What I read in February 2020: Part 1

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

The Toymakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I read in January 2020: Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tilly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I read in January 2020: Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I read in December 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite books for each year of the decade

Yes, I am aware that I said I was going to stop dwelling on the past now, but Gavin made a video like this and I was inspired. So today I am bringing to you my favourite books of the last decade, by publication year (I can’t do my favourite book I read in each year because I honestly couldn’t tell you which books I read in 2010!).

books of the decade

I have decided to do two books for each year because in some years it was just too hard to choose just one… others were easier because for some reason I apparently haven’t read many books that were published in 2010 or 2012?

Anyway… let’s do this. I’m not going to give a description of the books, but the title will link to Goodreads if you want to read the synopsis and if I’ve reviewed them on my blog I’ll include a link to where you can find the review.

Here goes…

2010

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. I had previously read a lot of murder mysteries and detective novels, but this was one of my first thrillers and I just thought the entire concept and way of telling the story were so unique! I still remember being shocked by the twist. I think I may have actually read this one the year it came out, or if not in 2011. No review because I rarely reviewed books on my blog back then.

Faithful Place by Tana French. I think I may have actually read this in the year it came out – or at least as soon as it came to German bookshops (which is sometimes later) – which, is rare for me. I buy most of my books second hand and when I actually do enter a bookshop I tend to pick up back list titles that I was excited about when I first heard of them. But I really enjoyed the first two books in this series and was actually waiting for this one to come out so I could buy it. There is only one book in this series that I’m not a particular fan of, but of the rest this is probably my favourite. Again, no review, but I am planning to reread the whole series so maybe there will be one on my blog eventually.

2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I knew this book was going to be included in this list no matter what, but when I looked it up I was shocked to discover it came out in 2011! I didn’t read it until 2015, having been given it for Christmas, and before that I hadn’t even heard of it. Where had it been hiding all those years! I actually wrote a review of this one on my blog, which you can read here.

Among Others by Jo Walton. I owned this for a few years before I actually read it and I actually think I remember picking it up once and not being able to get into it. But then in 2016 I picked it up again and was absolutely entranced. It’s a book about loss, and about growing up. It’s a fairytale, a boarding school book, a book about family. But most of all it’s a book about books. I loved it!

2012

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Although this was published in 2012, I somehow didn’t get round to reading it until 2017! It’s both heart warming and heartbreaking and I wish I had found it sooner. I reviewed it briefly here.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Blunt. I can’t believe I didn’t discover this book until 2018! It’s a beautiful, emotional read all about grief. Here’s a review.

2013

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell. A lot of people think of Lisa Jewell as a thriller writer, but I first knew her as a writer of what would probably be labelled “chick lit” (my first Lisa Jewell book, many years ago, was 31 Dream Street). This one is a contemporary book centring around a family tragedy and it absolutely broke me.

Waiting for Wednesday by Nicci French. I love this series so I had to get at least one of the books in! I actually only gave book 1 in the series 4 stars, but they got better and better as they went along, and this one definitely beats all the other books I’ve read that I found out were published in 2013.

2014

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. This book has one of the most unexpected twists of any thriller I’ve ever read. It totally shocked me and I honestly still think about it although I read it in 2015! I reviewed it briefly here.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. I couldn’t write this entire list without including a Flavia de Luce book! This is book 6 in the series and in some ways felt like a filler book between Flavia at home and book 7 where she goes away, but I still loved it and we found out more about Flavia’s mother in this one, which was nice. I wrote a review of it here.

2015

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne. This is the first book in the Spinster Club series and is also my favourite (of the main trilogy – there is also a special book 3.5 that I haven’t read). Such a great teen book. You can find my review here.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. I adored this book – it’s dark and twisted and Faith is such a fantastic main character! I read this in 2018 and have been meaning to pick up another Frances Hardinge book ever since. There’s a review in this post.

2016

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. I know a lot of people aren’t fans of this book, either because they don’t think it’s believable or they hate the romance, but I really liked it. I loved the characters and the writing style. Very brief review here.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This is a strong contender for my overall favourite book of the decade (but seriously… do not ask me to make that choice!). It’s just wonderful! I read it in November 2019 and reviewed it here.

2017

Interestingly, the two books I’ve chosen for 2017 are ones where I would say if you liked one you will probably like the other. I loved them both and could not choose between them to include a less similar second book, so here they both are.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Most people know this book. I lot of people loved it, some people hated it. Obviously I belong to the former category. Review here.

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard. A friend gave me this book, I think for my birthday, and I feel like it hasn’t got enough overall attention. I adored Elvira and honestly just wanted to give her a hug. You can see my review here.

2018

In the Dark by Cara Hunter. I recently mentioned this (in this post) as being one of my favourite books of 2019. I read it in December so I haven’t actually published my review yet – you’ll have to wait for Tuesday for that. But suffice to say it’s one of the best detective-based crime thrillers I’ve ever read.

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. Another one that was mentioned in my favourite books of 2019, this is the sequel to Nevermoor, which I also adored. See my review here.

2019

As I’ve mentioned, I very rarely read books in the year they come out, so I was surprised to find that I had about 12 books to choose from that had been published in 2019. That was still a lot easier to narrow down than other years though! But if you’re thinking there were much better books published in 2019 than my choices, you may be right… there were many amazing sounding books published in 2019, but most likely I haven’t actually read them. Anyway, my choices:

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus. I really liked One of Us is Lying, so when I found myself in a bookshop earlier this year in need of something to read straight away, I couldn’t resist picking this one up, and I ended up enjoying it even more than her first book. You can find my review here.

The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf. This book is hard hitting and heart breaking, but it also manages to be beautiful and heart warming and fun, with a wonderful sense of friendship. I loved it! Read my review here.

Let me know what some of your favourite books of the decade were in the comments, or if you decide to also do a post like this leave me a link and I’ll come and take a look.

Book challenge by Erin 12.0 reading plans

Good morning friends. I hope you’re all doing well and not letting the Christmas stress get to you too much. Today I have another book post for you, because honestly that’s the only thing I have the time or energy for right now! As you can see from the title, it’s the books I plan to read for Erin’s latest challenge, which starts on 1 January. I tried to make my list from books I already own, and I have something for all but one category.

Erin12.0

5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages. I chose all my other books first, then Jan challenged me to use a book for my freebie that was set in a different place to all the other books on my list. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie is technically set in fictional places, but is based on the Indian subcontinent so Jan said that was diverse enough ;-).

10 points: Read a book that starts with “I”. I went through all my unread books and would you believe I could only find one that starts with I? Into the Forest by Jean Hegland.

10 points: Read a book written by two or more authors. Beneath the Skin by Nicci French. Nicci French is actually two people, husband and wife Sean French and Nici Gerrard.

15 points: Read a book with a picture of a tree (or forest) on the cover. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson. My copy has trees on the cover… or tree trunks, but it’s clear it’s a forest.

20 points: Read a book with one of the following words in the title: who, what, when, where, why. The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh. I found this in a free bookcase a while ago and almost didn’t take it, but I’m glad I did because I didn’t seem to have any other unread books with one of those words in the title!

20 points: (selected by Vinay) – Read a book set in Africa. The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella. I’ve had this book for years and didn’t even realise it was set in Africa until I read the synopsis when looking for a book for this challenge.

25 points: (selected by Darlene) – As a nod to our female family members, read a book that has one of the words in the title: mother(s), sister(s), wife/wives, grandmother (or variation of), daughter(s), niece(s), aunt(s). My Mum Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. I am assuming “mum” also counts!

30 points: (selected by Deborah) – Read a book that has won an Edgar award. I didn’t even know what the Edgar award was! So I looked it up on Wikipedia and went through the winners until I found one I own. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Rorsyth is a BBC Big Read book that I’ve been putting off.

30 points: (selected by Debdatta) – Read a “locked room mystery” book. I don’t actually have one on my shelves here, but I’m going to my dad’s for Christmas so hopefully I’ll be able to find the Agatha Christie books and use one of those (I believe she had a few locked room mysteries). If not this will be the only category I have to buy a book for.

35 points: Read a book from the lists given in Show Us Your Books faves from 2018. The lists are here. I chose Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone, which is on Kristen‘s list.

And that’s it. Those are my books. If you are taking part in the challenge, let me know what you’re reading (point me to your blog post if you have one). If you would like to join in, you can find all the information here. All books must be at least 200 pages, but the challenge runs from 1 January to 30 April 2020 so you’ll have plenty of time to read your books!

What I read in November 2019: Part 2

Hello friends and happy book day! I already posted the first half of my November reading recap, but this post will still be pretty long so I’m just going to get on with it. All my reading in the second half of the month was for Believathon, a month-long middle grade readathon, so all the books mentioned here are children’s books. If those don’t interest you feel free to skip this post and come back next month.

Linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

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

After finishing my final Believathon book on 14th November, I decided I was going to try and complete every prompt a second time. These are the books I read from 15th-30th November. I will also say the prompt I read each book for.

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. Read for the prompt “a book featuring an animal character”. When the Hunter children have to go away for the summer, they reluctantly leave their pets in the care of a friend. But the Labrador, the old bull terrier and the dainty Siamese cat know they need to get home again, so the three faithful companions set off on a perilous journey across the Canadian wilderness, facing starvation, exposure, and wild forest animals to make their way home to the family they love. This book has been adapted to film a few times, but the one I know is the 90s version that has the title “Homeward Bound”. I found the book a little slow at times and I missed the dialogue/connection between the animals from the film, but overall I quite liked it. 3.5 stars.

The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher. I didn’t read this for any prompt, but for the Believathon Christamas day. This is a story about a boy named William Trundle, and a dinosaur, the Christmasaurus (I always want to say Christmasasaurus for some reason!). It’s about how they meet one Christmas Eve and have a magical adventure. I will not say more – you need to discover it for yourselves. This book is an absolute delight. Whimsical, magical, heart-warming. And the illustrations are perfect – the Christmasaurus looks so cute. One particular picture of his happy face absolutely melted my heart. 100% recommend. 5 stars.

Doll Bones by Holly Black. I read this for the prompt to “read a creepy or atmospheric book”. Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And  for years they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the bone-china doll they call the Great Queen. But now they’re in middle school, Zach’s father insists it’s time he gave up childish things and forces him to give up the game. Then Poppy claims she’s been having dreams about the Queen – and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave. And so the three set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is there really a ghost and if there is can the three of them escape her clutches? An imaginary game that feels just a shade too real, a creepy doll, a quest, and three pre-teens who are just discovering how it feels to grow up. All the right ingredients for a cute, fun, slightly creepy children’s book. I read this in a couple of hours and thoroughly enjoyed myself. 4 stars.

A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder. Read for the prompt “a book featuring a myth or legend” (dragons are legendary creatures and the Loch Ness Monster also features in this book). This is book two in a series. In the first book, Winnie inherits a house from her great aunt and then discovers that she’s inherited a dragon – Miss Drake – along with it. In this second book, Miss Drake has arranged for WInnie to go to a special school for humans and magicals alike. Winnie is particularly excited about magic class and having Sir Isaac Newton for science. She’s also finally making friends. When a plot to snatch Winnie from her San Francisco home is uncovered, Miss Drake is ready to use all her cunning and magic to thwart it. Not that Winnie needs much help. This is a fairly cute book but I didn’t love it quite as much as the first one. I liked Winnie’s school friends and the trips she went on  but there were a couple of parts that didn’t interest me quite as much. I loved the character of Small Doll. 3.5 stars

Malamander by Thomas Taylor. Read for the prompt to “read a seasonal book”. Herbert Lemon is the Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel in Eerie-on-Sea – known as Cheerie-on Sea in the summer, but every winter, when all the visitors have gone, the first two letters fall off the sign and darkness creeps in. One day, a girl named Violet Parma shows up in Herbert’s office claiming to be a lost thing. No one knows what happened to Violet’s parents twelve years ago, and when she engages Herbie to help her find them, the pair discover that their disappearance might have something to do with the legendary sea-monster, the Malamander. I had no idea this was the first in a series, so I was annoyed when I got to the end and so many mysteries were left unsolved! However, this is an adventurous read, and quite creepy at times. It was nice to see Violet being the one that wanted adventures while Herbie preferred to be safe and warm at the hotel. Not that I think it’s necessarily a good thing to encourage children to go looking for danger 😉 but it’s always nice to see girls being the adventurous one. It’s missing that slight spark that would make it 5 stars but it’s a solid 4 star read. I’ll definitely continue the series. Also, Violet Parma? That name has to have been chosen on purpose to make Brits laugh, right? (For those who don’t know, Parma Violets are weird sweets (candy) that are literally violet flavoured).

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens. Read fir the prompt “a book set in the past”. Book two in the Murder Most Unladylike series. Schoolgirl detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are at Daisy’s home, Fallingford, for the holidays where Daisy’s glamorous mother is throwing a tea party for Daisy’s birthday. The whole family is invited, from eccentric Aunt Saskia to dashing Uncle Felix. But it soon becomes clear that this party isn’t really about Daisy at all. Then one of the guests falls seriously, mysteriously ill – and everything points to poison. With wild storms preventing anyone from leaving, or the police from arriving, Fallingford suddenly feels like a very dangerous place to be. It’s up to the Detective Society to reveal the truth. It always seems wrong to say a book involving a murder is “fun”, but that’s the best description I have. I love Daisy and Hazel’s friendship – they work so well together. This book was just as good as the first one and I’m looking forward to seeing who gets murdered next (again, that sounds so wrong!). 4 stars.

SpellbreatherThe Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike. Read for the prompt “a book featuring a hint of magic”. I saw that someone else had read this book for Believathon and I have to confess, I picked it up mostly for the cover. What can I say – I’m a sucker for a fox? Spell Breathing does not come naturally to Rayne – she loathes the hours of practice, the stacks of scrolls, and the snapping mud devils that cover her mothers precious spell book. But spell breathing is the one thing that keeps her village safe from the dreaded monster curse that plagues their world. When Rayne’s mother has to go away, Rayne is left to take over her role of protecting the village. But with one clumsy move, the magic that keeps them safe is broken, her village is plunged into danger, and an incredible adventure begins. This is an adorable, magical adventure. I’ve never come across a magic system quite like this – where spells are literally about words (and spelling). 4.5 stars.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I read this one for the prompt “a book with a strong sense of friendship”, having been assured there was a strong sense of friendship (and I agree, there was). Sophie is the eldest of three daughters, which in her world means she is destined to fail miserably should she ever leave to seek her fortune. So when her father dies and her step-mother sends her two sisters out to be apprentices, Sophie is happy to stay behind in the family hat shop. Then she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste and finds herself transformed into an old lady. Sophie’s only chance at breaking the spell lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. I’ve owned this book for at least six years and I have no idea why I never picked it up until now. It’s magical and wonderful! I love the characters (Howl is whiny baby but he grew on me). Sophie is awesome and I adored Calcifer the fire demon. 4.5 stars – minus half a star because the end got a bit confusing, too much going on in too short a time.

The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf. I read this for the prompt “a book that deals with real-life issues”. Aniyah has always wanted to be a Star-Hunter (that’s an astronomer in boring adult speak!). She loves watching the night sky and imagining who the stars were before they were stars – as her mum once told her, the people with the biggest hearts go on to become stars in the sky watching over everyone. So when a physics-defying new star shows up in the sky the same week Aniyah’s mum has to leave, Aniyah just knows it’s her mum trying to find her and her brother Noah. After all, her mum had the biggest heart of anyone, ever. But when a world-wide competition with millions of entrants is started to decide on a name for the star, Aniyah has to find a way to tell the world the truth before it’s too late and her mum ends up with the wrong name. This book is just as hard hitting and heart breaking as I thought it would be, but it also manages to be beautiful and heart warming and fun. I adored the characters, there’s such a wonderful sense of friendship between Aniyah and her foster brothers, and I also love how caring Aniyah was towards Noah even when she was frustrated with him. I highly recommend this book! But be aware that it deals with domestic violence. 5 stars.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. Read for the prompt to read a classic book. I saw that someone else was reading this as their classic and then found it in a free bookcase a few weeks later. Fate! Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home to persuade her way she has to keep their secret. But complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune. This wasn’t what I was expecting (which begs the question what was I expecting? Answer: I have no idea). It’s quite slow to begin with but the writing is excellent. It’s very philosophical and certainly makes you think. Well worth a read. 3.5 stars.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Read for the prompt to re-read a personal childhood favourite. I used to read this book a lot between the ages of about 7 and 10 – I adored it! But it must have been about 25 years since I last read it. I’m pleased to say I still enjoyed it – child me had good taste. Parts of it are heartbreaking (poor Ginger). And as always I cried at the end. 5 stars.

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner. With one day of the readathon left, I decided to sneak in one final book not for any category. Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens and she discovers that she’s descended from a long line of powerful witches. I bought this not realising it was a graphic novel. It’s very cute though. Graphic novels still aren’t my favourite – I need more words! But I quite liked this one. The cat character is awesome! 3.5 stars.

So, that makes twelve books. Add the sixteen I reviewed in part 1 of my recap, and that makes a total of 28 books for November (27 for Believathon). That’s my best reading month ever. I am so grateful to Gavin for making this possible.

TL;DR. I enjoyed all of these books (some more than others), but the ones I recommend the most are The Christmasaurus, The Last Spellbreather, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Star Outside My Window. I also really enjoyed Malamander but it is the first in a series so it’s up to you whether you want to make that commitment.

That’s all for today. Don’t forget to check out the link up to see what everyone else has been reading… maybe get some recommendations for adult books to add to all this middle grade 😉

Have you read any of these books? Let me know what you thought. And tell me if you’ve read anything good lately.

What I read in November 2019: part 1

Please note: all but one of the books here are children’s books (middle grade). If you have no interest in those types of books then there’s no need to continue reading.

Hello lovely readers. I hope you are all well? Everything here is a mess – and I mean that in the most literal sense. I would be ashamed to let anyone inside my flat right now! Must sort that out this weekend. But that isn’t want I want to talk about today.

This month I’m doing something I don’t usually do and splitting my reading recap into two parts. There are just sooo many books to talk about! This post is part 1 and then I will post part 2 on Show Us Your Books day, which is 10th December. I will, of course, be linking both posts up with Jana and Steph when the time comes. This post will feature the books I read from 1-14 November (you’ll see why later) and then the next one will be all the books I read in the second half of the month.

So, let’s get on with it shall we? Most of the books I read in November were for Believathon, or the Believe in the Impossible Readathon – a readathon dedicated to children’s books… or what’s called “middle grade” these days (there was no such category when I was growing up! My library had a picture books/beginning readers section, an 11+ section, then all the other children’s books were just on shelves in the middle. And bookshops went by age, with a “teens” section after the “8-12” category. But I digress). I read one book that wasn’t a children’s book, so I’ll talk about that one first and then go through all the Believathon books in the order I read them.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I found this in a café in Karlsruhe and decided to read it since it was only 46 pages long. This is essentially an essay, based on a Tedx Talk. It talks about blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious behaviours that are ingrained in society and that marginalise women around the world, often without people even realising or noticing what’s happening. Honestly, there wasn’t really anything in there I hadn’t thought of before but she articulated her thoughts very well. I read most of the book out loud to Jan and it led to an interesting discussion, so that was cool. It’s possibly a little simplistic for me personally but sadly there are many people out there who need this issue to be spelled out to them in simple terms. 4 stars. I do think everyone should read it but, like I said, it was a little simplistic for me.

Okay, now the “serious” stuff is out of the way, let’s get on to the children’s books!

Believathon

The Trouble with Perfect by Helena Duggan. This is the sequel to a Place Called Perfect. For Believathon, I read this book for the prompt “a book with a strong sense of friendship”. In book 1, Violet and her friend Boy uncovered the secrets of the scarily perfect town and saved its residents – I won’t say from what, you’ll have to read it for yourself. Now Violet and the townsfolk are enjoying their new freedom, but have they really seen the last of the bad guy from the first book? Why is Boy acting strangely? And who is masterminding a scary zombie army? Another creepy, quirky adventure in the “Perfect” universe. I didn’t love this quite as much as the first one. It started off pretty slowly and I wasn’t immediately sucked in. The “twist” of whodunnit was obvious to me – although in fairness I’m an adult and have read a lot, so it may be different for the actual intended age group. Once the proper action started things picked up and by the end I didn’t want it to be over. I now NEED book three. 3.5 stars

Ella on the Outside by Cath Howe. I read this one for the prompt “a book with real-life issues”. Ella is new in town, and in school. She doesn’t know anyone or have any friends, and she’s keeping a terrible secret. When Lydia, the most popular girl in school, befriends Ella she can’t believe her luck. But what does Lydia really want? And what does it all have to do with Molly, the quiet, shy girl who won’t talk to anyone? This is a lovely story about friendship, trying to fit in and the struggle to do the right thing. The author captured the struggles of wanting to be liked at school really well. I really felt for Ella, and for Molly as well. 4 stars.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. I read this one for the prompt “a book set in the past”. Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she becomes fascinated with the world of science. But it’s 1899, and Callie is soon faced with the realities of life as a girl at the turn of the century, at a time when women’s place is most definitely in the home. This is a great introduction to historical fiction for children. I loved the character of Callie – her determination and constant questioning of the world around her. It’s quite a slow book and there isn’t much of a plot as such. Honestly I was slightly bored in the middle. But it’s still a good book and the right kind of child (with an interest in history, science and feminism) would surely find it fascinating. 3 stars.

Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood. I read this for the prompt “a book with an animal character”. It’s the first in the “Five Realms” series. Three young siblings (anthropomorphic rabbits) are on the run from the villainous Gorm tribe – former rabbits gone bad – who have killed and enslaved their clan. Podkin, once destined to be clan leader, has always been spoiled and sheltered, but now he must act bravely as he, his older sister, and baby brother flee for their lives. Along the way, they meet allies and at last they are ready to face the Gorm and attempt to rid the land of their evil presence. This is cute. It reminded me of the Redwall series mixed with Watership Down, but less dark than the latter – there are a few dark/creepy parts but tame compared with what I remember of Watership Down! 4 stars.

The Owl Service by Alan Garner. I read this for the prompt “reread a personal childhood favourite”. Alison hears scratching in the attic above her room, but all that’s up there is a stack of dusty old plates. Alison then discovers that if she traces the pattern of flowers from the plates, she can make the resulting drawings into a paper owls – owls that disappear when nobody is watching. With every vanished owl, more and more strange things happen around around Alison, her step-brother Roger, and the caretaker’s son, Gwyn. It all seems to be wrapped up in a local Welsh legend involving a tragic love story that has repeated itself for generations. I loved this book as a child and read it several times. Reading it now as an adult parts of it are pretty confusing and I’m wondering how much of it I really understood back then. That doesn’t seem to have ruined my experience in any way though. I didn’t find it quite as creepy now – parts of it terrified me when I was 9! It’s still an excellent book but I don’t think everyone would appreciate it. 4 stars

6th November was the first of Gav’s Believathon special events, and was designated as Roald Dahl day. So the next three books I read were extras and not for any prompts (although they could have fulfilled some).

Esio Trot by Roald Dahl. Mr. Hoppy is in love with his downstairs neighbour, Mrs. Silver; but she only has eyes for Alfie, her pet tortoise. Then one day Mr. Hoppy comes up with a brilliant idea to get Mrs. Silver’s attention. Will his plan work, and what’s going to happen to Alfie? It used to be one of my favourite Roald Dahl books but reading it as an adult it’s not one of his best. It’s a cute, fast read but Mrs Silver is silly enough to actually be kind of annoying. It’s still a fun read though so I’m giving it 3.5 stars

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. When James’s parents were eaten by a rhinoceros, he was sent to live with his nasty aunts.Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker call him names, beat and starve him and make his life a misery. Then James meets a man who gives him some magic crystals. Instead of consuming them, he accidentally drops them magic crystals by the old peach tree, and strange things start to happen. The peach at the top of the tree grows and grows until it’s as big as a house. When James discovers a secret entranceway into the fruit and crawls inside, he meets wonderful new friends – including a ladybird, a spider and a centipede – and begins the adventure of a lifetime. I am pleased to say this book still holds up rereading it as an adult. I love the mixture of magic, imagination and actual, real facts about the various insects. It gives an important message about looking after nature, even the tiniest insect, while still being a cute and fun book. Sometimes that kind of message can get a bit preachy, but not in this case. It’s maybe not quite as polished as some of his later books but I still really enjoyed it. 4.5 stars.

The BFG by Roald Dahl. One silvery, moonlit night, Sophie is natched from her bed by a giant. Luckily for her, the BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly – not like the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher. If any of those had caught her. she would have been eaten for breakfast. When Sophie hears that the other giants are off to England to guzzle dozens of children, Sophie is determined that she’s going to stop them – and the BFG has to help! Will they manage it? Roald Dahl’s books can be pretty brutal, but I do love the way the BFG mixes up his words in this one. And Sophie is such a clever little girl. For childhood nostalgia reasons, I’m sticking with a 5-star rating. This one was always my favourite Roald Dahl book (and I loved the old animated film).

Back to the official categories 🙂

A Tail of Camelot (mice of the Round Table #1) by Julie Leung. As you can see, this one is another first in a series. I read this one for the prompt “a book featuring a myth or legend”. Do I really need to tell you what legend it features? Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of the day he will become a Knight of the Round Table like his father and grandfather before him. For generations, his family has led the mice that dwell beneath the human Knights of the Round Table, defending the castle they all call home. When his grandfather Yvers is assassinated, the whole of Camelot is at risk. The other mice suspect the animals who live outside the castle, in Darking Wood, but Calib isn’t convinced. Can Calib convince the Mice of the Round Table and the Darklings to put aside their differences and fight together against a threat that’s bigger than either of them? I loved this! It’s Knights of the round table meets Redwall! The book started off a little slow but it soon picked up and the second half was a real page turner. Calib is a fantastic character. Highly recommend to fans of Arthurian legends looking for something a little different. 4.5 stars.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I read this for the prompt “read children’s classic”. DO I really need to give you a synopsis? Alice is getting bored of sitting beside her sister on the bank, so when she sees a white rabbit with a watch, she follows it, falls down a rabbit hole and a whole adventure with strange characters ensures. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It’s just as whimsical and fun as I remember it being when I was young. There’s a reason this one’s a classic. 5 stars.

More About Paddington by Michael Bond. I then decided to read a second classic book, since it was Gav’s classics weekend. This is book two in the Paddington series, and consists of a series of short stories following events in the little bear from Darket Peru’s life. In this one Paddington experiences his first Bonfire Night and buys Christmas gifts for the Browns, among other things. I absolutely adored this. I love Paddington! Even a shopping trip becomes an adventure with him around. 5 stars.

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky. I read this book for the prompt “read a creepy or atmospheric book”. Young Juniper Berry knows her mother and father aren’t the same people they used to be – and not just because the formerly struggling actors are now world famous. She can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right with them. Then, one rainy night, she finds out she’s right. It’s up to her and her new friend Giles to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t. This book gets very creepy in parts. Not for children who are easily scared! I love Jupiter. She’s brave and selfless and remains true to herself until the end. Giles annoyed me. He is very unfair to Juniper at some points. But other than that I liked this book a lot. It’s a little Coraline-esque but not quite as scary. 4 stars.

Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson. I read this for the prompt “read a seasonal book”. It’s the final book in the Moomins series. Various familiar characters from the previous books – including Snufkin, the Hemulen and Fillyjonk – come to visit the Moomins to escape from various problems in their lives. When they arrive, the find the Moomin family not at home, but decide to stay anyway. This book is strange – a Moomins book with no moomins in it! It’s a slightly bleak but a weirdly compelling read. 3.5 stars.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. I read this for the prompt “a book with a magical element”. Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But Xan, is actually a good witch and has no idea why all these babies are being abandoned. Each year, she rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight along the way. Then one year she accidentally gives a baby girl moonlight, causing her to become enmagicked. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own, so she takes her to her home in the forest where she lives with a swamp monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge – with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch… This book is so beautifully written and the story is utterly charming. I adored how it turns concepts of good and evil on their heads. Fyrian, the tiny dragon has my whole heart ♡ It’s a very fairytale-esque book and fairly dark in places (just like the original fairytales) but nonetheless a gorgeous book. Highly recommended to anyone aged 10+ 5 stars.

Frostheart by Jamie Littler. This was the group book for Believathon. Way out in the furthest part of the known world, in a tiny stronghold cut off from the rest of human-kind by monsters that lurk beneath the snow, a young boy named Ash awaits the return of the parents who disappeared many years ago. Ostracised for singing a forbidden lullaby to remind him of them, Ash spends most of his time trying to avoid his grumpy Yet guardian, Tobin. When a brave rescue attempt reveals he has amazing magical powers – and causes him to be banished from the only home he’s ever known – he’s whisked aboard the Frostheart, a ship-like sleigh packed full of daring explorers whose mission is to explore faraway lands. Can they help Ash find his parents? This book starts with a bang (or rather a monster attack) and the action just doesn’t stop. Parts of the plot were a little predictable but I loved the characters. Especially Lunah. The one annoying thing was that I didn’t realise this was the first in a series so now I have to wait to find out whether Ash ever does find his parents. But overall Jamie Littler has created a fantastic world, and his illustrations are also stunning. 4 stars.

Frostheart was the final book from my original Believathon list, but with the month only half over I decided I would try to complete every prompt twice. I finished reading it on the 14th, so I am stopping this post here and part 2 will be all the books from my second go at the various prompts. And if you haven’t been counting along and were wondering, there are 16 books in this post, 15 of which were for Believathon.

TL;DR. Oh man, I don’t know what to tell you here. Honestly, I recommend all of them so if you couldn’t be bothered to read the post it’s your loss. If you insist then I particularly recommend The Girl Who Drank the Moon, A Tail of Camelot, Juniper Berry and Frostheart. And if you haven’t read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland then you really should be questioning whether you even had a childhood. (I’m kidding… but you really should read it).

Okay, that’s it for now. Look out for part two in a week and a bit.

What I read in October 2019

Hello my lovelies. It’s book review day again, and can you believe it’s the tenth one of the year? Crazy! Also, last month’s link up was the fifth anniversary of Show Us Your Books and I totally forgot to congratulate Jana and Steph. I am a terrible person, but I hope they know I think they rock. Anyway… on to what I read in October. It wasn’t as much as in other months. I actually only have nine books for you this time round, which I know is still quite a lot, but for me it’s not many at all. Too much crafting and Buffy the Vampire Slayer taking up my time! But you’re hear to read about books, so I’ll get on with it shall I…

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

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson. Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have been inseparable ever since Mila moved to Cross Creek. There’s not much to do in their small town, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favourite activity: amateur witchcraft. When Riley and two mean girls from their high school die in suspicious circumstances within a short time of each other, Mila refuses to believe her friend was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient spell book, Mila decides to bring Riley back from the dead and uncover the truth. Unfortunately, she also ends up bringing back the other two girls, and none of them can remember what happened before they died. With only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again. This was such a fun read and the perfect start to October. There’s lots of wit and sarcasm, and I loved the friendship the girls built up. The cast is also extremely diverse. The mystery kept me guessing and I was surprised by who the culprit was – lots of people found it predictable though, so maybe I’m just dumb 😉 It definitely requires a LOT of suspension of belief, lots of absurd things happening. But I kind if liked the silliness of it. It’s not quite a 4 star read, but I rounded it up to 4 on Goodreads.

Friend Request by Laura Marshall. When Louise receives a message saying Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook, she’s confused to say the least. Maria Weston has been dead for 27 years… hasn’t she? The message brings back long-buried memories of Louise’s school days, when she almost became friends with new girl Maria, until one decision made everything go horribly wrong. Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. But as she is forced to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with and piece together what happened, Louise discovers that there’s more to the story than she ever knew. I really liked this. It does take it’s time to finally tell you what Louise did but I felt like it mostly built up the tension well. I did not guess what was happening at all and the ending totally shocked me. My theory was way off base – although I suspected most people at one point or another! 3.5 stars.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Volume 1: The Crucible by Robert Aguirre. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, high school student and young sorceress Sabrina Spellman must choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. This is a graphic novel comprising the first five issues of the ongoing comic book series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which I believe are related to the Netflix series. It’s hard for me to rate this because I don’t really read graphic novels. I feel like it was over too fast and I didn’t have a chance to get to know the characters. Sabrina is supposed to be the main character but the story spent so much time in the past or with other random people that it didn’t really feel like it. I liked Madame Satan – she’s wonderfully creepy and just plain bad. I want to keep reading because this one ended on a cliffhanger and I won’t to know what happens, but in general I don’t think graphic novels are going to be something I start picking up regularly. 3 stars.

The Au Pair by Emma Rous. Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs. Now an adult, Seraphine is mourning the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph taken on the day the twins were born. It shows their mother, together with her husband and her young son – the twins’ brother – smiling serenely, and holding just one baby. Her brother has a vague memory that his au pair, Laura, took the photo – right before she fled back to London. Seraphine is determined to find her and learn exactly what happened that day and who the baby in the photograph is. This is a fast-paced read and I liked it fine, but I didn’t love it. I really didn’t like Seraphine. She jumped to conclusions constantly and was just generally really annoying. There’s one point where her brothers say they didn’t tell her something when she was younger because they knew how she’d react and I found myself agreeing with them – she definitely would have overreacted, lashed out and generally been a pain. I much preferred the chapters from Laura’s point of view, although the “twist” in her tale was fairly obvious to me, I just wasn’t sure precisely how it came out. The ending is so elaborate that it all seems incredibly far-fetched. This is billed as a “thriller” but it’s really not that thrilling. And the tag-line “Would you let a complete stranger into your home?” is incredibly misleading – there’s no “evil” au pair in this one! 3 stars.

Vox by Christina Dalcher. Like every other woman in the United States, Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins. A new government is in power and almost overnight, bank accounts have been frozen, passports taken away and seventy million women have lost their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write. Then suddenly Jean’s skills are needed, giving her a temporary reprieve. She is determined to regain her voice – for herself, for her daughter and for every woman silenced. I’m not sure how to review this book. I thought I was going to love it, and I did love certain aspects. The beginning was terrifying and felt like something that could really happen, but other parts were just confusing and most of the characters lacked depth. Even though the book is told from Jean’s perspective, I feel as though I don’t really know her, and I know even less about her husband. The storyline with Steven, her teenage son, are scary and show exactly how teenagers/children are indoctrinated in dictatorships – those parts were really well done. However, the ending felt rushed and incomplete. Possibly setting up for a sequel? I did like it and parts of it will stick with me but overall it just wasn’t what I was expecting. 3.25 stars.

The Drowning Pool by Syd Moore. After relocating to a coastal town, widowed teacher Sarah Grey is slowly rebuilding her life, along with her young son Alfie. After she and her friends accidentally hold a séance one drunken night, strange things start to happen and Sarah is convinced she is being haunted by her namesake, a 19th Century local witch. Delving into local folklore, she learns that the witch was thought to have been evil incarnate. When a series of old letters surface, Sarah discovers that nothing and no-one is as it seems, maybe not even the ghost of Sarah Grey… This is billed as a “modern ghost story” but it’s more of a whodunnit/mystery surrounding a crime that happened in the past with a bit of haunting thrown in. There are a few creepy scenes, but the way it’s written is more chicklit than horror (not that there’s anything wrong with chicklit, it just wasn’t what I was expecting!). There’s also an awful lot of the protagonist getting drunk – at one point she wasn’t sure whether she’d drank 2 or 3 bottles of wine while home alone, and she also talks about being on antidepressants… was she really being haunted or hallucinating from the effects of mixing alcohol with medication every single night? Overall it was an interesting story, but not all that gripping. I especially enjoyed the parts about the original Sarah Grey – modern-day Sarah Grey was slightly too annoying! 3.5 stars

The Taking of Annie Thorne by C.J. Tudor. One night, Joe’s sister Annie went missing. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. But then after 48 hours she came back. But when she did, she wasn’t the same. In fact, sometimes Joe found himself scared to death of his little sister. Now a grown man, Joe receives a message: “It’s starting again”. Needing to get out of town anyway, he returns to the small town of Arnhill in Nottinghamshire where he grew up to start a job teaching English at the school. But not everybody is happy to see him back. I am torn on how to rate this book. The writing is good. It’s very dark, a bit creepy. The author captures the atmosphere of a former mining town very well (I spent my teen years in one, and in fact the house my dad lives in was originally miners’ flats). The main character is not likeable, but I don’t think he’s supposed to be. Actually, nobody in that town seemed to be likeable. Anyway, I was enjoying it and then it go to the twist/reveal/explanation and… it’s a blatant rip-off of a very popular book, which I will not name because even if you haven’t read it as soon as I mention the title you’ll know what the explanation is as well. I get that most things have been done before, new takes on old stories, new twists, etc. But this was a little *too* close to that other book. I quite liked The Chalk Man and I really think this author could write an amazing book in the future, she just needs to make it a little less obvious where she gets her inspiration from! 3 stars.

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. When Moomintroll learns that a comet is coming, het sets off with his friend Sniff to consult the professors at the top of the Lonely Mountains. They have many adventures and meet new friends along the way, but the greatest adventure of all awaits them when they learn that the comet is headed straight for their beloved Moominvalley. Surely Momminmama will know what to do, if only they can get back in time to warn her. This is charming and delightful. I had only read Finn Family Moomintroll before, so it was nice to learn how the Moomins met some of the other characters in this one. I think we can all learn a lot from the Moomins about how to treat each other and the important things in life. It gets confusing sometimes with the weird names of the creatures and lack of explanations (you’re just expected to know what Hemulens are for example – maybe it was explained in the first book?), but overall I liked it. It reminds me of simpler times. 4 stars.

They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire. Every year, the lives of ten junior girls at Vienna High are transformed. All because of “the list”. All Kenzie wants is to get through high school and earn a scholarship to her dream college so she can get away from her overprotective mother, who has been smothering her ever since Kenzie’s older brother died the year before.  But when she’s voted number five on a list of the prettiest girls in school, her average life becomes dazzling. She’s invited to parties, makes new friends, and the cutest jock in school is after her. This is the power of the list. If you’re on it, your life changes. But this year, the girls on the list are dying one by one. Kenzie is determined to find out what’s going on before it’s too late… This is entertaining and fast paced. I mostly enjoyed reading it (even while rolling my eyes at most of the characters). I didn’t guess the reveal mostly because it’s so absurd that nobody’s mind would go there. There’s suspension of belief and then there’s just entirely implausible. I wouldn’t necessarily say don’t read it, but be prepared to roll your eyes a lot – at the plot and at the sheer sexism of it all. Hottie list? Really? 3.25 stars.

And that was all I read in October. A couple of decent ones, nothing turly terrible, but nothing absolutely outstanding either, sadly.

TL;DR. This is usually where I give a brief overview of which books I recommend, but I’m not sure what to tell you this month. Everyone should read Vox for certain aspects – particularly for a chilling look at home indoctrination happens in schools – but don’t go in expecting an outstanding new addition to the dystopian genre. If you like witchy YA and  aren’t likely to roll your eyes out of your head when things get absurd then I recommend Undead Girl Gang as a fun, silly read. Graphic novels aren’t my favourite, but if you’re a big fan and like creepy things you should definitely read Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.Finally, the Moomins books are very cute and nostalgic, but I would recommend starting with book 1.

Don’t forget to check out the link up for more book reviews. (And admire Jana’s new puppy while you’re there!)

Book suggestions for Believathon

Following on from my previous post in which I told you what I’m reading for Believathon, I thought I would give you some suggestions for books you could read just in case you’re thinking “Wow, I would love to join in but some of those prompts are hard!” (Well, it’s possible). Or maybe you’re just looking for children’s book recommendations in general, either for you or a child in your life.
Instead of listing the prompts again and providing a suggestion for each, I thought I would give you a list of fifteen books (because I couldn’t stick with just ten!) and then say which Believathon prompts they would fit. Some work for several, some only for one or two. I’ve tried to include a few that might not be on your radar, and I’ve underlined the prompts in case you just want to skip straight to that without reading my ramblings. Enjoy!

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. I loved this book as a child! It would definitely have been a contender for my childhood favourite pick if my copy wasn’t in England. It’s about three sisters who are adopted by an eccentric explorer, who then disappeared leaving them in the care of his niece, Sylvia. They end up taking ballet lessons and, as the money Great Uncle Matthew left begins to run out, take to the stage to help their family. This one would work for the real life issues prompt (being orphaned, poverty), a book that’s set in the past and a children’s classic.

The Final Journey by Gudrun Pauswang. Goodreads lists this as Young Adult, but I read it years ago (in the original German) for a course on National Socialism in children’s literature so I’m saying it’s a children’s book. Alice is eleven years old, and it is wartime. She is taken from her home and forced onto a train with no seats and no windows. Her parents and grandmother have disappeared and she doesn’t know where she’s going. Alice is Jewish and it transpires that the train is headed to Auschwitz. This book made me cry and cry! It works for real life issues (umm, Auschwitz, war, deportation… do I really need to go on?) and a book set in the past.

The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann. Another one I loved as a child. When bulldozers enter Farthing Wood, the animals must escape before their homes are destroyed. They promise to stick together and protect each other—but then they get caught in a fire and nearly drown crossing a river. Will their pact hold? This one would count for a book with an animal character, a book with a strong sense of friendship (okay, they’re animals but the author does give a sense of “friendship” between certain groups) and a book with real life issues (environment/destruction of animal habitats). I’m also pretty sure it counts as a classic.

Frogkisser by Garth Nix. When her evil step-step-father (a magician) decides to take over the kingdom, Princess Anya is forced to Anya go on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land. This one works for a book with magic, an animal character (talking dogs, among others), strong sense of friendship (Anya makes friends on her quest and is also has a loyal friend in the palace dog who accompanies her) and a book featuring a myth or legend (there are several, the Princess and the Frog being the most obvious, but there is also an allusion to Robin Hood plus there are seven dwarves and a “Snow White” who is not what you think).

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. I mentioned in my previous post that I would definitely have chosen this as my childhood favourite re-read if I could, but my copy is missing. I adored this book as a child. It features a girl named Charlotte who starts boarding school, where the kind girl who is showing her around suggests she take the nicest bed since she was the first to arrive. The next day, Charlotte wakes up next to a girl called Emily who claims she’s her sister and insists on calling Charlotte “Claire”. It’s also wartime. Obviously she thinks it’s a dream until she wakes up the next day, back with her original dorm mates, and discovers she’s missed an entire day. This carries on with her switching times each night until she ends up stuck in the past. Will she ever make it back to her own time? This would work for a book set in the past (both when Charlotte travels back and also Gavin said books set at the time they were written would count for this, so Charlotte’s “present” is 1969!). I think a bed that makes you time travel would also count for a hint of magic 😉 And Charlotte and Emily eventually build up a friendship while pretending to be sisters so I would count it for that too. There are also real life issues: war, rationing, starting boarding school for the first time and missing your family. The picture above is of the “Vintage Children’s Classics” edition, so based on that I think it’s okay to consider it a classic, too.

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. Twelve-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother, Michael, have never liked their seven-year-old stepsister, Heather. Now their parents have moved them all to the country to live in a converted church, with a cemetery in the backyard. If that’s not bad enough, Heather starts talking to a ghost named Helen and warning Molly and Michael that Helen is coming for them. Molly is convinced Heather is in danger. Obvious this book would be perfect for the spooky or atmospheric prompt. It’s also set in the past (published 1986 and presumably set then too) and has real life issues – parents remarrying and blended families not getting along.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. This is based on the true story of Ivan. a gorilla who was kept in a shopping mall for 27 years, before eventually being transferred to a zoo. Told from the perspective of Ivan, it tells of how a new baby elephant, taken from the wild, comes to the mall, forcing Ivan to see his life through new eyes. This obviously works for a book with an animal character, but also real life issues (animal rights) and a strong friendship (Ivan is good friends with an elephant named Stella). The real Ivan was given to a zoo in 1994 so presumably that’s also when this book is set, meaning it works for the past prompt as well.

The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster. Eleven-year-old Joe lives in a hospital – his condition makes it impossible for him to go out and even the few visitors he’s allowed risk bringing in life-threatening germs. If you liked Wonder, I would recommend giving this one a go. This obviously works for real life issues (in addition to being ill, Joe is an orphan with his older sister his only relative) and Joe is also friends with a boy who has a similar condition, so the strong sense of friendship is there, too.

The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo. Another book I considered for my childhood favourite. Gwyn’s birthdays have always been sad occasions since his older sister Bethan disappeared five years ago. But this year was different. Time to find out if you are a magician!, said his grandmother, as she gave him five strange birthday gifts. A piece of seaweed, a yellow scarf, a tin whistle, a twisted metal brooch and a small broken horse. Gwyn gave the brooch to the wind and, in return, there came a tiny silver spider, Arianwen. The snow spider. This is set in winter, so it’s a seasonal book. It also features magic and real-life issues (missing sister/grief and Gwyn has a strained relationship with his dad).

Scarlet and Ivy: The Lost Twin by Sophie Cleverly. When troublesome Scarlet mysteriously disappears from Rookwood School, terrifying Miss Fox invites her quiet twin sister Ivy to “take her place”. When she arrives, she discovers the school actually want her to pretend to be Scarlet. But where is her twin and what secret things are going on at Rockwood? I would count this one as a spooky or atmospheric book (the boarding school is creepy). It’s also set in the past (1911, I think) and there is a great friendship between Ivy and a girl named Ariadne. I also recommend the rest of the series.

A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson. When Owl starts seeing strange frost patterns on her skin she wonders whether her strange new powers are related to the mysterious father she has never known and who her mother refuses to talk about. This is a seasonal book (it’s set in winter), has magic, features a strong friendship and also deals with real life issues (absent father and Owl’s best friend, Mallory, is also going through some family problems). There’s also a legend in there (but I won’t tell you which one) so that’s 5 out of 10 prompts covered!

The Dragon With the Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. This book is about a dragon named Aventurine who encounters a magician and is given chocolate, which transforms her into a human girl. It’s a fun tale and features a wonderful friendship – first prompt for you right there. The others it covers are magic and, since Gavin said legendary creatures count for the myth/legend prompt also that one –  dragons are legendary, no?

Carbonel: The King of Cats by Barbara Sleigh. This is an older book (published in 1974) but I think it’s worth reading. Despite being slightly old-fashioned, it’s surprisingly modern with a heroine who is actually allowed to do things, even after her boy sidekick comes along. Rosemary plans to spend her summer holidays cleaning houses to earn some money, but then an old lady at the market talks her into buying a second-rate broom and a cat she can’t even afford to keep. The old lady turns out to be a witch and the cat, Carbonel, a prince. Soon Rosemary and her new friend John end up in an adventure to free Carbonel from a hideous spell. This book features friendship, magic, an animal character, is set in the past and there’s also a bit of real life in there – Rosemary wanted to earn money to help her mother because the family is struggling financially.

Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams. Another cat book. This one was written in 1942, but I read it in the 80s and loved it. Gobbolino is born a witch’s cat, but he would much rather be a kitchen cat and sit by the fire, catch mice and watch the baby. So while his sister, Sootica, is learning how to ride a broomstick, Gobbolino sets off in search of a kind family who isn’t too superstitious to take him in. This one has an animal character and magic. It’s been too long since I’ve read it for me to say whether it fits any other prompts.

Stitch Head by Guy Bass. In spooky Castle Grotteskew, the frightfully insane Professor Erasmus conducts his bizarre experiments on living things. His very first invention was a small, almost human-like creature named Stitch Head. But the professor has forgotten all about him now, so Stitch Head spends his days trying to stop the other creations from going wild in the nearby town. Then a travelling freak show comes to town and it’s up to Stitch Head and his new friends to stop the bad guy from taking his professor. This would work perfectly for the atmospheric/spooky prompt if you have a child who doesn’t really like scary stories – all the monsters in this one are actually quite nice. It also has friendship, is set in the past (or “yesteryear, according to the book)  and if you consider the Frankenstein/mad professor trope a myth or legend it could be used for that, too.

And that’s it. Even if you’re not planning to participate in Believathon, I hope you found something interesting here – whether for yourself or a child in your life. Have you read any of these and if so did you like them? Let’s chat in the comments!