November 2021 recap

I’ve been meaning to write this post since February and it’s now almost April so let’s do this shall we… otherwise I’m still going to be banging on about last year in 2023!

After being rehospitalised at the end of October I was back on oral medication to prevent contractions and sent home again on 3 November. This time I was not allowed to work at all. Luckily I was only actually planning on working until the 5th since I had annual leave I still needed to take, so I only got a sick note for a couple of days. I then spent a week at home mostly in bed but also sorting out a few things that needed to be sorted before the birth. I managed to post out both a Christmas card and my cousin’s birthday present to New Zealand… only for them to still not arrive until after Christmas, but that’s another story! I also got together the documents I needed to register the birth. (Jan didn’t sort his part in time though, which has resulted in a right palaver with her surname, but again that’s another story).

On 9 November I went for an ultrasound. Because of the operation, I was supposed to go for one once a week to make sure the placenta was still working and baby was growing properly. I was expecting it to be routine, and almost everything looked great but the doctor noticed my amniotic fluid was low. I then had an appointment with another doctor (the first was just doing the ultrasound), who did a swab to test for leaking amniotic fluid sent me for a CTG (see my last monthly recap if you don’t know what that is). The CTG looked good and the swab was negative. I had also asked the doctor about a vaccination for whooping cough, which I had been recommended to get while I was in hospital for the operation. He sent the nurse to check whether they had any and they did so I got that as well. Finally I saw yet another doctor – the second one having only been standing in for her while she was on her break! She was fairly clueless about what was going on but decided I should be admitted to the hospital in Zurich. But this time I was sent home to pack and make my own way there instead of being transported in an ambulance so at least I knew they weren’t too worried! The doctor said she would let Zurich know I was coming so home I went… having been at the hospital for about 3 hours by this time! At home I packed then hung around waiting for ages because Jan decided he needed to finish something before driving me to Zurich. We finally arrived at the hospital around 9 p.m. where I first had to go to the Labour and Delivery floor for another CTG, two ultrasounds (a normal and an internal one) and another swab for amniotic fluid. The doctor was convinced it was going to be positive but it was not. After some discussion about whether I should have a booster of the injection for the baby’s lung development they decided to leave it for the time being and admit me to the prenatal ward, where I had been the other two times I was in hospital. Jan had to leave at around 11 p.m. to take the car back and I was finally taken up to the ward around midnight. The next morning the doctor came round and told me the plan… basically we would just wait, constantly monitor the situation and try and get me as far as possible. As long as baby was still doing well I would be allowed to continue the pregnancy but I definitely wouldn’t be going home. That was pretty much as I had expected and I agreed that hospital was the best place for me to be, so that’s where I stayed for the rest of November (and part of December, but we’re not there yet). The surgeon who was in charge of my case and would be doing my C-section also came to see me and explained her theory of what was going on… basically she thought there was a tiny hole at the site of the internal incision and amniotic fluid was leaking from there into my abdomen. The two swabs for amniotic fluid had come back negative because my waters hadn’t broken as such, and so there was no risk of infection and it was deemed safe for me to stay pregnant.

The view from my hospital room on 26 November 2021

For the rest of November I did crossword puzzles, read, walked around the ward and chatted to my various room mates. One person had already been in there for about 4 weeks and stayed there with me until 1 December, when she finally bled one too many times and was taken to have her daughter. Another person was only there for 5 days before giving birth to her daughter, whose original due date was the exact dame as Zyma’s – 6 January! We’re still in touch via the occasional WhatsApp message. Various other women came and went, some just for one night, some for a little longer. And for a few days I was even completely on my own… in a room meant for 3! Every day I had a CTG in the morning and another in the evening, every three days I had an ultrasound, and at some point I ended up back on IV meds to prevent contractions. It was boring and sometimes lonely (Jan couldn’t visit that often since he had to work) but every single day that I was able to stay pregnant was an absolute gift. I knew the longer baby stayed in the better things would be for her, and since she would already have spina bifida to deal with I really didn’t want her to end up with any additional issues from being born prematurely. So I embraced the boredom and kept myself occupied as best I could. And so, eventually, November passed and I made it to the month in which. no matter what, I would be having a baby!
December 2021 recap coming soon. Well, I say soon, but clearly I can’t promise anything…

Three months of Zyma

How is my baby three months old? It feels like only last week that I was writing the previous update!

Sleeping on mama again

So, we’re three months in and it feels like we’re starting to get the hang of things. One time I even put her in the carrier and went shopping with her in town – alone since Jan is back at work now. Mostly still from home but last week he actually spent three days in the office. Naturally Zyma chose the first of those days to be extra fussy so I didn’t even manage a shower!

Within days of me publishing my two month post Zyma started to coo and it’s the cutest sound ever. At first it was sporadic but over the past three days or so she’s been becoming increasingly vocal. I think babbling may arrive soon! She’s also started smiling, which just melts my heart. Jan and I don’t get many of them though – she reserves most of them for the mobile that hangs above her changing mat. In fairness it is an amazing mobile! The girlfriend of one of Jan’s colleagues made it and I would happily have paid actual money for one. Zyma still isn’t the biggest fan of nappy changes but for the ones where she does stay calm she’ll lie and coo up at her mobile – provided we keep it spinning!

Not the best photo but flowers! Bees!

Last week baby girl got her harness off. The doctor was really pleased with her and how quickly things resolved. We have to go back for a check up after 6 weeks but hopefully all will be well and we’ll be done with the subject of hip dysplasia. Not having to deal with a harness makes tummy time so much easier and she’s getting really good at lifting her head, as long as she’s propped up on a pillow. It’s still too difficult when lying flat so she mostly just complains or lies there and licks the mat. She passed the 4.5 kg (9 lb 14 oz) mark recently, meaning she’s actually deviating from her curve now. She’s always been around the 10th percentile; now she’s slowly creeping towards the 25th. She also had her first set of vaccinations at the end of February and Jan said that she didn’t even flinch! (He went with her because I finally got round to arranging my postpartum check up and the appointment ended up being at the same time as hers). After the jabs I relaxed slightly about being out in public, so she’s now been to two hospital appointments on the bus and we’ve taken the tram into town instead of walking.

I am still always tired (even though she mostly only wakes up twice at night now – except last night when it was 4 times!) but I am incredibly happy. It’s such a privilege to watch her grow and interact a little more every day. My next update will be at 6 months when I expect she’ll have changed beyond all recognition!

On a sort of side note, as well as being Zyma’s three month birthday, today is the three month anniversary of my due date for the twins. We love our little girl with all our hearts but that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten our boys. I can’t even imagine how my life would have been with two three year olds running around but it definitely wouldn’t have been dull! l love you and miss you, teeny stars ⭐🌟.

What I read in February 2022

First of all thank you to everyone who made suggestions for how to read with a small baby (I’m not sure I can continue calling her a newborn now she’s coming up 12 weeks!). Back when I wrote that post Zyma would regularly fall asleep while breastfeeding and have to constantly be reminded to drink. She’s much better now – although her new thing is wriggling and pulling and turning her head, which is slightly distracting and not really compatible with reading! I have actually remembered to bring my book into the living room in the morning for the last few weeks though, so I managed to do some reading while she napped (on me), but I’ve recently had to turn my attention to cross stitch (for a new baby gift). I can only pursue one hobby at a time so February was another two-book month.

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana as always even though I don’t have much to say! Here are the two books I read in February.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall immediately knows to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey who lost her mother tragically as a child and wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother. As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents show up, Hannah quickly realises her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity – and why he really disappeared. Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together, and as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon find themselves building a new future as well. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated. I feel like everyone and their dog was reading this last year so it was time I finally caught up! I really enjoyed this book. It wasn’t always totally believable but it kept me sucked in. If I didn’t have a newborn to care for I would have finished it in a day. I didn’t love the epilogue but it was nice to have some closure. Not sure I would really describe it as a thriller though. It’s somewhat suspenseful but not really thrilling. Anyway, 4 stars.

City of Rust by Gemma Fowler. Railey dreams of winning the drone races with her bio-robotic gecko friend, Atti. But when a bounty hunter crashes their biggest race yet, the pair are forced to flee to the feared Junker clans who mine the rubbish orbiting the Earth. Rescued by a couple of Junker kids, they discover a danger bigger than anything they’d imagined – but can three kids, a gecko and an ancient computer save the world against the huge trash bomb (and its power-crazed creator) threatening to destroy the world? This is a fun read with lots and action. I loved Atti! Some parts were confusing and I felt like a few of the characters could have been fleshed out more (Care) but it’s an enjoyable enough story and something I could imagine reading with my daughter in the future. 3.5 stars.

That’s it. Once again neither of the books I read were by BAME/BIPOC authors. Not the greatest start to THE year on that front! My goal for March is to read 3 books. Wish me luck! Check out the link up for more book reviews.

Two months of Zyma

I think if I write one of these every month it will be a bit much – especially since I don’t want this to turn into a “mummy blog”, so after the next one we’ll cut it down to quarterly. But this month we’re doing it. So.

It’s now been two months in my new reality. The one where I’m constantly covered in breast milk – either in its pure form or after it’s already spent some time in the baby. We have about a dozen muslins/burp cloths but she has a real talent for juuust missing them. I knew we would be washing a lot of baby clothes but never expected quite so many of my own to be in the mix! I also had to buy some tops after realising just how few items of clothing I own that are suitable for breastfeeding!

In all honesty month two has been exhausting – and we have a relatively easy baby! Since about 5 weeks all she has seemed to want to do is eat and since she gets most of her nourishment directly from me you can imagine what that means. Choosing the right time to shower is a fine balancing act! All the feeding is paying off though… Zyma has passed the 3.5 kg mark (that’s 7 lb 11 oz). She’s still a tiny little thing but she’s following her own curve perfectly.

First time breastfeeding in public! (Photo by my mother)

Apart from being a hungry hungry hippo… did you know babies can forget how to pooh? Or rather at first they just let it flow then they realise they actually need to do something but some babies don’t quite get it. As my midwife explained all women should engage their pelvic floor much before something that causes abdominal pressure – like sneezing or lifting something heavy (hands up who actually does though. Lol.) Babies apparently do this automatically, including while trying to push out pooh. Unfortunately that means they’re straining against a closed door, so to speak. The result is that poohing (or passing gas) involves a lot of straining coupled with straight up wailing. The internet says crying provides the pressure to get the pooh out and the babies aren’t actually in pain but she certainly sounds like she’s in pain and her poor little face goes bright red! She’s slowly starting to have more bowel movements without straining than with so I’m hoping we’re turning a corner. And of course in our case it’s good that she’s straining to pooh since that means she can feel that she has to go and the spina bifida hopefully hasn’t affected her bowel function. I just wish there was something I could do to help her!

Holding daddy’s hand

But despite the difficulties please don’t think I’m complaining. I’m still absolutely in love with my baby girl and can’t believe she’s mine. Sometimes when she’s sleeping on me I’ll literally just stare at her in awe of her cuteness. As for Zyma, she loves mama milk and baths, hates nappy changes, getting washed with a flannel (full baths are only once a week) and being put down so mammy can eat with two hands. She’s started following objects with her eyes and head, stares at her black and white contrast books and always behaves well for doctors – even when she has to have an ultrasound. Her hip dysplasia is already looking much better and the doctor is really pleased with her, but the harness is staying on for a while longer just to be certain. I can’t wait to see what the next month will bring! We’re hoping for some real smiles…

October 2021 recap

I am slowly, slowly catching up with these monthly recap posts. This one and the next one should be relatively short though.

I started the month in hospital recovering from my (and baby’s!) operation. The nurses encouraged me to get up and moving as soon as possible so I spent a lot of time walking around the ward. In the second week I even ventured outside (with my trusty companion the IV stand. Lol.) I read a little, did crosswords and at some point a lady came round with colouring materials so I spent some time colouring in two pictures. I intended to send them to Post Pals children but I haven’t got round to it yet.

Exactly two weeks after the surgery I was allowed to go home with strict instructions for what I was allowed to do – absolutely no housework and for the first week I even had a doctor’s note for work. I spent that week mostly in bed reading and resting. Jan’s sister then came to stay for the weekend – not that I did much then either, other than play a board game. She and Jan went for a walk but it was too far for me.

I then briefly went back to work, but only did around 5-6 hours per day. Luckily I still had plenty of overtime that needed to be used up!

A week after my return to work I had an appointment for an ultrasound. The night before I barely slept because I kept feeling my uterus go hard, so in the morning I called in sick and then called the hospital to see whether I could come in earlier. They gave me an appointment with a midwife and I went for a CTG – a procedure that monitors the baby’s heart rate, foetal movement and uterine activity. Sure enough it turned out I was having constant Braxton Hicks or practice contractions. I then hung around at the hospital, had another CTG and went to my ultrasound appointment, where everything looked great. The contractions were a problem though because of the risk of the stitches from the operation rupturing so it was decided that I would be admitted and given IV meds to stop the contractions. I called Jan to bring me some stuff and went upstairs where I got another CTG and spoke to a midwife. The hospital also contacted the hospital in Zurich who said they would like me to be transferred to them, so once I’d seen the doctor and started on the meds an ambulance came to transport me to Zurich. I ended up staying there for a week and coming home on 3 November so that brings us to the end of October and thus the end of this recap.

September 2021 recap

The midwife is coming earlier than usual today – at 11:30 a.m. – so after giving the baby her 7 o’clock feed and putting her back to bed I actually got up and had my shower. Her next feed will be a bottle from daddy together with her medication (caffeine citrate if you’re interested) so I’m using the fee time to catch up a bit on blog posts. My mam and brother are also here right now but currently still sleeping.

So, September 2021. I actually had the first two weeks of the month of work for my summer holiday (my colleagues were off in July and August so September was the only time available to me). We had initially had vague plans to potentially go to Germany, but once we received Zyma’s diagnosis and it fairly quickly became clear that we would be going for the operation Jan decided to save his time off for while I was in hospital, meaning I was off by myself. The weather was also fairly miserable so I didn’t end up doing much. However, I decided it would be a great time to get a head start on stitching Christmas cards since I had no idea when or how I would be able to do them after the operation. As it turned out that was a very good idea given I ended up in hospital for a second time in October and then again from 9 November until Zyma was born!

On 11 September I had my second COVID vaccination. Jan took me to the vaccination centre then dropped me off back at home and went to choir practice. Later that day I had a sore arm and by bedtime I had a headache and was aching all over. The next day Jan had choir practice again and I spent most of my time in bed, reading and sleeping. I still had achey muscles and a headache off and on (it would go away after a nap then come back) but thankfully no temperature – I kept monitoring it since that was the one side effect that could have been harmful for baby. By day 2 I was fine, which was good because I was back at work then.

The weekend before my operation we decided to go somewhere since it would be the last time for a while. On the Saturday (which was sunny for a change!) Jan slept for basically the entire day so we ended up going to La Neuveville on the Sunday when it was pouring down again. It’s still a cute town even in the rain though.

Then it was operation time. I went into hospital on Friday, 24 September. Patients having the foetal surgery for spina bifida always go into hospital on a Friday and have the operation on a Monday. Friday was a full day. I had a COVID test – the first of four! They took blood, did an ECG and I was given the first of two corticosteroid shots to help the baby’s lungs mature in case something happened and she ended up having to be born early. I also had an ultrasound and the doctor explained to us exactly how both the operation and the subsequent C-section would work. Later an anaesthetist came by and I also met with someone from the neonatal unit who went through exactly what to expect at every stage, from if the baby needed to be taken out during the operation at 25 weeks and 4 days right up to the day of the planned C-section at 37 weeks exactly. It was a lot of information! The coordinator in the university hospital side also came by to introduce herself – we had already met her counterpart on the children’s hospital side when we came for the initial information meeting.

Sunday was the second lung maturity shot and an IV drip with magnesium for neuroprotection of the foetus – again in case she had to be taken out early. Then on the Monday it was operation time. There were two operations that day and I was going first so I was taken down at about 6 a.m. Jan met me downstairs on the labour and delivery ward where I had a CTG (cardiotocography – monitoring of the foetal heart tones, baby’s movements and any contractions – I had a lot of those done by the end of my pregnancy!) and was prepared for the move to the operating theatre. Then I had to say goodbye to Jan and it was off for the surgery. Everything went about as well as it possibly could have – as I was apparently informed two hours later when I woke up. I have no memory of that conversation but luckily it was repeated to me again several times ;-). For the next two days I was closely monitored in a high dependency bed. I didn’t get much sleep down there but all the members of staff looking after me were amazing! Then I was taken back up to the normal prenatal ward where I was to stay until two weeks after the operation. Initially I was in a two-bed room which I shared with the other person who had had the same operation on the same day. By that evening the bladder catheter had been removed and I was encouraged to stand up, then later of course had to walk to the toilet (the nurses helped me get up and lie back down until I felt able to do it myself!). And then it was already October so more on my recovery next time.

This has taken a while to write so it’s about time I got back to my family. Hopefully I’ll get to my next few monthly recaps soon, then finally be able to write the yearly one for 2021!

One month of Zyma

Yesterday our baby girl was one month old – on the same day my dad turned 60 – and today she had her one month appointment at the paediatrician followed by a visit from the midwife during which she had her first real bath. Up to now we had only been washing her with a cloth until the plaster came off her back and all the stitches were gone. The paediatrician was very pleased with her. She’s still at the bottom of the weight chart but she’s gaining steadily so that’s fine and she’s definitely getting enough to eat. Currently her favourite thing is mummy – or rather mummy’s boobies 😅. When she’s not guzzling mummy milk she’s still mostly sleeping. During the day at least! For a while after she came home night time was her alert time and she wanted to be fed every two hours (but would go 3-4 hours between feeds during the day). Things are turning around now and most nights she’ll only wake me for food 2-3 times. During the day she’s starting to be more alert and has even been awake and not demanding food long enough for us to read her a story. She’s already met a great uncle and cousin once removed from my side of the family and her aunt and grandma from Jan’s side. Soon my mam and brother are also coming to visit. It’s been so nice seeing people again and getting to introduce her to family! This last month has absolutely flown by but at the same time it’s hard to believe we’ve only had her for a month (on the outside). I won’t say I don’t remember what life was like without her – I most definitely remember sleep! But I’d be absolutely lost if she had to go back to hospital again so let’s hope her hip dysplasia harness works. Happy one month (and one day) birthday baby girl. We love you you very much!

August 2021 recap

Hello! Baby girl has gone to the hospital* with her daddy today so I’m taking advantage of the free time to sort out some things – including blog posts. (*Nothing to worry about. She has hip dysplasia – probably unrelated to her spina bifida – and today the doctors are doing an ultrasound and checking whether the harness they gave her is doing its job. If the harness works she won’t have to go into hospital for a few weeks for a different treatment so keep your fingers crossed!).

You’re probably wondering why I’m even bothering to recap August now considering how much time has passed. I like to have these posts to look back on so I wanted to write one before I forget everything entirely!

Last year, everything we did in the month of August ended up being slightly overshadowed by baby’s diagnosis. We found out she had spina bifida at my anatomy scan on 10 August – three days before my birthday. Happy birthday to me, right? We did still celebrate with a meal at a restaurant round the corner from us that we’ve been meaning to try since we moved to Basel. It was very nice. The staff were wonderful, replacing several things on the set menu so they were safe for pregnancy. I also got my first COVID vaccination the day after my birthday. At that time you needed a doctor’s certificate to get it during pregnancy and every single doctor I spoke to had highly recommended getting it done so I did. My only side effect that time was a sore arm that lasted for 3 days!

During the weeks following the diagnosis we had a lot of appointments. First I went back to the hospital in Basel for an amniocentesis (for those who don’t know they use a long needle to remove amniotic fluid from your uterus) to make sure there wasn’t any genetic reason for the spina bifida. As it turned out there was not. I then had another ultrasound to try and narrow down where exactly the defect was and we met with a neurologist from the children’s hospital in Basel. At the initial ultrasound where the spina bifida was discovered we had been informed about the option of open fetal surgery – in other words and operation to repair the defect before birth. It turns out Zurich is the European leader for this operation so we went there to find out more information. First I had to have another, extremely detailed, ultrasound then I had an MRI. The next day we went back to Zurich and met with the head surgeon from the spina bifida team, who by that time had seen the results of the ultrasound and MRI. He took a lot of time to explain everything to us and, as you obviously know by now, we decided to take the option of the fetal operation.

When we weren’t running round to appointments we managed to fit in a few day trips in August. Jan drove me to the vaccination centre for my COVID vaccination so since we had a car anyway we decided to go somewhere. We chose Altdorf, capital of the canton of Uri and best known as the place where, according to legend, William Tell shot an apple off his son’s head. I forgot to take my camera so I don’t have any photos.

Earlier in the month we went to Bremgarten, which is in Aargau. It’s a beautiful medieval town and for once the sun actually came out (a rarity in summer 2021!) so we had a really nice walk around the town and along the river. On the way home we stopped in Küssnacht where we played a round of mini golf – which I amazingly won – and then had dinner at a restaurant by the lake.

I also cross stitched some cards in August for September birthdays. My brother’s and my godson’s.

I read a grand total of four books in August – not really my best month. One of them was long though. You can see which ones they were here.

Apart from that I can’t actually remember what I did so I’ll leave this here since I still have some other things to sort out.

Hello baby!

I have a few minutes while waiting for the midwife so I thought I would quickly post.

Jan and I have a daughter! Born 16 December 2021 via planned c-section. Despite being hospitalised on 9th November with too little amniotic fluid I actually made it to 37 weeks. She was on oxygen after birth but that was removed fairly quickly and now she’s doing really well other than some problems maintaining her temperature. Yesterday she was transferred to the children’s hospital and today is the start of a stressful time for her with lots of tests to find out how the spina bifida will affect her. We are completely in love with her and couldn’t be happier.

For blogging purposes her name shall be Zyma (Ukrainian for winter).

What i read in November 2021

Hello! Once again I am typing this on my phone from a hospital bed soon apologies in advance for the lack of links and any autocorrect fails.

I was readmitted to hospital on 9th November so theoretically I should have had plenty of time to read. We shall see how many books I actually got through…

Of course I’m linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books.

Here’s what I read:

The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody by Kate Gilby Smith. On the day Alex was born, crowds surrounded the hospital. On her first day of school, people spied from the gates. And recently, strangers came to watch her perform in her school play … as the llama. But why? Alex has always been a nobody. Then a mysterious boy named Jasper starts at school and he alone seems to know the answer. But before he can tell Alex, he disappears … into the year 2100. Can Alex brave traveling into the future to discover what’s happened to him and to unravel the secret of her own astonishing destiny … before time runs out? This is a fun read. I enjoyed the friendship story. Jasper is lovely and I definitely related to his preferring books to action. I found the answer to who Alex is predictable and parts of the story felt a little simple but in fairness I’m not a child. 3.5 stars.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. When Mary Yellan’s mother dies, her last wish is for her daughter to go and live with her sister, Patience in Bodmin. On arrival, Mary finds her aunt a frightened shell of her former self, married to the sinister and drunken Joe Merlin, proprietor of the now disreputable Jamaica Inn. From her first glimpse on that raw November eve, she senses the inn’s dark power. But never did Mary dream that she would become hopelessly ensnared in the vile, villainous schemes being hatched within its crumbling walls – or that a handsome, mysterious stranger would so incite her passions … tempting her to love a man whom she dares not trust. To me this book was just fine. I didn’t hate it but I couldn’t get into it the way I wanted to. The beginning especially was very atmospheric but at times it was almost too dramatic. I loved Rebecca but I guess this one just wasn’t for me. 2.5 stars.

The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery. Still reeling from her parents’ divorce and a life-changing accident, fourteen year old Grace comes Flambards house, out in the Essex countryside, where her mother has a job for the summer, and which just happens to be where her great-grandmother grew up. A reluctant tag-along at first, Grace gradually finds herself becoming involved with two boys: Jamie, who leads her down a path of thrilling freedom, and the deeply troubled Marcus, who is dealing with his difficult, potentially violent father, as well as uncovering more about her own family’s past. This is enjoyable enough, although a little predictable. All the conflicts/issues are resolved fairly easily without much actual input from Grace but I found the meandering storyline kind of relaxing. I especially enjoyed the parts where Grace was discovering the local wildlife – I would love to see otters in the wild! This is apparently a continuation of an older series that I’ve never heard of (by K. M. Peyton) but it works perfectly well as a standalone. 3.5 stars

The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes (Aveline Jones #2). Aveline is thrilled when she discovers that the holiday cottage her mum has rented for the summer is beside a stone circle. Thousands of years old, the local villagers refer to the ancient structure as the Witch Stones, and Aveline cannot wait to learn more about them. Then Aveline meets Hazel. Impossibly cool, mysterious yet friendly, Aveline soon falls under Hazel’s spell. In fact, Hazel is quite unlike anyone Aveline has ever met before, but she can’t work out why. Will Aveline discover the truth about Hazel, before it’s too late? I didn’t find this quite as spooky as the first one but there were still a few tense moments. I loved that Harold was part of it again – he and Aveline make a great team, and of course it was books that saved the day. Hurrah! As an adult I caught on to what was going on with Hazel fairly quickly but I think it would be less obvious to a child and it also didn’t ruin my enjoyment in way. 4 stars.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. The year is 1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need. Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind. This book was fine but I think will ultimately be forgettable. I’ve already forgotten half the characters. The concept is definitely interesting and I enjoyed the parts with Peg (Frank’s mother). Frank’s “past hurts” are glossed over so quickly that I wondered why they were even relevant. They certainly didn’t seem to warrant his complete avoidance of love/commitment. 3 stars.

Bunny by Mona Awad. “We called them bunnies because that’s what they called themselves”. Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort–a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny,” and seem to move and speak as one. But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon,” and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door–ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision. This book is bizarre but also compelling. I didn’t want to put it down even though I was confused for most of it. I’m not even sure I can recommend it because I have no idea who it would appeal to! 4 stars.

The Polar Bear Explorer’s Club by Alex Bell. All Stella Starflake Pearl ever wanted is to be an explorer like her adopted father, Felix. But girls are forbidden from joining the various explorers clubs. So when Felix decides to take her along on his next adventure Stella feels like she has a lot to prove. Then she and three fellow junior explorers get separated from the main party. Join Stella and the others as they trek across the snowy Icelands and come face-to-face with frost fairies, snow queens, outlaw hideouts, unicorns, pygmy dinosaurs and carnivorous cabbages. Can they cross the frozen wilderness and live to tell the tale? This is a cute read and a lot of fun. I loved the characters – and especially the way Stella always stuck up for Beanie. The plot is a little predictable and some parts seemed to be glossed over very quickly without much explanation. The writing is a little simplistic at times and I feel like I don’t fully understand the world but I did really enjoy reading it. 4 stars.

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. When orphan Maia is sent to live with distant relatives who own a rubber plantation along the Amazon River, her British classmates warn her of man-eating alligators and wild, murderous Indians. But Maya looks forward to brightly coloured macaws, giant butterflies and plenty of adventure . Sure enough, she soon finds herself smack in the middle of more excitement than she ever imagined, from a mysterious “Indian” with an inheritance, to an itinerant actor dreading his impending adolescence, to a remarkable journey down the Amazon in search of the legendary giant sloth. This is delightful book, if a little clichéd. Our heroine is an orphan who is good and kind and cannot help but make friends with everyone she meets. Only the villains of the story don’t like her – and they seem to hate absolutely everything, including each other. But the writing is excellent and I really enjoyed Maia’s adventures. This is definitely a book I would have absolutely loved as a child. 4 stars.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman, leaving him with a choice to make. This is a weird and depressing book. It reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye in that the main character seems to just wander round aimlessly, having lunch here, sleeping with a woman there, without much really happening. He also seems strangely unemotional given that he’s telling a story involving the suicide of no less than three major characters. Even when he talks about how badly one particular death apparently affected him it was described in a way that I didn’t really feel anything. I also didn’t really get the ending. I didn’t hate reading this though. At the beginning I quite enjoyed it and found the writing style interesting. 2.5 stars.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren. It’s the most wonderful time of the year… but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions. But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world – the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy. The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake… she’s on a plane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop – and finally get her true love under the mistletoe. Absolutely everybody was reading this book last year so I’m not sure my review will really add much! But anyway… This is a cute and easy read that really put me in the mood for Christmas. I loved the main character and was really rooting for her to find happiness. The love interest felt a little too perfect though, to the extent that I had trouble believing in his character. The whole time loop thing also seemed to be abandoned really quickly without any real closure. I did really enjoy reading this book though. It left me feeling all warm and fuzzy. 4 stars.

City of the Sun by Aisha Bushby (Moonchild #2). Farah is a Moonchild with a very special kind of magic and a jinni of her own. But although she loves her magical animal companion – a lizard called Layla – Farah isn’t entirely convinced that she’s cut out for the life of adventure, which seems to bring endless danger!
When it becomes clear that Farah and her fellow Moonchildren – Leo and Amira – have unlocked moon magic that could destroy the Sahar Peninsula, Farah and her friends are thrust into another accidental adventure. And it takes them to a burning desert and another mysterious city which holds deadly secrets of its own… I liked this but not quite as much as the first book. It seemed slower and almost felt like it was trying to hard to “teach” the reader some mind of moral – about finding who you are or the importance of working together/letting people help you. Both fine lessons to learn but I found it a little obvious/forced. I did still enjoy the stories within the story and I really like all the jinn. 3 stars.

So that makes 11 books read in November, 2 by BAME/BIPOC authors.

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