streets named after trees.  The Fairfaxes had dwindled too; now they lived in ‘Arden’ at the end of Hawthorne Close. Here, sixteen year old Isobel Fairfax awaits the return of her mother, who mysteriously disappeared when she was a child, and occasionally gets caught up in time warps. Meanwhile, she gets closer to the shocking truths about her missing mother, her war-hero father, and the hidden lives of her close friends and classmates. This book is odd. I really loved the writing style, but I found parts of it very confusing. It’s kind of fairytale-esque, with a mystery and a coming-of-age story thrown in. It’s sad in parts, shocking in parts, and half the time it’s not even clear what’s real and what isn’t. I’m not selling it very well, but I actually quite enjoyed reading it. 3.5 stars.

The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh. When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. After spending six glorious days together, Eddie has to leave for a holiday, but promises to call from the airport, and Sarah has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call. Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened – there must be an explanation. As time goes by, Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth. I liked this more than I was expecting – I kind of enjoyed the romance with added mystery format. I thought I knew where it was going until the author threw in another twist. Sarah, the main character, was annoying at first and I couldn’t believe someone would be *that* upset about a man not calling after such a short time, but I did get into the mystery and find myself wanting to know what happened. And after the reveal I found myself feeling sorry for her. Another 3.5 star read.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmen Rushdie. Haroun is a 12-year-old boy whose father Rashid is the greatest storyteller in a city so sad that it has forgotten its name. But one day something goes wrong and his father runs out of stories to tell. Haroun is determined to return the storyteller’s gift to his father, which leads him on a quest to another world to turn on the storywater tap. This s a really hard book to rate. I enjoyed the beginning and I loved the end, but there was a part in the middle that barely held my attention and I was honestly unsure whether to continue. I like whimsy but it became almost too fantastical or something. I don’t know. Overall I liked this book but didn’t love it. 3 stars.

The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella. In 1895, impoverished poet Robert Wallis is sitting in a London coffeehouse contemplating an uncertain future when he meets coffee merchant Samuel Pinker and accepts a commission to categorise the different tastes of coffee. He meets Pinker’s three daughters, Philomenia, Ada and Emily, and falls in love with spirited suffragette Emily, but is soon separated from her. Sent to Abyssinia to make his fortune in the coffee trade, he becomes obsessed with a slave girl, Fikre. He decides to use the money he has saved to buy her from her owner – a decision that will change not only his own life, but the lives of the three Pinker sisters. This is an interesting book. It immediately grabbed my attention, quickly became a little dry, but then picked up again. The Africa parts were fascinating and I enjoyed reading about the suffrage movement, but every time I got interested in one aspect of the story it skipped to something. To me it felt like too much was packed into one book. I did like it but not enough that I would read it again. 3 stars.

Off With His Head by Ngaio Marsh. The village of South Mardian always observes the winter solstice with an ancient, mystical sword dance – complete with costumed performers. But this year the celebration turns ugly when one of the performers is murdered. Now Inspector Alleyn has to perform some nimble steps of his own to solve the case. The beginning of this was quite frankly weird and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. But once the murder had happened (which did, in fact, involve a beheading, so the title was pretty apt) and the detective turned up I started to enjoy it a lot more. In hindsight, I should have been able to guess who did it, but alas I did not. I did work out what the murder weapon was though. Not on the level of an Agatha Christie mystery but a decent enough read. 3.5 stars.

Beneath the Skin by Nicci French. Zoe. Jenny. Nadia. Three women of varying ages and backgrounds. They don#t know each other and have little in common, except one thing. Someone has sent them each a note informing them that they will be killed. Invisible and apparently unstoppable, the letter-writer delights in watching the women suffer, thrilled by his power to destroy their lives and their faith in those closest to them. And now, with no clear suspect and amid the growing threat of violence, the victims become the accused as authorities dig into their backgrounds for clues as to why they might have attracted the unrelenting attention of a killer. This is good but not amazing. It’s surprisingly escapist for a suspense thriller. A little predictable in parts. I liked Nadia best of the three women. There are better Nicci French books though – this one isn’t a patch on the Frieda Klein series. 3 stars.

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. In 1963, after the last conventional attempt to assassinate President de Gaulle has failed,  an anonymous Englishman has been hired by the Operations Chief of the O.A.S. to murder General de Galle. Known only as The Jackal this remorseless and deadly killer must be stopped, but how do you track a man who exists in name alone? I admit I was not expecting to like this book, and I was bored for roughly the first 200 pages. Far too much politics/detailed descriptions of French history that read more like non-fiction. Once the investigation into who the Jackal was actually started things picked up and I started to enjoy it a bit more. The political stuff at the beginning is probably fascinating for the right kind of reader, but it’s not for me. 3 stars.

The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook. Chaya has just stolen the queen’s jewels. She promises she had a good reason for it, but unfortunately she got caught… and her friend is being blamed. One thing leads to another, and soon she is escaping into the jungle with her friends. And the King’s elephant. This is such a difficult book to review. On the one hand I loved the setting and descriptions – it was great to read about an entirely unfamiliar culture. It’s also fast paced and you never get bored. But as a result the story felt a little simplistic and rushed, and there was never any real sense that Chaya learned any lessons or actually changed. Even if she thought she was doing the right thing she came off as kind of a brat and honestly not a very likeable person. I loved Ananda the elephant though. 3 stars.

TL;DR. I mean, this post is already a kind of tl;dr by virtue of me splitting my reviews across two posts, but okay. The only book from this section that I fully, wholeheartedly recommend is Jane Doe. Other than that none stand out as being amazing. Human Croquet is a fairly enjoyable read and if you like political thrillers I can imagine The Day of the Jackal would appeal to you much more than it did me. But for most of the books I truly enjoyed in January you will have to wait for part two.

Did you read anything amazing last month? And if you’ve read any of these did you enjoy them more than I did? (Or even just as much in the case of Jane Doe.) Stay tuned for more reviews!

Six degrees of separation: From Daisy Jones & the Six to…

I came across this link up on stargazer’s blog and thought it was so fun! Basically the host – Kate – assigns a starting book from which all participants build a chain, adding six books, one at a time, with each having something in common with the one before it to see where they end up.

This month, the starting book is Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Daisy Jones

I haven’t actually read Daisy Jones yet (or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo… I know, I know. Am I even a reader?) but from what I am aware it’s about a singer called Daisy Jones and a famous rock band in the 70s. I’ve seen it compared to the actual story of Fleetwood Mac, which intrigues me. And now for my chain:

1. Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett features a character whose father is a formerly famous punk rocker, so that’s a connection with musicians. Tentative? Maybe, but I’ll take it.

A major component of this book involves camping in the wilderness and stargazing, which brings me to…

2. Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass. Three teens are brought together at Moon Shadow, an isolated campground where thousands have gathered to catch a glimpse of a rare and extraordinary total eclipse of the sun. Two of the three teens in the story find out that they’re going to be moving, one to Moon Shadow and one away from it, into the city, where she’s terrified that she won’t fit in.

3. Ella on the Outside by Cathy Howe is another book involving a move. Ella is new in town and is trying her best to fit in at her new school. When a popular girl befriends her, Ella finds herself dealing with blackmail and lies, and has to figure out the right thing to do.

4. What Lexie Did by Emma Shevah also has a main character who is struggling to work out the right thing to do, and the difference between being honest and telling tales. When one spontaneous, jealous lie ends up tearing her family apart poor Lexie is more confused than ever. Lexie is part of a Greek-Cypriot family and there are many descriptions of food in the book that made my mouth water, which brings me to…

5. Born Confused by Tanuja Desei Hidier. This book is about a teenager in the US, Dimple Lala, who has spent her whole life rejecting her Indian parent’s culture. But now she’s in high school and suddenly everything Indian is trendy. Like with What Lexie Did, there’s a lot of food in this book and every time Dimple’s mum started cooking I honestly started craving curries and samosas!

6. The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan. Finally, I come to another book about the daughter of Indian parents who is caught between two cultures, in this case in the UK. When Jay and her mother are forced to move in with Jay’s aunt and uncle, life becomes very difficult for Jay. Her aunt is very strict about what a good Indian girl should and should not do and would absolutely not approve of Jay having non-Indian friends. But as it turns out, that’s only the beginning of Jay’s nightmare. This is a hard hitting book that absolutely broke me when I read it last year. Without meaning to spoil anything, I feel like I have to inform you that this book involves a sexual assault.

So, there’s my chain. I hope I’ve done it right! I had fun doing it anyway. Somehow all of these books are children’s and young adult fiction, which is interesting (and unintentional)!

You can see the original post (and chain) here and also find other people’s chains in the comments, where you can also add your link if you decide to join in too.

What I read in December 2019

Good morning friends! It’s the first Show Us Your Books link up of the year, and I’m here to tell you about the books I read in December. In terms of actual books, it isn’t as many as usual but I read most of It by Stephen King in December, which is a lot of pages! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning…

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

show-us-your-books-2016-300by300

What She Saw by Wendy Clarke. First of all, the actual synopsis of this book is totally misleading so I’m going to try to write my own. Leona and her daughter Beth have always been close. But their closeness has meant Beth struggled to make friends. Her mother’s over-protectiveness has led her to be sheltered and totally reliant on her parents. Meanwhile, Leona has a secret that she can’t tell anybody – not even Beth. Something in her past has caused her to be wary of strangers and meant she’s had to lie to Beth ever since she was a child. Could that past now be catching up with them? This is a reasonable enough thriller but rather predictable. I guessed most of the twists, apart from being misled on one thing I expected to happen that didn’t. 2.5 stars. I think the author has potential but this particular book was average.

The Real Katie Lavender by Erica James. 30-year-old Katie Lavender thinks she is better than most when it comes to dealing with life’s surprises. But when she loses her job and receives a request to visit a solicitor all on the same day, she has no idea of the dramatic turn her life is about to take. The solicitor gives her a letter from her deceased mother that will change everything Katie thought she knew about herself. So. Much. Drama. This is more soap opera than book. Everyone is having affairs, half the characters are adopted. Suspension of belief is one thing but so much happening in one family eventually just became ridiculous. And most of the characters didn’t feel authentic – either cliché or too perfect. It’s an easy read and goes by quickly (with so much going on it has too!) but honestly it’s not that great. 2 stars.

The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf. When you’re a hypochondriac, there are a million different things that could be wrong with you, but for Izzy, focusing on what could be wrong might be keeping her from dealing with what’s really wrong. With her mother suffering from a rare disease, a best friend who seems to have suffered a personality transplant, and a way-out-of-her league maybe boyfriend who keeps blowing hot and cold, Izzy’s life feels out of control. But when the worst-case scenario actually happens Izzy realises there’s no handy list of symptoms to help her through. This book is a little predictable and there were almost too many issues, but I actually quite liked reading it. Parts of it are actually pretty funny. I felt bad for Izzy even if she caused some of her own problems. 3.5 stars.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland, but the similarities end there. They couldn’t be more different. Connell is one of the most popular boys at their high school, handsome,star of the football team and an excellent student. The only thing he lacks is money. Marianne is from a fairly well-off family,  but she’s plain-looking, odd, stubborn and completely ostracised at school. However, there is a deep and undeniable connection between the two teenagers, one that develops into a secret relationship. When both are accepted into Trinity College in Dublin, their roles end up being reversed. This book follows the two of them throughout their university years, as they fall in and out of romance. And as Marianne experiments with an increasingly dangerous string of boyfriends, Connell must decide how far he is willing to go to save his oldest friend. I bought this on a whim at the train station because I needed something for the journey home and I’m so glad I did. I read the entire thing on the train and enjoyed every minute. It’s emotional, hard hitting, thought provoking. I can imagine a lot of people hating it but I loved it. It reminded me a lot of One Day. The characters’ failure to communicate drove me crazy at times but the author perfectly captured the feeling of not fitting in. Not quite a 5 star read, but almost… I’m giving it 4.5.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. Now, newly married, newly widowed, and pregnant, Elsie is sent to her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge. With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Behind a locked door inside her home, she finds a painted wooden figure – a silent companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition until other strange things start to happen. This is a great read. Very creepy and gothic. And I was not expecting the ending at all. 4.5 stars.

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen. This is the story of various people who all end up wearing the same little black dress for one reason or another, for example a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl who would love a way to get back at her lawyer ex-boyfriend who’s engaged to someone else after just two months, a woman has been quietly in love with her happily married boss for twenty years and, now he’s a widower, just needs the right situation to make him see how perfect she is for him, and a private detective specialising in finding evidence on cheating husbands. For all of them, everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season. This is a cute, quick read. It’s kind of fluffy and with so many characters it doesn’t truly go into depth with any story but it’s perfect escapism and I really enjoyed it. Definitely nothing earth shattering but a nice palate cleanser. 4 stars.

In the Dark by Cara Hunter. The second in the DI Adam Fawley seires. A woman and young child are found locked in a basement room, barely alive. Nobody knows who they are and the woman can’t – or won’t – speak. The elderly man who owns the house, and seems to be suffering from dementia, claims he has never seen them before.The inhabitants of the quiet Oxford street are in shock – how could this happen right under their noses? But DI Adam Fawley knows that nothing is impossible, and nobody is as innocent as they seem. I loved the first book in this series, but found the ending a little hard to swallow. This second book was even better. It’s a great thriller with many twists and turns – by the end you’re not sure whether anyone can be trusted! And I really didn’t expect the final twist. I am very excited to continue with this series. 5 stars.

The Clocks by Agatha Christie. Sheila Webb, typist-for-hire, arrives at 19 Wilbraham Crescent in the seaside town of Crowdean to accept a new job. Instead, she finds a well-dressed corpse surrounded by five clocks. Mrs. Pebmarsh, the blind owner of No. 19, denies all knowledge of ringing Sheila’s secretarial agency and asking for her by name, and neither does she own all those clocks. And neither woman seems to know the victim. Colin Lamb, a young intelligence specialist working a case of his own – and a friend of the police detective who ends up taking on the case – happens to be on the scene at the time of Sheila Webb’s ghastly discovery. Lamb knows of only one man who can properly investigate a crime as bizarre and baffling as this – his friend and mentor Hercule Poirot. This was the first ever Agatha Christie book I read, back when I was 10! I read it again for the first time in over 20 years on the plane home from England. It’s pretty typical Christie fare full of intrigue and mysterious relationships. I was certainly kept entertained, and after all this time I couldn’t remember who the culprit was. It’s a slightly bizarre addition to the Poirot series given that Poirot only turns up at the very end and doesn’t actually do any investigating, but following Colin Lamb is just as interesting. Maybe not Christie’s best work, but this was a fun bit of nostalgia for me. 4 stars.

It by Stephen King. Finally we come to the behemoth that is this book. I started it in October and read 212 pages then abandoned it for Believathon, which meant I read 1164 pages of it December! Most people know what this book is about, so just quickly: Only the children of Derry could see and feel what made their home town so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, It lurked, taking on the shape of every person’s deepest dread. Sometimes it reared up, going on a killing spree, before falling back into a sleep. Until one group of children figured out a way to stop the cycle for that year. Time passed, the children grew up, moved away, forgot. But now it’s starting again and the grown-up children have been called back again to confront It once more and this time, hopefully, put a stop to it for good. Stephen King certainly can write! It takes talent to hold my attention throughout most of a book this long. There were parts I didn’t like as much and I did think there were a few tangents that could have been left out. Also one particular scene was just horrible and entirely unnecessary! I’m sure he could have found a better way to renew the children’s bond (if you’ve read it, you’ll know). It definitely did not need to be over 1,300 pages long, but overall I really liked it. A solid 4 star read.

And that’s it. Nine books is relatively few for me, but as I said, in terms of page count I still read a lot!

TL;DR. If you really need this for a post with only 9 books I’m not sure you can be helped! However, I shall give you my recommendations anyway: thriller fans please read the DI Adam Fawley series by Cara Hunter. I promise they’re not your usual police procedural books. I feel like Normal People will be a Marmite type book (you will either love it or hate it) but I really liked it. The Silent Companions is a great gothic book and a fairly quick read. And I expect you will know whether you’re interested in reading It or not.

Check out the link up for more book recommendations, and let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them.

That’s all from me. Hope you have an awesome day/afternoon/night/whatever!