What I read in July 2019

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.

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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:

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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!

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What I read in April 2019

Hello! It’s the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s SHow Us Your Books time again with lovely hosts Jana and Steph. I read 14 books in April and it’s a real mixed bag – everything from classics to children’s mysteries and even a a spy novel, which is normally so not my thing. Let’s get to the reviews, shall we?

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The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton. Seth is a kitchen boy at the remote Last Chance Hotel. His dad used to be head chef there, until he left apparently under a cloud of suspicion, leaving Seth trapped until he’s old enough to set out on his own. His only chance of escape is to become a famous chef as well. One night a group of special guests turn up at the hotel, who turn out to be magicians participating in a selection procedure to determine the most magical people in the world. Seth finally has the chance to prove himself by making Dr. Thallonius the best-tasting dessert of his life. But then the professor dies and the dessert is blamed – how can Seth prove he’s innocent? This is a wonderful book! Spooky and magical with a murder mystery for good measure. And there’s a fantastic talking cat. I was a little annoyed by Seth’s inability to stand up for himself, but there are some revelations at the end that I hope will make things better in that respect in book two. 4.5 stars.

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. When the four Stanley children meet Amanda, their new stepsister, they’re amazed to find she dresses in strange costumes, carries a crow in a cage and claims to be a witch. Before long, she decides to make the children her “neophytes” and introduce them to the world of witchcraft. Then strange things start happening in their old farmhouse and it’s not long before they discover that the house was supposed to have been haunted long ago. Is the poltergeist back or is there another explanation for all the strange goings on? This a fun mystery with just the right amount of spookiness for a children’s book. Even though it was written in 1971, it doesn’t seem to outdated – other than the kids being left home alone while their parents go into town, etc. But maybe that actually still happens in areas as isolated as the setting for this book. I would have loved this book as a child! 4 stars.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. When Tess Durbeyfield’s father finds out by chance that they’re descendants of the old aristocratic  D’Urberville family, he encourages her to make use of the connection and try to claim a share of the wealth for the rest of the family. But Alec d’Urberville turns out to be a rich scoundrel who seduces her and makes her life miserable. When Tess meets Angel Clare, she is finally offered a chance at true love and happiness, but her past catches up with her and she faces an agonizing moral choice. I really enjoyed this – although “enjoyed” seems a bit mean for such a tragedy. Poor Tess is surrounded by good-for-nothing idiot men. And I include her father in that. She just could not seem to catch a break. As classics go, the language in this one is actually very readable and Hardy managed not to spend pages and pages on pointless descriptions (as in Far From the Madding Crowd were her spent three pages describing a barn!). Victorian double standards make me angry, but the book is good. 5 stars.

The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton. First of all, thank you to Steph (yes, as in the host of this very link-up) for reminding me of the existence of The Gutenberg Project, which is where I found this book and was thus able to read it for free. I love the TV series so the book had been on my wish list for a while. This is basically a series of short stories all featuring the priest, Father Brown solving various mysteries. Chesterton was a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; interestingly, if I hadn’t known this book was published in 1911 (and there weren’t references to 18–) I would have put it more in the era of Agatha Christie in terms of language. It’s still quite readable over 100 years after it was published. I like the TV series better but the book was still a fun read. 3.5 stars.

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard. Alice has acquired brain injury after an assault four years ago. Since then, to put it in her own words, “her electrics have been broken”. Her speech is slow and slurred and she has fits. She writes poems to express all the things she cannot say. She lives with her grandmother, who is sick, and her brother Joey, who looks after her but is also growing up and, just maybe, away from Alice. Manny is from Sierra Leone. He seems to be adapting to life in his new country, but at night he runs to try and escape the demons of his past. One night, he sees Alice sitting on the roof of her home and finds one of her poems. This book is beautiful and heart-breaking. The narrative style is disconcerting at first, but once you get into it you stop noticing (or at least I did) and it really does represent the problems with Alice’s brain perfectly. Joey is a wonderful brother. Despite all the awful things that have happened to both Alice and Manny, I’m really glad I read this book. Plus, it has a pretty cover. 4 stars.

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Avalanche Express by Colin Forbes. A a high level Soviet official has been feeding the West intelligence for a number of years. Now he’s been found out and needs to be extricated to the US. With most of the airports in Europe closed due to snow storms, the only option is to take the Atlantic Express from Zurich all the way to Amsterdam. An armed team of British and Americans are on board to protect him, but there may be a double agent on board the train, and the Soviets will stop at literally nothing to kill the defector. Will anyone make it out alive? I acquired this ages ago when I needed a book set where I live for a challenge, but ended up reading a different one. Now I decided it was time to read it so it could leave my bookcase. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it – spy stories aren’t really my thing – but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s action-packed and thrilling right from the first page. It also helped that I am at least a little familiar with most of the places mentioned so it felt more “real”. 3.5 stars.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain. After her father’s death, Riley MacPherson is returning to her childhood home to clean it out. In the process she discovers a shocking family secret – after a life time spent believing that her older sister Lisa died tragically as a teenager, she now finds that she may not be dead after all. What made her go on the run all those years ago and which other secrets have been kept from Riley? This is a surprisingly quick read considering it’s over 300 pages – I started reading it in the bath and was shocked to find I’d read over half when I came out. It started off really well then it became kind of predictable – as soon as I read the words “she told her everything, even the things daddy didn’t know” I knew what the final outcome was going to be, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to read to the end and find out what happened to all the characters. Riley is annoying at times and the final few chapters read a bit like a soap opera with some really cheesy/dramatic dialogue. Along the lines of “one day you will get your comeuppance, but it won’t be me that causes it”. Nonetheless, I mostly enjoyed the ride. 3.5 stars.

A Singing Grave by Tim Wilson. Twelve years ago a little boy was taken from the camp site where he was staying with his parents and killed. Howard Gandy, a man from the village was convicted of the crime. Philip Springthorpe was one of the witnesses who helped secure this conviction, but to the shock of his daughter, Rebecca, he now reveals he lied. Investigative journalist Adam Dowling is running a campaign to have Gandy released and Philip’s new testimony could be the missing piece that will allow the case to go to appeal. But if Howard Gandy didn’t do it, then who did? I picked this up from a free public bookcase on a whim – I had never heard of the author but the description sounded good. It’s an interesting and suspenseful mystery. Parts are really creepy. At one point I thought I knew who the murderer was, but I was wrong. I’m not really sure what I think of the ending though. 3.5 stars for this one as well.

How Hard Can Love Be by Holly Bourne. Book two in the “Spinster Club” series. Amber’s off to America to spend the summer with her mother, who she hasn’t seen in two years. Even before her mum remarried and had a complete change of personality, she was never the caring type, but Amber is hoping an entire summer together will help them make up for lost time – especially since her step-mum and step-brother make her life a misery at home. In California she meets prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Could he really be interested in feminist, anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie advising and encouraging her from back home, Amber can’t escape the fact that love is hard! I really enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the first one. If I had read this first I’m sure I would have adored it, but I just loved Evie so much in the first book and Amber’s boy troubles seemed so insignificant compared with Evie’s mental health struggles. Sorry Amber! This isn’t just some shallow love story though – there are some deep issues with Amber’s mum being a recovering alcoholic and Amber’s feelings of abandonment. Her family situation really isn’t easy and I felt so sorry for her. And of course the girls still discuss feminism a lot. 4.5 stars. Lottie’s story next. I can’t wait!

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse. Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life with her family in her beautiful, expensive house. But then her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she knew unravels. Left alone with her two sons and eight million pounds worth of debt, Nina is forced to move back to a tiny flat on the estate where she grew up and begins to wonder whether she ever really knew Finn at all. This is an enjoyable enough read but it didn’t blow me away. At times the dialogue seemed somehow… I don’t know… off. Stilted maybe? Also, a few lucky coincidences lead to Nina’s struggles being over relatively quickly – the flat they end up in belongs to a relative and the previous tenants just happen to have moved out just in time, then after applying for job after job that she has no qualifications for, somebody decides to create a job especially for her after meeting her briefly, once, when she turned up asking for a job she obviously could not do. And apparently if she hadn’t pawned her belongings and found a job she and her boys would have immediately been out on the streets starving to death because child benefit and job centres are not things that exist? It’s not a terrible book by any means, but definitely not my favourite. 3 stars.

The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell. After their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to the hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her big brother Seb return home to find it’s been ransacked. Before long, a very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. The two manage to escape, with a little help, but find themselves in an “uncommon” world, a secret underground city called Lundinor where ordinary objects can do extraordinary things – like belts that let you fly. They quickly discover that their family is connected to this amazing world. But evil forces are at large, and they’re convinced Ivy and Seb have something they want. The two need to uncover the family secret before it’s too late. I really liked this book. It’s charming and quirky. Parts of it reminded me of Un Lun Dun – the underground city that’s like the real world, but also not and the ordinary objects that aren’t so ordinary after all. My favourite character is actually a talking bicycle bell names Scratch! One thing that bothered me is Ivy is supposed to be 11 but she often seems much older – and not in a “mature for her age” way, but like there’s absolutely no way she can possibly be only 11. I did really like her but in my head she was much older than the book stated her to be. 4 stars.

Darkhouse by Alex Barclay. This book had been on my shelf for ages but I couldn’t remember whether I’d read it or not. Turns out I had – it just wasn’t very memorable. When a routine investigation ends in tragedy, Detective Joe Lucchesi takes leave from the NYPD  and moved with his wife and son to a quiet village in Ireland. When a young girl goes missing and the village closes ranks , Detective Lucchesi is determined to discover the truth and uncovers a sinister trail that leads right back to the other side of the Atlantic. This was an okay book. There are pretty much two storylines,  one of which is predictable while the other was confusing with too many characters. I don’t regret finishing it but I most likely won’t be continuing the series. 2.5 stars.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. In rural South Africa in the late 1930s, Peekay liveslived with Nanny (his wet nurse), his grandpa and his mother. When his mother has a break down he is sent to boarding school where he suffers horrific bullying by people who hate him for his heritage. After a while his family move home and he’s sent on a long train journey to reunite with them. Along the way he meets train conductor Hoppie Groenewald who introduces him to boxing and teaches him that little can best big,  resulting in Peekay resolving to become the Welterweight champion of the world. The story then follows Peekay for the rest of his childhood until early adulthood. I only read this because it’s on the BBC big read and had no expectations of it at all. In fact,  I put it off for ages. I ended up falling in love with little Peekay immediately and loving the book. A very unexpected 5 stars.

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford. Twelve-year-old Ethel Leatherhead only wanted to get rid of her acne, not turn herself invisible. But that’s exactly what happened when she combined some dodgy Chinese medicine from the Internet with an old sun bed. At first being invisible is terrifying, but then she discovers it’s not so bad at all, as she tries to keep her new power a secret with the help of her friend Boydy. Meanwhile, Ethel’s Gran is acting strangely and Ethel herself (whose mum died when she was very young) is starting to question who she really is. Then one day the invisibility effect doesn’t wear off and Ethel finds herself in the middle of an adventure. This book is good but a little confusing. There are two stories – one with Ethel turning invisible and all the chaos that causes then a second one involving her family and secrets that have been kept from her – and the two things don’t really seem to relate to each other It felt like there was a disconnect between a fun, whimsical story on one hand and a more serious coming of age/self-discovery story on the other. It’s really well written, it just felt like I was reading two different stories that were both not quite satisfactory – the author would have done better to have stuck with one story, I think. It’s set in the North-East of England though so yay for that. 3.5 stars.

That is all for today. Check out the link up for more book talk. And let me know in the comments if you’ve read anything good lately or what you thought of any of the books I read in April if you’ve read them.

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?

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