What I Read in May 2018

Hello! Can you believe Show Us Your Books day has rolled around again? Didn’t I just write about what I read in April? Anyway, I have a whole 18 books to review this month so I’d best get on with it. As always, the books are simply listed as I read them, not in order of preference.

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The Godfather by Mario Puzo. I started this one in April and finished it in May. Honestly, I would never even have picked it up if it wasn’t on the BBC Big Read list but I ended up liking it way more than I expected to. I have never even seen a Godfather film (yeah, I know) but I was still familiar with a lot of the plot… I got to the bit with the horse’s head and thought “oh yeah, this is where that’s from”. I can’t really describe my thoughts on this book but I gave it 4 stars. Obviously there is a lot of violence so if you’re not into that avoid it.

What Comes After by Steve Watkins. When sixteen-year-old Iris Wight’s dad days and the family friends who promised to take her in decide they can’t after all, she is forced to go and live with her aunt and cousin on a farm in North Carolina. The aunt is horrible and mistreats her to the extent that she ends up being taken into foster care. This book is horrible. Utterly heartbreaking. But, in the end, also hopeful. Read it for the goats but be aware that there is abuse/violence. 4 stars.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell. I loved this – it’s so cute and fun! Ada Goth Ghastly-Gorm Hall with her father, Lord Goth, lots of servants and at least half a dozen ghosts. One night, she meets the ghost of a mouse then makes some new friends, and together they set out to investigate the strange goings on in the old mansion. There are many literary and historical references in this book (the first thing the mouse says is “call me Ishmael”, Mary Shellfish comes to stay…). I think a lot of them would go over children’s heads (the actual target audience) but I loved them. Chris Riddell also illustrated the book and the drawings are fabulous. Plus, in my copy the pages have purple edges. So pretty! Another 4 star read.

Cold Feet by Brenda Novak. This book was not what I was expecting. I thought it was a thriller so I was really confused by the Mills and Boon-esque sex scenes (between people who had known each other all of a day). Turns out it’s a romance. So that may have affected my rating – if you go into it knowing it’s a romance you may like it more. The police suspect Madison Lieberman’s father is a serial killer, but now he’s dead and another woman has died in a similar way. Ex-cop turned crime writer Caleb Trovato is obsessed with the case and now wonders whether there’s a copycat killer or they had their sights on the wrong man all along. He’s sure Madison knows more than she’s telling and he’s determined to get it out of her. The synopsis says “But he doesn’t expect to fall in love – or to lead Madison and her child into danger”. I suppose that should have tipped me off on the romance thing… but just because a book contains romance doesn’t mean it’s a “romance novel”. Anyway, I didn’t expect who the killer turned out to be, so that’s something, but overall this book was nothing special. A kind of mystery/thriller as a frame for some explicit sex scenes. 3 stars.

Saving June by Hannah Harrington. Sixteen-year-old Harper’s older sister June recently committed suicide and Harper doesn’t know what to think or feel. She decides to steal June’s ashes and drive across the country to the one place her sister always wanted to go: California. This book was so sad, which could obviously be expected from the subject matter, but I honestly cried like a baby. It has its flaws, but I read through it all in one sitting and could not give it any less than four stars.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. Another sad book, because apparently I like to do that to myself? When Theodore and Violet meet on the ledge of a a bell tower, it’s unclear who saved whom. Violet is still traumatised by the death of her older sister and Theodore, who is labelled a “freak” and has hardly any friends, is constantly thinking up new ways to die. When Violet and Theodore pair up for a project to discover more about their state, what they actually learn is far more important. This is a book about mental health, grief, first love and much more. Parts of it are happy, quirky, hopeful, but the ending is so sad. 4 stars.

Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer. For some reason I was expecting this to be a book about political rivals. No idea why! Maybe I vaguely knew that Jeffrey Archer was a politician in the 90s? There is a rivalry, but neither man is a politician. It’s basically the life stories of two men born on the same day – one the son of a Boston banker/millionaire and one a penniless and illegitimate Pole – and how their stories eventually merge with the two of them becoming rivals. I liked this more than I thought I would but it was long and parts of it dragged. 3 stars.

Into the Water by Paul Hawkins. I needed a new book for the train home from work since I was almost finished with Kane and Abel, and this was the only one in the bookshop that interested me. When Jules’ sister Nel dies – having apparently jumped to her death in the place that’s known as the “drowning pool” – Jules reluctantly returns to the village to care for her teenage niece. I’ve seen a few negative reviews of this book, but I really enjoyed it. There were a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t expect. However, I feel like I should admit that part of my enjoyment stemmed from the setting. Why did nobody tell me it’s set in North-East England? Craster kippers and even the tiny Durham village of Pity Me get a mention. Love it! 5 stars.

The Tornado Chasers by Ross Montgomery. This is like an introduction to dystopia for young children. Owen’s family have moved to Barrow because it’s the safest place in the valleys. Children there have to wear bright yellow at all times, walk home from school in pairs, and have a curfew. So Owen and his friends form the Tornado Chasers and set off to get as close to a Grade 5 tornado as possible. I really liked most of this book. It was a fun adventure with an interesting, diverse friendship group. The “twist” was good too. But then I really didn’t like the ending. I think I know what was supposed to have happened but I don’t understand why. Trying not to spoil anything, but it felt like it was saying the dystopia was a good thing/the adults had it right all along. Until the end it would have been 4 stars, but I ended up giving it 3.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. The cover of this book totally reminded me of When Dimple Met Rishi (which I haven’t actually read yet) and the main character in this one is even called Dimple! I don’t really know if the stories are similar though (and this one was published first FYI). Dimple Lala, who is about to turn 17, has spent her whole life resisting her parents’ traditions. She wants to be an all-American girl, like her best friend, Gwen. So when her parents meet up with an old friend and decide they want to set her Dimple up with her son, a “suitable boy”, Dimple is, of course totally against it. Then she realises the suitable boy may not be as goody-goody as she first thought, all things Indian suddenly turn out to be cool, and she no longer knows what to think. I really enjoyed this story. Parts of it were a bit long.winded and complicated, but I liked the characters (except Gwen, who I thought was a total cow. Yes, she has a hard life/neglectful parents but that was no excuse to abandon her friend for boys, refuse to listen, talk to Dimple like she was an idiot, etc.). I especially loved Dimple’s cousin. Every time the food Dimple’s mum cooked was mentioned it made me want to eat Indian food immediately! There’s also a lesbian relationship and a drag queen in this book, which was cool. 4 stars.

Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton. Megan hasn’t spoken in months, ever since something bad happened (trying not to spoil anything here). There are things she cannot – must not – say, so it’s best not to speak at all. Then Jasmine starts at her school. Bright, bubbly, talkative Jasmine. And for some reason she wants Megan to be her friend. I really liked this book. It deals with some serious topics but it’s surprisingly easy to read – I got through it really quickly. I wanted to hug Megan – she was clearly traumatised and I wanted to find out who was responsible for her silence and shake them (it wasn’t what I thought though). The relationship between Megan and Jasmine was so cute. It just made me incredibly happy! 4 stars.

As Sure As the Sun by Anna McPartlin. When bride-to-be Harri Ryan ends up at the ER with a panic attack on her wedding day for the second time, her twin brother, George, is sure there’s more to it than a reluctance to commit. His parents are clearly hiding something and he resolves to confront them. Meanwhile Harri and George’s friends are all having troubles of their own, and George is also having issues with his boyfriend Aidan. This is a bit of a weird book. It’s light and easy to read, even though there’s a tragedy at the heart of the story. I found the premise a bit odd/far-fetched though. What Harri and George’s parents reveal is certainly life-changing but I’m not sure what it has to do with Harri having panic attacks on her wedding day. It felt like the author needed some trigger for the reveal and also had the idea of someone unintentionally failing to show at her own wedding so she stuck the two stories together. Some parts of the book were funny, some sad, and others honestly just dragged. I doubt it will be one that sticks with me. 3 stars.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens. I was given this for my birthday last year and I’ve only just got around to reading it. The shame! When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their own secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they struggle to find any exciting mysteries to investigate. When Hazel finds the dead body of their science mistress, Miss Bell, she assumes there’s been an accident, until the body disappears! Now not only do Hazel and Daisy actually have a murder to solve – they have to prove one happened in the first place. This book is so fun – which seems an odd thing to say about something involving a murder, but it really is. A combination of a mystery and boarding school book, which were two of my favourite things as a child. It’s like Enid Blyton’s mystery books (Secret Seven, etc.) and her school books rolled into one… but with an actual murder. 4 stars and I definitely want to read book 2.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. This is essentially a year in the life of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, who spends most of his time trying to hide his stammer from his classmates lest they ostracise him and writing poems that he can never, ever tell anyone about because writing poems is “for girls”. It’s set in Britain, specifically a village in the English Midlands, the year is 1982, Thatcher reigns supreme, the Falklands War happens, there are references to things I remember and things I don’t (I was born in 1983). This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Being female, my experience was entirely different, but it felt like an accurate representation of life as a teenage boy in the days before mobile phones, etc. The bullying in the book seemed realistic (some of it was awful, but pretty much exactly what went down at my high school) and I found it really interesting to read about the Falklands War in a novel. Some parts of the story seemed to drag and take forever to get to, but I liked other parts and for the last few chapters I didn’t want to put it down. I didn’t love it enough to give it for stars, so I gave it 3… but it’s a high 3 (better than Kane and Abel, for instance). 3.75 maybe.

Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman. You may know Malorie Blackman as the author of the Noughts and Crosses series (which I still need to read the rest of). This is a totally different book. Dante is waiting for his A Level results, but when the door bell rings it’s not the postman but his ex-girlfriend, who nobody has heard from since she dropped out of school months ago. She has a baby with her, who she claims is hers and Dante’s. Then she goes to the shop, leaving the baby with Dante, and never comes back. This is such a good book. It was so refreshing to see something about teenage pregnancy from the male perspective that actually shows the father in a good light. After some initial reluctance (and anybody would panic suddenly having a small child dumped on them!) he actually steps up and becomes a really good dad to his daughter. A parallel story about Dante’s brother, Adam, is heartbreaking, but again Dante steps up and shows that he’s actually a really good big brother. 4 stars.

Everwild by Neal Shusterman. This is book 2 in the Skinjacker series. Everlost is an in-between world where children go when they have died but didn’t reach where they were going (the end of the proverbial “tunnel”). In book 1 (which I read in February – review here) Allie and Nick were involved in an accident and came to Everlost together, where they gradually learned the secrets of this world that is in the real world, but not quite. In book 2, Allie and Nick have gone their separate ways – Allie wants to go home and see what became of her parents and I can’t say what Nick is doing without giving spoilers for book 1. I enjoyed the first book I’m this series, thought it had interesting themes and a decent story. This one was even better. I was gripped and really wanted to know what would happen with each of the main characters. I am especially desperate to find out how Allie’s story concludes. 4 stars (I gave the first book 3 stars).

The Broken by Tamar Cohen. There is so much drama in this book. Essentially it’s the story of a couple, Dan and Sasha, who split up and another couple who are best friends with them and don’t want to choose sides, but end up being drawn in anyway. It’s a good portrayal of how the breakdown of a marriage affects more people than just the couple involved – children, shared friends, etc. But then it also tries to be a thriller, adding in another mysterious character and having weird things happen – is Sasha going mad? Doing these things to herself to make Dan look bad? Or is somebody really out to get her? In the end there was no proper conclusion – the apparent “plot twist” ended up feeling like a minor sub-plot even though it was the trigger for almost everything, and there was a really abrupt ending that made me feel like someone had got away with things. I gave it three stars because the marriage breakdown part was done well, it’s just the plot twist/thriller aspect that was unnecessary. Not everything has to be a thriller!

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carolo Rovelli. The final book I read in May was actually non-fiction. Shock, horror! Brief is right – I wasn’t expecting the book to be this short. It packs a surprising amount of information into so few pages though. It might be a bit simple for anyone who has more than a basic understanding of physics. Personally, having barely come into contact with physics since school (where I got as far as GCSE level), it was just detailed enough without either being overwhelming or making me feel stupid/patronised. A good starting point for further reading. The last section is a bit odd though. It’s about how people and science interact, not really a “lesson” on physics at all, and it seemed very philosophical and out of place. 4 stars.

And finally I’m done. I won’t write too much more here since this post is already long, just say you can find the link up here.

Have you read anything good recently? And if you’ve read any of the books mentioned here do you agree with my assessment?

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What I read in April 2018

It’s Show Us Your Books day again – the day that people all over the Internet talk about what they’ve been reading (and I add even more books to the never-ending list of things I want to read some day). Since I finished my reading for Erin’s challenge in March, this time I will simply be listing all my books in the order I read them. I have 13 books to review for you today, so let’s get on with it, shall we?

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Erin sent me this book ages and ages ago but I never got round to reading it – despite the fact that it would have fit two categories in her latest challenge. Oh well, I’ve read it now. It’s Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday, and he plans for it to be his last. But first he say goodbye to the only four friends he has in the world. This is the story of that birthday. I felt really conflicted about this book. There were times the main character in this book really annoyed me, even while I felt sorry for him, but most of the time I was totally gripped. The ending disappointed me though… it just felt really bleak, like nothing is going to change. I was left feeling really down when just a few pages before I had felt hopeful. 3.5 stars.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. This is a story about a fifteen-year-old girl named Alice. She wasn’t always Alice… when she was 10, she was taken away from her family. Her kidnapper still has her, but now she’s getting too old for him. The blurb says “This is Alice’s story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget“. They’re not wrong about that. It’s a difficult book to review, though. The writing is excellent, the plot is horrific. I mean, given the subject matter it had to be horrific, but I just found it disturbing from beginning to end. No hope whatsoever. It’s realistic, I guess, but too dark for me. 2 stars.

Between the Lives by Jess Shirvington. This is a fascinating book! For as long as she can remember, Sabine has lived two lives. Every night, at midnight, she shifts to her ‘other’ life, meaning she lives every day twice. She is exactly the same in both lives, but absolutely everything else is different. In one life she has a sister, in the other two brothers, in one life she’s a rich, popular, straight-A student, in the other she’s considered a reckless delinquent. She assumes that’s the way it will be forever, until one day she discovers a glitch: she breaks her arm in one life but in the other it’s perfectly fine (previously whatever physical things happened in one life also happened in the other). With her new knowledge, Sabine begins a series of experiments to see whether it would be possible to end one of her lives while staying alive in the other. But if she can have just one life, which will she choose? This book is not without its problems. Some of Sabine’s decisions I could not agree with at all. And if you want to read it you should be warned that there is some violence. But overall I absolutely loved this. It’s such an interesting concept and really made me think about what I would do if I had two lives. 4 stars.

Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat by Pip Jones. Given that this book is a) only 80 pages (most of which are taken up with illustrations) and b) aimed at 4 year olds I debated not including it here, but it is a book I read in March! This is the story of a little girl called Ava who finds an invisible cat and decides to keep him as a pet. Much mischief ensues (all Squishy McFluff’s doing, of course!). The book is told in rhyme and it’s very funny and cute. I plan to give my little cousin it and the second book in the series for her birthday this year. 4 stars.

Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell. This is basically a family drama, full of tragedy and secrets (if you hadn’t guessed from the title ;-)) When Dora Tide finds out she’s pregnant, she returns to her childhood home – scene of much drama – in the hope that she can come to terms with her past and make a fresh start for her and her baby. When I first started reading, the writing felt a little clunky and I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book, but once the story properly got going I was completely absorbed. The ending is a little too neat, but overall a solid read. 4 stars.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. I knew what this was about, of course, and I’ve seen the remake of the film (the one with Nicole Kidman), but I wanted to read the original – get the story straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. This is a short book, but an impactful one. Very creepy. I found it interesting how the husband’s opinions apparently changed dramatically between the beginning and end of the book. 4 stars for this one. I would love to read a sequel to this book, maybe set 10 years or so in the future, focusing on the children being brought up in these Stepford homes. Some of them were female… how did their fathers feel about them having minds of their own?

The Curse in the Candlelight by Sophie Cleverly. The fifth book in the Scarlet and Ivy series, after the last book took place on a school trip, in this one the twins are back at school for a new term. There are some new girls at the school one of whom – Ebony – claims to be a witch and seems to have the younger girls under her spell. When a prank on All Hallow’s Eve goes wrong, Ebony gets the blame, but Scarlet and Ivy aren’t so sure… It was nice to get away from evil teachers and have a slightly different kind of mystery in this one. Gothic and fun – a great addition to the series. I have enjoyed all the books in this series, but this is probably my favourite book since the first one. 5 stars.

The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow. First of all, I originally didn’t realise this was the US version of this book so I was really confused to see things like “sophomore year” being used in a book that’s supposed to be set in England. The original title is In Bloom, but the cover for this version is so much prettier. I mean, just look at it! Amber sunrise

Aside from that, I really liked this book. A lot of reviewers didn’t, which makes me feel like I’m missing something or somehow not as discerning as I should be. This is basically the story of two teenage cancer patients who meet and fall in love. You’re probably thinking “so it’s another The Fault in Our Stars, and maybe it is but I liked this one a lot better The Fault in Our stars – maybe because this one wasn’t hyped as the best/saddest book everrrrrr. It’s told from the perspective of the male half of the relationship. Francis, and while he did annoy me at times I loved his family (mum, brother, nan). It’s also set in North-East England, to which I can only say YAY! More northern books please! 4 stars.

House of Stairs by William Sleator. A lot of the reviews of this book are by people who say they read it as a child or teen and it’s stuck with them even many years later. Having read it, I can see why. It’s the story of five sixteen-year-old orphans in a future society who are brought into a room consisting of nothing but stairs and left to fend for themselves. The only other thing in there is a red machine that will give them food if they perform certain acts. I won’t say more because I really think it’s best to go in knowing very little. Oh, one of the orphans is overweight and the rest of the group frequently refer to her as “fat”. It’s not perfect by any means, but I gave it 5 stars because it really made me think.

Midnight’s Children by Salmen Rusdie. My longest read of the month… I was able to get through it in 12 days by taking it to work with me on both the times I was in the office this month (thank you long train rides) and also not picking up other books in between, which is what I usually end up doing with long books. This is another really difficult book to review. I really, really liked some parts. There’s one passage where he’s delirious with fever and hallucinating that was just amazing. Other parts are really confusing. I feel like I might have benefited from knowing more about Indian history, and specifically Indian independence/the partitioning of India and Pakistan (also a little ashamed of how little I do know given who they gained independence from…). That might have helped somewhat, but not fully. I can say that Salmen Rushdie is an amazing writer and I can see why this is considered his masterpiece. 4 stars – and another Big Read book done.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. About three years ago a friend gave me The Rosie Effect for my birthday, not realising it was a sequel. So when I needed a book for my journey home from work (having finished Midnight’s Children on the way there) it made sense to buy this one. Don Tilman is a professor of genetics, an respected expert in his field. But with his rigidity, adherence to strict schedules and preference of logic over emotion, he doesn’t have many friends… certainly no romantic partner. It has, however, been suggested to him that he might benefit from having a wife, and so, with the help of a questionnaire, he sets out to find one. A funny and cute story. Don Tilman definitely won my heart. This relatively “easy” read was exactly what I needed after Salmen Rushdie and I read almost the entire thing on my train journey. 5 stars.

The Woods by Harlan Coben. Twenty years ago, at summer camp, four teenagers went into the woods. The bodies of two of them were discovered the next day, the other two were never found but are presumed dead, the victims of a serial killer. One of the missing was the sister of Paul Copeland, the prosecutor for Essex County, New Jersey. Now immersed in one of the biggest cases of his career, the past is starting to come back to haunt him and he starts to question whether he really knows what happened that summer. This book has so many twists and turns. I thought I had an idea what happened, but I was wrong… or at least mostly wrong. Somebody I thought had done something actually turned out to have done something else (ha! How’s that for vague?). One thing that bothered me was the way certain women were described, although I guess that was supposed to be how Paul Copeland thinks and not necessarily the author’s views.  Some of the negative reviews for this one say that it follows the “usual Harlan Coben formula”. Luckily I haven’t read enough Harlan Coben to recognise any old materials so I enjoyed reading it. 4 stars.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. I loved this book! I could relate to Eliza in many ways (apart from the bit where she’s a fantastically talented artist and I’m average at literally everything). I don’t claim to have anxiety like she does, but I people do scare me and I am mostly quiet in social situations unless I force myself to speak. And I hated the whole social aspect of high school, even if I wasn’t treated as badly as Eliza is in this book. Mostly people ignored me, which was just fine with me, but some of my friends were quite badly bullied. I do have real life friends (although most of them live very far away now), but I appreciated how this book shows that online friends are just as “real” as people you live close to and see every day. I may not have met most of my readers, but I appreciate and care about each and every one of them. Anyway, I digress. Five stars for this book.

I also read Adulthood is a Myth in April. You can read my separate review of that one here.

And that’s it for this round up. I started another two books in April, but one I haven’t finished and the other I finished in May so that will be in next month’s post.

Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with my opinion on them? Read any good books recently? Any and all comments appreciated! Linking up with Jana and Steph, of course.

Ten books that intimidate me

Hello! This is (obviously) a bookish post, so if that’s not your cup of tea feel free to ignore it and come back another day. Those of you that are still around can pull up a pew and we’ll talk books…

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All of the following books area actually sitting on the bookshelves in my living room right now – some of them actually moved to Switzerland with me – but, for whatever reason, I haven’t yet got round to reading any of them. Some I bought just because, a few are on the BBC Big Read and at least one was a gift. What they all have in common is that they intimidate me… which you of course knew because you read the title. *Sigh* I’ll just get on with the list shall I?

1 It by Stephen King

I absolutely love Stephen King. Whenever I rattle off my favourite authors, he’s always right there on the list. I even wrote an essay about Needful Things back in school, and if forced to list my favourite books (an almost impossible task) I would definitely include The Green Mile. So I actually really want to read It. But every time I see it sitting on my shelf with it’s more than 1,300 pages I freak out and grab something else.

2 Ulysses by James Joyce

A BBC Big Read one. Technically so is It, but I would have put that on my list anyway whereas I bought Ulysses purely for the sake of the list. I’m not actually 100% sure what it’s about, other than somehow being somehow related to The Odyssey? At just over 900 pages it’s slightly shorter than It but somehow even more terrifying! What if I don’t understand it and end up feeling like an idiot?  Aaah!

3 The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

My grandparents gave me The Man in the Iron Mask, also by Dumas, for my birthday when I was something like 14 and I really enjoyed it, so you would think I’d be excited about this one. At over 1,000 pages, once again it’s the length that scares me. I actually like big books though, so I have no idea what my problem is…

4 The Godfather by Mario Puzo

This one is also on the BBC Big Read list – I doubt I would ever have picked it up otherwise. I like thrillers and I like crime, so this one should be right up my street. And it’s not even that long in relation to the three I’ve mentioned so far. But something about the Mafia just doesn’t really appeal. (I’ve never seen the films either by the way, in case anyone was wondering.)

5 H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction

Jan and I picked this up from the John Rylands Library gift shop in Manchester a few years ago. It’s leather bound with shiny page edges and it’s just gorgeous. This one is novellas and short stories, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to at least start it, but something keeps putting me off.

6 Map of a Nation by Rachel Hewitt

Ah, the first non-fiction book on my list. This is essentially the story of how the Ordnance Survey map came to be. I bought it for Jan as a Christmas gift years ago because he’s really interested in maps and then later also bought it for my dad, who reported that it was fascinating (Jan still hasn’t read it!). I’m always useless with non-fiction though, and where 400 and odd pages would be nothing in a novel, every time I think I might read this book I put it back because it seems really long.

7 Tintenherz by Cornelia Funke

A German one now – you will know it as Inkheart, book one of the Inkworld series. This was a Christmas gift from Jan’s mum way too many years ago… I remember lending it to our very first English intern at work when I’d only been there a couple of years myself! This is a book about books, and about characters in books coming to life. It really couldn’t be any more perfect for me. And I’ve read enough adult books in German for a children’s book not to be an issue… so why do I back off immediately when I happen to spot this one on my shelf?

8 The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

I bought this a few years ago intending to read it for a book challenge, but I ended up switching to something else instead. Since then, I’ve had this one in my hand a few times, but always put it back thinking I would prefer to read something shorter. Ironically, this one is only 560 pages – certainly not long enough to be scared of!

9 Ukraine’s Orange Revolution by Andrew Wilson

More non-fiction. At only 256 pages, this one should be a quick enough read and I genuinely do want to read more about my granddad’s country (even if the events of the book happened long after he left, and in fact many years after his death). Alas,  choose fiction over politics and history almost every time!

10 Blasmusikpop by Vea Kaiser

Finally, another German one. I actually went to a reading of this book, and enjoyed the extract so much that I bought a book at the event and had the author sign it. I’m pretty sure I will love this book when I finally actually get round to reading it, but every time I see it staring accusingly at me from the shelf I hastily choose something else to read. Maybe my reluctance to read this one is precisely because I’ve left it so long?

I have more intimidating books on my shelves, but ten is quite enough for one post! So, have you read any of these? Care to reassure me that they’re not as scary as I’ve built them up to be? (Or alternatively tell me that they’re really hard to read my reluctance is justified!) Do you own any books that you find intimidating but actually really want to give a chance? Answers in the comments! Or, you know, just write your own post and I’ll come and have a nosy.

The books I read in August 2017

It’s the first Tuesday of the month again, and that means it’s time for Show Us Your Books. In August, I read six books (or really read five and finished a sixth) – four of which were for the bonus Erin‘s reading challenge. I am listing the challenge books first in the order I read them, followed by the the two books I read that weren’t part of the challenge.

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One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus (358 pages, read for the “published in 2017 category). So, the basic idea is that five students walk into detention, but only four walk out. The fifth dies and the other four are all under suspicion of murdering him. I loved this book so, so much. All the characters had something to hide and in the beginning not all of them were likeable (particularly Addy who was basically a puppet with no mind of her own!), but by halfway through I liked them all and didn’t want any of them to be the murderer! I actually guessed who did it before the end, but with so many twists and turns I doubted myself and changed my mind several times. I kept going back to the same theory though and in the end I turned out to be right… sort of. I didn’t guess the entire story. My only small issue with the book was that the ending came too suddenly. It would have been nice to see the why explored a bit more. After everything that went on I feel like the ending should maybe have been a bit darker. Oh, and Nate, the bad guy, drug dealer, was kind of a cliché. Despite those few issues I gave it 5 stars. Such a fun read!

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes (217 pages, read for the “banned/challenged books category). Olive is a girl who died in an accident. Martha was in her class at school. The synopsis says there were “eerie connections” between the girls and they “share a secret”. Given that, I was expecting something much more dramatic, but the connections are tenuous at best. One of them is Olive always wanted to go to the ocean, Martha goes every year. Wow, so eerie! I’ve always wanted to go to Japan.. do any of my readers go regularly? Wow, such an eerie connection between us! And the “secret” wasn’t much of one at all – maybe I read too many heavy books so when something tame comes along I don’t expect it? Anyway, overall this is a quick little read, the baby sister is cute and Martha’s relationship with her grandmother is sweet and touching, but honestly the best description I can think of is “nice”. Pleasant enough to read but basically forgettable. 3 stars and zero idea why it was challenged!

Gracefully Grayson Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (256 pages, read for the “yellow cover” category. Photo as evidence). For as long as Grayson can remember, he’s been keeping a secret: he’s trapped in the wrong body – inside, “he” is a girl. Telling anyone would mean, rejection, ridicule or even worse. Then “he” tries out for a female part in the school play… This book is totally adorable! I just wanted to give Grayson a big hug and tell him everything was going to be okay. Parts of the book felt a bit repetitive and in places it seemed almost too simple/lacking in detail, but maybe that’s just because of the target audience. But basically it’s a quick and lovely read. 4 stars.

The Posionwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (526 pages, read for my freebie book). I had zero idea what this book was going to be about when I read it. I chose it because a) it’s on the BBC Big Read list and b) it had previously been chosen for the challenge. It turns out to be the story of an evangelical Baptist family who go on a mission to the Congo in 1959, their time there and the aftermath, told from the perspective of the minister’s four daughters and his wife. Some parts of this book dragged and I wanted to skip them. Other parts were fascinating. I really liked the different points of view and different attitudes to colonialism, westernisation, religious missions, etc. It’s a looong read but overall worth it. 4 stars.

And that was my four books for Erin’s challenge. Here are the other two books I read.

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. I had started this in July then when I had to go into the office, I forgot to put a challenge book in my bag so this was all I had to read. This was another one that was fantastic in places but dragged in others. I actually slightly preferred the first book in the series – Titus Groan. There wasn’t enough Fuchsia on this one! But especially towards the end I got sucked in and didn’t want to stop reading. 4 stars. I don’t think I will bother with part 3 though – this is the one that’s on the BBC Big Read list.

One by Sarah Crossan. This one has a yellow cover, so if anyone is doing Erin’s challenge and still needs something to fill that category I can recommend. This is the story of Tippi and Grace, co-joined twins. It’s written in verse, which I hadn’t realised when I bought it and at first it was a bit off-putting. The style actually turned out to be perfect for this story though. It’s a gorgeous book: emotional, affecting, moving and somehow just beautiful. (So many adjectives!) I would have liked to hear from Tippi as well – the story felt a bit one-sided with only the one twin’s point of view – but overall it was a really good book. I think having co-joined twins as the main characters is probably unique in YA literature and I thought Sarah Crossan did a good job of handling the topic sensitively. To me, it read like she had really done her research. Another 4 star read, but a very different 4 stars to the last two. Probably more like 4.5. Not perfect but I 100% recommend.

And that makes six. Have you read anything good recently?

Linking up with Jana and Steph, of course.

Book challenge by Erin 7.0: Bonus round

Somehow I managed to be the first to finish round 1 of Erin’s reading challenge, so I’ve been waiting more or less patiently for half of July to be able to start the bonus round. Finally August has arrived and I can reveal what I will be reading for the rest of the summer.

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For each of these categories, I get an extra 5 points if the book I read was previously chosen (and 5 of the books must have been previously chosen anyway), so I spent most of today going through all the books that had been used for the first round and trying to find ones that I either already own or can buy from Amazon at a reasonable price. Now I think I’ve managed to put together a list that consists only of previously chosen books  🙂 (Fellow participants… please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

So without further ado, here is my bonus round list:

10 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The person who chose this in the first round had it as a book with a mostly yellow cover, but my copy is the same as the one in the link and it’s orange, not yellow, so freebie it is. I need to read this book anyway for my BBC Big Read challenge.

15 points: Read a book that starts with the letter “B”

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. Before I discovered Goodreads, I had a physical handwritten list of books I wanted to read. This one was on that list, so it’s probably about time I actually read it!

15 points: Read a book that has a (mostly) yellow cover

I have ordered a copy of Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky, so hopefully when it turns up the cover will actually be yellow.

20 points: Read a book that has a picture of an animal on the cover

The Dog Who Came in from the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith looked really interesting. There seem to be a few editions, so hopefully the copy I’ve ordered will turn out to actually have a dog on the cover!

25 points: Read a book that was published in 2017

Every time I log on to Goodreads someone else seems to have reviewed One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus and every time I see it my brain starts playing the ABBA song! Please tell me I’m not the only one? Anyway, the concept sounds really interesting and I’m excited to read this one.

25 points: Read a book with a compass or cardinal direction in the title

I’m sure I saw East of Eden by John Steinbeck in the Goodreads group for the challenge? This is another one that I have to read for the BBC Big Read, and if I failt to complete the bonus round I have a feeling it will be because of this book.

30 points: Read a book from this list of the most commonly banned books in America: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_commonly_challenged_books_in_the_United_States

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. Somehow I’ve never come across this book before, but it sounds like something I will like.

35 points: Read a fictional book about mental illness

I recently bought Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk without even realising it would qualify for this category. Now I don’t have to wait until the challenge is over to read it. Yay!

35 points: Read a book with a non-human main character; i.e. animals, elves, gods, robots, merpeople, etc.

We’ve had American Gods by Neil Gaiman sitting on our bookcase for far too long! Usually it would be something I would read with Jan, but we have loads of books to read and no time to read them together, so I’ll just have to go it along with this one.

40 points: Read a book a Disney movie was based on OR a book based on a Disney movie

(Ha, my British English spell-checker doesn’t recognise movie as a word!)
I really wanted to read The Fox and the Hound for this category, but both Amazon Germany and Amazon UK are only selling it as either a Kindle edition (“not available in your country”) or a really, really expensive hardcover… and I am not paying over 100 euros for a book! So I’ve chosen A Whole New World by Liz Braswell purely because it was cheaper than As Old As Time 😉

And those are my choices for the bonus round. Who else is playing? Show me your list!

And while I’m here, have a photo of last night’s fireworks over the Rhine as a reward for getting this far 😉 Today is Switzerland’s national holiday so happy birthday Switzerland!

Swiss national holiday

Book challenge by Erin 6.0: bonus round check in 1

Today I am checking in for the bonus round of Erin‘s current reading challenge. Don’t worry, I haven’t finished already 😉 Although I am quite impressed that I got through my choice for “favourite author”…

Here’s what I read for the challenge in February:

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10 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (399 pages). I had absolutely no idea what this book was about – had never seen the film and somehow had never heard anything about it. Turns out there is no real story. Not one with a beginning, middle and end anyway. Instead we just follow the titular psycho around while he socialises and shops and eats in New York City. Oh, and occasionally kills someone… brutally, graphically, violently. Obviously I was expecting it to be disturbing and graphic, but it was so much more disturbing than I was expecting. Especially towards the end. What I was not expecting was constant references to Donald Trump. Even in fiction I can’t escape him! I gave it 4 stars but I will never, ever read it again!

15 points: Read a book that starts with the letter “W”.

I had two choices for this one, but I decided to read Where She Went by Gayle Forman (264 pages) because it had been on my list longer. Also there are extra bonus points for choosing books that someone had already chosen for the challenge. I must have loved If I Stay because as soon as I finished it I knew I needed to read the sequel, but by the time I got round to reading this one I only had a vague recollection of the story. I still know the main outline, obviously, and I remember crying a lot, but the details are gone. Hmm. Anyway, I really loved this one. I was devastated for Adam and once Mia came back on the scene I really felt for her as well. It made me think about what I would have done in her situation. 5 stars.

20 points: Read a book that has a (mostly) green cover.

green-coverThe Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson (434 pages). This book was not at all what I was expecting! I thought it would be some kind of chick lit/romantic comedy, and in a way it is, but it’s also so much more than that. There is romance, but there’s also a mystery and parts of it are very dark. It deals with mental health and there is a twist that I truly was not expecting. I don’t really know how to review this any further without giving things away, so I’ll just say you should definitely give it a chance. It got 4 stars from me anyway. Photo to the left to prove the cover is green 😉

25 points: Read a book with a homonym in the title

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (324 pages; homonym = tale/tail). I had literally zero idea what this book was about. All I knew was that it’s some kind of classic and people seem to rate it highly. And it’s number 131 in the BBC Big Read list so I would have had to read it no matter what. It turns out that it’s really good, and also incredibly relevant right now given the current political situation in various countries. The story is a bit disjointed and vague, which would probably annoy some people, but I actually thought that was quite a clever tactic – it let you fill in the blanks yourself (potentially with even worse things than the author was imagining) and reinforced the fact that the narrator was very much kept in the dark. At the time it was written this book probably seemed extreme and nobody believed it could ever actually happen. I might have thought that myself if I had read it 10 years ago. But now, in 2017, I’m not so sure. 5 stars.

25 points: (Submitted by Linda) Read a book by your favourite author

I could never pick just one favourite author, so I chose from among the few I always list when asked. Stephen King has been a favourite ever since I read Insomnia when I was far too young to actually understand what I was reading. For this challenge, I read The Stand (1439 pages). Although I love King’s writing, my one problem with him is that he has a tendency to go on and on, long past when he should have stopped. This book is definitely one that could have done with being shorter. Admittedly it’s partly my own fault for reading the uncut edition, but even the original was 817 long, long pages. On the positive side, the writing was, as always, excellent, as was the characterisation – King always makes me feel like his characters are real, and it’s amazing how different he makes them all. How does he manage to get into the minds of such a variety of people? The story of the plague that destroyed the world and the struggles of the few survivors made a really compelling story. However, the supernatural element felt out of place in this one. The whole good versus evil, or God versus the devil (or someone like him) sub-plot made no sense, especially given the ending. Trying not to give too much away, but in my opinion “good” didn’t even defeat “evil” in this book – a few good guys turned up where the good guys were and then something accidental happened and the day was saved… but not by the people who had trekked all that way to save the day. What? It almost felt like King had got that far with the story and had no idea how he even wanted to end it. Minus one star for that. I still gave it 4 though because I really did enjoy reading it – and got through all those pages surprisingly quickly.

And that’s it. I’m halfway through the bonus round with two months to go.

Are you taking part in this challenge? Read anything good recently?

Book Challenge By Erin 6.0: Complete

I woke up early this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I decided to make the most of my time and read the last remaining book I needed to complete Erin‘s latest reading challenge. My preliminary list was here, for those who are interested. I did end up changing my picks for one or two categories…

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5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages.

The Disappearance by Annabel Kantaria (382 pages). I guessed most of the twists in this one before the end, well kind of at least… one event didn’t go down exactly as I thought it had. Parts of the story felt vaguely familiar as well, which spoiled my enjoyment a bit. I ended up giving this one 3 stars.

10 points: Read a book that starts with the letter “W”.

Without a Trace by Lesley Pearse (406 pages) – which I forgot to include on the photograph with the others. I quite enjoyed this, although it wasn’t as good as other books I’ve read by the same author. Everything seemed to come out too well in the end. It was an intriguing mystery though. 4 stars.

10 points: Read a book with six words in the title.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (434 pages). I’m not sure I’d call what I was reading about here “love”… obsession maybe? And – trying not to give too much away – there was one extremely disturbing aspect of the storyline. The writing was good though. 4 stars.

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15 points: Read a book that has a (mostly) green cover.

I was stuck on this one, but then the lovely Alison who blogs at View from the Teapot sent me a green book – The Conjuror’s Bird by Martin Davies (305 pages). Part love story, part mystery, part historical fiction, this is not a book I would have picked up myself but it turned out to be really enjoyable. My only complaint is that there were three stories within the book and I felt like none of them got the attention they deserved in such a short book. 4 stars. Photo to the left to prove it’s green 😉

20 points: Read a book with a homonym in the title.

The Secret by the Lake by Louise Douglas (410 pages), with the homonym being by (buy/bye). I really wanted to enjoy this book. It was spooky and atmospheric with a family tragedy and a mystery from the past… but somehow it didn’t really suck me in. I got through it quickly enough but ended up feeling unsatisfied. And I guessed one of the big things that was going on way before the end. A rather meh 3 stars.

20 points: (Submitted by Linda) Read a book by your favourite author.

I don’t have a favourite author (although I might say Terry Pratchett if absolutely forced to choose), so I read a book by one of the authors I can’t get enough of: The Trespasser by Tana French (468 pages). I have enjoyed all of her books, although the first one disappointed me slightly, and each one seems to get that little bit better. I LOVED this one and gave it 5 stars.

25 points: (Submitted by Christina) Read a book set in the city/town/state/territory/county/province where you live.

Yeah, it doesn’t say country anywhere here, but I’m hoping Erin will let this count anyway. I did find one book that was set in Basel but it turned out not to be long enough, so I read And Both Were Young by Madeleine L’Engle (238 pages). It is set in Switzerland, but in the French-speaking part, somewhere near Lake Geneva. It’s a boarding school book, and I do love a good boarding school book (I’m still trying to collect all the Chalet School books!). This one is quite a sweet one and has all the “traditional” ingredients – awkward or unlikeable girl realises things aren’t so bad and manages to make friends. It takes place just after World War 2 and I felt like the events of the war were glossed over a bit, despite being a major plot point, which is why I only gave it 4 stars.

30 points: (Submitted by Peggy) Read a “Rory Gilmore” book.

I read High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (245 pages) just this morning. It was a quick and fairly easy read, full of fun pop culture references (I’m sure you all know the story). However… and pay attention to this  next bit because I doubt I will ever say/type it again… the film was better! Something about the story just seemed to work better on the screen… Only 3 stars for this one.

30 points: (Submitted by Stef Read a book from a genre that you’ve never read (or rarely read.)

The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat (444 pages) is a war story and I really don’t like war stories… usually. This one surprised me by actually being quite readable! It’s basically a story of the British navy’s part in World War 2, focusing on a particular ship that had the job of escorting non-navy ships to their destinations. 4 stars.

35 points: (Submitted by Ferne) Read a book with time travel.

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terril (360 pages). I absolutely loved this book! The writing style, the characters. And even though it’s about time travel, it wasn’t too sci-fi-ish (if that makes any sense?). It was basically an action/adventure/romance that just happened to involve travelling back in time. Highly recommend! 5 stars.

And that’s all. I’m amazed that I actually managed to read all my books within the first month of the challenge! And 3 of them also count for the BBC Big Read, which is nice. Now I shall await the bonus round…