What I read in August 2021

Hello! It’s Show Us Your Books day again. Yay!
This may come as a shock to some of you, but I actually only read four books in August. Partly because one of those books was long, but also I had a lot going on (I suspect most of you are only interested in the books, so if you care about the other stuff see my previous post).Anyway, as always I am linking up with Steph and Jana. Now onto the books.

River God by Wilbur Smith (Ancient Egypt #1).  Ancient Egypt. A kingdom built on gold. A legend shattered by greed…. Now the Valley of Kings lies ravaged by war, drained of its lifeblood, as weak men inherit the cherished crown. Amongst all this is Taita, a multi-talented eunuch slave, owned by Lord Intef. Taita primarily looks after Lord Intef’s daughter, Lostris, but also plays a large role in the day-to-day running of Lord Intef’s estate. Also beside Taita is Tanus, Tanus, a proud, young army officer, who has vowed to avenge the death – at Intef’s hand – of his father, and seize Lostris as his prize. Together, the three share a dream – to restore the majesty of the Pharaoh of Pharaohs on the glittering banks of the Nile. This book is like a historical soap opera, but with more blood and brutality. The good guys are all the bravest, kindest, loyalist, most honourable people ever to have walked this earth. And stunningly gorgeous too of course – can’t forget that. And the bad guys are greedy, sadistic and just pure evil. I did enjoy reading it though, despite having to roll my eyes every time Taita turned out to be good at yet another thing. Without Taita the super slave Egypt would have been lost. Lost I tell you! 3 stars. I read this for the BBC Big Read and will likely not read any more in the series.

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard. Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable, despite all their differences. But as Caddy approaches her 16th birthday she begins to wish she could be more like Rosie. Confident, funny, interesting. Then a new girl joins Rosie’s school. Suzanne is beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious… and things suddenly get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realises, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own. It was quite refreshing to read a teen book that’s actually about friendship and doesn’t end up focusing more on boys (although Caddy is completely obsessed with wanting a boyfriend). I found myself rolling my eyes a lot at some of Caddy’s decisions but it felt realistic – I was a relatively “good” teen but I definitely did some things that were not the most sensible looking back. The teenage jealousy definitely felt real. I felt really sorry for Suzanne and cried at the end. 3.5 stars and trigger warnings for domestic violence.

The Shark Caller by Zilla Bethall. Growing up on New Island, one of the islands of Papua New Guinea, Blue Wing is desperate to become a shark caller to avenge the death of her parents. Instead, she is charged with befriending infuriating newcomer Maple, an American girl who has come to the island unexpectedly with her father. At first the two girls are too angry and out of sync to share their secrets and become friends, but when the tide breathes the promise of treasure they must journey to the bottom of the ocean to brave the deadliest shark of them all. This  is a beautiful book about grief, loss, friendship and forgiveness. I know nothing about Papua New Guinea and I found the insights into its culture fascinating. I did guess the twist (although I also had a second theory about what might be going on) but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment in any way. I highly recommend this book. 4.5 stars.

The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke. When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister, Faith. Faith’s childhood was dominated by Laurel’s disappearance – from her parents’ broken marriage and the constant media attention to dealing with so-called friends who only ever wanted to talk about her sister. Thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the garden of the Logans’ old house, disorientated and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Laurel is home at last, safe and sound. Faith always dreamed of getting her sister back, without ever truly believing it would happen. But a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated and paranoid, and before long she begins to wonder if everything that’s lost can be found again. This  was an interesting book. I thought Faith’s actions and emotions seemed realistic. Some parts felt a bit flat and almost dragged but I did mostly enjoy it. Unfortunately I guessed the twist at the end but that’s fine. 3 stars.

That’s it for today. Check out the link up for more book reviews. And definitely check it out next month for the seventh anniversary – the date to remember is 12 October.

Photo an hour: 20 March 2021

I missed July’s photo an hour day – which is probably a good thing considering how many I still have to catch up on! I did, however, manage to take part in August’s date on Instagram. So now I’m finally getting round to the blog post for March. I’m actually supposed to be doing my taxes, which explains a lot…

Anyway, the chosen date for March was the 20th and this is what I got up to.

10 a.m. Heating milk for porridge (don’t worry – the kettle was also on!)

11 a.m. I was taking part in a weekend readathon so this was just the first of many reading photos.

12 noon. Still reading.

1 p.m. Finally off for a shower! By the way, all of those bottles had been refilled at a zero-waste supermarket. Hooray for reusing empties!

2 p.m. On to my second book of the day. How creepy is that cover?

3 p.m. Put the kettle back on! This time make tea for two.

4 p.m. Two books down for the readathon!

5 p.m. Off to the post box – there’s no collection on Saturdays but I wanted some fresh air.

6 p.m. Another book… and a snack.

7 p.m. Jan offered to cook so I got to carry on reading.

8 p.m. Food, not made by me. These leek and feta pastry things from LIDL are delicious but they only have them when it’s Greek special week.

9 p.m. Decided to go for a bath.

10 p.m. Baths are thirsty work!

11 p.m. More reading before going to sleep.

And that was my day. Not the most exciting to take photos of but a day spent reading is always an enjoyable day in my book. (Ha, pun totally not intended but I’m leaving it in…)

What I read in July 2021

Hi everyone! I’m a day late for Show Us Your Books but oh well. I couldn’t post yesterday.

In July I read nine books, all of which were for Book Challenge by Erin (now on its 15th round!).

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, as always.

(Don’t You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn. In Gardnerville, nobody ever gets sick. Outsiders who come to the town recover from their illnesses (anything from cystic fibrosis to cancer) and can go on to live long and happy lives. Sounds amazing, right? But of course, there’s a catch. Every four years whatever magic fuels Gardnerville infects the town’s teens. In a normal year, a teen might stop speaking to their best friend. In a fourth year they could end up killing them. Four years ago, Skylar’s sister, Piper, was locked away after leading sixteen of her classmates to a watery grave. Since then, Skylar has lived in a numb haze, struggling to forget her past and dull the pain of losing her sister. But the secrets and memories Piper left behind keep taunting Skylar – whispering that the only way to get her sister back is to stop Gardnerville’s murderous cycle once and for all. book is bizarre and confusing, but also kind of fascinating. I guessed one twist (the main one I suppose) but not the details. There are some things I still don’t think I really understand but I did mostly enjoy reading it. It’s definitely unique! 3.5 stars.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Brown Sisters #2). Danika Brown doesn’t do romance. he’s been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. Professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension are all she wants. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits – someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom. When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. Butthen a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Suddenly half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse? Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own. Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint? This is such a happy book. Both main characters are dealing with their issues and there are some serious parts, but their interactions are just so heartwarming, as are Zaf’s with his family and best friend. His mum is awesome! Zaf is the sweetest. He always said the right thing and just seemed like such a genuinely kind, caring person. Dani is hilarious and actually really lovely even though she doesn’t realise it herself. I kind of missed her sisters a bit in this book – I was glad to finally get a proper scene with them towards the end. I can’t wait to read Eve’s book! 4 stars.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Everyone knows iconic 70s rock group Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the real reason why they split at the absolute height of their popularity…until now. Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go-Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Another band getting noticed is The Six, led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realises the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. I enjoyed this. It reads very realistically and I could easily believe it was a real rock band. The format made it a quick read but meant it was slightly difficult to really get to know the characters or be emotionally invested in anyone since it never really stayed with individual people for long enough. Most of them seemed like terrible people anyway, but I did really like Karen. 4 stars.

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey. Violet Willoughby doesn’t believe in ghosts, especially since her mother has worked as a fraudulent medium for a decade. Violet has taken part in enough of her mother’s tricks to feel more than a little jaded about anything supernatural. The ghosts, however, believe in Violet. Now she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death. Violet must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose. This is an entertaining enough read. At times I had trouble believing Violet was from the 1800s – something about her just felt weirdly modern – but I did like her. The other characters were harder to get to know. There were too many of them and I honestly couldn’t tell you who exactly was even there. The solution was maybe a little predictable, although I was briefly misled in the middle so it wasn’t too bad. Violet’s mother is a horrible, horrible person and I wished she’d got her comeuppance (she kind of did but not nearly enough). Overall it’s a quick and fun read that passed a few hours just fine. 3 stars.

Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis. For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mum to cancer has her a little bit traumatised and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known. Anthony Stone is a rich man with four other daughters – and rules for every second of the day. Tiffany tries to make the best of things, but feels like she doesn’t fit into her new luxurious, but super-strict, home. The only thing that makes her new life even remotely bearable is the strange boy across the street,. Marcus McKinney who has had his own experiences with death. But Tiffany has a secret. Another man claims he’s actually Tiffany’s real dad – and she only has seven days before he shows up to demand a paternity test and the truth comes out. With her life about to fall apart all over again, Tiffany finds herself discovering unexpected truths about her father, her mother and herself, and realising that maybe family is in the bonds you make. There was a lot I liked about this book. Tiffany is a fantastic character – she’s so strong despite everything she’s been through. Despite her anxiety she’s not about to take her dad’s meanness described as strictness/being a good parent lying down. And her dad is mean – his holier-than-though attitude made me so, so mad. I especially hated the way he treated his autistic daughter – it was basically abuse (I’m not sure the toddler needed to be autistic though and I prefer not to comment on how her autism was portrayed/represented because I don’t know enough). I kind of wanted to slap Tiffany’s step-mum – she had obviously stood up to her husband/set an ultimatum at least once in her life so I would have liked to see her step up again and tell him straight that she was not going to let him “discipline” the autism out of her daughter! Marcus – Tiffany’s neighbour/friend is also awesome. Weird, but awesome. 3.5 stars.

The Case of the Missing Moonstone byJordan Stratford (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #1). Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude -but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, when Mary is sent to share Ada’s tutor, she also becomes her first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary. This book is cute. As you probably guessed, it’s (very) loosely based on The Moonstone. It does require quite a bit of suspension of belief (especially the very convenient ending) but I feel like most young children wouldn’t notice, and this feels like it’s meant for relatively young children – maybe 7-9ish. It’s a fun introduction to the Victorian era and while to does take liberties with timelines I found the characters interesting. One thing that irritated me was the constant references to “math” – Ada is British so I’m fairly sure she’s into maths! 3 stars.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. Tom and Penny belong to a world so perfect there’s no war, no poverty, no under-ripe avocados. But when something awful happens to Penny, and Tom tries to make it right, he accidentally destroys everything, and finds himself in our broken, dysfunctional world. Only here, Penny and Tom have a second chance. Should Tom go back to his brilliant but loveless existence, or risk everything by staying in our messy, complicated world for his one and only chance at true love? I have no idea how to review this book. It was weird and slightly confusing, the main character is annoying and not very likeable – and that’s despite the fact that he’s telling the story and obviously he at least thinks he’s the good guy. But the concept was really interesting and something about it made me want to keep reading so clearly it can’t have been all bad. I definitely didn’t hate it. Honestly, I don’t really have any particularly strong feelings towards it either way. I think I liked it slightly more than I disliked it. I guess that’s what people mean by damning with faint praise… 2.5 stars.

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss. Hattie’s summer isn’t exactly going the way she would have liked. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to “find himself” and Kat’s in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and working at a local cafe. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby… Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future. I really njoyed this. Hattie and Gloria are both fantastic characters. Gloria’s story was absolutely heartbreaking and I was not expecting parts of it at all. Reuben is a waste of space and an idiot! The side characters are also well fleshed out for the most part – Hattie’s step-dad is a sweetheart and her sister Alice is hilarious. 4 stars.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet. The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect? I feel bad that I didn’t love this book like everyone else seemed to. I liked it and there were certain parts I really enjoyed, but honestly every time I put it down I felt no desire to pick it back up. I found Desiree’s story way more interesting than Stella’s. I thought it would be the other way round, I was really intrigued to find out how Stella passed for white, what advantages it gave her, etc. but when she ended up being a rich housewife I lost interest. I would have been more interested to see how she gained privileges as a normal person, but by marrying a rich man I felt like she just leap-frogged everyone and ended up being super privileged in a way that even most white people aren’t. Also, her refusal to talk about her past meant I never really got a sense of how it was for her to have given up everything in her old life. With Desiree, it was clear that without Stella she felt like part of her was missing but the other way round? No idea.I just felt like none of it went deep enough. I actually would have liked to see more of Desiree’s life back in Mallard and less of Stella falling out with her daughter. Not that I didn’t like the book… I did. But I was expecting to love it and ultimately ended up disappointed. 4 stars.

My favourite book of the month was probably Take a Hint, Dani Brown.

Total books read: 9. By BIPOC/BAME authors: 3.

For more book reviews, check out the link up.

What I read in May 2021

It’s Show Us Your Books day! May was a much better reading month for me than April, in terms of both quantity and quality. There are some I didn’t love but the ones I did definitely balance them out. There’s a lot to get through so I’ll stop rambling and just give you the reviews, okay?

Ten Things We Shouldn’t Have Done by Sarah Mlynowski. When April’s dad and step-mum announce they are moving, April persuades them to let her stay with her best friend Vi, at least for the rest of the school year. What they don’t know is that Vi’s mum isn’t actually going to be there. After all, what sixteen-year-old wouldn’t jump at the chance to live parent-free for a while? And she and Vi are totally responsible and able to take care of themselves. Turns out that tiny lie was just the first in a list of things they probably shouldn’t have done. This  is a light, quick, fun read. Not great literature by any means but just what I needed at the time to get me to actually finish a book after feeling meh about most of the few books I read in April! Some things could definitely have been handled better but generally it was good – a bit like reading the diary of a spoiled, rich teenager (I couldn’t believe it when April claimed she’d never been grocery shopping before?!). 3.5 stars.

After the Fire by Will Hill. Before, she lived inside the fence. Before, she was never allowed to leave the property, never allowed to talk to Outsiders, never allowed to speak her mind. Because Father John controlled everything – and Father John liked rules. Because Father John knew the truth. He knew what was right, and wrong. He knew what was coming. But Moonbeam had started to doubt. Started to see the lies behind Father John’s words. Then came the fire. This is an uncomfortable read but also absolutely riveting. From my limited experience I think it gives a great insight into life in a cult. Moonbeam is a fantastic character – nobody should have to go through what she did. I also really liked Honey and would have loved to see even more of her. I’d probably give it a 4.5 stars although honestly I’m not sure what the author could have done to make it 5. I just wanted a little more information on a couple of things.

Tilly and the Map of Stories (Pages & Co. #3). Strange things are happening. A man comes into Pages Co looking for a book… then suddenly can’t remember it. Tilly and her family feel like the world is changing – but can’t quite put their finger on why. Meanwhile, the Underwoods are expanding their control over bookwandering. Leaving the safety of the bookshop, Tilly and her friend Oskar head to America to find the legendary Archivists and save bookwandering. Wandering in layers of story, the two of them come up against dangers they could never have expected, team up with an unexpectedly familiar face, and ultimately find themselves taking on the biggest threat to stories there has ever been – with only their courage and ingenuity to help them. As well as some of their dearest fictional friends. Another  fantastic instalment in this magical series. Tilly and Oskar are the best team! The stakes are very high in this one and the action never lets up. I was enthralled throughout. I was a tiny bit confused at one point, so I’ve rounded my rating down by one star, but I was definitely not disappointed. I can’t wait for the next book in the series when we will move on from this arc and hopefully learn more about the world of bookwandering. 4 stars.

The Edge of the Ocean (Strangeworlds Travel Agency #2). At the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, each suitcase transports you to a different world. All you have to do is step inside… Flick is now a badge-wearing member of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency so when an urgent summons arrives at Strangeworlds from Pirate Queen Nyfe, she and Strangeworlds Society guardian Jonathon immediately pack their bags for an adventure to Queen Nyfe’s world: The Break, a place of magic and piracy. Nyfe’s world is falling apart. The Break is used to having ships vanish without a trace, but there has been a sudden increase that can’t be explained by giant squid or mer-people. The edge of their flat world is coming ever closer to them and they need to escape before it collapses entirely. Can Flick and Jonathan find a way to transport the inhabitants of the Break to another world before theirs disappears forever? I  loved this sequel just as much as the first one. It’s another high-stakes adventure and this time there are pirates! And mer-people! The tension barely lets up for a minute. At the end there are some interesting revelations about the source of Flick’s abilities and I can’t wait to see where this series takes us next. 5 stars.

The Cut-Throat Café (Seth Seppi #3). Seth Seppi is excited to arrive in Gramichee, one of the few towns where a cluster of magical folk live. But he’s worried that Angelique has only brought him here because she’s desperate to find someone to help him with his magic, which has been nothing but a disaster so far. When he is offered a trial apprenticeship, Seth is keen for the chance to study properly to become a sorcerer. But he is also worried that if someone discovers that his magic is dangerous, he’ll be banned from ever joining the world of the sorcerers.  Then he learns he has arrived in Gramichee at the worst possible time – an apprentice has been attacked and it’s not the first incident. This is the start of Seth’s most worrying case so far. Why are apprentices being targeted? Is it an accident? A prank gone wrong? Is one of the apprentices responsible, or is something much darker at the bottom of it all? Once again, Seth will need to keep his wits about him and dig deep into the magical world and his own magic to find answers. Yes, three kids books in a row. Can you tell I was trying to catch up on some series? This  book took me a little longer than the others to get into. It started off a bit slow. Things did pick up though. I found some aspects of the plot a bit obvious/predictable and found it a little unbelievable that the actual grown up detective investigating the case wouldn’t have figured things out sooner even if it did take Seth forever! I liked seeing Seth actually start to make something of his magic though. The ending very much seemed to set things up for a book 4 and I think I would probably read it if one does come out. 3.5 stars.

Still Life by Louise Penny ( Chief Inspector Armand Gamache#1).  The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force. But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets. This is a traditional style (cosy) murder mystery set in Canada. The type where the detective does a lot of thinking and noticing – your classic Sherlock Holmes or Poirot type, although this one is actually in the police. The solution was a little predictable but I liked the characters and enjoyed the setting. There were also a few unexpectedly amusing parts. The writing wasn’t always the best but for a debut it was very good. I definitely plan to continue the series. 4 stars.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. (Tristan Strong #1) Seventh grader Tristan Strong has felt anything but strong since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Now Tristan is being sent to his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, for a month to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s notebook. Tristan chases after it – is that a doll? – and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and his new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price.  I mostly enjoyed this book although parts of it were a little slow and it felt too long. Some of the side characters could have been fleshed out more. Gum Baby is hilarious and honestly made the book for me. There are some great messages and it was refreshing to read about black/African American gods and I learned a few things I didn’t know. I got sick of hearing the phrase “sweet peaches!” – Tristan seemed to say it every 5 minutes! 3.5 stars.

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Meet Dolores Price. She’s 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi that her anxious mother supplies. When she finally orbits into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she’s determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before really going belly up. I  quite enjoyed this book in the beginning then it all started to get a bit too much. Everything bad that could possibly happen did happen to this character. If there was a way for things to go wrong it did. I also found myself wanting to shake the main character at times – yes horrible things happened to her and I felt sorry for her at times, but she also brought some things on herself with her quite frankly ridiculous decisions. Also, if I was a lesbian I would honestly be offended by Dolores’ brief flirtation with a women. It’s a relatively easy read despite being so long and I actually found myself liking it again at the end (Rita is an awesome character!) so I’m giving it 3 stars.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Ruth Young and her widowed mother, LuLing, have always had a tumultuous relationship. Now, before she succumbs to forgetfulness, LuLing gives Ruth some of her writings, the story of her life growing up in China – a past that Ruth knew nothing about. In a remote mountain village where ghosts and tradition rule, LuLing grows up in the care of her mute Precious Auntie as the family endures a curse laid upon a relative known as the bonesetter. When headstrong LuLing rejects the marriage proposal of the coffin maker, a shocking series of events are set in motion. The truth that Ruth learns from her mother’s past will forever change her perception of family, love, and forgiveness. I really enjoyed the parts of this book that were set in China. LuLing’s story is both fascinating and heartbreaking and it wasn’t hard to see why she ended up the way she did. I really, really didn’t like Ruth though. She’s described as a “people pleaser” which apparently means going along with what makes other people happy but at the same time resenting every single thing she does for them and never actually communicating her own wants and needs. Unfortunately we spent most of the story inside her head, listening to her complain. I also found her life and relationship quite boring. The writing is fantastic though. 3.5 stars.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. For years, rumours of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her. But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world – until the unthinkable happens. I loved this book! Parts of it are a little unbelievable and it was slightly slow at times but the writing is beautiful. I can’t believe it’s a debut. I loved Kya – she’s so resilient and still capable of love despite everything she goes through. 4 stars.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files #1). “Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.” Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a – well, whatever. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. Which is when things start to get… interesting. I enjoyed this book. It’s fun. It’s true what other reviews say about Harry’s misogyny/chauvinism but for some reason that didn’t put me off. Parts of it were repetitive and predictable but other parts were great. There are some fantastic characters. I love Bob – he’s hilarious – and also Morgan, the way he just appears out of nowhere like some vengeful angel. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to like this but I will definitely be reading the next book. 4 stars.

Exes Anonymous by Lauren Henderson. Rebecca split up with Patrick, the love of her life, over five months ago. He’s moved to New York, but she still keeps mistaking other men for him on the street, in restaurants; on the bus, everywhere; as if he were a ghost. However hard she tries, she just can’t get over him. When her best friend Davey discovers that Rebecca has kept her flat like a shrine to Patrick, he decides she needs an intervention. And so the idea for Exes Anonymous is born – a self-help group for people who are having trouble getting over their exes. The seven broken-hearted members soon become friends, meeting at each other’s homes to swap stories, offer support and possibly even contemplate revenge. Rebecca starts to think she might be able to beat her addiction after all. But life – and love – still have plans for her. I picked this up because I was exhausted and wanted something that was a bit fun and easy to read – nothing too taxing for my brain – and it certainly fit the bill. There were some more serious moments amongst the fluff (poor Jim) but even those were somehow easy to read about. I liked that Rebecca didn’t have a cliché chick-lit job (most of them seem to work in TV or write for magazines or something). She works in a male-dominated field and her colleagues/bosses are all men but she definitely holds her own. I did get annoyed when she started talking about how women can’t eat what they like because they have to stay skinny for men though. Grrr. I liked that everyone took the “exes anonymous” group seriously and did their best to work through things and gain their lives back – it could have ended up just being a bunch of people bitching about their exes but the author took it in a different direction that I actually enjoyed. It’s quite cliché in parts but it was exactly right for what I wanted at the time. 3.5 stars.

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriaty (The Colours of Madeleine #1). Madeleine and her mother are living in Cambridge having run away from Madeleine’s father. They used to live an exciting, flamboyant life, but now they don’t have much money so those days are gone. Fortunately Madeleine has her two friends Jack and Belle to take her mind off things. Elliott lives in the Kingdom of Cello, in a small town called bonfire. His father disappeared a few months ago, on the same night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. In Elliott’s world, Colors are dangerous creatures that attack people and he’s convinced his dad was taken by a Purple – which also killed his uncle. He is determined to find both his dad and the truth. When Madeleine finds a message inserted in a parking meter, the two teens begin exchanging letters across the worlds – through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. Contact with someone from the World is strictly forbidden in Cello, but Elliot takes his chances and he keeps writing to Madeleine. Over time the two begin to bond and, surprisingly, find that they may even have the solution to each other’s problems. This book is charming but very confusing. Madeleine’s side of the story doesn’t seem to have much of a plot – she just quirkily wanders around being all colourful and quirky, she and her friends have some quirky home-schooling that doesn’t actually seem to involve many real lessons, then she gets into a sort of vague relationship with her friend that doesn’t really work out. She eventually faces some challenges towards the end that are resolved pretty much instantly – all the while exchanging letters with someone who lives in another world. Which brings us to Elliot… his side of things at least has an interesting backstory and a vaguely coherent plot. The beginning is confusing because the author just plunges straight into a “Colour attack” in Cello without explaining what “Colours” actually are, how they’re different to colours with a small c and how on Earth a colour manages to hurt people. If you’re confused now as well I’m afraid I can’t help you, I still don’t feel like I really understand “Colours”. I did end up liking the book but I’d be hard pressed to tell you what it’s actually about and have no interest in continuing the series! 3 stars.

Total books read: 13. BIPOC/BAME authors: 2. Huh, I was sure there were more but nope. Worst ratio of the year so far (not that the other months have been great… unfortunately most of my owned books are by white people and I’m trying not to spend money. I will do better in June though!)

TL:DR. I highly recommend After the Fire, even if you don’t normally read YA books. I also loved Still Life and Where the Crawdads Sing. If you enjoy children’s books I definitely recommend the Pages & Co and Strangeworld’s Travel Agency books but obviously start from the beginning of the series. The rest you can read if they sound interesting. The only ones I wouldn’t particularly recommend are She’s Come Undone and A Corner of White. Not that I hated either, there’s just not much going for them.

Linking up with Steph and Jana. Go check out their blogs for more book reviews.

What I read in April 2021

April was very far from my best reading month… I only managed 6 books! None of them are likely to become a new favourite either. Oh well… let’s see what they were.

The 392 by Ashley Hickson-Lovence. Set entirely on a London bus travelling from Hoxton to Highbury and taking place over just 36 minutes, the events of The 392 unfold through a cast of charismatic characters coming from very different worlds. On the 392 are all the familiar faces you might expect to see on any bus ride through inner-city London in the grips of gentrification: delinquent school kids, the high- flyers, the weird, the wonderful and the homeless. These Londoners share two things: a bus journey and a threat. A threat which is ready to blow apart everything they know. This is very cleverly done. I could actually feel the tension. The constant switching between characters made it feels a bit choppy but it made perfect sense to do it that way. The ending was shocking and I’m not sure I liked it. This is definitely a thought-provoking book although I feel like Londoners will get more out of it than most. 3.5 stars.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd. Bridie Devine – flame-haired, pipe-smoking detective extraordinaire- is haunted by her failure to solve her last case in time, resulting in the death of a child. Reluctantly she agrees to take on her most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors in this age of discovery. Winding her way through the sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing secrets about her past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot-tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where nothing is quite what it seems. I really enjoyed most of this book – Bridie is a fascinating character and the mystery was intriguing – but for me the end let it down. I was left completely confused by the resolution to one character’s story. Honestly the resolution made that entire side story feel entirely unnecessary. 3.5 stars.

The Memory Key by Liana Liu. Lora Mint is determined not to forget. Though her mother’s been dead for five years, Lora struggles to remember every detail about her—most importantly, the specific events that occurred the night she sped off in her car, never to return. But in a world ravaged by Vergets disease, a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Usually Lora is aided by her memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories just the way a human brain would (which also means certain memories fade, just as they would naturally). Then a minor accident damages Lora’s key, and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these formerly forgotten memories? Or is her ability to remember every painful part of her past driving her slowly mad – burying the truth forever? This is a quick read and at least parts of it were intriguing. Unfortunately the world building wasn’t great – as in there wasn’t really much of it at all – and the characters are pretty bland. I also found the ending anticlimactic. It’s not a terrible book but I feel like a similar kind of thing has been done much better. 2.5 stars

Wilder Girls by Rory Power. It’s been eighteen months since Hetty and her schoolmates at the Raxter School for Girls were put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit – killing most of the teachers one at a time. The students reacted differently, their bodies turning strange and foreign, growing scales and extra spines. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything. But when Hetty’s best friend Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could ever have imagined.  I enjoyed this book for the most part. It was creepy and disturbing and weird and I had so many theories about what was happening. Then it got to the end and it just… stopped. I hate abrupt endings that come out of nowhere! Where’s the rest of it? I need to know what happens next! This is a standalone so the end really is the end but there are still too many questions left open.It’s told from two perspectives, Hetty’s and Byatt’s and I felt like Byatt’s part was too short. After the author drops loads of hints about her past, Byatt’s side of the story just stopped (again with the abrupt endings). That aspect definitely needed to be fleshed out more. On the positive side it is well written and very intriguing just the initial intrigue doesn’t pay off with answers. (Although I was confused by the review that wanted to know how they ended up on the island – it’s literally a boarding school. They came there to go to school. That was the most obvious part for me!). 3 stars – which is a pity because until the end it could have been a 4. I listened to this on Scribd and it took me forever, which is part of the reason I read so few other books. Me and audiobooks do not get along!


Last to Die (Rizzolli and Isles #10).  For the second time in his short life, Teddy Clock has survived a massacre. Two years ago, he barely escaped when his entire family was slaughtered. Now, at fourteen, in a hideous echo of the past, Teddy is the lone survivor of his foster family’s mass murder. Orphaned once more, the traumatized teenager has nowhere to turn—until the Boston PD puts detective Jane Rizzoli on the case. Jane spirits Teddy away to Evensong, a boarding school for emotionally traumatized children in the remote Maine wilderness. Forensic pathologist Maura Isles already has a connection with the school – Julian ‘Rat’ Perkins, the 16-year-old boy she met during a previous case, is now living there. At the school, Jane and Maura meet Will Yablonski and Claire Ward, students whose tragic pasts bear a shocking resemblance to Teddy’s. Could there be a connection between the cases? Jane and Maura soon discover that even a school protected by locked gates and acres of forest cannot shut out a gathering threat. And when three blood-spattered twig dolls are found hanging from a tree, they wonder if the threat comes from outside the school…  or from within. It’s  difficult to review this having not read (enough of) the previous ones in the series. There’s a lot of backstory that’s hinted at and semi-explained but I definitely would have needed to start from the beginning to really feel connected to the characters and understand what was going on. I have read a Rizzoli and Isles book before but that one was book 5 and the things I was missing in this one seem to have happened somewhere between that book and this one.
Anyway… the mystery itself was fine. There were a few too many character perspectives and it got a bit confusing but I did enjoy the school setting and the writing. Overall, this book was good but not great. Honestly I’m just not sure this series is for me based on the two I’ve read (admittedly out of order). 3 stars.

Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay. David Harwod’s wife, Jan, has been acting strangely recently and he’s been increasingly worried about her, so he’s pleased when she suggests they take their four-year-old son on a trip to a nearby amusement park.  But what begins as a pleasant family outing turns into a nightmare after an inexplicable disappearance. A frantic search only leads to an even more shocking and harrowing turn of events. Until this terrifying moment, David Harwood is just a small-town reporter in need of a break. His paper, the Promise Falls Standard, is struggling to survive. Then he gets a lead that just might be the answer to his prayers: a potential scandal involving a controversial development project for the outskirts of this picturesque upstate New York town. It’s a hot-button issue that will surely sell papers and help reverse the Standard’s fortunes, but strangely, David’s editors keep shooting it down. Why? That’s a question no longer at the top of David’s list. Now the only thing he cares about is restoring his family. Desperate for any clue, David dives into his own investigation – and into a web of lies and deceit. For with every new piece of evidence he uncovers, David finds more questions – and moves ever closer to a shattering truth.  This is very fast-paced with a lot of twists and turns. It certainly kept me interested wondering what was going to happen next. Some of those twists were less believable than others though. There was a lot going on and a lot of layers to unpick. I definitely found myself rolling my eyes a few times but it was a fun way to pass the time. I don’t regret reading it but it’s not one I would keep/read again (luckily I found it on a public bookcase so I didn’t pay money for it). 3 stars.

Total books read: 6, BIPOC/BAME authors: 3.
That means half were by BAME/BIPOC authors. Admittedly the actual number is lower than in any of the previous months of the year (4 each in January, February and March) but I’m calling it a win 😉 (Also, despite reading a book by her before, I hadn’t even realised Tess Gerritson was Asian-American until I happened to see the author picture in the back of this book. I usually pick books because they sound interesting and not because I’m going out of my way to only read white authors…)

What I read in March 2021

Hello! Happy Show Us Your Books day! Like every month, I’m linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I’ve been reading. There are a few to get through so I’ll just launch straight in.

Anxious People by Frederik Backman When a failed bank robbery turns into a hostage situation at an open-house apartment viewing, eight anxious people find themselves trapped in a room together. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers gradually begin opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths. As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.   I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book at first. It’s all a bit too weird and quirky. But somehow it was also fascinating in a way that wouldn’t let me stop reading. Even though it all felt a bit far-fetched (and I couldn’t believe anyone would act the way these characters did while being interviewed by the police!) I also felt like I just had to know how it all came together. It ends up being a very clever puzzle and the author did a good job of putting it all together, but the overwhelming feeling I came out with was melancholy. I feel like nobody actually knows what they’re doing and we’re all just wandering through life making a whole series of bad or sometimes slightly less bad decisions. There are some nice touching moments and I think the ending and the overall message was supposed to be hopeful but personally I came out of it just feeling kind of down – which I suppose is the sign of a good author, being able to manipulate my emotions to that extent. 4 stars.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne. For Farah and Dougan the only thing that makes life at Applecross Orphanage bearable is their friendship, which deepens into love as the years pass. Shortly after they seal their love in a “handfasting” ceremony at the ages of 10 and 13, the two are torn apart. Seventeen years later. Farah, now a clerk at Scotland Yard, where she is known as the widowed Mrs Mackenzie meets Dorian Blackwell. Known as the Blackheart of Ben More, Dorian is a ruthless villain – one of London’s wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him… and will fight to the death to seize what he wants – including Farah. But Farah is no one’s puppet. She possesses a powerful secret—one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he’d long thought dead?   I enjoyed this. It was a fun read. It’s kind of predictable but honestly what romance isn’t? I really liked Farah – she doesn’t take anyone’s crap. I will most likely continue the series. 4 stars.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. There are no monsters any more – or so Jam and the other children growing up in Lucille have always been told. But one night, Jam meets Pet, Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood. Pet has come to hunt a monster – a monster it claims is lurking in Jam’s best friend Redemption’s house. Jam isn’t sure what to think, but if there’s even a chance that Redemption could be in danger she has to find out the truth. And so she must fight not only to protect her best friend but to find the answer to the question: How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist? It seems weird to describe a book as both charming and dark but that’s exactly how it felt to me. Jam’s family and friends are so loving and accepting of her. It’s mentioned early on that she’s trans and not a single person batted an eyelid when she told them she was a girl (at age 3). She rarely speaks out loud and it seemed like most of the town learned sign language to communicate with her – not just family friends but even the town librarian. And her relationship with best friend Redemption is the most lovely, heart-warming thing I’ve read in a while. Even when he tells her something unbelievable he believes her immediately without question. Then there’s the other side. They’ve always been told that monsters don’t exist any more, but now a creature named Pet is telling them that not only are there still monsters but one of them has been right under their noses the whole time. The moment when Redemption realised who he thought might be the victim of the monster was heartbreaking. And the end took a very dark turn – I would definitely not let anyone under about 12 it 13 read this book. The whole discussion of monsters and how assuming/claiming there aren’t any could cloud people’s judgement so that they missed all the signs is thought provoking and very relevant to our times. How do you know how the monsters are if they look like everybody else? My one complaint about this book – and it’s relatively minor – is I would have liked to know more about the world. What happened to the monsters? Is it just Lucille that’s monster free or the entire world – and if there are monsters elsewhere now do they keep them out? Are young people’s monitored for signs that they might grow up as “monsters”? Maybe I’m just expecting too much of a children’s book. 4 stars anyway.

Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicholl. Cora has no interest in being dragged along to her brother’s work do. She certainly doesn’t expect to make a friend there. Then she meets Adrien, son of the intimidating CEO of Pomegranate Technologies, and the first person ever to understand how Cora feels being neurodiverse in a world that isn’t made for people like her (Cora is autistic and Adrien has ADHD). As she becomes part of Adrien’s life, she is also drawn into the mysterious projects at Pomegranate. At first, she’s intrigued by them – Pomegranate is using AI to recreate real people in hologram form, with the aim of eventually allowing people to speak with relatives who have passed away. Having lost her mother a year ago, Cora can understand exactly why people would want another chance to talk to a loved one. But as she digs deeper, she uncovers darker secrets… Cora knows she must unravel their plans, but can she fight to make her voice heard, whilst never losing sight of herself? This book is a roller-coaster! There were so many ups and downs. What Pomegranate Industries was doing is genuinely disturbing. I totally got Cora’s dad’s concerns even before Cora uncovered the truth. It was an absolutely fascinating plot though. I loved the characters – even the villain in a love-to-hate kind of way. Cora’s friendship with Adrien is just the best, and of course I LOVE the dog. I cannot recommend this book enough.It’s slightly lacking in world building/some explanations (e.g. it’s never explained why people aren’t allowed to fly any more – I’m guessing climate change but it’s never actually addressed) but I gave it 5 stars anyway because I genuinely enjoyed it that much.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. Becky Bloomwood has a fabulous flat in London’s trendiest neighbourhood, a troupe of glamorous socialite friends, and a closet brimming with the season’s must-haves. The only trouble is, she can’t actually afford any of it. Her job writing for finance magazine Successful Savings not only bores her to tears, it doesn’t pay much at all. And lately the bank has been chasing her, sending letters with huge red numbers that Becky can’t bear to even look at. She tries cutting back. But none of her efforts succeeds. Becky’s only consolation is to buy herself something … just a little something… Finally she stumbles on a story that she actually cares about, and her front-page article catalyses a chain of events that will transform her life – and the lives of those around her – forever. I remember when this came out (my first year of uni) and it was absolutely everywhere. Somehow I never actually got round to reading it though, so when I spotted it in a free public bookcase I decided to grab it and see what all the fuss was about. It’s a fast, fun read but kind of ridiculous. Becky really annoyed me at times. The ending is kind of ridiculous but it’s exactly what I expect from this kind of book. If I had actually read it back in the day I would have adored it. At nearly 38 I just liked it. I did have fun remembering early 2000s life though – not many mobile phones, no Facebook, etc. – but I won’t bother tracking down the rest of the series. 3 stars.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed Midwestern town. But it’s okay – Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend Pennington College on a music scholarship, become a doctor, find a cure for the sickle cell disease that took her mother from her. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down… until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants less than to endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams… or make them come true? This is cute and fun even while dealing with some serious issues. I loved the characters – mostly. Liz’s friend Gabi kind of annoyed me at times and “mean girl” Rachel was sooo stereotypical. The ending was a little predictable and almost too perfect but that’s par for the course with this kind of book. My absolute favourite thing was the relationship between Leah and her brother – everything about their interactions was so heart warming. 4 stars.

Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis. At sixteen, Emmie Blue released a red balloon with her name, email address and a secret she desperately wanted to be rid of. Against the odds, Lucas Moreau found her balloon and emailed her, sparking an intense friendship between the two teens. Now, on the eve of their shared 30th birthday, Emmie is desperately hoping that Lucas is finally about to ask her to become his girlfriend – but instead he announces he is marrying someone else. Suddenly all Emmie’s dreams are shattered and she feels like she’s losing the only person on her life she can rely on. But what if Lucas isn’t her forever after all? What if her love story is only just beginning… This book is cute with some great characters – Emmie’s co-workers Rosie and Fox are hilarious. I loved every scene they appeared in. Certain aspects of the plot were very predictable – not just in the way that romance is always predictable but as in the second the person Emmie was “truly” meant to be with appeared I knew it was him and I also totally guessed something else that was integral to their eventual relationship. So one star off for that but overall I did really enjoy it. 4 stars.

Naomi’s Room by Jonathan Aycliffe. Charles and Laura are a young, happily married couple inhabiting the privileged world of Cambridge academia. One Christmas Eve, Charles sets off with their four-year-old  daughter Naomi on a shopping trip to London. But, by the end of the day, all Charles and his wife have left are cups of tea and police sympathy. For Naomi, their beautiful, angelic only child, has disappeared. Days later her murdered body is discovered. But is Naomi really gone? This book started off well – very creepy and atmospheric, but the second half was almost too convoluted. I would have preferred more of a pure haunting than the “twist” with a certain person taking a more active role (trying to avoid spoilers there!). 2.5 stars.

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde (The Last Dragonslayer #2). A long time ago magic faded away, leaving behind only yo-yos, the extremely useful compass-pointing-to-North enchantment and the spell that keep bicycles from falling over. Things are about to change. Magical power is on the rise and King Snodd IV of Hereford has realised that he who controls magic controls almost anything. One person stands between Snodd and his plans for power and riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. Meet Jennifer Strange, sixteen-year-old acting manager of Kazam, the employment agency for sorcerers and soothsayers. With only one functioning wizard and her faithful assistant ‘Tiger’ Prawns, Jennifer must use every ounce of ingenuity to derail King Snodd’s plans. It may involve a trip on a magic carpet at the speed of sound to the Troll Wall, the mysterious Transient Moose, and a powerless sorceress named Once Magnificent Boo. But one thing is certain: Jennifer Strange will not relinquish the noble powers of magic to big business and commerce without a fight. If you think that synopsis sounds bizarre you would be right! I remember really liking the first book in the series. Admittedly it’s been a while but this one just wasn’t as enjoyable. It’s very silly but to me somehow lacked in imagination. I liked the characters but the actual plot just isn’t that interesting. It’s quick and fun though and I don’t regret reading it. 3 stars.

Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen. Leelu, her mum and her older brother have moved from her warm, bright home country to cold, grey London. The neighbours are noisy, there’s concrete everywhere and Leelu struggles to fit in. Worst of all, they had to leave their father behind at home. But Leelu is not alone; someone is leaving her gifts outside her house – wonders which give her curious magical powers. Powers that could help her find a way home. In my opinion Leelu’s struggles with being in a new country and missing her dad was the best part of this book. Particularly the scenes in school where she felt out of place and scared were incredibly well written. And I loved her friendship with the refugee girl from next door. It provided a lovely spark of joy in an otherwise fairly dark book. The touch of magical realism was fun but I felt a little uncomfortable about her friendship with Bo – the old man neighbour. Obviously he ultimately turned out to be fine but I would have preferred if maybe her mum had met him first and he had become established as a trusted adult before Leelu went into his house. Maybe that’s me looking at it’s from too much of an adult perspective but I would not want my child thinking it’s okay to go off with random adults! 3.5 stars.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston. Amari Peters’ big brother Quniton has gone missing and she’s convinced it has to do with his mysterious job. So when she gets an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain this is her chance to find Quinton. But first she has to get her head around the idea that mermaids, aliens and magicians are real, and her roommate is a weredragon. Amari must compete against kids who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives, and when each trainee is awarded a special supernatural talent, Amari is given an illegal talent – one that the Bureau views as dangerous. With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is the enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three try-outs, she may never find out what happened to her brother. magical book! It’s very much character and plot-driven – the actual writing is nothing special. But the world is fantastic. It reminded me of Nevermoor in many ways, but this one is closer to our world (in a similar way to Harry Potter as in all this magical stuff is right there but normal people can’t see it) and also has a Men in Black vibe. It could have used a bit more editing – within the space of a few pages there were a few mistakes (one was just they’re instead of their, but the other was missing word and it threw me right out of the story). Amari is bullied for being different and the main instigator was such a spoiled mean girl cliché that I had trouble taking her seriously. I definitely recommend this book though and will read the next in the series when it comes out. 4 stars.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream – a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength. Most people probably already know this book. A lot would have read it in school. I didn’t. Objectively, this is a good book. It’s well written. There’s a good message. Everyone loves it. Personally I liked it okay but I didn’t love and adore it like most reviweres seem to. It’s a quick enough read that I would say read it and make up your own mind. 3 stars.

Waking Gods by Sylvain Nuevel (Themis Files #2). As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day. Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers – and even more perplexing questions. Now human-kind faces a deadly nightmare – can Dr Franklin and her team unlock the final secrets behind Themis before it’s too late? I’ve tried to make that synopsis as vague as possible to avoid spoiling the first in the series for those that haven’t read it! I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first one. It answered some of the questions from the first book but a lot of the answers were kind of underwhelming. The format again made it a relatively quick read but I felt like I couldn’t fully connect with the characters. The addition of some personal diary entries helped a bit bit for the most part I still felt like I didn’t fully understand their motivations. I will finish the series though because I want to know where it’s going with the way it ended. 3 stars.

Tell No One by Harlan Coben. Eight years ago David Beck was knocked unconscious and left for dead,and his wife Elizabeth was kidnapped and murdered. Everyone tells him it’s time to move on, to forget the past once and for all. Then an image of Elizabeth appears on David’s computer screen, and suddenly he is taunted with the impossible – that somehow, somewhere Elizabeth is still alive. The messages come with a warning: tell no one. And he doesn’t. But soon Beck himself is being hunted down… This book is certainly action-packed. It pulls you in at the beginning and just doesn’t let up. It ended up being a little too convoluted for me though and a few things were a little too convenient. Plus the final twist at the end just didn’t make sense. I also got so tired of hearing about what an angel Elizabeth was. Nobody is that perfect! A good way to pass the time but far from being a new favourite thriller. 3 stars.

For the third month in a row, I read 14 books and four of them were by BAME/BIPOC authors. I really need to up my game, but it’s difficult when I’m trying not to spend and most of my owned books are by white people. I should make more use of Scribd!

TL;DR: I ended up enjoying Anxious People but it’s a strange book and definitely not for everyone. I LOVED Show Us Who You Are. Pet is thought-provoking and interesting. You Should See Me in a Crown and Dear Emmie Blue are both cute with great characters (the first is YA, the second adult contemporary). Amari and the Night Brothers is reminiscent of Nevermoor and Men in Black. I recommend it if you enjoy books for their plot and characters and don’t mind so much about amazing writing.

That’s it for this month. Tell me what you’ve been reading recently. And don’t forget to visit the link up for more book reviews.

What I read in February 2021

Hello! It’s somehow book day again… time is going fast! I forgot to write a draft of this post to add to throughout the month so now I’m having to type the whole entire thing during my lunch break (and partly after work because I didn’t get finished at lunch time). As you can see from the title, I am linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I read in February.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Sequel to Greenglass House. It’s the Christmas holidays again and Milo is looking forward to spending his school-free time with his family, but once again they end up with a whole house full of guests, both familiar faces and new ones. There are fresh clues to uncover as Milo and his friends search for a mysterious map and a famous smuggler’s lost haul. I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the first one. It’s just as charming and there are some fantastic characters (I would love to see Milo and Marzana’s friendship continue to develop) but it did feel a bit too similar to the first book at times. i really enjoyed the aspects of Nagspeake folklore and getting to know something about the world outside the inn. 4 stars.

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Mila and her sisters live with their brother Oskar in a small forest cabin. It’s been winter in their village for 5 years – so long that Mila’s youngest sister doesn’t remember anything else. Their mother is dead and their father is gone. One night, a fur-clad stranger arrives seeking shelter for himself and his men. But by the next morning, they’ve gone – taking Oskar with them and, as they later find out, all the other boys in the village. Mila is determined to find her brother and bring him back, so with the help of Rune, the Mage, she sets out to do just that. This is well-written, and the beginning in particular is very atmospheric, but the story felt a bit vague. It’s based on folklore and very reminiscent of a fairy-tale but it lacks detail. It’s all a bit simple and most of the characters felt a bit flat – particularly Mila’s older sister Senna and Rune, the Mage. I would have liked to find out more of his back story and motivations. I did really love Mila’s little sister Pipa though. 3 stars.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson. 12-year-old Yanka has always felt out of place in her small village. She was found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby and has always felt drawn towards the forest. When she wakes up one morning to find that her legs have become bear legs, she sets off on an adventure with her house weasel Mousetrap to discover who she really is. Along the way she is joined by a motley crew of animals, all of whom have a lot to teach her about friendship and belonging. This is a wonderful adventure about family, friendship and discovering who you really are. I loved the stories interwoven throughout and the characters Yanka met along the way. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The House With Chicken Legs though. Yanka is a great character but I somehow didn’t feel as attached to her as I did to Marinka. One thing I did like better in this one was the Yaga house – I want it to be my friend! 3.5 stars.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Vasilisa – known as Vasya – the youngest child of Petyor Petrovich, is wild like her mother was. The family lives on the edge of the Russian wilderness (although at that point it’s not Russia yet, but Rus‘), where winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. Vasya spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. But then her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honouring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. In a village caught between a pagan past and the Christian church, Vasya is perhaps the only one who can save her people from what’s coming. This is really well written and I found the Slavic folk tale elements absolutely fascinating. I love Vasya and the various creatures/guardians. However it felt pretty slow at times – it seemed to take forever for the “real” story to get going. I will read the next book because I want to know where Vasya ends up going. 3.5 stars.

Boy, Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. When Boy Novak turns 20, she flees the home of her abusive, rat-catcher father – ending up in Flax Hill, Massachusetts, simply because it’s the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. There she meets Arturo Whitman – craftsman, widower, and father of Snow – a beautiful, cherished child who Boy is instantly smitten by. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird. When Bird is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart. There are a lot of themes in this book. Identity… what it means to be white/black, male/female. Appearances versus reality. There is a LOT to discuss and I feel like it would be a perfect book club book. It’s also really well written. But the plot kind of lost me. I felt like I was missing the whole point of the book. Then a few serious issues came up at the end that weren’t really explored at all and made me feel like I was missing something. The final twist at the end was handled fairly badly (to say how would be a spoiler though) and the book then ended abruptly without the reveal either being tied in to the rest of the plot or the author explaining what she was trying to do by putting that twist in there and having Boy react so badly. I’m not sure what the comparison with Snow White is about either. Sure there’s an obsession with mirrors and beauty but comparing the plot to Snow White seemed very far-fetched to me. 3 stars – maybe more 2.5 now I think about it.

The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club (various authors including Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers). In 1931 Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and 10 other crime writers from the newly formed Detection Club collaborated in publishing a unique crime novel. In a literary game of consequences, each author would write one chapter, leaving G.K. Chesterton to write a typically paradoxical prologue and Anthony Berkeley to tie up all the loose ends. The result was this book. Inspector Rudge does not encounter many cases of murder in the sleepy seaside town of Whynmouth. But when an old sailor lands a rowing boat containing a fresh corpse with a stab wound to the chest, the Inspector’s investigation immediately comes up against several obstacles. The vicar, whose boat the body was found in, is clearly withholding information, and the victim’s niece has disappeared. There is clearly more to this case than meets the eye – even the identity of the victim is called into doubt. Inspector Rudge begins to wonder just how many people have contributed to this extraordinary crime and whether he will ever unravel it… I love the concept of this book and it was interesting to see where each author took the story and what they added to it. Inevitably some chapters were better than others (or possibly more to my taste than others). I found the prologue by G.K. Chesterton surprisingly dull considering I like the Father Brown stories. Agatha Christie’s chapter was good, as could be expected. There were a few other chapters I enjoyed as well, some by authors I didn’t know, and I was impressed with how the last person managed to tie everything together. I had read this before but I was maybe 13 at the time so I obviously didn’t remember the solution! I do recommend it if you’re a fan of classic crime/mysteries – it’s definitely not the greatest detective mystery I’ve read but I still found it fun to see what people managed to do with someone else’s plot. 3 stars.

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens. A collection of short stories from the world of the Murder Most Unladylike series – including the Detective Society’s first ever mystery, the Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie. There are also tips from Daisy and Hazel on how to found your own Detective Society, a story from “rival” teen detectives (but actually friends) The Junior Pinkertons, and some discussion of real-life unsolved mysteries. It’s cute but ultimately unnecessary. The tips for setting up your own detective agency and writing in code are fun and there are a couple of new stories in there – I enjoyed reading about the Junior Pinkertons case. But ultimately I didn’t think it needed to be a whole separate book. One of the stories is actually included as a bonus at the end of Mistletoe and Murder and I felt like the same could have been done with the rest of the content. Also, I had felt that Daisy was getting better in Mistletoe and Murder, but reading from her perspective in this book she came across as an awful person and horrible friend to Hazel. She’s so possessive of their friendship while at the same time constantly putting Hazel down and treating her like an idiot. And when she’s giving her tips for setting up your own club she also talks directly to the readers as if they couldn’t possibly be anywhere near as clever as the amazing Daisy. Ugh! 2.5 stars.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. When Sydney Green takes part in a walking tour of the Brooklyn neighbourhood she’s lived in for almost her whole life, she is frustrated to find that the tour guide prefers to tell stories of the white people who lived there hundreds of years ago rather than the amazing African Americans – some of whom are actually still living there. Challenged to create her own walking tour if it means that much to her, Sydney decides to do just that, finding assistance from an unlikely – and unwanted – corner, one of the many new arrivals to the block – her neighbour Theo. As more and more FOR SALE signs pop up and the people Sydney has known her whole life gradually disappear – even while Sydney herself is literally battling to hold on to her own house – Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbours may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised. When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other – or themselves – long enough to find out before they too disappear? From reading the synopsis I could not figure out what the actual plot of this book was, I just knew it sounded interesting (and I had seen some high praise for it – I think actually through SUYB). It starts off fairly slow but by the end I was hooked – staying up until the early hours of the morning to finish it. I still have a few questions but overall it was a great read. Not a thriller in the traditional sense but certainly chilling and eye-opening. 4 stars.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson. When rookie policeman Ari Thór Arason is given his first posting in Siglufjörður – an idyllic (and remote) fishing village in the very north of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel – far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik, he isn’t expecting much beyond routine small incidents. But then a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, and Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. This is very atmospheric – you can really feel the claustrophobia of the small town, basically cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice. The story itself is verrrry slow, which isn’t always necessarily a bad thing but unfortunately something about the writing style just didn’t jibe well with me. It felt choppy. In fairness to the author it’s possible that something was lost in translation, although I would think the translator would have tried to accurately represent the original style. I also didn’t like Ari Thor very much – he needs to learn to communicate and stop assuming he knows how other people (his girlfriend) feel. Towards the end things started to pick up and there was a bit of action, which bumped this book up from a 2.5 to a 3 star. I probably won’t bother reading book 2 though.

Cinderella is Dead by Kaylynn Bayron. It’s been 200 years since Cinderella found her prince but the fairy tale is over. Siyteen-year-old Sophia knows the story off by heart though. She has to. Just like she and every other teen girl has to attend the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are “forfeit”, leaving the kingdom never to be heard from again. Sophia doesn’t want to go to the ball though. She doesn’t even want to get married – or not to a man anyway. She would rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend. When Sophia’s night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s tomb, where she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all – and in the process, learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew. I enjoyed this book. I do agree with the reviewers who said they would have liked more world-building, but if you view it through the lens of a fairytale of sorts it makes sense in a way for there to just be a kingdom and a forest. I liked Sophia but I would have liked to see her reasons for wanting to change the system developed a bit more. Obviously wanting to defeat the evil and get equal rights for everyone is a good thing – I’m not questioning that. But why does Sophia in particular choose to fight back while others prefer to follow the rules and try to conform no matter how much it hurts them? We are told it has something to do with Sophia’s grandmother, who also rebelled and was taken away, but I would have liked to be shown how her grandmother shaped her thinking. Maybe a scene with Sophia reminiscing about something specific that happened with her grandmother instead of her just constantly telling everybody “my grandmother told me the king is bad and must be stopped!”. The king himself is almost a caricature of evil – towards the end there was a point where I actually had to laugh because it was just getting so ridiculous! (It reminded me of a scene from Death Becomes Her). The twist on the fairy godmother was awesome and she was probably one of the best developed characters in the book to be honest. The romance felt very rushed – I felt like Sophia got over Erin very quickly. I did enjoy the experience of reading the book though and despite its flaws I flew through it, so I’m giving it 3.5 stars.

We Are Giants by Amber Lee Dodds. Sydney thinks her mother Amy is the best mum in the world – even if she is a bit different from other kids’ parents. As Amy explains it, when she was a girl she got to 48 inches tall and then stopped growing right there. It’s the perfect height, in Sydney’s opinion: big enough to reach the ice cream at the supermarket, but small enough to be special. And though Sydney’s dad died when she was only five, her memories of him, her mum’s love and the company of her brave big sister Jade means she never feels alone. When Sydney’s mum is forced to sell her furniture shop and the family moves away from London, things get tricky. Sydney and Jade have to fit in at a new school, make friends, and deal with growing up in a strange town. And the last thing Sydney wants to do is grow up! For such a short book this manages to pack a lot in – family, grief, growing up, dealing with changes and fitting in/making friends – but somehow it doesn’t seem crowded. Sydney’s voice felt authentic (to me – who has no children and clearly hasn’t been a child for a long time!) and I even teared up at one point. Jade’s teenage rebellion felt a bit cliché but still realistic. It’s a great little book for children who are worried about growing up or are struggling to cope with changes. 4 stars.

Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed. Zeba Khan is like any other sixteen-year-old British girl: enjoying herself, waiting for exam results and hanging around with friends. When her parents decide on a family trip to their home country of Pakistan Zeba isn’t exactly thrilled, but she goes along with it. Although she finds it a bit weird that her parents seem very stressed in the run-up to the holiday, she doesn’t really think much of it. It’s been a long time since they went home after all. Then they arrive, and her future is threatened by an unthinkable – and forced – duty to protect her father’s honour. This is a thought-provoking read. I liked that the author made it very clear that arranged marriage and forced marriage are two totally different things, and that forced marriage is actually frowned on in Islam as well (although it still happens). Zebra frustrated me at times – I wish she had just communicated when she had the chance. There is a surprisingly sad part in the middle. Most of the characters were well developed apart from Zeba’s mum, who just follows her husband in everything. I know that was the point – she’s supposed to be traditional and think men know best – but I didn’t understand how she could show literally zero emotion about her own daughter, even when the husband she was supposedly obeying was very obviously upset about what he felt he “had” to do. Zeba’s grandmother was fantastic and I loved how the author showed that the people you would expect to be most traditional in their thinking (the older generation) are perfectly capable of having minds of their own. The ending is a little too predictable and straightforward, but I can’t see how else it should have ended either so I suppose it makes sense. 3.5 stars.

A Wolf for a Spell by Karrah Sutton. Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans – especially witches – but when her family is threatened, she finds herself with no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing, and before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut – and Baba Yaga’s body! Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all. This is an absolutely magical book. The beginning gave me Red Riding Hood vibes, then it changed into something else. It has a definite fairytale feel, which isn’t surprising given it’s based on Slavic folk tales, but it also goes deeper than your traditional fairytale, which I liked. I loved all the characters, but my favourite was actually one of the supporting characters – I loved the raven with all his snark! One thing that didn’t quite work for me was the villain – he felt a bit flat and evil just for the sake of being evil. I guess he wanted power but that didn’t really come through. That’s a relatively minor complaint though – I definitely recommend this book. 4 stars.

I also read The Crowns of Croswald by D. E. Knight. Since it was from Netgalley, I’ve reviewed it separately here.

Total books read: 14. Books by BIPOC/BAME authors: 4 (not good enough!).

TL;DR: All the children’s books mentioned here are great – I particularly recommend The Girl Who Speaks Bear and A Wolf for a Spell if you like middle grade fantasy. If you (or your children) prefer more realistic stories then We Are Giants is also great. When No One is Watching is fantastic but don’t go into it expecting your typical thriller. I really enjoyed the experience of reading Cinderella is Dead but for me it lacked depth. None of the rest are terrible but they aren’t my new favourites either. Read them if they sound good to you.

That’s all from me. Visit the Show Us Your Books link up for more book reviews!

Book Review: The Crowns of Croswald by D. E. Night

Hello! Ages ago, the publisher of this book (Stories Untold) contacted me on Instagram to ask whether I would be willing to read and review this book – which I thought meant they would give me, it turned out I had to sign up Netgalley and request it with the guarantee of approval. Then I had to download an app to my tablet so I could actually read it, the first one I tried kept asking for authentication but wouldn’t actually let me set a password. And once I found one that worked it took me far too long to actually read the book because I discovered I hate reading on my tablet. Basically I’m saying my days as a Netgalley reviewer are probably over before they’ve really started because who will ever approve me again? (Plus the whole reading on my tablet thing…).

Anyway, since this is a Netgalley review, I thought I’d better give it its own post instead of just adding it to me February round-up. So here we are.

Plot: Ivy Lovely was found as a baby and has spent 16 years working as a Scaldry Maid (I may have spelled that wrong) looking after the scaldron – a special type of dragon that is used in the castle to produce heat for cooking. Ivy is blessed with the ability to remember her dreams, a photographic memory and the ability to perfectly sketch whatever she sees – all traits of a type of magic-wielder known as Scrivenists, which is everything Ivy dreams of being. But her castle is hidden among the slurry fields – a substance that suppresses magic. After a series of unfortunate events leads to Ivy and a scaldron (who she names Humboldt) leaving the slurry fields, she is whisked away to the Halls of Ivy, a school where those with magic learn how to use it. When Ivy’s magic – and her life – is threatened by the Dark Queen, she quickly has to uncover the mysteries of her past and save her friends and all of Croswald before the truth is swept away forever. This is book one in a series of currently 3 (I don’t know if any more are planned).

My review: This is a fun book but I found parts of it confusing and other parts obvious(view spoiler). The pacing is all over the place. Sometimes a lot happens very fast and then at other times you turn a page and it’s somehow the end of year ball when I swear the year had only just started? Parts of it definitely reminded me of Harry Potter – mistreated young person (girl in this case) who has no idea who she really is gets an invitation to attend magic school and discovers powers they never knew they had. Even the shop where Ivy bought her school supplies wouldn’t have been out of place in Diagon Alley! But the magic system and powers are different enough for her to have managed to make it her own. I feel like the characters could have been fleshed out more – I never fully felt connected to Ivy while she was running around doing whatever and as for the other students, all I know is one is mean and snobbish, one likes to eat butter, and Fyn is mysterious and constantly shows up wherever Ivy is but I can’t work out whether it’s just because he fancies her or there’s more to it. Rebecca, Ivy’s room mate/supposedly best friend seemed like a fun character but all I can really tell you about her is she apparently doesn’t want to be royal and can’t control her magic. I assume some things will be cleared up in book 2 but it’s a little disappointing to reach the end of a book and realise that 90% of the characters are entirely forgettable. There were aspects of the book I really enjoyed though and overall I liked it but it’s far from being a new favourite.

☆☆☆ – 3 stars

What I read in January 2021

Hello and happy Show Us Your Books day! I am linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I read in January.

I read 14 books and interestingly 5 of them had people’s names in the title. That was not intentional! Here’s what I thought of them:

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. Chloe Brown is chronically ill and still lives with her family. After almost being hit by a car while out for a walk, she decides she needs to “Get a Life” and comes up with a list of things she feels she “needs” to do, number 1 being get her own place. Other items include riding a motorbike… enter Redford ‘Red’ Morgan, her building’s maintenance guy. There’s just one problem: Chloe and Red hated each other at first sight! Can they get past their initial assumptions and learn to like – or even love – each other? This is sweet and sad and sexy. I really enjoyed it. There were a few strange phrases though – who refers to their nipples as “slutty batteries”? Lol.

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley. Uncle Montague lives alone in a big, creepy house and whenever his nephew comes to visit he tells him the scariest tales he knows. But as the stories unfold, another even more spine-tingling narrative emerges, one that is perhaps the most frightening of all. This was fun to read. The stories are creepy in an old-fashioned, gothic kind of way. Some were better than others. A few ended a bit abruptly and the final, bonus story, was rather underwhelming, but overall it’s enjoyable. I would certainly have been deliciously creeped out and entertained by it as a child – this was exactly the kind of thing young me enjoyed. 3.5 stars

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, a deadly strain of flu sweeps across the world wiping out most of humanity. Kirsten sees Arthur die as a child actor, and fifteen years later she’s part of the Traveling Symphony – a group of actors and musicians that tours the small towns of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Arriving in the town of St. Deborah by the Water, the troupe encounters a young man calling himself “the prophet” who threatens to destroy the life Kirsten has come to love. Moving back and forth in time the book tells the actor’s story from his early days as a film star to his death, and Kirsten’s story in the present, post-apocalyptic world. I thought I would fly through this book but parts of it were really slow. I did enjoy the post-pandemic parts, but I couldn’t have cared less about some actor’s marriages and affairs. I did appreciate how it all tied together in the end. 3 stars.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Michael is a half-Jamaican, half Greek Cypriot boy growing up in London. All his life he knows he’s different, first because he’s mixed race, then because he would rather play with dolls and his female friends than participate in traditionally “male” activities, and because he’s gay. When he gets to university, hethinks he can finally be free but he still feels out of place, until he discovers the drag society and finds his wings as The Black Flamingo. This book is wonderful! I loved Michael and it made me so happy to see him figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Being neither black (/mixed race) nor gay I obviously couldn’t “relate” as such but this book gave me so many insights into how it must feel to be different (I have often felt different/out of place but never because of my race or sexuality.) For some reason I thought this was set in America so it was a nice surprise to find it took place in the UK. 5 stars.

Do Not Disturb by A. R. Torre (Deanna Madden #2). In book 1 we met Deanna Madden, a camgirl who hadn’t left her apartment for 3 years for fear of what she might do. Until she had to leave when she believed one of her clients was responsible for a girl’s abduction. Now Deanna is back in her apartment and back to following the three simple rules she’s set for herself: 1. Don’t leave the apartment. 2. Never let anyone in. 3. Don’t kill anyone. Well, mostly. She does allow herself to leave occasionally with Jeremy, the delivery driver who helped her in the first book and now – dare she say it – her boyfriend. But somebody out there has become obsessed with Deanna’s alter ego, Jessica. If he manages to find her, who knows what might happen. I enjoyed this just as much as the first one! It’s a little repetitive at times – Deanna thinks about killing. Deanna distracts herself with cyber sex. But when the tension picked up I was hooked, even though the “bad guy” is a bit of a cliché. I also loved Deanna’s developing relationship with Jeremy. It’s am looking forward to finding out where things go in book 3. 4 stars.

The Unadoptables by Hanna Tooke. The rules for baby abandonment at Little Tulip Orphanage are simple. The baby should be wrapped in a cotton blanket. The baby should be placed in a wicker basket. The baby should be deposited on the top step. Not once have they been broken, until a few months in 1880 when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack and one in a coffin-shaped basket. Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou. Twelve years later, their cruel matron has dubbed them “the unadoptables”, but they know their individuality is what makes them special. When a sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart, the gang make a daring escape across the frozen canals of Amsterdam. I’m o torn on this book. I loved, loved loved the characters. The story itself is fantastic – the writing, the adventure. But I could not in good conscience give it to a child. Based on the blurb, I thought the evil matron would hate the five children because they were quirky and curious and bright and wonderful (and they are all of those things) when she wanted drab, obedient, conforming orphans. And while it’s true that she hates all orphans, it becomes clear that these particular ones are labelled “unadoptable” because – for want of a better word – they have something “wrong” with them. One is mute, one has extra fingers, one is Asian. And it would be fine if only the matron, who is clearly the bad guy, thought that way, but very close to the beginning a couple come looking for someone to adopt and almost physically recoil when they realise Lotta has six fingers on each hand… and nobody ever explicitly points out how wrong that is. Yes the five orphans are the heroes of the story and yes there is one adult later who is kind about Lotta’s extra fingers, but the subtle message is still there that it’s okay to discriminate against people for being different. As an adult I know it’s wrong, but as a child? I most likely wouldn’t even have noticed (just like it never occurred to me that, in the Narnia books, the only people described as having dark skin are the bad guys!), but subconsciously taken onboard that it was absolutely fine to be racist or ableist or just plain cruel. And as for children who look different themselves, or have a disability, or are clumsy and not traditionally cute… how could reading a book like this NOT make them feel awful? It’s a shame because the story itself really is wonderful and I genuinely enjoyed reading it. *Sigh*
Note: I am aware that it’s historical fiction and that’s exactly how things would have been in those days, but I still feel like there should be something, somewhere that explicitly lets children know that THIS IS NOT OKAY. As an adult I know things weren’t great in the past, I can look past it and simply enjoy the story for what it is, but this is a children’s book and it really should be made clear that just because this kind of thing was common in the 1800s doesn’t make it right!

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying. What to eat, where to go, who to love. But one thing she is sure of is that she wants to spend her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea. Then Lea dies in a car accident, and Rumi is sent away to live with her aunt in Hawaii. Miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, feeling abandoned by her mother, and the aching absence of music. With the help of her aunt’s neighbour, teenage surfer Kai who doesn’t take anything too seriously, and old George Watanabe who succumbed to grief years ago, Rumi seeks her way back to music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish. This is a very emotional book, as you can probably guess from the synopsis. Rumi is a difficult person to like. She’s prickly, sour and prone to childish tantrums. And the way she spoke about her mother is awful – I understand that she’s grieving but even before Lea died, in her flashbacks, she often seemed to be mean to/about her mother, basically accusing her of being neglectful and forcing Rumi to be a substitute mother to her sister. But at the same time I could really relate to Rumi – I have often been guilty of not thinking before I spoke and saying something cynical or sarcastic that came across as mean. And how many times have I wished I was a naturally sweet, cheerful,kind person who everybody loved? Rumi’s love for her sister shines through at all times and I truly felt for her in her grief (even if I wanted to shake her at times), which is a testament to how good the writing is. 4 stars. (Also Rumi is probably asexual and possibly also aromantic – she’s still working things out. I don’t want to comment on how good the rep is since I am neither of those things but it’s something people might want to know is in there.)

Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montogomery (Emily #1). Emily Starr never knew what it was to be lonely–until her beloved father died. Now an orphan, she left in the care of her mother’s relatives at New Moon Farm where she’s sure she won’t be happy. Emily deals with stiff, stern Aunt Elizabeth and her malicious classmates by holding her head high and using her quick wit. Things begin to change when she makes friends, with Teddy, who does marvelous drawings; with Perry, who’s sailed all over the world with his father yet has never been to school; and above all, with Ilse, a tomboy with a blazing temper. Amazingly, Emily finds New Moon beautiful and fascinating. With new friends and adventures, Emily might someday think of herself as Emily of New Moon. There was quite a bit I enjoyed about this book but also a few things I didn’t. It’s definitely darker than Anne of Green Gables – one character’s mother KILLS ANIMALS because she thinks her son is getting too attached to them and she wants him all to herself. Wtf? Dean Priest is creepy and actually so is Mr Kelly (I think that’s his name). Who tells a 12 year old she has “come hither eyes”? I don’t care which century it was! I did really enjoy Emily’s friendships (with people her own age!) and her love of writing – in some ways she reminded me of myself as a child. I actually like Emily better than Anne. She felt more real to me. Other than Anne’s supposed “red-head temper” I always thought she seemed too sweet and perfect. Emily with all her faults is much more human and interesting. My favourite character in this book is cousin Jimmy. I also really liked Great Aunt Nancy – she just didn’t care what people thought of her and it was AWESOME! 3.5 stars

Birthday by Meredith Russo. Eric and Morgan were born on the same day, at the same time, in the same place. They’ve always celebrated their birthday together, but as they grow up they begin to grow apart. Everyone expects Eric to get a football scholarship, but no one knows he’s having second thoughts. Former quarterback Morgan feels utterly alone, as she wrestles with the difficult choice to live as her true self. Both of them are struggling to be the person they know they are. Who better to help than your best friend? I loved this book, but it’s so emotional. It made me cry – more than once. But despite the sadness it’s also heart-warming and I adored the ending. 5 stars.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukaemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate – a life and a role that she has never challenged…until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister – and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves: she hires a lawyer to sue for the rights to her own body. This was a re-read for me. I would have been in my early 20s the last time I read it. This time the ending felt almost emotionally manipulative but it did still make me cry. I’m not sure what the point in the Campbell/Julia side story is (I’d forgotten about that to be honest). I do still think Jodi Picoult is a good writer though. So I’m downgrading my former 5 star rating to 4.

The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig. Meet Ginny. She is 14, autistic, and after years in foster care, Ginny is in her fourth forever family, finally with parents who will love her. Everyone tells her that she should feel happy, but she has never stopped crafting her Big Secret Plan of Escape. Because Ginny has a secret – something happened, a long time ago, something that only Ginny knows, and nothing will stop her going back to put it right… I don’t want to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter is not enjoyable! Poor Ginny has been through so much and she deserves the world. I don’t know how authentic Ginny’s autism was (this is not own voices but the author does have an adopted autistic daughter) but she felt like a real person to me. Most of the adults in this book are despicable though! Well, Brian I guess is at least kind of trying. Obviously the birth mom is supposed to be an unfit parent but the adoptive mom (“Forever Mom” in Ginny’s words) made me so mad. You don’t get to get rid of your adopted daughter because you have your own baby now! She wouldn’t even give poor Ginny a chance. Also I guessed Ginny’s “secret” almost immediately so how NOBODY figured it out – including the therapist she had been seeing for about 5 years is beyond me! 4 stars.

The Winter House by Nicci Gerrard. When Marnie receives a phone call that summons her to the side of a once-beloved friend who is dying, she is wrenched from her orderly London life and sent back into a past from which she has fled but never escaped. Ralph, Marnie and Oliver once knew each other well, and now they meet again in Ralph’s secluded cottage in the Scottish highlands, to spend the precious days that Ralph has left with each other. As they reminisce, Marnie is taken back to the summer years ago when everything changed between them and heartbreak and desire broke up their little group. Will Ralph finally say what needs to be said before it’s too late? I had read this before but I didn’t remember much of it.
The best word I can think of to describe this book is “melancholy”. And not just because somebody is dying. Marnie takes us back through her memories, telling Ralph the story of their lives together, but there always seems to be an undercurrent of sadness even in the supposedly happy times. And I did not like Ralph! While he was obviously troubled and fragile, and honestly could probably have done with some therapy, he came across as really selfish. I wondered how Marnie’s life would have turned out if she hadn’t spent most of her teens trying to protect Ralph and his feelings. Lucy also deserved better (and thankfully seemed to have got it – I think she was the only character in the book who did manage to escape the teen drama!). The ending at least seems hopeful and the writing is beautiful. 3 stars.

Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely. Blanche White is a feisty, middle-aged African-American housekeeper recently returned to South Carolina from NYC. When she is called into court for a bounced check after a client fails to pay, she goes on the lam, hiding out as a maid for a wealthy family at their summer home. Although distracted thinking about how to deal with her own problems, Blanche gradually realises that her employers are acting strangely, even for white people. And when there’s a murder that Blanche fears she could be blamed for, she’s forced to use all her savvy, sharp wit and her old-girl network of domestic workers to discover the truth and save her own skin. wasn’t what I expected. It’s pretty slow until almost the end (the murder that the synopsis refers doesn’t even happen until over halfway through!). I was expecting a bit of actual detecting, but all Blanche seemed to do was gossip with her friend (which did lead to some answers but Blanche herself wasn’t involved and we didn’t see any of the information gathering process), worry about her sister’s kids (who she is guardian for) and then finally sit down and properly listen to someone at the very end, which led to her solving the “mystery”. I really liked Blanche but the story itself was too repetitive and honestly a bit boring. 2.5 stars.

Gargantis by Thomas Taylor (Eerie on Sea #2). There’s a storm brewing over Eerie-on-Sea, and the fisherfolk say a monster is the cause. Someone has woken the ancient Gargantis, who sleeps in the watery caves beneath this spooky seaside town where legends have a habit of coming to life. It seems the Gargantis is looking for something: a treasure stolen from her underwater lair. And it just might be in the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, in the care of one Herbert Lemon, Lost-and-Founder. With the help of the daring Violet Parma, ever-reliable Herbie will do his best to figure out what the Gargantis wants and who stole her treasure in the first place. In a town full of suspicious, secretive characters, it could be anyone! This was another fun adventure. It’s very atmospheric and you get a real sense of danger. I was truly worried for Herbie at some points. I really enjoyed Herbie and Violet’s friendship and it was nice to find out something of where Herbie came from and what happened to his parents, although I definitely have more questions. It doesn’t quite have the spark that would make it 5 stars, but it’s a solid 4-star read. I highly recommend this series.

And here’s something new I’ve decided to do this year… I’m keeping track of how many books I read by BAME/BIPOC authors. This month it was 4 – not good enough.

TL;DR. I highly recommend The Black Flamingo and Birthday, recommend Get a Life, Chloe Brown and the Deanna Madden books (in both cases only if you don’t mind explicit sex scenes). I also really enjoyed The Original Ginny Moon and Summer Bird Blue. The Eerie on Sea series is excellent for children (and adults) who like an adventure. I really enjoyed The Unadoptables but I’m not sure I would let a child read it without adult guidance and I recommend that you look into it yourself before giving it to the children in your life.

What have you been reading lately? Don’t forget to check out the link up for more reviews!

What I read in December 2020 + My Book Challenge by Erin 14.0 reading list

Hello! It’s Show Us Your Books day with Steph and Jana and I’m here to talk about last year’s reading for the final time. December is always my worst reading month, partly because Jan and I are both off work so we tend to spend time together and also because it’s the one time that I actually watch quite a lot of TV. Jan switches on the TV practically every time he enters the living room but I’m usually perfectly happy to leave it off and get lost in a book. All the fun, heart-warming films are on TV at Christmas though and I like to indulge in those and really switch off. Anyway, enough about that. You’re here for the books – and despite all the TV and boardgames plus getting my Christmas cards finished in the earlier part of the month, I managed to read nine.

One of Us Is Next A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up in the year since Simon died, but in all that time, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts. Until now. Someone has started playing a game of Truth or Dare. But this is no ordinary Truth or Dare. This game is lethal. Choosing the truth may reveal your darkest secrets, accepting the dare could be dangerous, even deadly. Once again the teenagers of Bayview must work together to find the culprit, before it’s too late. I loved One of Us Is Lying and I’m honestly amazed it took me so long to pick this one up. I was immediately sucked back into the world of Bayview and all their drama. I did guess who was behind everything a bit before the end, but considering I stayed up until midnight to finish it despite having work the next morning I couldn’t not give it 5 stars. It’s probably more like 4.5 but I’m happy to round up in this instance.

North Child by Edith Pattou (also published under the title East). According to Rose’s mother’s superstitions, a child who is born facing North is destined to be wild, a wanderer, always seeking adventures. So she lies to everyone – including herself – and claims that Rose was born facing East. But despite her mother’s best attempts, Rose is a North child through and through, and the old stories say she is destined to travel far from home on a dangerous journey. Making a pact with an enormous white bear, Rose travels on his back to a mysterious castle that holds a dark enchantment, a darker temptation, and the key to her true destiny… North Child is a retelling of the fairytale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but I don’t know the original fairytale. I enjoyed this book overall, but it suffered a bit from being overly long. There were a few parts in the middle that felt agonisingly slow so that when I put it down I didn’t feel eager to pick it up again. It is beautifully told but that wasn’t enough to fully hold my attention. I liked the parts told from the white bear’s perspective. The ending felt both too drawn out and rushed – lots of chapters to explain the happy ending but then it went very quickly from “I love you” to two weddings within a few weeks. I do recommend it though, just be aware that it’s not all action, all the time. 3 stars.

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten. Nothing much happens in Sycamore, the small village where Clara lives – or so it seems. She loves eating ripe mangoes fallen from trees, running outside in the rainy season and escaping to her secret hideout with her best friend Gaynah. There’s only one problem – she can’t remember anything that happened last summer.When a quirky girl called Rudy arrives from England, everything starts to change. Gaynah stops acting like a best friend, while Rudy and Clara roam across the island and uncover an old family secret. As the summer reaches its peak and the island storms begin, Clara’s memory starts to return and she finally has to face the truth of what happened last year. This is such a gorgeous book. I loved the small-town atmosphere and the sense of community. You really get a sense of life in a Jamaican village. Rudy is a great character as well and such a lovely friend to Clara. I’ve read the same twist in another book (although handled slightly differently) so it didn’t shock me but I did think it was well done. I would definitely read more books by this author. 4 stars.

Out of Heart by Irfan Master. Adam is a teenage boy who lives with his mum and his younger sister, Farah. His dad no longer lives with them but is still close by. His sister has stopped speaking and his mum works two jobs to make ends meet. Adam feels the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Then his grandfather dies and in doing so he donates a very precious gift – his heart. William is the recipient of Adam’s grandfather’s heart. He has no family and feels rootless and alone. In fact, he feels no particular reason to live. And then he meets Adam’s family. William has received a great deal, but it appears that he has much to offer Adam and his family too. This is a quick read and a decent enough story but I felt like it didn’t go into enough depth. There are a lot of serious topics in there but they all seem to be rushed through a bit. I loved the characters, especially Farah and Laila (a girl from Adam’s school). Overall it could have done with either being longer or concentrating on just one or two issues. 3 stars.

The Unlucky Lottery by Håkan Nesser (Inspector Van Veeteren #6). Four friends celebrate a winning lottery ticket. Just hours later, one of them – Waldemar Leverkuhn – is found stabbed to death in is bed. With Chief Inspector Van Veeteren on sabbatical, working in a second hand bookshop, the case is assigned to Inspector Munster. But when another member of the lottery group disappears, as well as Leverkuhn’s neighbour, Munster appeals to Van Veeteren for assistance. Soon Munster will find himself interviewing the Leverkuhn family, including the eldest – Irene – a resident of a psychiatric clinic. And as he delves deeper into the family’s history, he will discover dark secrets and startling twists, which not only threaten the clarity of the case – but also his life. This was a re-read for me, part of my ongoing attempt to decide which books I actually want to keep. I didn’t remember much about it thoigh – certainly not who the murderer was or why. It’s a fairly typical detective crime novel, absolutely fine but nothing special in my opinion. At times the writing style was a bit disjointed – short, almost clipped sentences. I think it was supposed to represent how one police officer thought but it was a bit annoying. As with most series of this type, you don’t need to have read the earlier books to read this one (I haven’t read any of them). Overall I liked it well enough but didn’t love it. 3 stars – and it shall be departing my shelves.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle, moves to Ohio with her dad – a move she is not very happy about – and strikes up a friendship with Phoebe Winterbottom. During the course of a road trip to Idaho with her eccentric grandparents, Sal tells the story of Phoebe who received mysterious messages, who met a “potential lunatic,” and whose mother disappeared. As Sal talks, her own story begins to unfold – the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose only wish is to be reunited with her missing mother. torn on this book. I loved the writing style but I found the story really predictable (I knew what had happened to Sal’s mother from almost the beginning and I had a pretty good guess on what was going on with Phoebe’s mother/”the lunatic” as well) and was NOT impressed with most of the adult characters. The teacher is awful (who reads out students’ private thoughts in class?) and Sal’s grandparents are quite frankly a liability. There were a few parts that had me genuinely invested though and the ending was quite moving. Maybe I would have enjoyed it better if I was 13 years old, but honestly I think there are better teen books out there. I really enjoyed Bloomability by the same author, but this one didn’t live up to my expectations. 3 stars.

What to Do When Someone Dies by Nicci French. Ellie Falkner is devastated to hear that her husband has died in a car accident. To then learn that he died with a mystery woman as his passenger only makes things worse. Was Greg having an affair? Drowning in grief, Ellie clings to Greg’s innocence, and her determination to prove it to the world at large means she must find out who Milena Livingstone was and what she was doing in Greg’s car. But her actions leave those around her questioning her sanity and motive. And the louder she shouts that Greg must have been murdered, the more suspicion falls on Ellie herself. Sometimes it’s safer to just keep silent when someone dies. This book is rally weird. I thought I had read it before since I’ve owned it for ages but literally nothing about it was familiar so I guess not. It was really quick to get through but it felt like not much really happened until about two-thirds of the way through. Towards the end I was enjoying it but then the resolution was kind of underwhelming. Also Ellie is really annoying and obsessive. I understand that people do weird things when they’re grieving but some of it felt very far-fetched. And since when do babies smell like sawdust and mustard? (I think that’s what it was – something bizarre anyway). Definitely not a patch on the Frieda Klein series, which I love. 3 stars.

Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt. Nicolette, or Nicki, Demere is not your average thirteen year-old. She never knew her birth mother, and she hasn’t heard from her father since he was sent to prison seven years. Having been taught the art of pick-pocketing by her grandmother, before landing in the foster system after he death, Nicki developed kleptomania. And now just happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be exactly what is needed. Nicki, alias Charlotte, swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the spectre of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past. I really enjoyed this book. I loved Nicki/Charlotte and I thought her relationship with her new “younger brother” was realistic. Obviously some suspension of belief is required – I don’t think anyone would actually send a child/teenager into such a dangerous situation even if they did come from the foster system and obviously they would never have given said child a taser – if anyone got one it would have been one of the parents. Basically if you can’t suspend your belief this one probably isn’t for you. But if you can manage that then it’s a fun adventure that I think kids will love. There were a few emotional parts – I definitely teared up at one scene between Nicki/Charlotte and her new “mom”. 4 stars.

Heartbreaker by Tania Carver. After years of abuse, Gemma Adderley has finally found the courage to leave her violent husband, after one beating and humiliation too many. Taking her seven-year-old daughter Carly, she leaves the house, determined to salvage what she can of her life. She phones Safe Harbour, a women’s refuge, and they tell her which street corner to wait on and what the car that will pick her up will look like. They tell her the word the driver will use so she knows it’s safe to get in. And that’s the last they hear from her. Gemma Adderley’s daughter Carly is found wandering the city streets on her own the next day. Her mother’s mutilated corpse turns up by the canal several weeks later. Her heart has been removed. Detective Inspector Phil Brennan takes on the case, and his wife, psychologist Marina Esposito, is brought in to try and help unlock Carly’s memories of what happened that day. The race is on to solve the case before the Heartbreaker strikes again. Then another woman is found dead… There is quite a bit of action in this book but oddly it still felt slightly slow at times. It’s part of a series but it doesn’t matter too much if you haven’t read the others (I haven’t) as the author drops just enough hints of what happened before without it feeling info-dumpy. I liked the characters (except DS Ellison – what an odious man) and the writing but the plot was fairly predictable. I knew who had done it long before the end. It’s by no means a bad book though, I just wouldn’t class it as a great one. 3 stars.

That’s it for the reviews, but since I didn’t read as many books as usual this time I am going to tell you my picks for Book Challenge by Erin 14.0, which started on 1 January and runs until 30 April 2021. I have already read some of them.

5 points: Freebie – The Unadoptables by Hanna Tooke
10 points: Read a book you have been meaning to re-read – My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
10 points: Read the first book of a series you have never read before – Get a Life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (Brown Sisters #1)
15 points: Read a book with a mostly green and/or pink cover – The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
20 points: Read a book with a male relationship word (son, father, etc.) in the title – Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror but Chris Priestly
20 points: Read a book set in a place that’s on your bucket list of places to visit – Emily of New Moon by L.M Montgomery (Canada)
25 points: Read a book that reminds you of 2020 – Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel (the majority of the population is wiped out by a deadly flu)
30 points: Read a book written by an LGBTQIA+ author – Birthday by Meredith Russo (transgender author)
30 points: Read a book with the name of a bird in the title, or the word bird/birds in the title – Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
35 points: Read a book where the protagonist has a questionable profession – Do Not Disturb by A. R. Torre (Deanna Madden book 2, the main character works as a cam girl)

That’s all from me. Have you read anything good recently? Don’t forget to check out the link up for more book reviews!