What I read in March 2019

Happy Show Us Your Books day! March was another good reading month. I read 17 books – not quite as many as last month, but still a lot. There are a lot of reviews to get through, so I’ll just get on with it. Oh, obviously I’m linking up with Jana and Steph.

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This will be another long one, so I’ll add a TL;DR after the reviews for those who don’t have time to read my rambling thoughts.

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine. Sixteen year old Iris is obsessed with fire. When she accidentally sets a cupboard at her school alight, she’s whisked off to London before she can get arrested – or so her mother claims. The real reason they left L.A. was because of her mum and step-dad’s increasing debt. Back in England, Iris’s millionaire father – who she has no memory of – is dying and her mother is determined to claim his life fortune, including his priceless art collection. Forced to live with him as part of an exploitative scheme, Iris soon realises that her father is far different from the man her mother has brought her up to hate. This book was good, but it felt like something was missing. The pacing was really off. Most of the real story seems to be packed in at the end, which makes it feel rushed. It could have done with being longer. The twist at the end was clever though. 3.5 stars.

The Accident Season  by Moïra Fowley-Doyle. Every year, towards the end of October, seventeen-year-old Cara’s family become inexplicably accident prone. They lock away the knives, cover table edges with padding and avoid risks, but still injury follows wherever they go. Why are they so cursed, and what can they do to break free? This book is bizarre but (in my opinion) in a good way. Between the writing style and Cara’s friend Bea’s stories it almost feels like a dream. There are some mysteries that weren’t cleared up – I’m still not sure whether a couple of things really happened – but overall I loved it. 4 stars.

Tell Me Three Things by Julia Buxbaum. It’s been barely two years since Jessie’s mother died, and now her father has eloped with a woman he met at his bereavement support group and is forcing Jessie to move from Chicago to live with her new step-mother and step-brother in Los Angeles. At her new prep school, Jessie feels like everything about her is wrong and she’ll never fit in. But then she starts receiving emails from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (or SN) offering to help her navigate life at Wood Valley High School. Genuine or an elaborate hoax? Gradually, SN becomes her closest ally and Jessie can’t help wanting them to meet up in person…
The “I’ve been forced to move across the country and now hot, mean girls are making my life miserable” stuff is cliché. The stranger friendship turning to possibly, maybe romance is cute. If that had been the entire thing, it would have been a three-star read. But Jessie’s grief made the book for me. The parts where she was remembering her mum and trying to come to terms with not only her loss but the loss of their entire future future together really got to me and made it worthy of an extra star, in my opinion. So 4 stars.

Ink by Alice Broadway. Every event in your life, every action, every special occasion is tattooed on your skin forever. Then, when you die, your skin is removed and turned into a book to serve as a record of your life. As long as your book exists, you will never be forgotten. When Leora’s father dies, she knows he deserves to have his life preserved through this ritual. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all. The concept of this book is really interesting but it doesn’t live up to its promise. Leora is a really bland character – she doesn’t really seem to have much a personality. There are various stories (supposedly about that world’s history) woven throughout the book, mainly obviously re-tellings of our fairytales, and I really liked the Sleeping Beauty one. It’s a quick read and it wasn’t bad but it’s not really anything special. This is book 1 in a series but I have no plans to read the other two. 3 stars.

The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe. (I have a number of books that I’ve had for years and either have read and want to read again before deciding whether to keep them or can’t actually remember whether I’ve even read them. This was the first of those books.) A divorced father of two teenagers accidentally mixes two antidepressants, goes into a coma and then has a stroke, leaving him with brain damage. His teenage children inherit some money and son, Chris, decides to bring him home and try to rehabilitate him on his own. Without an adequate father around, Chris and his sister Cathy try various ways to bring meaning to their lives – Cathy turns to Catholicism (although the family are secular Jews) while Chris just seems to meander around, has a few sexual encounters and being cynical about everything. This is a really hard book to review. It’s pretty much as bizarre as the description makes it sound. Parts of it are good but overall it feels like it’s trying too hard to be clever/funny. I couldn’t connect to Chris at all – practically everything he said annoyed me. I didn’t dislike it as such, it was just okay. 2.5 stars.

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal. Desdemona, known as Mona, is turning 60. After tragedy struck in her youth, she now lives alone and earns a living selling beautiful, unique dolls, each with a name. But there are also other dolls – ones that she gets a local carpenter (who she has an odd relationship with) to make for her based on a weight that her clients give her. At the start of the book, Mona happens to meet a German gentleman living close to her and the two begin a friendship, which somehow grows awkward as it gradually seems like it could potentially become more than friendship. Meanwhile, Mona reflects on her early life, the death of her mother and her whirlwind relationship with the charming William. This is a beautiful book, but sad. I did guess the twist, but I’m okay with that. The journey was more important than the surprise. A gorgeous story about love and loss, but to me ultimately it felt hopeful. 4 stars.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr. Seventeen-year-old Ella Black seems to be living the perfect life, but unknown to everyone she also has a dark side. Her evil alter-ego Bella is always there, waiting, ready to take control and force Ella to do bad things. When Ella’s parents drag her out of school one day, telling her nothing, and whisk her off to Rio de Janeiro, Bella is desperate to break free – and so is Ella. Determined to find out what her parents are hiding from her, Ella takes her chance and searches through their things. And realises her life has been a lie. Unable to deal with this, Ella runs away to the one place no-one will ever think to look for her. This nowhere near as good as The One Memory of Flora Banks. Ella is supposed to be 17, but she seems to fluctuate between being relatively intelligent and acting like a spoiled child who overreacts to everything. I understand that her parents lied to her, but running away in a foreign country is slightly extreme! There’s also some animal abuse at the start of the book that’s just horrible – there was no need to go into so much detail. 2 stars.

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Zu. When Li Jing, a happily married businessman, is caught up in a gas explosion and a shard of glass pierces his forehead, he loses the ability to speak Chinese. Instead all that will come to him is the broken English of his childhood in Virginia, leaving him unable to communicate with his wife, Meiling, or their young son. In desperation, the family turns to an American neurologist, Rosalyn Neal, who finds herself as lost as Jing (who she calls James) in this bewildering city. Gradually, the two of them form a bond that Meiling doesn’t need a translator to understand. I’m not sure what to think of this book. Parts of it were good, the idea was intriguing, but I just didn’t like any of the characters. Rosalyn is like the worst kind of “expat” – loud, obtrusive, not making any sort of effort to fit in. Even when she goes out with her Chinese employers instead of having them show her around their city, she takes them to an Irish pub.  Also, she has this whole back story where coming to China was a chance to “escape” her problems – she and her husband waited to finish grad school before having kids, then discovered Rosalyn was infertile. After (I think) one failed round of IVF and a miscarriage, Rosalyn didn’t want to continue and in response her husband divorced her. So that was fun to read about when I’m about to start the IVF process. Anyway, given all that Rosalyn should be at least in her 30s but acted more like a 20-year-old who had just escaped her parents’ home for the first time. Meiling came across as cold and stubborn. The situation is obviously difficult and frustrating, but it almost seemed like she was annoyed at her husband for not recovering quickly enough. At no point was there any suggestion that she felt any compassion for him, being unable to communicate in his own country – instead it was all spending money to get him better, staying with him because he has stayed with her/looked after her when she was ill previously, etc. Honestly, the entire family could have used some counselling. I found the idea that we have different personalities in different languages and how not being able to communicate with loved ones might change our perception of them interesting and would have liked to read more of that. Overall it isn’t really a bad book, it just wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. 3 stars. (Sorry this is so long, apparently I had a lot to say about it?).

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough. Natasha is the most popular girl in school, so why was she pulled out of a freezing cold river in the early hours of the morning after being dead for thirteen minutes? She doesn’t remember what happened, but she does know it wasn’t an accident and she wasn’t suicidal. Now Tasha’s two closest friends are acted strangely. Determined to solve the mystery, she turns to her childhood best friend who she dumped years ago. At first Becca isn’t even sure she wants to Help Tasha, but gradually she gets drawn in to the mystery. As an outsider, Becca believes she may be the only one who can uncover the truth… but it turns out to be far more twisted than she could ever have imagined. This book is an intense ride. There’s a lot of drug-taking. Is this normal for British secondary schools these days? Either things have changed a lot since I was a teen or the people I knew were very boring. I knew people who occasionally smoked a bit of weed, but snorting stuff in the school toilets? Maybe it did happen and I just wasn’t cool enough to be aware of it. There’s also a sex scene, not described in graphic detail exactly, but not skipped over either. Definitely one for the older teen. I didn’t actually like most of the characters (except Biscuit the dog, obviously and maybe Hannah) but that didn’t matter. The bitchiness felt incredibly real to me (that I do remember from school – we may not have had hard core drugs but there was plenty of bullying!). The story kept me guessing. At one point I thought I knew what had happened, but when the storyline reached that outcome it continued and turned into something else. The final twist is something I have kind of seen before but I still wasn’t expecting it here. 4.5 stars.

Abandoned by Cody McFadyen. This was another re-read of a book I had no memory of. I first read it pre-Goodreads, so at least five years ago. FBI Special Agent Smoky Barrett, is at her colleague’s wedding when  a car pulls up, a woman is pushed out wearing only a white nightgown, and the car then speeds up. The woman is incoherent and a fingerprint check determines that she’s been missing for nearly eight years with no ransom demand, no witnesses and no suspects. As Smoky fits together the pieces, a chilling picture emerges of a cold, calculating and professional killer, who doesn’t take murder personally and never makes a mistake. This is decent detective style thriller. There was a bit in the middle with a computer expert that annoyed me – did you seriously just explain the concept of “lurking” in a chat room?! But apart from that it’s a well-written, fast-paced book. While reading I realised I had forgotten almost the entire plot – I only remembered the “twist” shortly before it was revealed. 4 stars.

The Little Grey Men by ‘B.B’. (Denys James Watkins-Pitchford). The last three gnomes in Britian live in Wrwickshire by a brook. There used to be four, but their brother Cloudberry went upstream to find the source and never returned. So Baldmoney, Sneezewort and Dodder decide to build a boat and go and look for him. This is the story of all their adventures. This is such a beautifully written book. It reminds me of such classics as The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers. Some of the nature elements also reminded me of Enid Blyton’s Cherry Tree Farm books. Parts of it were a bit slow, but you do find yourself rooting for the gnomes and worrying for their safety as they go through their adventures. There is some difficult vocabulary (some things even I didn’t understand) so for children it would probably be best as a book to be read aloud to them, or perhaps for a patient older child with a dictionary. I know I would have loved it as a child (and indeed did now as a grown-up lover of children’s stories). 5 stars. There is a sequel, Down the Bright Stream, which I would love to get my hands on.

This Secret We’re Keeping by Rebecca Done. Jessica Hart has never forgotten Matthew Landley. He was her first love when she was fifteen… and also her maths teacher. Their forbidden affair ended in scandal with him being arrested and imprisoned. Seventeen years later, Matthew is back in Norfolk, with a new identity and a long-term girlfriend and a young daughter who know nothing of his past. Yet when he runs into Jessica, neither of them can ignore the emotional ties that bind them. With so many secrets to keep hidden, how long can Jessica and Matthew avoid the dark mistakes of their past imploding in the present? Based on the cover and description, I expected this to be a thriller – either Matthew/Will getting revenge for being sent to prison or his girlfriend finding out and doing something evil. Instead, I think it’s meant to be a romance? It alternates between the present day, where Jess has a turbulent relationship with boyfriend Zac but still finds “Will” irresistible, and Matthew’s story from the past. I was probably supposed to feel some sympathy/understanding for past-Matthew, but every time he talked about having sex with Jessica all I could think was “SHE’S FIFTEEN!”. And if you truly loved her you would wait for her to grow up before taking things to the sexual level. None of his “she was just sooo sexy… I couldn’t possibly resist” stuff convinced me in any way. And yes, he’s only 10 years older than her, but 25 really isn’t that young. I mean, I obviously made bad decisions at that age but none of them were actually illegal. Anyway, this is a really well-written book but definitely makes for some uncomfortable reading. While I didn’t want Jess and Will to get back together, I HATED the current boyfriend, Zac. He was definitely not good for her, or in any way a good person. There’s also an infertility side story involving Jessica’s best friend, Anna, who it seems will basically try anything to get pregnant – mainly cutting out any kind of enjoyable food/drink, forcing her husband to do the same and constantly obsessing about what she’s doing wrong. That was hard for me to read… I hate it when infertile people are portrayed as crazy/selfish/unable to think about anything else, ever. I was also annoyed by the resolution to that story, but oh well. 4 stars for this one.

Going Down South by Bonnie Glover. When fifteen-year-old Olivia Jean finds herself in the “family way,” her mother, Daisy, decides that Olivia Jean can’t stay in New York and whisks her away to her grandmother’s farm in Alabama to have the baby – even though Daisy and her mother, Birdie, have been estranged for years. When they arrive, Birdie says that Olivia Jean can stay, but only if Daisy stays too. Furious, she complies. Now, three generations of spirited, proud women are forced to live together under one roof in the 1960s Deep South. Gradually secrets are revealed and the three begin to form something like a real family. This is a heart-warming book about three strong women from the same family. Even though it deals with many issues – racism, the treatment of unwed mothers, etc. – it somehow feels light rather than hard-hitting. It’s a well-written piece of historical fiction and I was entertained while reading it, but overall I just liked it rather than loving it. 3 stars.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. If Naomi had picked tails, she wouldn’t have had to go back for the yearbook camera, and she wouldn’t have fallen and hit her head on the steps. She wouldn’t have woken up in an ambulance with no memory of the last four years of her life. She would have remembered her boyfriend, Ace, and best friend, Will. She would know about her parents’ divorce and her mom’s new family. But she would also have never met James, the mysterious new boy at school who tells her he once wanted to kiss her. And she wouldn’t have wanted to kiss him back. But Naomi picked heads. I enjoyed this. Naomi isn’t always very nice but she IS a believable character and I did feel like she grew and changed by the end. I was genuinely interested to find out what would happen between all the characters and whether Naomi would end up forgiving her mum. 3.5 stars.

Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson. At the doors of a charming country church,  a wedding party are mown down by a gunman. A huge manhunt ensues. The culprit is captured. The story is over. Or is it? For Alan Banks, still struggling with a tragic loss of his own, there’s something wrong about this case — something doesn’t fit. Working with profiler Jenny Fuller, Banks delves deeper into the crime, unearthing long-buried secrets, until the truth is revealed. This is book 24 in a series apparently! I had never read any DI Banks books before, but a friend offered to lend me this one and it sounded good. It’s solid detective mystery. I didn’t guess who the killer was until the police pretty much knew as well. As with most series of this kind, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the previous books. Of course it is nice to have some background on the police characters but it’s really the current crime that’s important. Some people have taken a star off saying it’s not as good as other books in the series but luckily I didn’t have that problem 😉 I may read some other books in the series at some point but 23 is a bit of a commitment! 4.5 stars for this one.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. What goes up must come down, right? Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim get on board the London Eye, but when his pod comes down half an hour later, there is no Salim. He can’t have vanished into thin air, so where is he? Since the police are having no luck, it’s down to Ted and his older sister Kat to find out what happened. Despite their sometimes difficult relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London as they try to find their cousin. In the end it’s down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way (in his own words: it runs on a different operating system), to find the key to the mystery. is an interesting mystery. I did guess where Salim was about half way through (but then again, I’m not 10) and just hoped the book characters would in time. I really liked Ted and was so pleased at the end when everyone acknowledged that his different way of thinking saved the day. Kat and Ted’s sibling relationship felt very realistic. Ted is clearly on the autism spectrum and I can’t comment on how realistically that’s portrayed. 4.5 stars.

The Ice Garden by Guy Jones. Jess is allergic to the sun. She lives in a world of shadows and hospitals, having to cover every bit of her body whenever she leaves the house in daylight. One night she sneaks out to explore and discovers a beautiful impossibility: a magical garden made entirely of ice. Meanwhile, at the hospital, she “befriends” a boy in a coma to whom she reads her made-up stories. This is a beautiful book full of magic that’s all about friendship. Jess is a fantastic character even if she’s not always nice – I really felt for her mum even though I understood Jess’s frustration. I absolutely loved the idea of stories saving lives. The stories within the story were all excellent – if the author were to publish Jess’s “book of tales” as a companion to this I would definitely read it! 5 stars.

And that’s it for March. I was hoping to have another book to add here, but alas I didn’t manage to finish The Innocence of Father Brown. It will definitely feature next month though.

TL;DR: If you like YA read The Accident Season and Thirteen Minutes (but be aware that the latter contains drug-taking, sex and bad language), The Little Grey Men and The Ice Garden are excellent children’s books (or middle grade, if that’s what we’re calling them these days). I also enjoyed The London Eye Mystery but the portrayal of autism/Asperger’s Syndrome may or may not be accurate so proceed with caution. Read Abandoned and Sleeping in the Ground if you enjoy detective-led crime thrillers. The Trick to Time is beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful and well worth a read.

Check out the link up for more book recommendations!

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February 2019: The month with all the books

Hello friends! It’s Show Us Your Books day again with Jana and Steph, and I feel like I should warn you in advance that this one is going to be long. February may have been a short month, but I managed to read a whopping 21 books, which I think might be the most ever in a month. Six of those were read in a single weekend, when I took part in the first ever Show Us Your Books readathon (and also my own very first readathon). So I’d better stop chatting and get on with the books. I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. Some of these books were read for the bonus round of Erin’s challenge, so I will put the category in brackets after the author. For the bonus round you get extra points for reading books that somebody else chose in the first round, so I read a few I may not have otherwise.

If you can’t be bothered to read all 21 synopses/reviews, skip to the end for a TL;DR.

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Apartment 16 by Adam Neville. I started this on the flight back from England and finished the last few pages the next day. In Barrington House, an upmarket block in London, there is an empty apartment. No one has gone in or out for 50 years – until Seth, the night watchman, hears noises and decides to investigate. What he finds will change his life forever. Meanwhile, a young American woman, Apryl, has inherited an apartment in Barrington House from her mysterious Great Aunt Lillian who died in strange circumstances. Rumour has it Lillian was mad, but her diary suggests she was implicated in a horrific and inexplicable event decades ago. Apryl starts to investigate and discovers that an evil force still haunts the building, and it all centres around apartment 16. This book started off well. It’s very atmospheric and creepy. But it almost felt like too much was going on. Apryl’s story (and Lillian’s) would have been enough without adding in Seth’s as well. Also, this is slightly petty, but the spelling “Apryl” really irritated me. It held my attention through 2 flights though, so 3.5 stars.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Samuel W. Westing is dead and sixteen people have been gathered for the reading of his will. And thus begins a bizarre game. The will turns out to be a contest – working in pairs, the group has to figure out who among them murdered Samuel Westing. Whoever gets the right answer wins his fortune. This book is an absolute delight. I would have given it 5 stars as a child. As a an adult I wished it had been longer and some of the characters had been fleshed out more. 4 stars. Maybe 4.5.

Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor. Seventeen-year-old Kettle has not had it easier. An an orphaned Japanese American, he is struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to — the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”. Now things are finally looking up – he has a hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys. Naive 18-year old Nora is desperate to run away from her violent father, a civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie. When Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window. This book is utterly heart breaking. The awful things humans do to each other, fathers to their children and powerful groups to minorities. Nora and Kettle are both such strong characters and the way Nora cared for her sister was both beautiful and devastating. There is a follow-up to this and I truly hope things work out well for all the characters in book 2. (Except Nora’s dad. I hope nothing goes well for him ever again). 5 stars.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (challenge category: read a book with a six-word title). Every day at 11 p.m., Eveyln Hardcastle will die at a party thrown by her parents. Unless, that is, Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. The only problem is that Aiden wakes up in the body of a different party guest every day. Some of his hosts are more helpful than others. Evelyn has already been murdered hundreds of times – can Aiden prevent it this time around? I got this book for Christmas and was dying to read it, so I pleased to see it had previously been chosen for this challenge. It’s Clue meets Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie, which sounds bizarre but is actually really fun. I loved it! 5 stars.

Whizziwig and Whizziwig Returns by Malorie Blackman. This was published as two separate books, but I read the omnibus edition. Whizziwig, a small, furry alien, was on her way to visit her aunt when she crash-landed on Ben’s wardrobe. Once Ben recovers from the shock, he’s delighted to learn that Whizziwig is a “wish giver” and she needs to grant wishes in order to repair her ship. Unfortunately Whizziwig can only grant accidental wishes, and they have to be made for someone else. Naturally chaos then ensues! I remembered seeing a TV series of this in the 90s, but had no idea it was a book, so when I discovered it I obviously had to read it. This is very much a children’s book so the wishes are pretty harmless – things like wishing someone was a little lighter only for them to float up to the ceiling. Whizziwig causes a lot of chaos but she’s also a lot of fun (as long as you’re not on the receiving end of a wish!). It’s possible that the nostalgia factor played a part in my 4-star rating, but I’m sticking with it.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (challenge category: freebie). It’s the 1920s and childless couple Jack and Mabel have recently moved to Alaska to start a new life. But things are tough out there, and they are drifting apart – he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. Gradually, Jack and Mabel come to know and love the little girl – Faina – who seems to be a child of the woods. The writing in this book is magical and poetic and I was captivated throughout most of the book. But I feel like I just didn’t get the ending. I can’t tell you what happened though or I will spoil it! Also, Mabel lost a child to stillbirth many years before and the sections where she was grieving her baby were hard for me to read. I gave it 4 stars in the end.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay (challenge category: set in Europe). Anotoine Rey thought he had the perfect 40th birthday surprise for his sister, Mélanie a weekend on Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach. A place they hadn’t returned to since their mother died 30 years before. But along with the happy memories, the island reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and disturbing about their last island summer. When she tries to tell Antoine what she’s remembered on the drive home, she loses control of the car and crashes. Now Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children. How well does he really know his mother, his children, or even himself? I chose this from the list of previously chosen books because I recognised the author’s name – Sarah’s Key has been on my to-read list for ages. This one started off well but in the end it was somehow lacking. The writing is a little clunky and I couldn’t connect with the main character. At the beginning he seemed whiny and sorry for himself. Then he meets a love interest starts to read like a horny old man – even though he’s only supposed to be in his 40s. At one point something bad happens and he literally thinks to himself “I’m glad I’m a man and can lose myself in imagining how it would feel to touch this beautiful woman I just met’s breasts instead of thinking of the bad thing”. And the secret isn’t at all shocking for today’s standards. 3 stars. I still want to read Sarah’s Key though.

Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayer’s. Mary is an eight-year-old orphan who lives with her granpa, but after he is mixed up in a robbery at the bookies where he works, they flee to the Isle of Skye. Gradually, Mary realises that her granpa is involved. And the robbers are coming after him–and their money. I absolutely loved this. Mary’s a fantastic character and I loved seeing the world through her eyes. Mary and her Granpa’s relationship is so adorable – reading about him from her perspective means you can’t help but like him even though, as a reader, it’s obvious that not everything he does is right. This book is both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and I gave it 5 stars. A wonderful debut – I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author.

Consumed by Abbie Rushton. Myla used to love long, hot summer days at the beach. Until her sister was taken and murdered two years ago. Since then, cripping agoraphobia and panic attacks have kept Myla confined to the house. Jamie is new in town and also struggles with things most people find easy – nobody understands why it’s so hard for him to eat. When their respective guardians bring them together, the two gradually begin to trust each other. Are they willing to reveal their secrets and start facing up to things, or will they allow the past to consume them? This is a quick read – I finished it in two hours – and I was totally engrossed throughout, but it does have some weaknesses. The two characters’ struggles felt realistic and were well written but it felt like things were resolved too easily. Even without having ever experienced agoraphobia it felt like Myla made it out too easily. On the other hand she needed to leave the house for the resolution to happen. Maybe if the book had been longer and built her outings up more gradually it would have been more believable. On the other hand the mystery sucked me and I didn’t guess the killer. I also enjoyed Myla and Jamie’s relationship and appreciated that it went relatively slowly. Despite its flaws, I did like it so I’m giving it 4 stars.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (challenge category: read a book that’s been turned into a film). Believe it or not, I had literally no idea what this was about before I read it – and my copy was a 10-year anniversary of the film edition, so instead of a synopsis the back cover just had a letter from Nicholas Sparks. An old man reads to a woman from a faded notebook, a morning ritual that she doesn’t understand. The story he tells is of thirty-one, Noah Calhoun, back home in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. Unable to find her, yet unwilling to forget the summer they spent together, Noah is content to live with only memories. . . until she unexpectedly returns to his town to see him one last time. Twenty-nine year old socialite Allie Nelson is now engaged to a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. With her impending marriage only weeks away, Allie needs to make a choice about her future. For the first half of this book I was sure it was going to be a three-star read. The writing feels very simple and the story of young lovers was cute enough but felt generic. Then the second part was beautiful. I mean, it’s incredibly cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is okay. Not sure I’ll read it again but I rounded by 3.5 stars up to 4.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). I started this book, read about 20 pages, then put it down and read three other books before picking it up again and almost finishing it on the train to and from work. This is a classic and you may already know the plot, so I’ll be brief. Two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, each fall in love only to find that the man the admire is engaged to another. Marianne immediately goes into deep mourning while Elinor tries to hide her pain from those she loves to avoid making them unhappy too. This was hard to read at times just because of the old-fashioned language and I felt like it took me forever, but it’s a really good book. Jane Austen could certainly write. I love the sisterly relationship between Elinor and Marianne. There are a few funny lines in there as well. 4 stars.

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a different language). The boy has spent his whole life underground, in a basement with his mother, father, grandmother, sister and brother. His family were disfigured in a fire before he was born. His sister wears a surgical mask to cover her burns. He spends his days with his cactus, tracking the beam of sunlight that comes in through a crack in the ceiling, or reading his book on insects. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before he was born and why they can’t leave the basement. This book is so disturbing! It book started really well. I was sucked in and needed to know what was happening. Why was everyone in the basement? Then there’s a major reveal/twist the writing changes to third person POV, which makes sense because the boy can’t tell the story of before he was born, but it also felt like the tone of the book changed at that point and it almost felt like an intrusion, although it was good to finally get some answers. Then came the ending and I HATED it. I can’t say why though because spoilers. I was genuinely sucked in by the rest of the story though and the writing/translation are excellent so 4 stars. Read this if you are intrigued, but be warned there are lots of disturbing things that I can’t tell you about without spoiling it.

The next six books are the ones I read for the readathon (minus about 20 pages of the first one since I started it the night before).

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Terra Cooper is tall, blonde and has an amazing body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her “flawed” face with its large birthmark. Terra secretly plans to leave her small town in the Northwest and escape to a college on the East Coast, but her controlling father puts an end to that. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in the path of Jacob, a quirky goth, he immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, forcing her in yet another direction. Will Terra ever find her true path? This was okay. It’s cute and there’s a map theme running through it, which is interesting but the “beauty is skin deep” and “be true to yourself” message is kind of obvious. Generic YA that passes the time fine. 3 stars.

 

I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson. Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy ad is confined to a wheelchair, unable to move or communicate. Her family and carer have to do everything for her. She has a sharp brain and knows all sorts of things, she just can’t express them. When somebody tells Jemma a terrible secret, then someone close to her goes missing too, she is utterly powerless to do anything about it. But that may be about to change… I thoroughly enjoyed this. Jemma is a well-written character. I found myself getting frustrated along with her. The mystery aspect was good but I actually found that I was more interested in reading about Jemma’s everyday life with her carer and foster siblings. 5 stars.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she begins to reflect on past events – both recent weeks and from her younger years, and particularly her friendship with her best friend Elsie. Recently, a charming new resident has arrived and Florence thinks she recognises him. The only problem, is the person she thinks he is died sixty years ago. Is a horrifying secret from her past about to be revealed? This is an adorable book, so heart-warming. I enjoyed seeing the characters try to solve the mystery of the new resident. Poor Florence just wanted to be taken seriously, but since she obviously has Alzheimers people mostly just assumed she was confused, even when she wasn’t. There were a few parts that quite didn’t hold my attention so that I wasn’t 100% wowed by it but overall it’s a wonderful story and beautifully written. 4 stars.

The Last Secret (Scarlet and Ivy book 6) by Sophie Cleverly. Scarlet and Ivy are back at Rookwood school for what could be their final term. The school is in danger of closure, and they will have to confront old enemies and uncover more secrets if they are to have a chance of saving it. I think the fact that I have already read this book is a testament to how much I’ve enjoyed this series – it’s rare that I read books in the year they came out, even rarer for me to have read a book from the current year when it’s still only February! This was a wonderful end to the story. It was good to have a resolution to the story of Scarlet and Ivy’s home life as well. I’m a little sad to be leaving Rockwood School behind but can’t wait to see what Sophie Cleverly does next. 4 stars.

Day of the Dead by Nicci French. Another final book in a series – this is number 7 of the Freida Klein books. On a north London high street, a runaway vehicle crashes into a shop window. The man in the driving seat turns out to have been murdered a week earlier. On Hampstead Heath, a bonfire blazes; in the flames the next victim. A serial killer runs amok in the capital, playing games with the police. But this is no ordinary criminal. He has a message for one specific person – psychologist Frieda Klein, who has gone into hiding. An old adversary wants her to know he’s coming for her. A worthy ending to this series. New character Lola is flipping annoying and I wanted to shake her. Josef  is wonderful, as ever. It was good to see things resolved. Maybe not everything was tied up with a neat little bow but that’s okay. I am satisfied with how it ended. 4 stars.

Instructions for a Second-hand Heart by Tamsyn Murray. Jonny has spent every day in hospital. He has a faulty heart and his time is running out. But for him to get a new heart, someone else has to die. That someone turns out to be Niamh’s twin brother, who lost his life in a tragic accident. When Leo was alive, all Niamh wanted was for him and his perfection to go away. Now he actually has gone she has no idea how to cope. When Jonny walks into her life, he initially just wants to find out about Leo, the first owner of his heart. He doesn’t plan on falling in love. is such a sad book. I really felt for Niamh, trying to deal with grief while at the same time feeling guilty about not liking her brother more. The family relationships and different ways they all deal with Leo’s death are really well written. Johnny’s story was also good although I found his relationship with Niamh a little creepy – I could understand why he tracked her down but he should have told the truth sooner. I would also have preferred them to stay friends. The romance felt forced and unnecessary. It’s a really well written book though, and genuinely moving at times. Also, I recently learned that this genre is apparently known as “sick lit”, so that’s weird. 4 stars.

How It All Began by Penelope Lively. When Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, she has to move in with her daughter, Rose for a while. As a result Rose can’t accompany her employer, Lord Peters, to Manchester so his niece, Marion goes instead, leading her to send a text message to her lover Jeremy. Unfortunately, said message is intercepted by Jeremy’s wife, Stella. And thus begins a life-altering chain of events for all our characterss. This is an interesting concept, how one incident has a ripple effect on many people’s lives. I enjoyed some stories more than others. I couldn’t have cared less about Jeremy and Stella or Marion. Charlotte’s story was interesting, and I liked her student, Anton. 3.5 stars. Good but not great.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid (challenge category: read a book that is another participant’s friend or family member’s favourite book). Finally my last book for Erin’s challenge arrived! At age twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in various cities and had countless pointless jobs since graduating college. Now, after breaking up with her married lover, she’s moving back to her home city of Los Angeles to live in her best friend Gabby’s guest room. One night, Gabby arranges a get-together with old friends, where Hannah runs into her high-school boyfriend, Ethan. At midnight Gabby wants to leave and Hannah has to decide whether to go too or stay with Ethan. From that point on, two concurrent storylines tell the tale of what happens to Hannah if she makes each decision, quickly diverging into two very different lives. This book is cute and fun. It’s interesting to think about how one decision can affect the way your life turns out. This is billed as a romance but I actually thought it was more about friendship. Hannah does end up with a love interest in each story, but the really central relationship for me was Hannah and Gabby’s friendship. There is a dog in one of the time lines who I looooved. She was honestly my favourite character in the book. 4 stars.

The World According to Garp by John Irving. Jenny Fields is a nurse who isn’t a particular fan of men. However, she does want a child, so she goes about getting herself pregnant by… let’s say unconventional means. As a result, T.S. Garp, known to all as just Garp, is born. And this book is his life story, from conception through to adulthood. This is a weird book. It’s mostly about sex. And lust. Parts of it are very dark, parts are amusing and others are just plain bizarre, but somehow it’s always captivating. I wasn’t expecting to love it but I actually did. 5 stars. Definitely not one for everyone though.

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you will be very pleased to know that, although I started one other book in February, I didn’t finish it. That one will hopefully be included in my March roundup – although I keep having to put it down because it includes a secondary storyline about infertility and that’s not something I constantly need reminding of.

And as promised, here’s a TL;DR: I highly recommend Nora and Kettle, I Have No Secrets and Three Things about Elsie. Read Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart if stories about sick teens are your thing. The Light of the Fireflies is well-written but be aware that there are lots of disturbing elements. I don’t want to spoil it, so basically if you can think of a thing that would put you off a book (along the lines of violence, sexual stuff, etc.) you should probably stay clear.

And that, finally, is that. Check out the link up for even more book talk!

What I read in January 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I read in December 2018

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

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

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

Forget Me Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come join the link up for even more book talk!

The Book Review of 2018

This is the third year that I’ve done this post. I got it from Kezzie, who got it from somebody else, and I recently found out that the original (with slightly different categories) was created by The Perpetual Page Turner in something like 2010. So, in my third year of doing, this I’m finally giving credit to the creator and linking up with her. Also, killing two birds with one stone and linking this up with Jana and Steph for “Show Us Your Favourite Books of the Year”.

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Without further ado, let’s get on with it.

Best book you read in 2018:

This is always such a hard question. So many good books… how do I pick a favourite? I’ve narrowed it down to two: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard.

Best children’s fiction:

I absolutely loved A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder. There are others I could choose, but I feel like not many people know this one.

Best crime fiction:

Sunday Morning Coming Down by Nicci French. There’s one more book left in this series, which I own but I kind of don’t want to read it because once I do it’s all over. *Sigh*

Best classic:

I haven’t read a lot of classics this year, but I really enjoyed We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

Best non-fiction:

Given that I’ve only actually read two non-fiction books this year, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli wins by default. Luckily I did actually like it.

Best dystopian fiction:

I didn’t actually read much dystopian fiction this year. I think Cloud 9 by Alex Campbell counts as dystopian?

Best YA:

I’ve read  a lot of YA this year, and a lot of good ones as well, which makes this difficult, but I’m going to say Am I Normal Yet by Holly Bourne.

Most surprising (in a good way) book read in 2018:

Katherine by Anya Seton. It’s on the BBC Big Read list but I had been putting it off for ages thinking I had no interest in the goings on of royals and their lovers. I was surprised to find I actually really enjoyed it.

Book You Read In 2018 That You Recommended Most To Others:

Does buying books for people count as “recommending”? If so then definitely  The Everything Machine by Ally Kennen. I gave it to me friend for her birthday, my little brother for Christmas and also sent it to a PostPals child.

Best series you discovered in 2018:

The Scarlet and Ivy series by Sophie Cleverly. I have read some other good first books in series, but I’m reserving judgement on whether the entire series is good until I’ve read more 😉

Favourite new to you author you discovered in 2018:

Both the books I chose for the first question were by new to me authors, but in the interest of not repeating myself I shall say Frances Hardinge. I loved The Lie Tree.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love But Didn’t

The Humans by Matt Haig. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike it, but I was somehow expecting more.

Best Book That Was Out Of Your Comfort Zone Or Was A New Genre To You

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh is definitely a new genre to me… what genre even is it? Answers on a postcard…

Book You Read In 2018 That You’re Most Likely To Read Again In 2019:

As I say every year, it is highly unlikely that I will re-read a book again so soon. A book I read in 2018 that am likely to re-read at some point in the future is The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.

Favourite Book You Read in 2018 by an Author You’ve Read Previously:

This was harder than I expected… I’ve actually read a lot of new-to-me authors this year.  Umm, The Witch of Demon Rock by Gabrielle Kent (book 3 in the Alfie Bloom series). That was a good one. I want her to write a book 4.

Best Book You Read In 2018 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

If “someone else had it on their list for Erin’s reading challenge” counts as a recommendation then The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.

Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2018:

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terrie. Look how pretty it is!

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Book That Had The Greatest Impact On You In 2018:

Alice and the Fly by James Rice. It’s so dark and disturbing… definitely not for the faint of  heart… but so, so good. Definitely one that stayed with me for a while after I finished it.

Book You Can’t BELIEVE You Waited Until 2018 To Read:

I didn’t exactly wait until 2018 to read it – that implies a level of intent that just wasn’t there – but I can’t believe it took me this long to discover From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler! Seemingly it’s a children’s classic but I managed to go through my entire childhood without ever having heard of it! (Admittedly it’s American and we mostly had books by British authors – apart from Little Women – but I never found it at the library either and they had loads of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books). Anyway, it’s really cute and if, like me, you’ve been living under a rock, you should read it.

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, specifically the ending. I put the book down and literally said “What the hell” out loud to the empty room. What even was that? I am still shook  and wanting the ending not to have been real – and I read this book all the way back in March!

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2018 (be it romantic, friendship, etc)

Lexie and her cousin Eleni in What Lexie Did by Emma Shevah. They’re not even speaking for half the book but still their relationship is so, so precious.

Most Memorable Character In A Book You Read In 2018:

This is always a difficult one, but maybe Demi from Whisper by Chrissie Keighery.

Genre You Read The Most From in 2018:

I don’t actually know. I read a lot of YA, but that’s not a genre whatever people seem to think! YA contemporary I guess? (Although “contemporary” feels like a cop-out as well… set in modern times. Well, yes, but surely a thriller can also be contemporary?). Ha, how’s that for a non-answer?

Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2018:

Trying to avoid repeating the same books… The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop was fun, and I wanted The Book Emporium to be real.

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2018:

I cry a lot when I read, to the point that if I read a supposedly sad book and don’t cry I rate it down on Goodreads. But one I remember making me cry this year was Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt.

Book You Read in 2018 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out:

The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner. I can’t remember how I found it, but I definitely hadn’t seen anyone else mention it. And although it came out in 2015, it only has 768 ratings on Goodreads. 768 ratings in 3 years! It’s a really enjoyable book that deserves more attention.

Total books read in 2018 (so far): 164

Despite the fact that I am part-way through several books, I started another one last night – well, it’s set at Christmas so how could I not? I’m hoping to at the very least finish that one before the year ends, and maybe one more.

And, just because Goodreads tells me and I like statistics, the longest book I read in 2018 was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, which has 964 pages and the shortest was Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones (bought for my little cousin’s birthday) with 32 pages.
The first book I read in 2018 was The Lost Twin, book one in the Scarlet and Ivy series and as of right now, the last book I read was Plain Jane by Kim Hood (although that will soon change).

I know this was a long post, so if you actually read all of it you are amazing! If you decide to answer the questions, let me know so I can come and be nosy. And also add your link to The Perpetual Page Turner’s post.

Also stop by the Show Us Your Books link up to discover everyone’s favourite books of 2018.

 

What I read in November 2018

Hello friends! It’s Show Us Your Books day again with Jana and Steph, and in November I managed to read ten whole books! Slightly better than October’s four…. even if one of them was a picture book. Anyway, let’s just get started…

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Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley. I’ve had this book for a while but for some reason didn’t want to pick it up. This is book 8 in the Flavia de Luce series. I can’t say too much without spoiling the previous books, but Flavia is back from her brief stay in Canada and, as usual, wherever Flavia goes death has usually gone before… This one took me a little longer to get into than some of the others, but once I got past the first couple of chapters it was nice to be back in Flavia’s world. I only gave this one 3.5 stars though… something about the mystery was lacking and Flavia seemed to miss the obvious in her sleuthing. There are two more books to go, so hopefully the next one will be back to the usual standard! And I do highly recommend reading the other books in the series.

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders. I can’t remember how I found this book, but as soon as I did I knew I had to read it based purely on the title. I mean, how fun does it sound? And fun it was! Lily and Oz Spoffard’s family has just inherited a house with a mysterious boarded-up chocolate shop on the ground floor. The twins’ ancestors were famous chocolate-makers and their chocolate was anything but ordinary. In fact, it was magical! Now an evil gang is after the secret recipe, and it’s up to Lily and Oz to stop them. The fate of their family and the world depends on it! This is a fantastic book It has everything my ten-year-old heart would have wanted. Mystery, adventure, talking animals (Demerara the cat is wonderful), magic hiding right there in plain sight. There’s a LOT going on and it almost felt like it needed to be longer to give more time to get to know the characters, or maybe it should have been part of a series and some of the many adventures could have been in a second book. Overall it was a really fun read and I definitely recommend it. 4 stars.

Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones. Ah, now we come to the picture book. I bought this for my little cousin’s birthday present so of course I had to read it first 😉 Izzy Gizmo loves to invent things, but somehow it never works out quite the way she wants. When she finds a crow with a broken wing, she really wants to help. She tries and tries to build him a new pair of wings, but something always goes wrong. Can Izzy overcome her failures and help her new friend? This is a lovely story about never giving up. I loved the names of Izzy’s inventions, and most of all I loved the crow. 4 stars.

Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder. Rebecca is not happy when her mother suddenly leaves her father and drags Rebecca and her little brother to their grandmother’s house in another state. While avoiding the rest of the family, Rebecca discovers a magical breadbox that will give her anything she wishes for… as long as it fits inside. As always with wishes, there’s a catch and suddenly the bread box starts making life more difficult. And anyway, the thing she really wants (her family back together) won’t fit in a bread box… I really liked this book. Rebecca is a believable and relatable character. At times I felt really sorry for her. I enjoyed the combination of magic and everyday – the breadbox story felt like part of the story rather than being a separate adventure. Even with access to magic, Rebecca still had to deal with her real-life problems. 4 stars.

Why the Whales Came by Michael Murpugo. Gracie and her friend Daniel have always been warned to stay away from the Birdman and his side of the island, but when they go there anyway they discover he’s not what they thought and develop a lovely friendship with him. When the children get stranded on Samson Island they don’t know whether to believe the Birdman’s story that the island is cursed. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a child – a story of everyday children doing normal things, but with a hint of suspense thrown in (is there *really* such thing as curses? And who is the Birdman anyway?). Michael Morpurgo is an excellent writer – there are some great descriptions in the book. 4 stars.

The Girl in 6E by A. R. Torre. Deanna Madden hasn’t left her apartment for three years. To earn money, she works for a sex site under the name Jessica Reilly, stripping and performing sexual acts on camera for her clients, who pay $6.99 a minute for her time. The money is piling up in the bank, she’s one of the site’s most popular cam girls and she hasn’t killed anyone in years. But when Deanna sees on the news that a little girl called Annie has gone missing, she realises the scenario is uncomfortably similar to the dark fantasies of one of her clients. She’s convinced he’s responsible for the girl’s abduction – but no one will listen to her. So, she finally decides to leave the apartment… This book is how I was hoping Darkly Dreaming Dexter would be (except obviously without the cam girl part). I didn’t love every single thing but I was gripped for most of it. I will definitely pick up the sequel. 4 stars.

When I Was Me by Hilary Freeman. Ella wakes up one morning to find that she’s not herself. She looks different, her friends are not her friends (and the people she thought were her friends don’t seem to know her), and she’s taking different subjects at college. And yet, nobody else thinks that anything weird has happened. The concept of this book was really interesting, but I found the main character really annoying! Obviously her situation is difficult to deal with, but she was horrible to basically everyone. She clearly thought her original life was far superior to the one she had found herself in and spent the entire book looking down on “other Ella’s” friends. I kept reading because I really did want to know what was going on and the final chapters were interesting, but I found the solution to Ella’s “problem” (for want of a better word) somewhat disturbing. 3.5 stars.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thomson. Every time Molly Southbourne bleeds, a new Molly is created, identical to her in every way and intent on destroying her. Oh yeah, and that includes when she has her period. Molly has to kill or be killed, and her parents taught her well. But no matter how well she follows the rules, eventually the mollys will find her. Can Molly find a way to stop the tide of blood, or will she meet her end at the hand of a girl who looks exactly like her? This is a short and very strange book but surprisingly good. It’s creepy and the brief glimpses into the world Molly lives in are intriguing – there seems to be something dystopian about it? But there wasn’t enough detail to be sure. I enjoyed it anyway. 4 stars.

Decked by Carol Higgins Clark. If you’re wondering whether this author is related to Mary Higgins Clark, the answer is yes… Mary is Carol’s mother. Anyway, the book. P.I. Regan Reilly is attending a class reunion in England (from what I gather, she and some other Americans spent a year in some kind of college there? I didn’t really get that part). When the body of her former room mate, who disappeared ten years ago, is found, Regan wants to investigate, but instead is committed to a transatlantic cruise. As it turns out, the clues to the mystery follow her on board. This was an okay book, but just okay. There are way too many characters so parts of it just ended up being confusing. It read like a strange mash-up of a thriller and a traditional cosy mystery. The supposed investigator was a bit useless really – the synopsis made it sound like she was at least aware of the danger she was in but actually she was totally oblivious. A quick read that passed the time alright but I won’t bother continuing the series. 3 stars.

You Can’t Make Me Go to Witch School by Em Lynas. When Daisy Wart’s grandmother drops her off at a boarding school for witches, she is furious. No matter what anyone says, she is convinced she is not a witch but is “ac-chew-ally” an actress who really, really needs to return to her old primary school to perform her Bottom. This is a really quirky, fun book perfect for fans of The Worst Witch. Although the constant “ac-chew-allys” drove me slightly mad (what? You didn’t think I was the one that came up with that, did you?). 4 stars. There are two more books in this series, although I’m not sure yet whether I’ll read those.

I also started three other books but didn’t finish them, so hopefully I’ll get round to those in December. I’m in the office tomorrow, so four hours of train time should hopefully allow me to get at least one book finished!

What have you been reading lately? Anything good?
There will be Favourites of 2018 Special SUYB on 26 December, so I’ll be looking forward to that. In the mean time, go here to check out the last regular link up of the year!

What I read in September and October 2018

I didn’t read much in October… which isn’t really surprising given how the month started. It took me until the 14th to stop feeling weak and dizzy from a combination of low iron and (I’m told) hormones still going haywire, then I was back at work on the 16th, which was okay but working eight hours left me feeling exhausted for the first few weeks. That said, I didn’t actually take part in Show Us Your Books last time (which is a shame since it was the 4-year anniversary, but I just wasn’t in the frame of mind for it plus the aforementioned dizziness wasn’t really compatible with screen time) so I still have all of September’s books to review. So I’ll just get on with it shall I?

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September books

Looking for Alaska by John Green. Miles “Pudge” Halter is fed up with his sad life at home and being a total outcast at his school, so he persuades his parents to send him to boarding school, where he meets Alaska who is apparently the girl of his dreams… gorgeous, intelligent, daring… and completely self-destructive. I found this book okay… but just okay. I didn’t particularly like the main character – for someone who had no friends at his old school Miles is awfully judgemental. I was probably supposed to feel sorry for Alaska, and yes her situation was sad, but she was just too clichéd and quite frankly a really horrible person. A quick read and I didn’t hate it, but I won’t read it again. 2.5 stars.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. I suppose most people know this story so I won’t describe it here. Personally, I thought the scariest thing about this book wasn’t the weird goings in but the supposedly caring husband who is willing to do literally anything  for the sake of his acting career. Ugh. It’s well written but I preferred The Stepford Wives. 3 stars for this one.

Of Bees and Mist by Erick SetiawanMeridia grows up in a lonely home, neglected by her mother and hated by her father, who avoids her as much as he can. At 16, she meets and falls in love with Daniel. Soon, they marry, and Meridia can finally escape to live with her charming husband’s family… who turn out to be not so charming after all. This was a weird book. Some parts I loved, others felt odd or pointless. Meridia’s mother in law was like a literal caricature of a villain. She seemed to have literally no redeeming features whatsoever. Very one-dimensional. Overall, this passed the time well and I liked it but I won’t be adding it to my favourites. 3 stars.

What Lexie Did by Emma Shevah. Lexie lives in London with her Greek-Cypriot family, and her best friend is her cousin Eleni, who has a heart condition. After their grandmother dies, Lexie tells a terrible lie that splits the family apart. It’s up to her to bring the family back together, but after everything how can she find a way to tell the truth? is a really enjoyable book. I loved the multi-cultural aspect with a Greek-Cypriot girl growing up in London. Lexie is a fantastic character – flawed but well-meaning – and the friendship between her and Eleni is wonderful. A lovely middle grade book that I thoroughly recommend. 4.5 stars.

Greetings from Somewhere Else by Monica McInerney. Lainey Byrne is an expert at juggling the chaos of a demanding job, her chef boyfriend (who she hardly sees) and her crazy family. But then her Aunt May dies and in order to collect their inheritance one member of the Byrne family has to spend a year running Aunt May’s B&B back in Ireland. They really need the money since her dad isn’t working after being in an accident some time before, and apparently Lainey is the only one who can possibly drop everything for a year. I’d had this book on my shelf for years and couldn’t remember whether I’d actually read it so I decided to give it a go. It turns out I had read it before – at least a few parts seemed vaguely familiar – but obviously it wasn’t very memorable. I didn’t really like Lainey – she really was bossy and self-centred, and hated the idea that anyone other than her could sort out anything. Her best friend in Ireland, Eva, was my favourite character. Overall it’s a pleasant enough read but very forgettable. 3 stars.

The Night Garden by Lisa van Allen. In upstate New York, Olivia Pennywort cares for the family farm and the incredible garden maze at its centre. According to local legend, visitors to the gardens can gain answers to their problems just by walking through them. But the gardens have never helped Olivia, She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harbouring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But then her childhood best friend returns to the valley and Olivia starts to wonder whether she could, at last, let somebody in. This reads like a fairytale for grown-ups – Olivia, who is apparently incredibly beautiful, literally lives in a tower and there is even a scene with an axe-wielding man having to rescue somebody. There were some beautiful descriptions that made me really want to visit the garden, but some parts seemed wordy and long-winded. Olivia’s dad was selfish and annoying. Overall it’s a pleasant way to pass the time but it’s quite “fluffy” and I feel like more could have been made of the story. 3 stars.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. Mia Winchell seems like a typical teen, but she’s keeping a secret. Sounds, words and numbers have a colour for her. No one knows, and Mia wants to keep it that way, but when it starts causing her problems at school Mia is forced to finally reveal her secret and learn to accept her condition. I started off liking this book, then after a certain point I didn’t but at the end I did again, which makes it really hard to review. I enjoyed the story of Mia trying to figure out who she is and embrace her differences, but was annoyed with her parents, who immediately started blaming each other for what they perceived to be “wrong” with Mia. Halfway through, Mia suddenly became boy crazy, which seemed unnecessary to me – the growing up and dealing with being different was enough of a storyline. Some people have said this story isn’t a good depiction of synaesthesia… I wouldn’t know about that and am disappointed if it’s true because I find synaesthesia fascinating and that was one of the aspects of the book I really liked. However, those reviewers who doubted it would be something kids would be teased for make me wonder whether they have ever actually been children? Kids/teens are cruel and will definitely make fun of anything that’s even a little bit different – or maybe that was just at my school? Anyway, I gave this one 3 stars.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. As the youngest daughter, Tita has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to spend her life looking after her mother. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, who in desperation marries her sister so that he can be close to her. Tita, in turn, pours all her feelings into the food she cooks, which has strange effects on all who eat it. This is a really odd book! Not bad by any means, but strange. At times I felt like I didn’t fully understand it. I did enjoy reading it though – it’s well-written and absorbing, very sensual. And I loved the descriptions of food. 4 stars.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen. This is the sequel to Garden Spells, which I really enjoyed. It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and as temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women become restless. Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Although they are selling well, the business is costing the everyday joys of her family and causing her to doubt her belief in her gifts. Meanwhile, Sydney Waverley is desperate for a baby, a namesake for husband Henry. But the more she tries – and fails – the more desperate she gets. Finally, Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to. If only she could find a way to make him see it too… In amongst all this, a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family. Somehow, the Waverley sisters need to find a way to hold the family together until first frost, when everything will be okay again. didn’t enjoy this as much as Garden Spells. It was just as well written, but it had a different kind of feel for me. Garden Spells is comforting, like a cosy blanket. This one felt less whimsical and more tense. It was nice to catch up with the Waverley family though and Sarah Addison Allen is, as always, an excellent writer. 3.5 stars.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back. So she’s understandably confused when an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage seems like the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her former best friend. But something goes horribly wrong, secrets are uncovered and the past finally catches up with Nora. I read this in one sitting – I was so intrigued to find out what was going on and who had done what. I was annoyed by almost all the characters though. Especially Nora whose entire life was apparently ruined by a relationship when she was a teenager. Clare I think was actually supposed to be unlikeable, but I’m not even sure what the point of Melanie was. It was very tense though and all the twists and turns definitely kept me interested. 4 stars, but a low 4 stars (too good to be only 3!).

So, ten books read in September, but not the best reading month since the majority were 3-star reads. None of them were really terrible, but the majority were just okay.

October books

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. This book had been on my shelf for ages until I decided to take it with me when I went to the hospital for the second time with spotting. I ended up being admitted, and read this on the Thursday while hooked up to an iron drip. When Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she doesn’t just want to run from somewhere, she wants to run to somewhere, so she chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing her younger brother Jamie has money, which will be needed, she invites him along. While hiding out at the museum, Claudia and Jamie find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue purchased at auction for a bargain price of $225. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master, Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions… or is it? Claudia is determined to find out, a quest that leads her to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the old woman who sold the statue to the museum. This is such a cute, fun book. I loved Claudia and Jamie. Their personalities and concerns seemed very realistic and I enjoyed their adventure. I can see why this is considered a classic. 5 stars.

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard. Elvia Carr has a “Condition” (most likely some form of autism) and according to her mother is useless – incapable of interacting with the rest of society or looking after herself. But when her mother has a stroke, Elvira is forced to do just that. In an effort to cope with the world, she comes up with seven social rules to help her fit in. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that most people don’t live their lives according to the rules, leading to awkward encounters and a few unpleasant situations. But through it all Elvira keeps learning about herself and the people around her, knowledge that will help her navigate her way through a confusing world. I loved this book! I adored Elvira from the very first page. She has such a distinctive voice and her descriptions of the way her mother treated her made me want to give her a hug and tell her she’s most definitely NOT useless – as she proved again and again throughout the book. There are some dark moments and Elvira encounters some not very nice people, but there are also some truly wonderful characters – I loved Charlie and Karen. Highly recommend. 5 stars.

The State of Grace by Rachel Lucas. It only occurs to me now that I read two books in a row with autistic characters. Interesting. (I actually started another one in between but still haven’t finished it.). Anyway… Grace has Asperger’s and her own way of looking at the world. She has a horse and a best friend who understands her, so what more does she need in life? But when Gabe kisses her and things start to change at home, suddenly life doesn’t make sense any more. Everything seems to be falling apart and it’s up to Grace to fix it. race is a wonderful character – her lovely personality shines through. She always tries to do the right thing even though it’s difficult for her and she often doesn’t understand what the right thing would be. I’m not autistic so I don’t know whether this was an accurate representation of autism, but given that both the author and her daughter are on the spectrum I would imagine it is. Even without being autistic some of Grace’s thoughts resonated with me as a socially awkward introvert, like when she was all peopled out and just wanted to be at home with her familiar things. Grace’s friend Anna is also a lovely character and wonderful friend to Grace. My one minor criticism of this book is that there’s a side story about Grace’s sister that wasn’t fully explored. The book would have been just as complete without it. Apart from that I really enjoyed the book and gave it 4 stars.

The Polka Dot Shop by Laurel Remington. When 13-year-old Andy’s school announces a new no-uniform policy, she is the only pupil who isn’t over the moon. All she wants is to dress like everyone else, but instead she’s forced to wear pre-loved items from her mum’s run-down vintage boutique. The distance between Andy and her mum is growing all the time, and to top it off the shop seems to be doing increasingly badly. When Andy finds a bag of high-quality designer clothes at the back of the shop she suddenly begins to see the potential of vintage clothing. But can she turn things around before it’s too late? I loved everything about this book. The characters are diverse. Andy and her friends are so supportive of each other, and I loved the fact that, despite their differences, Andy really does love her mum and want her to be happy. I also liked the way people took Andy and her ideas seriously and didn’t just dismiss her as a stupid kid. There is a mental health aspect to the book, which maybe have been addressed in more detail, but other than that it’s just a lovely, feel-good book, which was precisely what I needed at the time. 4.5 stars

Despite the fact that I only read four books, October turned out to be a much better reading month as I enjoyed all four of them. One was a children’s book and two were YA, but I think some relatively “easy” reading was exactly right for my frame of mind in October. As November progresses and the dark nights draw in, I’m hoping to get back into my usual varied range of reading materials… if I can find the time in between stitching and making a million Christmas cards!

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