Hello friends. Today is my birthday and also Show Us Your Books day… could there be a better gift? July was an excellent reading month for me… I managed to read 20 books, which is one fewer than in my best ever reading month. With so much to get through, I don’t want to ramble on too much, so I’ll just get on with it. Linking up with Jana and Steph, of course. TL;DR at the bottom if you just want to know which ones I recommend without reading the whole post.
The first three weeks of the month were completely dominated by reading for Erin’s reading challenge, so the first ten reviews here are from that. If you want to know the categories, you can find them here.
Joyland by Stephen King. In 1973, Devin Jones gets a summer job at an amusement park called Joyland where he learns that a young girl was murdered on the haunted house ride a few years ago. Supposedly her ghost has been seen there since then. In between nursing a broken heart after being dumped by his first love and learning that he actually has a talent for entertaining kids, Devin decides to investigate the murder… or rather gets one of his friends to do all the work for him. He also befriends a single mother and her son, who is dying. This book is part ghost story, part murder mystery but mostly coming of age. It’s far from being my favourite Stephen King story but it’s a quick read and I was reminded, once again, that he certainly can write. Devin felt so real to me. A few things threw me though – were smoothies really that big in the 70s that someone would just casually invite someone in for one? I don’t think I’d even heard of a smoothie until about 2000, although I’m not from the US so maybe it was different there. Whatever. 3.5 stars.
The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey. I bought this book last year then I realised it’s not a sequel to The Girl With All the Gifts, but more of a companion… or prequel, really. But when I realised it fit a category for Erin’s challenge I decided it was time to get over myself and just read it. I don’t really know what to say about this one because if you haven’t read The Girl With All the Gifts you really should go into that one without knowing what it’s all about. So maybe skip to the next review if that applies to you? So, in this one a group of soldiers venture out from London , tracking down caches left my a previous team to find out whether any of them have been left in an environment that’s inhospitable to the pathogen the causes the plague that’s struck society. They also occasionally stop to take samples from the “hungries” for analysis. Meanwhile there are all sorts of tensions within the team – one is a spy, half the crew seem to hate the other half and many of them are hiding secrets. The story mainly revolves around Dr Khan, who discovers she’s pregnant after the start of the mission, and a teenager named Stephen, her ward, who is some kind of genius, probably on the autistic spectrum (although diagnoses kind of went out the window when the world basically ended) and invented the cream that makes people invisible to those who are infected. I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as The Girl With All the Gifts. I missed Melanie – she was such a fantastic character. Some of the characters in this one are cliché (particularly the soldier-types who shoot first and ask questions afterwards) and I hated the way they treated Stephen. But other than that I really did enjoy being back in this world. The ending really tied things together for me and provided some resolution for the first book as well so I’m glad I read it. Technically it could probably be read as a standalone but I don’t think it would be as enjoyable without having read the other book first. 4 stars.
The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. Ceony Twill has just graduated from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined at the top of her class and is really annoyed to have been assigned an apprenticeship as a paper magician – she wanted to learn metal and once bonded to an element you can never control anything else. Yet the spells she learns under her new master, the kindly Thane, turn out to be more wonderful than she could ever have imagined – animating paper creatures so they come to life, creating paper snow that’s actually cold, reading fortunes. But then an Excisioner — a practitioner of the forbidden dark magic involving flesh — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will literally take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart. This could have been really good. The magic is fantastic – paper animals brought to life. I adored Fennel, the dog Thane makes from paper. But the writing and the whole world are just confusing. It’s supposed to be set in London but at one point the main character – born and raised in England – cooks biscuits and gravy. Biscuits in the UK are cookies and you certainly don’t eat them with gravy. Nothing about it sounded British! And it didn’t sound like it was taking place in the early 1900s either. There were a few “quaint” expressions that I suppose the author thought would make the book sounded dated but they really didn’t. It would have been a lot more convincing if it were set in modern day New York. A disappointing 2.5 stars.
I, Coriander by Sally Gardner. The daughter of a merchant and his beautiful wife, Coriander’s childhood in seventeenth century England is a happy one, until her mother dies and her father – a Royalist – is driven into hiding by her wicked stepmother and the rise of Oliver Cromwell. When the fanatical (and evil) Puritan minister Arise Fell locks her in a chest and leaves her to die, she is transported to fairyland where she discovers her mother was actually a fairy princess and her daughter has inherited some of her magic. Now it’s up to Coriander to use her new-found magic in order to save both herself and an inhabitant of the fairy world from the evil-doers of both worlds. is a cute book. I would have appreciated more detail on the fairytale world – maybe some explanation of must what was so special about the prince. But this is Coriander’s tale and her life is rooted in London. I did appreciate Coriander being the one to do the saving – no week girls relying on men-folk here! And I loved Hester. It was a pleasant surprise that Coriander’s step-sister was not portrayed as “wicked” but as much a victim of her mother as anyone else. 3.5 stars.
Lost Boy by Christina Henry. We all know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who doesn’t grow up. But that’s just one story. What about the other side? Peter brought Jamie to the island many years ago because there were no grown ups and they could play and do as they liked all day. He brought boys from the Other Place to join the fun. But it’s never been all fun and games on the island, where their neighbours are pirates and monsters, their toys are stones and knives and their games are violent – and often deadly. Peter promised they would all be young and happy forever. Peter lied. This is Jamie’s side of the story… better known to readers as Captain James Hook. This is a dark and twisted tale that takes just enough from the original story to make it seem like it *could* have happened like that. I thoroughly enjoyed this other side of the story retelling. 4 stars.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. Eileen Dunlop is an unassuming yet disturbed young woman, trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen’s days are filled with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. All while she fills her time with shoplifting, obsessing over a prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When beautiful, bright Rebecca Saint John comes to work at the prison just before Christmas, Eileen is unable to resist what she thinks is the start of a wonderful friendship. Until her affection for Rebecca pulls her into complicity in a crime. I liked this book to start with. Eileen is a thoroughly unlikeable character – tightly wound, disturbed, you could even call her disgusting. She dresses in her dead mother’s clothes, has a really messed up relationship with her body, hates the idea of anyone knowing she has actual body functions and frequently neglects even the most basic hygiene. But for all that, she’s utterly fascinating. The writing is so good that you can’t help but read on even while wondering why you would possibly want to read about such an awful person and her mundane little life. But after a while things started to get repetitive and I found myself wishing the book would hurry up and get to whatever point it was trying to make. There were so many references to “the last time I would see him” or “if I had known that I wasn’t coming back” that I wanted to shout at her to just get on with it! The ending, when it finally came, was anti-climatic. If this hadn’t been short and for a challenge I probably wouldn’t have bothered finishing it. 2.5 stars.
The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. Ashton Pelham-Martyn is the son of an English botanist, born on the road while his parents are travelling through India. His mother dies shortly after his birth. When he loses his father just a few years later, his nanny is supposed to take him back to his people, but circumstances intervene and result in her adopting him as her son and raising him as a Hindu, believing it’s the only way to keep him safe. When she dies, he finds out his true parentage. As a result, Ash ends up torn between his two identities, always able to see both sides of the picture, resulting in lots of trouble when he later joins the army. He then falls in love with a beautiful Indian princess, complicating matters even further. This book went on and on and on. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I liked parts of it. I enjoyed most of the childhood part and I was genuinely invested in Ash and Juli’s love story and wanted to know how things would work out for them, I also loved the character of Wally. In between there were parts that dragged. There was a lot of history, which makes sense given that the author most likely assumed the readers would know very little about India (probably true), but a lot of those sections read like a history book. Surely there must have been a better way to do it? At times it almost seemed like the author was trying to pack in everything she knew about Indian history just to prove that she did know it. I think the main problem is that it didn’t really know what it wanted to be. It’s definitely historical fiction (with too much of an emphasis on history, if you ask me) but is it a romance, a war book, the story of someone trying to find his place in a world where he doesn’t fully belong to any one group? It was supposed to be Ash’s story, but half the time it felt more like the story of the British occupation of India. It’s all of those in one and it’s just too much. There are also too many places. Ash must have been in every region of India at some point! (As well as England and Afghanistan). There are enjoyable parts and the writing is mostly good. If it wasn’t so long I would probably recommend it but honestly it’s not worth slogging through all the politics/history for the sake of the actual story. 3 stars.
Der vertauschte Mantel by Jean-Pierre Gattégno. André Jefferson is a French teacher at a secondary school in Paris, and he hates his job. He was meant for a completely different lifestyle, far away from the humdrum of everyday life. After all, his father was no less than Sir James Andrew Jefferson, British diplomat in Cairo and Alexandria. Such a shame a single financial scandal cost him all his riches and, ultimately, his life, leaving his only son stuck in a dead-end job, scouring second hand shops to be able to buy the expensive clothing brands he loves. Then, one evening, the mother of one of his pupils offers him the chance to earn some money. Lots of money. This book was so weird. The main character is obsessed with clothes. He goes on and on about brand names, what he’s wearing, what he was wearing on another occasion. And he keeps repeating himself. I can see why his colleagues didn’t like him – I didn’t either! He’s also totally naive. Someone offers him a huge amount of money to do something and it never occurs to him that the “something” could be criminal. Then when he agrees to help with the crime he’s surprised when the people involved continue to commit crimes. It picked up a bit towards the end but I can’t say I was sorry when it was over. Very much just okay. 2 stars.
Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor. Felicia is a young, unmarried and pregnant Irish girl who has come to England to look for her lover. Instead she is found by Mr Hilditch, a strange and lonely man, who at first seems to be trying to help, but gradually reveals that he has something else entirely in mind. This is well written and parts of it are creepy. Mr Hilditch made my skin crawl at times. But it’s verrrry slow and I was confused by some parts. The “twist” wasn’t particularly surprising, to me at least. Not bad, but not great either. 3 stars.
Schwarzer Regen by Karl Olsberg. It wasn’t a question of “if”, but “when”… and now it’s finally happened. A deadly attack on a major German city. One of the many victims is Ben, son of ex.police officer Lennard Pauly. While completing a surveillance mission, the private detective discovers something that makes him doubt the official explanation for the attack. While the whole country is being consumed with hate, violence and hostility towards foreigners, he sets out to find out the truth. So, first of all, when I read “major German city” I was not expecting it to be Karlsruhe. It was very strange reading about landmarks in a place where I have lived being blown up! As for the review… this book is is weird. Most of action happens at the beginning, then we have a confusing mishmash of characters who are bound by a very flimsy thread. There’s also a random mathematician character who has been looking at the writings of Nostradamus and sort of predicts the attack but gets the time and place slightly wrong, then reappears once more later in the book but is ultimately utterly pointless and I didn’t understand why he was even in the book. Parts of it are exciting but then the resolutions of the various threads are just incredibly disappointing. 2.5 stars.
Once I was done with Erin’s challenge, I moved onto the Reading Rush, a week long readathon with seven categories to complete. Each completed category earned you a badge on the website and you were allowed to use one book for several prompts, but there was also a bonus badge for reading seven books so obviously I wanted to go all out and have one book per category. Here’s what I read for that:
Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez. Duke and Earl are just passing through Rockwood county in their pick-up truck when they stop at Gil’s diner for a quick bite to eat. They’re not planning on sticking around for long, but then owner Loretta offers them 100 dollars to help find out why zombie attacks are such a regular occurrence at the diner. Given that Duke is a werewolf and Earl’s a vampire that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, right? But the shambling dead are just the tip of the iceberg. Someone’s out to drive Loretta from the diner, and is more than happy to raise a little hell on Earth if that’s what it takes. This is not exactly high literature, but it’s a fun and entertaining read. I liked Earl and Duke’s friendship. There are some sexist bits when it comes to describing how “hot” the girl causing all the problems is, but nonetheless I liked it for its sheer silliness. 3.5 stars.
Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Ross Montgomery. For centuries, people have been trying to discover what lies at the centre of the Forbidden Lands. One of those is Alex’s father, the most famously failed explorer in the history of the Cusp, who has just escaped from hospital again, yelling ‘squiggles’. Now the evil Davidus Kyte and all his henchmen are after Alex, convinced he alone knows the meaning of the word ‘squiggles’. Alex really isn’t the type of boy for adventures, but with the help of a talking dog and a girl with unfeasibly sharp teeth, he just might have what it takes to cross the Forbidden Lands, escape the evil Davidus Kyte, and find out what lies beyond the Cusp. I enjoyed this. It’s fun and quirky, but with a surprisingly deep storyline underneath the silliness. 4 stars. Also, this was my 100th book of the year. Just thought I’d point that out.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Ivan, an easygoing gorilla, lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when a newcomer arrives at the mall in the form of Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see his art and their home through new eyes. Ivan knows Ruby doesn’t belong at the mall, but how can he possibly change things for the better? Based on a true story, this book is heart-warming and heartbreaking in equal measure. Everyone should read it! 5 stars.
Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman. Olivia, or Vee, and her twin brother Aidan are heading back to Earth after a virus wiped out the rest of their crew three years earlier. Nathan is part of a community heading in the opposite direction. But on their journey, Nathan’s ship is attacked. Olivia tries to save them, but most of the community are wiped out. The few survivors join Olivia and Aidan on their ship, where Nathan and Olivia are instantly attracted to each other, deeply, head-over-heels – like nothing they have ever experienced. But not everyone is pleased with this development. With people being murdered on board and suspicions and rumours flying, is a happily-ever-after even possible? For the most part I liked this book. I read it quickly and even though I worked out some of the twist I still thought it was well done. There are lots of little hints dropped throughout so you can work out what’s going on if you’re paying attention. But Nathan’s character really let it down. I really didn’t like him. Especially after a certain scene which is, quite frankly, abusive. I don’t care what he thought Vee she had done – that is never okay. Both he and Vee seemed really immature for their age – and in Vee’s case at least I could kind of understand it. She hadn’t really been around people since she was 15 so she didn’t really have a chance to mature and grow. The world building was… not great. There’s a lot of mentions of different planets, etc. but no real explanation of how they all fit into the overall scheme. And there’s something called “the Authority” that certain people are apparently working against, but you never really find out what exactly the Authority actually is. You also don’t find out until almost the end what Vee’s ship was doing out there before the rest of the crew get wiped out. It definitely feels like it’s been set up for a sequel. Supposedly this is a retelling of Othello. I can’t comment on that since I either never knew or have completely forgotten the plot of Othello. 3 stars.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Peter rescued Pax when he was just a kit, after the fox cub’s family were all killed . Now the country is at war and when his father enlists, Peter has no choice but to move in with his grandfather. But far worse than leaving home is the fact that he is forced to leave Pax behind. Before Peter spends even one night under his grandfather’s roof he sneaks out into the night, determined to find his beloved friend. This book is very simple. For some reason I expected there to be more too it. I thought it would be really sad, but actually I only teared up at the ending. It was the perfect ending, but I still felt sad. I think kids will love it though – I certainly would have. 3.5 stars
Chocolat by Joanne Harris. When the exotic stranger Vianne Rocher arrives in the old French village of Lansquenet with her daughter, Father Reynaud immediately identifies her as a serious danger to his flock. Especially when she opens a chocolate boutique called “La Celeste Praline” directly across the square from the church at the beginning Lent, of all times. To make matters worse, Vianne is an unmarried mother, does not go to church and has a penchant for superstition. But she quickly begins to win over customers with her smiles, her intuition for everyone’s favourites, and her delightful confections. Her shop provides a place, too, for secrets to be whispered, grievances aired. She begins to shake up the rigid morality of the community. Vianne’s plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival divide the whole community. This was a reread for me, but it had been a while and I had forgotten some things. I enjoyed it just as much as the first time round. I love Joanne Harris’s writing. I wish I could be like Vianne and enjoy my life without caring what people think of me. Now I want to reread the other books as well before I try to get hold of the fourth book in the series, which has recently been released. Beware, this book will make you crave chocolate! 4 stars.
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banker with big plans. Even though Mark has just lost his job, the newly weds head off on a dream honeymoon to the tropical island of Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. Suddenly, they are faced with a choice… to speak out or to protect their secret. After all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events. This book should have been good, and it starts off well, but it’s sooo slow and bogged down by way too much irrelevant detail. I didn’t need to know every choice they could have had on their wedding menu or an intricate description of how to take a gun apart. It took me 6 days to read it because I kept putting it down. I also didn’t really like the main character – she annoyed me from the very start. There were a couple of more interesting parts in the middle but overall it’s just not a good thriller. Also, the main character is randomly pregnant which seemed totally irrelevant to the story, other than as a weird way of showing her relationship isn’t so perfect as she keeps putting off telling her husband. Every time she said “I’ll tell him after I do this thing” I wanted to slap her. Meh. 2 stars.
On the final day of the Reading Rush, having completed by last book, I decided to pick up another one to try and clear away the lingering taste of Something in the Water. I chose something quick and easy that I expected to be good, and managed to read half of it that night.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don’t stand out – under any circumstances. The Stargirl arrives and everything changes. After 15 years of home schooling, the colourful Stargirl bursts into tenth grade, completed with ukulele, and commences scattering kindness like confetti, serenading people on their birthdays and cheering both teams at sporting events. But popularity is fickle, and suddenly Stargirl is shunned for everything that makes her different. Somewhere in the midst of Stargirl’s arrival and rise and fall, perfectly normal Leo Borlock has tumbled into love with her. I wish everyone could be more like Stargirl – although a couple of things about her did disturb me. Turning up uninvited at a stranger’s funeral was a little creepy. It was nice that she wanted to do things for other people, but her parents should maybe have taught her at least a little about boundaries. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than someone singing happy birthday to me in front of my entire high school! Also, I kept thinking the characters were younger than they were supposed to be. The first time Leo mentioned driving I was shocked because in my head all the characters were about 13. I think 11 or 12 would be the perfect age to read it – I’m sure I would have given it 5 stars back then. But with no nostalgia factor it’s a 3.5 for me.
Finally, with all reading challenges done, I slotted in two “just because” books at the very end of the month.
Words in Deep Blue by Cathy Crowley. Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie are best friends. Or they were, until Rachel moved away. Before she left, she placed a note for Henry between the pages of his favourite book at his family’s used book store confessing her love for him. Henry never responded and continued going out with pretty, popular Amy, who only loves herself but is happy to tolerate Henry loving her too. Now Rachel is back and grieving for her brother Cal, who drowned in the sea that he loved. To make matters worse, she has to work with Henry. I expected this to be a 5 star book, but somehow it just wasn’t quite there. I really enjoyed the bookish aspect and the sibling relationships (Rachel/Cal and also Henry and his sister). And I cried, so obviously I felt something. I did really love it, but it was just missing that final extra spark that would make it a full 5 stars. I think the overall popular/pretty girl vs best friend storyline was just a tiny bit too predictable. 4 stars.
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. When sixteen-year-old Grace gives up her baby for adoption, she decides its time to find out more about her own biological mother, and in doing so discovers she has two siblings. There’s Maya, her loud-mouthed younger sister. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. When her adopted family’s problems begin to surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where it is that she belongs. Then there’s Joaquin, their older brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that it’s best to keep his secrets and fears to himself, where they can’t hurt anyone but him. This is such an emotional book. All the siblings have their own problems and I really felt for each of them. Also, I that neither the adoptive parents nor the biological mum were painted as “bad guys”. Both Maya and Grace knew they were adopted and neither of them wanted to know where they came from because of any issues at home, and the bio mum wasn’t shown to have been in the wrong for giving up her children. Basically I loved it and think you should read it. 4.5 stars.
TL;DR: If you liked The Girl With All the Gifts you should read The Boy on the Bridge, but be aware that it’s not a sequel and doesn’t follow Melanie. Everyone – child and adult – needs to read The One and Only Ivan. Lost Boy is excellent and Gil’s All Fright Diner is a lot of fun but beware of sexism. Chocolat is just as good as I remembered. Fans of YA and books about books should definitely read Words in Deep Blue, and Far From the Tree was my second favourite book of the month so obviously I highly recommend it.
And that, finally, is that. If you haven’t read enough book reviews yet make sure to check out the link up. And even if you have had enough for one day make sure you check it out tomorrow!