What I read in November 2020

Wow, it’s the final normal Show Us Your Books link-up of the year! (There will be a special one later in the month as usual for people to share their favourite books of 2020, but this is the last one that’s just a “what I’ve been reading lately”). I’m pleased to say I’m ending things on a high note – so many good books this month! I was taking part in Believathon, which is a readathon for children’s books, so most of these are middle grade. Apart from that I read one young adult book, one adult crime novel in German and an adult contemporary, maybe romance but not really, novel. If that doesn’t sound like your thing please feel free to come back next time – I won’t be offended. And now I need to get on with the books because I have a lot to get through!

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens (Murder Most Unladylike #5). Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge, where Daisy’s brother is studying. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms – but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College. Two days before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. At least, it appears to be an accident – until the Detective Society look a little closer, and realise a murder has taken place. Faced with several irritating grown-ups and fierce competition from a rival agency, they must use all their cunning and courage to find the killer (in time for Christmas Day, of course). After being slightly disappointed with the previous book I was pleased to find that I absolutely LOVED this one. No more silly school girl squabbles distracting from everything that makes this series great. I feel like Hazel is really growing into herself and coming out of Daisy’s shadow. This was a really Christmassy read as well (despite the murder) – I could almost taste the mince pies! I can’t wait to see what the next book brings. 5 stars.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Ten-year-old Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home, and Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, boarding a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. This is a quick but powerful and thought-provoking read that’s partially based on the author’s own history. I feel like the verse format made it less detailed than I would have liked but I did enjoy it. 4 stars.

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies #2). When children start to go missing in her home town, suspicion falls on Corinne LaMer (for reasons you will know if you read the first book). To clear her name and save the children, Corinne goes deep into the ocean to find Mama D’Leau, the dangerous jumbie who rules the sea. But Mama D’Leau’s help comes with a price. Corinne and her friends Dru, Bouki, and Malik must travel with mermaids across the ocean to the shores of Ghana to fetch a powerful object for Mama D’Leau. The only thing more perilous than Corinne’s adventures across the sea is the foe that waits for her back home. This is an excellent follow up to the first book. There is definitely more action in this one! I loved the mermaids and it was nice to see some side characters developed a bit more. A couple of times I felt like it was going on for too long – there had already been a whole adventure, they weren’t even home yet and the main problem remained unresolved. But overall I really enjoyed it. I listened to this as an audiobook, which was great because there are songs in it and the narrator sang them. 4 stars.

The Haunting of Peligan City (Potkin and Stubbs #2). Apparently November was the month of continuing series! Three months have passed since Lil and Nedly – Potkin and Stubbs – solved their first case. And now, once again, odd things are happening in peligan City. Strange things are afoot at the doll hospital. But investigation turns up no more than an odd new owner. More important is the mysterious epidemic of deaths at the notorious Fellgate Prison. And when the Klaxon breaks the news that City Hall is hushing up that ghosts are real and are terrorising the city, mass hysteria reigns in Peligan City. Will Lil and Nedly – with the help of private investigator Abe McNair – get to the bottom of the case before any more trouble happens – and will they be the first to the scoop? This is very creepy and atmosphereic with an intriguing mystery. The villains are genuinely scary! I think everyone but Lil probably knew what was going on with her mum but another twist was slightly unexpected. Lil was less annoying in this one – it’s hilarious how seriously she takes herself – and I adored Margaret the dog, especially at the end. I do love that there are actual adults involved in this series when things start to get dangerous, but Lil and Nedly still work out a lot on their own. I’m looking forward to reading the third – and final – book. Not quite 5 stars, but definitely a 4.5.

The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes. Aveline Jones is not looking forward to spending half term with her aunt while her mother visits her grandmother in hospital.But things suddenly get much more exciting when the avid reader of ghost stories discovers a spooky old book. Not only are the stories spine-tingling, but it once belonged to Primrose Penberthy, a young girl who vanished mysteriously, never to be seen again. Intrigued, Aveline decides to investigate Primrose’s disappearance. But now someone… or something, is stirring. And it is looking for Aveline. Another one with a truly spooky atmosphere. I love the writing – so evocative! The small seaside resort in the off-season vibe is spot on. I loved that the adults didn’t dismiss Aveline or treat her like an idiot. I just wish it had been a bit longer with more time for the search for the missing girl. The ghost in this is genuinely scary! I didn’t realise it was the first in a series – I will definitely be reading the sequel. 4 stars

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson (Truly Devious #3). The first book on this list that isn’t middle grade – this one is young adult. I actually don’t know what to say about this one without spoiling the first two. Stevie has discovered the identity of Truly Devious. She’s actually done it – solved the case of the century. Or at least she thinks she has. Then another accident occurs at the school as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm – and a murderer. Okay, first of all there wasn’t as much action in these books as the previous ones. Honestly I think the plot could have been wrapped up just as easily in the book 2, but obviously the author wanted to be able to sell an extra book. There is a twist at the beginning that I didn’t see coming. Since we already found out the solution to the original murder in the second book this one was mainly about where Alice ended up and who was responsible for the deaths in the present, and the answer to that second part was underwhelming to be honest. I don’t regret finishing the trilogy but I have no interest in Stevie’s next mystery. Overall I found this trilogy disappointing. 3 stars for this installment.

Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales (Pages & Co. #2). Back to the children’s books! In the first in this series, Tilly and her friend Oskar discovered they could bookwander – actually go inside books and meet the characters – and also solved the mystery of Tilly’s mother’s disappearance when she was just a baby. extreme group of Librarians have taken over the British Underlibrary and they want to restrict bookwandering. Tilly and Oskar believe that The Archivists are the key to restoring balance – but nobody has seen them for thousands of years, and most people think they never really existed anyway. Is a journey to the French Underlibrary and a peculiar book of fairytales, the key to discovering their whereabouts? But wandering into fairytales is dangerous and unpredictable, and the characters aren’t as they seem. Soon, Tilly and Oskar realise that villains don’t just live inside the pages of books. Sometimes, you don’t get to live happily ever after… I enjoyed this book even more than the first one, and I LOVED the first one. Tilly and Oskar make such a great team. Tilly was a little naive and made some silly decisions but I feel like that just made it more realistic – she is a child after all. It was really interesting finding out more about the history of bookwandering and Tilly’s grandparents. I would have loved to continue reading immediately if only I had the third book. 5 stars.

Escape from Aurora by Jamie Littler (Frostheart #2). In the first book, Ash discovered that he was a Songweaver – someone who can do a kind of magic through song. This resulted in him being driven out of the only home he had ever known by the villagers who were terrified of Songweavers. Ash and his Yeti guardian, Tobu, ended up boarding The Frostheart, hoping to find out what had happened to Ash’s parents. Now Ash and the rest of the Frostheart’s brave crew have finally arrived at the majestic stronghold of Aurora – and Ash’s mind is blown. It’s an extraordinary place – unlike anything he’s ever seen – and he can’t wait to solve the next clue that will lead him to his parents. But it’s quickly clear that even Aurora isn’t safe for Song Weavers. A fanatical Pathfinder captain has turned the city against Ash and his kind – and it’s not long before the Frostheart has to make another break for freedom. But when a vicious Wraith attack leaves Ash, and his friends stranded on the ice, they will have to use all their strength and cunning to reach safety. But what they find is even more incredible. I read this book almost in one go (with a break to make food) over the course of about 4 hours because I genuinely could not put it down. It was SO good! It took me on a journey that left me absolutely reeling. I love what we’re learning about the world now and how it was in the old days. And the revelation at the end made me wanting more, RIGHT NOW! Sadly book 3 isn’t even out yet. Aaah, I cannot believe I have to wait! 5 stars.

The Missing Diamonds (Agent Zaiba Investigates #1) by Annabelle Sami. Eleven-year-old Zaiba is obsessed with crime. Her Aunt Fouzia runs a detective agency back in Karachi and has turned Zaiba on to the brilliant Eden Lockett Mysteries. She has every book in the series – and the quilt cover, and the phone case. All she needs now is a crime to solve and she may get her chance sooner than she thinks. At her cousin’s Mehndi party, Zaiba gets her first challenge: to discover the identity of the VIP staying at the same hotel. With the help of her best friend Poppy and brother Ali, Zaiba puts her sleuthing skills to the test. And when the celebrity’s precious dog disappears, along with its priceless diamond collar, it’s up to the trio to save the day! This is a cute, fun mystery. A Secret Seven/Famous Five/Nancy Drew for the modern generation. I love Zaiba, Poppy and Ali. I especially like that Ali is treated as a proper character in his own right and not just the annoying little brother tagging along. It was easy to solve the mystery as you were following along – the clues were all there – and I’m sure kids will feel a real sense of accomplishment if they manage to work it out before the reveal. I also really enjoyed how Zaiba’s aunt takes the three investigators seriously and doesn’t treat them like stupid kids, and I appreciate the step-mum who is actually nice. It’s also great that British-Pakistani children will get to see themselves represented in a book like this, where their race/religion/differentness aren’t the focus. 4 stars.

Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby. Sixth-grader Fig (actaully Finola) loves her dad and the home they share in a beachside town. She does not love the long months of hurricane season. Her father, a once-renowned piano player, sometimes goes looking for the music in the middle of a storm. Hurricane months bring unpredictable good and bad days. More than anything, Fig wants to see the world through her father’s eyes, so she takes an art class to experience life as an artist does. Then Fig’s dad shows up at school, confused and looking for her. Not only does the class not bring Fig closer to understanding him, it brings social services to their door. As the walls start to fall around her, Fig is sure it’s up to her alone to solve her father’s problems and protect her family’s privacy. But with the help of her best friend, a cute girl at the library, and a surprisingly kind new neighbour, Fig learns she isn’t as alone as she once thought… and begins to compose her own definition of family. This book is so emotional. I wanted to wrap Fig and her dad in a blanket and keep both of them safe. I don’t know if the bipolar rep is well done since I have no experience, but I appreciated how Fig is never ashamed of her dad – even if she is embarrassed by his actions occasionally, which honestly just seems realistic and she is always aware that he can’t help it, that he’s sick. It is a lot for an 11 year old to deal with and I was so glad when Mark stepped in and persuaded Fig’s dad to see a doctor. Hopefully it will show kids in difficult situations that it’s good to ask for help when things get to be too much. And through it all Fig and her dad’s love for each other shines through. Fig has a little crush on an older girl at the library, Hannah, and it’s so cute. I definitely recommend. 5 stars.

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby. 12-year-old Amira lives with her sea-witch mothers and a jinni called Namur, who is a cat-like companion to Amira. She has spent most of her life at sea, but when their dhow (boat) is damaged in a storm, they are forced to dock at an island while they wait for it to be repaired. On her first market day, Amira meets a boy Leo who has his own jinni – something that is very rare. When a giant bird-like creature that seems to feed off people’s emotions takes Namur, Amira set off on a journey to try and find him – and also possibly find out something about themselves and the magical connection they have with their jinnis. This is a magical, heartwarming adventure. I loved the characters and especially the family dynamics between Amira and her mothers. In between chapters, the narrator comes in with little comments or asides and that irritated me slightly at times – I just wanted to stay in the action – but that’s a minor niggle. Overall it’s a delightful book and I definitely want to continue the series. 4 stars.

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #3). In her home city, Morrigan Crow was known as a cursed child, doomed to die at midnight on her 11th birthday. Instead, in the first book, a man named Jupiter North appeared while she was waiting to meet her fate and whisked her away to a place called Nevermoor where she had to compete in a series of trials against other children to gain a place in the mysterious and prestigious Wundrous Society, and learned that she was a Wundersmith, which means she has special powers. In the second book, Morrigan and the other children who had passed the trials started their studies at the Wundrous Society and Morrigan solved a mystery. In this book, Morrigan and her friends have survived their first year as proud scholars of the elite Wundrous Society and proven their loyalty to each other as a unit. But a strange and frightening illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning infected Wunimals (special animals that can talk) into mindless, vicious Unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. And with the city she loves in a state of fear, Morrigan quickly realizes it’s up to her to find a cure for the Hollowpox, even if it will put her – and everyone in Nevermoor – in more danger than she ever imagined. This was my most anticipated book of the year and, thankfully, it did not disappoint. first couple of chapters were a little slow and I was worried it wasn’t going to live up to my expectations but once it got going it really got going! Fenestra was fantastic in this one and I loved how Morrigan’s unit stuck up for her. The new information about the world and past Wundersmiths is so interesting and I can’t wait to learn more! 5 stars.

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll. 11-year-old Addie, who has autism, lives in a small village just outside Edinburgh. When she learns about the countless women in Scotland who were killed in the witch trials, including many in her own village, she starts a campaign for a memorial to them. Addie knows there’s more to the story of these “witches”, just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, stand up to her bullies, and make her voice heard? This is such a powerful and moving book. It made me cry, but parts of it were also so, so heart-warming. I absolutely LOVE Audrey, the new giel who befriends Addie. Every child deserves a friend like her. As for the horrible, bullying teacher, Miss Murphy, I can’t remember that last time I hated a book character this much. She should not be allowed anywhere near children! Every child should read this book – either to see themselves represented or to gain some understanding (and hopefully empathy) for what life is like for people who are not neurotypical. 5 stars.

The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. But that’s not easy when your grandmother is a Yaga, guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife, and you live in a house with chicken legs that wanders all over the world, often picking up and leaving after just a few days. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties – and no playmates that stick around for more than a day. So when she stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules… with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife. I loved everything about this book. Marinka, Jack, Benjamin, THE HOUSE! There’s adventure, friendship/found family, unexpected twists. Ican’t believe it’s taken me this long to read a Sophie Anderson book and I will definitely be picking up her others. 5 stars.

Wer Wind Sät by Nele Neuhaus (Bodenstein & Kirchhoff #5). First adult book of the month! There doesn’t seem to be an English version of this, so here’s my translation of the title: He Who Reaps the Wind. Police detective Pia Kirchhoff has just returned from a holiday when her colleague, Oliver von Bodenstein, calls to tell her a body has been found. A night watchman has apparently fallen to his death at the headquarters of a company that builds wind turbines. When the corpse of a hamster is discovered on the boss’s desk, the two detectives start to think it may not have been an accident after all. The plot thickens when a farmer, who refused to sell a plot of land to the company for one of their turbines – despite being offered €2 million for it – is also found dead. Was it is children, who are all broke and wanted him to sell the land , preferably yesterday? The other members of the environmental action group, who appear to have hated the farmer and all have their own motives for not wanting the wind turbine? Or did the turbine company have something to do with it after all? I read the first book in this series years ago and I remember liking it. This one was fine but definitely way too long. There was so much going on, and half of it seemed to be irrelevant. A semi-connected side story involving a woman named Annika was way more interesting than the main murder investigation, but it seemed to end very abruptly without ever being properly resolved. It was still a decent read and I really wanted to know who had done what but it could have done with being about 200 pages shorter. 3 stars.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. What do you do when the girl next door asks you to write her biography? Alastair Cleary is the kid everyone trusts, but he doesn’t really have many friends, mainly hanging around with his neighbour, Charlie who is obsessed with video games. Alastair hasn’t really thought about Fiona Loomis much recently. They used to be friends when they were little, but as their families drifted apart so did they. Now Fiona wants Alastair to write her biography. He’s initially flattered, but then Fiona claims that in her basement, there’s a portal that leads to a magical world where a creature called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. And Fiona’s soul could be next. If she really believes what she’s saying, Alistair fears she may be crazy. But if it’s true, her life could be at risk. It’s up to Alistair to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality and figure out what’s going on. This isn’t a bad book by any means. The writing is good and the plot is intriguing, but also kind of confusing at times. I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is – some of the themes seem to mature for middle grade but I’m not sure teens would be interested in reading about 12 year olds. I have no idea what actually happened at the end but there is a sequel so maybe things are explained a bit more there. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m intrigued enough to want to continue though. I think it suffered a bit from me having read it after so many absolutely amazing, magical books that I truly loved. 3 stars.

The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell. On a cold February afternoon, Stella catches sight of a man she thinks she recognises, which immediately causes her to fall into panic. At the same moment on the other side of the globe, in the middle of a crowd of Chinese New Year revellers, Jake realises that things are becoming dangerous. They know nothing of one another’s existence, but both Stella and Jake flee their lives: Jake in search of a place so remote it doesn’t appear on any map, and Stella for a destination in Scotland, the significance of which only her sister, Nina, will understand. I’m not really sure what this is. It’s not a romance, although the two main characters do fall for each other, I guess. It’s more of a story about two sisters. Or maybe about how what happens to you as a child continues to affect you as an adult. This was actually a re-read for me, but the only thing I remembered was one scene where Stella tries to wake her sister up one morning and discovers she’s ill- Literally everything else had completely gone from my memory, and I’m already starting to forget the details again even though I only finished this about a week ago! Stella and Jake’s stories are given equal attention, but somehow Jake’s seemed irrelevant – it felt like it was really about Stella and Nina, not Stella and Jake. 3 stars.

TL;DR. I can’t say I really recommend either of the adult books I read this month, and I found the Truly Devious series disappointing (if you want a teen crime-solving series, try The Good Girls Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson. Or go ahead and read this series if you want – it’s not like it was actually bad, just not as good as I wanted it to be). The children’s books, on the other hand, were all amazing or at least good. The Riverman was my least favourite out of all of them but even that I wouldn’t necessarily not recommend. It just couldn’t quite measure up to the others I read in November. A lot of these are sequels, so obviously read the previous book(s) first. But honestly, I think you should read all of them. Especially the Frostheart series. And the Nevermoor series. And A Kind of Spark… I think you get the picture.

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, as always.

Have you read anything good lately? Check out the link up for more book recommendations – especially if you’re looking for some that aren’t children’s books 😉

Believathon III: The Mystery of the Missing Maleficarum

Hello friends! It’s nearly November, which means it’s nearly time for the third edition of Believathon – or Believe in the Impossible Readathon to give it its full name. This time, we are off to the Manor of Make-Believathon.

Deep in the Deepwoods in the Land of Make-Believathon lies a Manor. Inside this Manor, a mystery has begun. A precious spellbook, the Maleficarum, has been stolen from a safe chamber, and if it isn’t returned to its podium by the end of November, the most dangerous magic in the world will be unleashed. Can you solve the mystery?

As with the previous round of Believathon, there is a map – this time of the manor – and prompts that we need to choose books for.

For Believathon III, each prompt is associated with an item or clue that we can collect by reading books. You can double up on prompts, so you don’t have to read a separate book for each (although I obviously will if I can). The only real rule is that you have to read children’s books – anything from picture books up to about age 12. This round of the readathon runs for the whole of November, from 1-30 But that’s enough rambling from me… what about the prompts?

1. THE KEY

In order to receive the key, you must read a mystery. It looks like I’ll be starting the Christmas season early since I’ll be reading the next book in the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens, which happens to be Mistletoe and Murder.

2. THE FINGERPRINTS

In order to receive the fingerprints, you must read a book written by an author from a different culture than you. I have chosen Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, who was born in Vietnnam.

3. THE SCREAM

In order to receive the scream, you must listen to an audiobook or read a book out loud. I wanted to read a Vashti Hardy book, but Scribd didn’t have any when I looked. I’m thinking of listening to Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste but I might also decide spontaneously.

4. THE TORN PAGE

In order to receive the torn page, you must read a book with a supernatural element. For this one I plan to read the second book in the Potkin and Stubbs series, The Haunting of Peligan City by Sophie Green

5. THE CROWN

In order to receive the crown, you must read a book set in an alternate world. For this one I’m continuing another series and reading book Pages & Co. book 2, Tilly and the Lost Fairytales by Anna James. Tilly can enter books and in this one she goes into the land of fairytales.

6. THE SPILLED INK

In order to receive the spilled ink, you must read a book that features ghosts. For this one I will read The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes – and there better be ghosts otherwise it isn’t much of a haunting!

7. THE DAGGER

In order to receive the dagger, you must read a book set in a dangerous setting. Again, I plan to read book 2 in a series, this time Escape from Aurora by Jamie Littler which is the second in the Frostheart series. The entire world that these books are set in is extremely dangerous!

8. THE BACKPACK

In order to receive the backpack, you must read a book by a new-to-you author. I can’t believe I’ve actually never read a book by this author yet, but I haven’t so it’s about time I did something about that! I have chosen The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson.

9. THE FOOTPRINTS

In order to receive the footprints, you must read a book that features a prominent villain. Aaah, I am so excited for this one. It’s only my most anticipated book of the year! I plan to read Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. This is the third book in the Nevermoor series.

10. THE HAND MIRROR

In order to receive the hand mirror, you must read a book with a beautiful cover. I mean, any of the books I’ve mentioned here would work for this prompt, but my choice is Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby. I think it’s beautiful anyway.

(p.s. the new WordPress editor is so annoying and I can’t work out how to put an image to the left of the text and have it lined up the way I want, so it has to be below!)

11. THE CHAIN

In order to receive the chain, you must read a book that features a colourful cast of characters. I have chosen The Missing Diamonds by Annabelle Sami, which is the first in the Agent Zaiba Investigates series. Obviously I haven’t read the book yet so I don’t know for sure, but Zaiba, her best friend Poppy, and her younger half-brother Ali certainly sound like an interesting cast of characters!

12. THE FLASH OF LIGHTNING

In order to receive the flash of lightning, you must read a book that incorporates folk tales. I am reading Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Busby. It’s inspired by Arabian Nights, which I’m pretty sure counts as a folk tale.

13. THE SHADOW

Finally, in order to receive the shadow, you must read a book that was published in 2020. Quite a few of the books I’ve already listed were published in 2020, which is interesting because I usually don’t read books the year they’re published (too expensive!) but this year I’ve been trying to help authors by actually buying new books. Anyway, for this prompt I will be reading A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll.

And that’s it. Now I just have to wait two whole days for Believathon to start. I’m so excited! If you want to join in you can find the Believathon Twitter here and there is now also a whole entire website where you can find out everything you need to know.

If you have read any of these books let me know what you thought, and if you are also taking part in Believathon then happy reading! Or just happy reading in general – I hope your current/next book is something good!

What I read in May 2020: Part 1

Hello friends! My reading was back on track this month and I managed 21 books so I’ve decided to split my recap into two again. Usually I just review them in order from the first book I read during the month to the last, but this time I’m doing things a little differently. This post is all the books I read for Believathon and my second post will be all the rest. If you don’t know, Believathon is a middle grade readathon so if you’re not interested in children’s books you can close this post now and wait for my next one (although there are a few children’s books there too). I will be linking this post up to Show Us Your Books with Steph and Jana on Tuesday.

Believathon-tbr

The Shadows by Jacqueline West (The Books of Elsewhere #1). When eleven-year-old Olive and her parents move into the crumbling mansion on Linden Street and find it filled with mysterious paintings, Olive knows the place is creepy but it’s only when she encounters three talking cats that she realises there’s something darkly magical afoot. Then Olive finds a pair of antique spectacles in a dusty drawer and discovers the most peculiar thing yet: She can travel inside the house’s spooky paintings to another world. But in entering Elsewhere, Olive has become involved in a mystery darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. With only the cats and an unusual boy she meets in Elsewhere on her side, it’s up to Olive to save the house from the shadows, before the lights go out for good. This is a fun little read, a bit creepy in parts. I like Olive and the cats. A few bits could have been explained better but overall I enjoyed it and want to know how the series will continue. With the bad guy defeated at the end of this one I’m wondering where things can possibly go from here.

In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll. When Alice’s little brother finally gets the news that a new heart has become available, Alice is packed off to stay with Nell, the grandmother she’s never met. There’s nothing good about staying with Nell, except the beautiful Darkling Wood at the end of the garden. But for some reason, Nell wants to have it cut down. Alice liked the woods. It’s the only pace she feels at peace when she thinks about her brother, and she even finds a friend there – Flo. But Flo doesn’t go to the local school, and no one in town has heard of her. After Flo shows Alice the surprising secrets of Darkling Wood, Alice wonders: What is real? Will saving the wood help her brother recover? And can one little girl defend something so despised and feared? This was so cute. Fairies and family secrets combine to give a magical and touching read. I adored it! 5 stars.

High-rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson. Summer in London is hot, the hottest on record, and there’s been a murder in THE TRI: the high-rise home to resident know-it-alls, sisters Nik and Norva. Who better to solve the case? Armed with curiosity, home-turf knowledge and unlimited time – until the end of the summer holidays anyway. Can they figure out whodunnit? This is an enjoyable mystery. Some of the teen speak (or possibly it’s specifically London teen speak?) confused or occasionally annoyed me, but really I’m not the target audience. I am old and I’ve been out of the UK for too long. I’m sure it will appeal to children reading it.  The two sisters are very different and disagreed occasionally but you could tell they genuinely care for and look out for each other. A solid 4 star read.

Platform 13

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. Under Platform 13 at King’s Cross Station there is a secret door that leads to a magical island …It appears only once every nine years. The last time it opened, the island’s baby prince was kidnapped, snatched right from under the noses of his nursemaids. Now a wizard, an ogre, a fey and a young hag have come to find their prince and bring him home. But the prince has become a horrible, spoiled rich boy called Raymond Trottle, who doesn’t understand magic and is determined not to be rescued. This is cute and fun, but also a little simple and predictable. I can definitely see where Rowling took some inspiration for the Harry Potter books – a King’s Cross platform that isn’t all it seens, two boys – one spoiled and horrible, one mistreated but still managing to come out the other end pretty nice. Hmm. My favourite character is Odge the hag! 3.5 stars.

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm. After a catastrophic Unknown Event leaves the colony ship Orion stranded deep in space, and Ship is unable to wake any of the adults, it’s up to thirteen-year-old Beth and her friends to navigate through treacherous and uncharted territory and reach safety. But with the ship heavily damaged, a mysterious alien species out there, space pirates, and a number of discrepancies in Ship’s accounts, getting home may not be so easy. I haven’t read much middle grade sci-fi and this was certainly my first one that was set in space, and let me tell you it set the bar HIGH! It was amazing! I had so many theories about what was happening but they were all wrong. A thoroughly deserved 5 stars. It’s categorised as middle grade/children’s but I would say it crosses over to the younger YA age range as well. I could certainly are 13/14 year olds still enjoying it.

The Pirate’s Eye (Stitch Head #2) by Guy Bass. Since this is the second book in a series I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but I’m brief Stitch Head discovers he might be part pirate then has to tap into his inner adventurer when he realises his master has been kidnapped. This was such a quick, fun read. These books are clearly for younger readers (around age 8-10 I would say) but I love them too. Stitch Head is so cute and his pessimism is nicely balanced out by Creature’s excess optimism. The adventure is short but great fun to read about. I will definitely continue the series. 4 stars.

Tilly and the Book Wanderers by Anna James (Pages & Co #1). Eleven year-old Tilly has lived above her grandparents’ bookshop ever since her mother disappeared shortly after she was born. Like the rest of her family, Tilly loves nothing more than to escape into the pages of her favourite stories. One day Tilly realises that classic children’s characters are appearing in the shop, and that she fab even enter into the books herself through a magic known as “bookwandering”. Could all this somehow be related to her mother’s disappearance? With the help of her new friend Oskar, Tilly is determined to find out. This book is absolutely delightful. If only bookwandering was real! I absolutely adore the idea of getting to meet your favourite characters. I slightly guessed one aspect of the story but not the details, but that wasn’t a problem. Oskar and Tilly have such a wonderful friendship. I will definitely be continuing this series. 5 stars.

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti. Ten-year-old Mafalda keeps a list of all the things she cares about. Like, counting the stars in the night sky, playing soccer, and climbing the cherry tree outside her school. But soon she won’t be able to do them anymore – because she’s going blind. Every morning on the way to school, she counts the number of steps from when she first sees the cherry tree to when she reaches it. Even as the distance gets shorter,she can already see that people are already treating her differently – and that’s the last thing she wants. So, she hides the fact that her vision is deteriorating faster than anyone predicted, and she makes a plan: When the time is right, she’ll go live in the cherry tree, just like her favourite book character. This is a sweet but also kind of heart-breaking little book with a message about finding what’s really important to you. I could definitely feel Mafalda’s frustration about being treated differently and people talking about her instead of to her. 3 stars.

Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. As you can probably guess, this is three books in one. The first is the story if Elmer who goes in an adventure to rescue a baby dragon. In the  second the dragon flies Elmer home and they have more adventures along the way, and in the third the dragon needs Elmer’s help to save his family. I liked the first story best but I also enjoyed the third one. The middle story wasn’t quite as interesting I gave it 3.5 stars overall. 4 stars for My Father’s Dragon, 3 for Elmer and the Dragon and 3.5 for The Dragons of Blueland.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. This book us a classic in Germany and the film at least is well known in the English-speaking world but I had neither read nor seen it. When 10-year-old Bastian happens upon an old book called The Neverending Story while trying to escape his bullies, he’s swept into the magical world of Fantastica – so much that he finds he has actually become a character in the story! And when he realizes that this mysteriously enchanted world is in great danger, he also discovers that he is the one chosen to save it. Can Bastian overcome the barrier between reality and his imagination in order to save Fantastica? The first half of this book is a straight up magical fantasy adventure and I mostly enjoyed it. The second half seems to be more moralistic – all about letting power go to your head and forgetting who you really are. I still mostly enjoyed it but parts of it dragged – at times it truly seemed like a never-ending story. I can see why it’s a classic but I feel like it could have been around 100 pages shorter. And I didn’t like how Bastian I’d described as fat and weak and everything a hero is not then becomes strong, handsome, etc. once he’s in Fantastica as if his real self is unworthy of being a hero. But despite the issues I gave it 4 stars.

The Battle for Perfect by Helena Duggan (A Place Called Perfect #3). Since this is the third and final book in a series I can’t say much about the plot, but in this one an old nemesis returns and Violet and Boy find themselves working to solve the mystery of some missing scientists. I loved this book! I was wondering where the author could possibly take things after the last one and this certainly didn’t disappoint. The stakes were much higher and I was actually scared for some of the characters at times. A worthy ending to the trilogy. 5 stars.

The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix by Kate Saunders (Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop #2). Another continuation of a series meaning I can’t say much. Twins Lily and Oz are the descendants of chocolate makers who just happen to also be magic. In this book Lily and Oz and their friends have to help the magical authorities Shaun when one of their evil uncle’s inventions falls into the wrong hands.  This is a fantastic book. I liked it better than the first one. I really enjoyed the adventure in this one and Silver is a great new character. I need there to be a third book with even more character development for the twins and Cayden

That’s all I’ve got for you today. The second part of my round up will be online soon.

Have you read anything good recently? .

Believathon II: Journey to the Stronghold

I’ve been looking forward to this readathon for ages,and now I’ve finally finished deciding what I’m  (potentially) going to read.

This readathon takes the form of a “choose-your-own-adventure” story based on a map… this one here:

Believathon II Map

You can find the map in the amazing compendium, which you can download for free here or even buy in book form from Amazon. The compendium features the quest that we’ll be going on as well as recommendations from various bloggers and book-lovers for each of the categories.

This is a two-week readathon that is taking place from 11-24 May and is hosted by Gavin from the YouTube channel How to Train Your Gavin. You can find the Believathon Twitter here.

To allow me to actually follow the choose your own adventure aspect I’ve decided to pick a book for every location then decide spontaneously where to go next after completing each prompt.

Believathon-tbr

Our journey begins at the Poacher’s Pocket Inn where the prompt is to read the first book in a series. In the tale, you also receive a magic lamp that gives you the chance to skip a location or even go directly to the end so you could potentially read two books for this readathon. Anyway… my choice for this prompt: The Shadows by Jacqueline West, which is the first in the Books of Elsewhere series.

After that, you have a choice of two locations to continue with, then from there another two, etc. Here are the remaining locations and prompts:

The Yellow Brick Road – Read a book you were supposed to read years ago. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. Somehow this never crossed my path when I was a child! I had planned to read if for my Master’s dissertation (which I wrote on the translation of children’s literature) but I decided it was too long so it’s been sitting on my bookcase ever since. It’s definitely about time I read it! (Confession: I actually have the original German as well since for my dissertation I would have had to read both, but since it’s long I’m cheating and reading the English translation for Believathon.)

Baba Yaga’s House – Read a book featuring a family relationship. In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll is about a girl being sent to stay with her grandmother while her little brother has a heart transplant so I’m assuming her relationship with her grandma comes into it somewhere.

The Wonderfalls – Read a book featuring a disability. The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti. This features a girl who is losing her sight and it comes highly recommended by Gavin himself.

100 Acre Wood – Read a book with yellow on the cover. High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson. There’s not much yellow but it’s definitely there!

High-Rise Mystery

The Deepwoods – Read a book that was published before 2000. Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett combines three books published in 1948, 1950 and 1951. Slightly before 2000!

Mermaids’ Lagoon – Read a book featuring a female bond. Tilly and the Book Wanderers by Anna James. Tsam recommended this book for this prompt in the compendium so clearly it must fit.

The Brolly Rail – Read a book featuring transportation or with transportation on the cover. The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. There’s a train on the cover! (And possibly in the book?)

Platform 13

Orion Found – Read a sci-fi book or a book related to space. I’m actually reading the book that inspired the location for this one, Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm. This is also the middle grade monthly book for May.

Black Ice Bridge – Read a book featuring an expedition or adventure. The Pirates Eye by Guy Bass. The second Stitch Head book. In this one our tiny hero sets sail on a big adventure on the high seas!

Finally, we end up at The Book-Keeper’s Stronghold with the prompt to read the next book in a series. I will finally be reading The Battle of Perfect by Helena Duggan, the third and last book in the Perfect series. I can’t wait to see how it ends!

So I will definitely be reading the first and last books on this list, and in between those… We shall see where my quest takes me. I’m really excited for all of these books so I may just end up reading the ones I don’t get to after Believathon is over.

Have I inspired you to take part in Believathon? Let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought!

What I read in November 2019: Part 2

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

Linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I read in November 2019: part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the official categories 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A photo an hour: 16 November 2019

I almost missed photo an hour day again this month, but luckily I saw a tweet about it half way through the morning rather than at 7 o’clock at night! It was 10:30 so I decided to take my hourly photos on the half hour rather than waiting until 11 for the first one. Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually doing anything that day, other than sorting out the flat ready for my friend coming the next day (my cousin and her boyfriend had left on the Wednesday so the spare room needed to be sorted again). Last month we actually went out for the day so I would have had interesting things to take photos of if I hadn’t missed it. Oh well, such is life. Here’s how my day went:

10:30 a.m. The calm before the cleaning! Drinking tea and trying to find something to stitch for my little cousin’s birthday card. (I did not go with the newt.)

11:30 a.m. After a shower, it’s time to answer the eternal question of what to wear… Dress chosen, looking for tights.

12:30 p.m. Changing the spare room bedding ready for my friend to sleep in it.

1:30 p.m. So hungry! Time to make a bacon sandwich.

2:30 p.m. About to hoover the spare room. The exciting life I lead!

3:30 p.m. Making teas. Three because Jan came home from a choir meeting with a friend.

4:30 p.m. Finally managed to sit down and start reading. Not making much progress with Jan and his friend rehearsing songs in the background. Also, immediately after I took the photo my washing machine started beeping at me. No rest for the wicked!

5:30 p.m. Pairing socks. *Yawn*

6:30 p.m. Heading out for food. I was excited because I was starving!

7:30 p.m. Finally got to feed my face. This empty plate once contained delicious Afghan food.

8:30 p.m. I took the photo 10 minutes late but the activity hadn’t changed… drinking beer.

9:30 p.m. Home! Sorting out bedding for the sofa bed since the aforementioned friend was staying the night and I was mean and wouldn’t let her sleep in the freshly made spare bed 😉

And that was it. I was in bed by 10:30 so I didn’t take another photo.

What did you get up to on Saturday?