What I read from September – December 2022

Yeah, it’s been a while since I last wrote a review post… Luckily I read so little last year that I can recap 4 four months and still have fewer books to write about than I did in a single month before becoming a mother. And right now I have time, having very cruelly (in her opinion) dropped my daughter off at nursery. I took this week off work in case she needed time to settle in again after the Christmas break, but apart from crying when I leave – a new thing – fingers crossed she’s been fine so far. She even finished all her soup yesterday. She loves soup but she’s never eaten more than 10 spoonfuls at home or in a cafe!

Anyway, if you’re reading this you probably came for books, not babies, so let’s get on with it.

September

Death in the Spotlight by Robin Stevens (Murder Most Unladylike #7). Having returned from Hong Kong, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are staying with Daisy’s Uncle Felix (and Aunt Lucy). When Uncle Felix is called away for work, the two girls end up at the beautiful Rue Theatre in London, where they will face an entirely new challenge: acting. But behind the theatre’s glittering facade, the girls soon realise that there is trouble at the Rue. Jealousy, threats and horrible pranks quickly spiral out of control – and then one of the cast is found dead. As opening night looms closer, it’s up to Hazel and Daisy to take centre stage and solve the crime… before the murderer strikes again. I really enjoyed this one. I feel like the series is back to its best after a small blip. I loved that Hazel brought some of her confidence she had in Hong Kong back with her. Daisy is getting better at acknowledging Hazel’s strengths and does seem to be genuinely proud of her friend even if she does still act annoyingly superior at times. It was interesting to see how things are changing for the girls as they grow up and can no longer get away with things because people see them as “just kids”. I can’t wait to see where the series takes us next!

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. Queenie Jenkins is a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures but not really fitting into either. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend (she swears they’re just on a break!), Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places— including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth. As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”- all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her. This was a difficult book to read. I alternated between wanting to shake Queenie and wanting to give her a big hug. There are some humorous parts, but mostly it’s very dark. Poor Queenie is mistreated by just about every man she encounters, and half the time she doesn’t even seem to notice. Her friends were fantastic. Everybody needs friends like Queenie’s. Apart from Clarissa. F Clarissa!

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman. The only child of a single mother, Nina Hill likes her life exactly as it is. She has her dream job in a bookshop, an amazing trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book. When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all – or almost all – excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is? It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page. This book was cute and quirky, although I don’t remember a lot of what happened now – but I do know it involved books and pub quizzes, which are two of my favourite things. I definitely remember liking Nina and her friends. I feel like it lost me a bit somewhere in the middle? (Can you tell I forgot to write a review at the time?) But overall it was a fast, fun read and I gave it 4 stars.

October

Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin. Snow and Rose didn’t know they were in a fairy tale. People never do… Once, they lived in a big house with spectacular gardens and an army of servants. Once, they had a father and mother who loved them more than the sun and moon. But that was before their father disappeared into the woods and their mother disappeared into sorrow. Before they had to move into a cottage in the very woods that took their father from them. Snow refuses to believe their father won’t return, while Rose is convinced he is dead and they need to get on with their lives as best they can. Despite their fear of the woods, eventually Rose and Snow begin to venture out to explore off the beaten paths. They find a friend – Ivo, an unusual boy who farms mushrooms – and an unusual library, but they also come across more dangerous things in the woods – bandits and wolves and a giant bear. Unknowingly, the two sisters have already started along the path that will lead them to their eventual fate. This is a charming little tale and the illustrations are gorgeous. The side characters aren’t really fleshed out which I guess is typical for a fairytale but I would have liked to know more about the librarian and I have unanswered questions about the huntsman. Overall I did like it though and think 7-8 year olds would probably love it. It is fairly true to the original stors of Snow White and Rose Red without being quite as dark. 3.5 stars.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply – but that almost seems beside the point now. Maybe that was always beside the point. Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie announces that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and she thinks she’s finally about to get her big break; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her, but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and actually go home without her. When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything. That night, Georgie plugs in an old landline phone at her mother’s house and discovers that she can use it to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts… Is that what she’s supposed to do? Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage had never happened at all? This was fine. It passed the time well enough. I really didn’t understand what young Georgie saw in Neal though, or why it took older Neal so long to get fed up. The best character was Georgie’s sister Heather – I loved her! 3 stars.

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong (Rockton #2). When experienced homicide detective Casey Duncan first moved to the secret town of Rockton, she expected a safe haven for people like her, people running from their past misdeeds and past lives. She knew living in Rockton meant living off-the-grid completely: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. But she wasn’t expecting Rockton to come with its own set of secrets and dangers. Now, in A Darkness Absolute, Casey and her fellow Rockton sheriff’s deputy Will chase a cabin-fevered resident into the woods, where they are stranded in a blizzard. Taking shelter in a cave, they discover a former resident who’s been held captive for over a year. When the bodies of two other women turn up, Casey and her colleagues must find out if it’s an outsider behind the killings or if the answer is more complicated than that… before another victim goes missing. I liked book 1 in this series so much that I immediately bought the second one. I’m really enjoying the unusual setting of these books. This one was maybe a little too long but it was still compelling. The whole atmosphere and what happened to Nicole was chilling. I definitely want to read book three. 4 stars.

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris. Whatever happens, don’t tell anyone what you did to Bee Larkham… Thirteen-year-old Jasper is not an ordinary boy. In fact, he would say he is extraordinary.. Synaesthesia paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder. He’s convinced that something awful has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no-one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. The knife and the screams are all mixed up in his head and he’s scared that he can’t quite remember anything clearly. It doesn’t help that he also has face blindness and relies on other clues – like clothes and voices – to figure out who people are. But if his dad is right then where is Bee? Why hasn’t she come home yet? Jasper must uncover the truth about that night – including his own role in what happened… Another book that I forgot to write a review of at the time so I’m relying on my memory. I thought I was going to love this book, but reading things from Jasper’s perspective turned out to be a really frustrating. In addition to synaesthesia and face blindness, Jasper is also autistic and doesn’t really understand the world around him. He’s an interesting character and I genuinely liked him but his various conditions meant the book was very repetitive and it seemed to take forever to move on from one scene to the next. Every time I thought there were going to be answers the story would skip to something unrelated. 3 stars.

Luster by Raven Leilani. Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. When she gets involved with Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist whose wife has semi-agreed to an open marriage, Edie doesn’t expect to end up living in his home, providing advice to the couple’s adopted black daughter, while finally having the chance to do the one thing that means most to her: to finally document her own life on canvas. This book reminded me of Queenie, but I liked Queenie better. Not that this one was terrible. Parts of it were good, but I found the writing really, really odd. For instance, Edie describes her lover’s wife as being “sexy in the way a triangle is sexy” which just makes no sense whatsoever! 3 stars.

November

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust. Sixteen-year-old Mina is motherless, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone – has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d never realised that wasn’t normal normal. How could she have guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass? When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother. At fifteen, Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do – and who to be – to either win back the only mother she’s ever known… or else defeat her once and for all. I enjoyed this book. It’s quite slow and I can see why some people might find it boring but I didn’t. I liked that the step-mother is not portrayed as simply evil. It manages to recognisably be the tale of Snow White while at the same time turning everything on its head. Mina is an intriguing character and I found the relationship between Mina and Lynet really interesting. 4 stars.

December

Frenemies by Megan Crane. Gus Curtis has been avoiding growing up for a long time. But at almost thirty, official adulthood is just around the corner. It’s okay though – with a strong career, great friends, and a wonderful boyfriend, Gus feels like her life is finally on track. That is, until she walks in on her “Mr Right”, Nate, kissing her former college room mate and so-called “friend” Helen. Determined to win back her man, Gus drinks far too much, indulges in some ad hoc karaoke and loses what’s left of her dignity in a series of public slanging matches. Before long, even her loyal friends have had enough and she’s finding consolation in the arms of the one boy she really should have stayed away from… I found this in a free bookcase and I’m not sure why I took it with me. I thought it would be a quick, easy read and I was at least right about that. It’s fairly typical “chick lit” but the writing isn’t great. I thought Gus was a complete idiot and acted younger than 30 – the way she went on you would have thought she was still *in* college! Like why was she trying to win her ex back while he was still with her supposed friend?! So much unnecessary drama. I did like Henry though. He saved the book for me and bumped it up from 1 star to 2.

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston. Florence Day is the ghostwriter for one of the most prolific romance authors in the industry, and she has a problem – after a terrible breakup, she no longer believes in love. It’s as good as dead. And she just can’t bring herself to write another happy ending. When her new editor, a too-handsome mountain of a man, refuses to give her an extension on her book deadline, Florence prepares to kiss her career goodbye. But then she gets a phone call she never wanted to receive, and she must return home for the first time in a decade to help her family bury her beloved father. For ten years, she’s run from the town that never understood her, and even though she misses the sound of a warm Southern night and her eccentric, loving family and their funeral parlour, she can’t bring herself to stay. Even with her father gone, it feels like nothing in this town has changed. And she hates it. Then her editor turns up at the door of the funeral parlour… just as broad and infuriatingly handsome as ever, but now, apparently, a ghost. And he’s just as confused about why he’s there as she is. Romance is most certainly dead.. but so is her new editor, and his unfinished business will have her second-guessing everything she’s ever known about love stories. This was a lot of fun to read and it quotes The Princess Bride, which is definitely one way to my heart! Some things didn’t make sense – like why was Florence mercilessly teased and ostracised to the extent that she left and never came back in a town that has a golden retriever as mayor and a non-binary person running a B&B where the doors to the rooms features pictures of deadly plants? Surely Florence was the exact right kind of quirky to fit right in? Never mind. Florence’s family was awesome and her relationship with them felt so genuine, but I would have liked to see more of them grieving. Florence was the only one who really seemed to care – the others were almost too much “business as usual” (quite literally considering they owned the very funeral home that was dealing with everything). But it’s fun, quirky (almost too quirky at times) and a fast read. 3.5 stars.

Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie). Returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself unexpectedly alone – stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks. This sudden solitude compels Joan to assess her life for the first time ever and face up to many of the truths about herself. Looking back over the years, Joan painfully re-examines her attitudes, relationships and actions and becomes increasingly uneasy about the person who is revealed to her, and she begins to question everything she has ever believed. It’s a testament to Agatha Christie’s talent that a book where so little happens makes you want to keep reading. I was fascinated by the main character. As someone who is constantly questioning what people really think of me I’m very intrigued by people who can take everything at face value and assume that everyone likes them and everything they’ve ever done has been the right thing! 4 stars.

That’s it. 12 books in four months, a mere two of which were by BAME/BIPOC writers.

Now I can draw a line under last year’s reading and finally move on to 2023. I’m hoping to have a little more time to read this year since I will have roughly an hour and a half each day between finishing work and picking Zyma up from nursery (at least until she inevitably picks up her next cold…)

Have you read any of these? Let me know whether you agree with my opinions!

Advertisement

What I read in August 2022

I almost only read two books in August because the second one took me so long to finish. But then I snuck in one more over the course of two evenings right at the end of the month.

Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena. Brecken Hill in upstate New York is an expensive place to live. You have to be rich to have a house there… and Fred and Sheila Merton are certainly rich. But even all their money can’t protect them when a killer comes to call. After a fraught Easter dinner with their family, the Mertons are brutally murdered. Their three adult children are devastated, of course. Or are there? They each stand to inherit millions. They were never a happy family, thanks to their vindictive father and neglectful mother. Could one of the siblings is more disturbed than anyone knew? Did someone snap after that dreadful evening? Or did another person appear later that night with the worst of intentions? That must be what happened. After all, if one of the family were capable of something as gruesome as this, you’d know… wouldn’t you? I’ve wanted to read this book for a while so I was very pleased to spot it in a free public bookcase! Not a single character in this book is likeable – except maybe the nanny. All the Merton family are liars, and that’s just their good side! The result is a tangled web of suspicion with all manner of twists and turns. I can’t exactly say I figured out who the murderer was because I think I suspected every character at one point or another. One downside is that it gets a little repetitive as things are rehashed from different character’s points of view. I enjoyed the very end – the last line is utterly delightful. 4 stars.

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe. Fourteen-year-old Sante isn’t sure where she comes from. She was just a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasures. Mama Rose, leader of a nomadic group of misfits and gypsies, found and raised Sante, alongside twins, knife-thrower Cat and snake-charmer Cobra. They travel around contemporary southern Europe, living off-grid and performing circus tricks for money.During a performance in Cadiz, Sante recognises two men from a recurring dream she has about the shipwreck. They’ve come for her treasure, but they also have secrets to reveal about Sante’s past. After Sante and Cat rescue a beautiful red-head named Scarlett from a gang, Mama Rose’s band are forced to flee the city, but Sante and Cobra stay behind, determined to find out more about who Sante really is. some reason I thought this was a children’s book but it’s very definitely YA featuring themes of sex trafficking among others! I really enjoyed parts of the plot. I loved Sante and her golden eagle Priss. But it felt like the author was trying to fit in too many different themes: Sante’s search for her identity, magical realism elements, refugees, sex trafficking, all the circus characters, so it unfortunately ended up being confusing and a lot of the side characters seemed flat. 3 stars.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan. When Leigh’s mother dies by suicide she leaves behind a scribbled note – I want you to remember. Remember what? Leigh has no idea. She wishes she could turn to her best friend, Axel, for advice. If only she hadn’t kissed him and messed everything up between them. The Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, discovers she has grandparents she’s never met and travels to Taiwan to meet them for the first time. There, she retreats into art and memories, ending up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and ultimately forging a new relationship with her grandparents. I really enjoyed this book. The writing is excellent, although the style is definitely not for everyone (I enjoyed it though) and I can’t believe it’s a debut! I really enjoyed the insights into Taiwanese culture and Leigh is a fantastic character. It is a fast read but there seemed to be a lot going on and it almost felt like the main grief plot was being sidelined at times with high school drama (told in flashbacks). Leigh seems to have some form of synaesthesia and while the colour metaphors were interesting at times it was too much. I didn’t need to know the colour of every single word Leigh’s best friend/love interest uttered! That makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book but I actually very much did. There is a magical realism element that probably won’t appeal to everyone but it didn’t bother me at all. 4 stars.

Total books read: 3. Books by BAME/BIPOC authors: 2 (hooray, finally more than zero).

So far this month I’ve mostly been cross stitching but I’ve already managed a couple of books and I’m hoping to get through at least two more.

What I read in June & July 2022

The ending of the Show Us Your Books link up meant I completely forgot to review the books I read in June. Luckily there were only two – followed by five in July – so I can just shove two months into one post.

The Hidden Cottage by Erica James. Mia Channing seems to have the perfect life. A beautiful home, a happy marriage, a job she loves and three grown-up children to whom she’s devoted. But appearances can be deceptive. When the family gathers for her son’s 30th birthday, he brings with him his latest girlfriend who, they are surprised to learn, has a nine-year-old daughter. Then, before the birthday cake has even been cut, Mia’s youngest daughter Daisy seizes the opportunity to drop a bombshell. It’s an evening that marks a turning point in all their lives, when old resentments and regrets surface and the carefully ordered world Mia has created begins to unravel. This was fine. Kind of predictable and the writing style annoyed me at times but it was a fairly easy read for its length. I loved nine-year-old Madison but found some of the other characters a bit underdeveloped. I think there were too many of them. 2.5 stars. Also, is it just me or does The Hidden Cottage sound like the title of a Famous Five book?

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood. For Susan Green, messy emotions simply don’t fit into the equation of her perfectly ordered life. She is in complete control at all times, with a flat that is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and an “interpersonal arrangement” that provides cultural and other, more intimate, benefits. But suddenly confronted with the loss of her mother and the news that she is about to become a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is realised. She is losing control. When she learns that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her immature and irresponsible brother, Edward, Susan is determined that she must do something about it. But as her due date draws near and her family problems become increasingly difficult to ignore, Susan finds help and self-discovery in the most unlikely of places. I actually kind of liked the story in this book and wanted to know what happened at the end, but the main character completely ruined it for me. I assume she’s supposed to be a damaged person who struggles to connect with “normal” people a la Eleanor Oliphant but actually she’s insufferable and honestly just plain mean. Unlike Eleanor it felt like she knew perfectly well she was being mean no matter how much she tried to pass it off as being direct/honest. The romance is ridiculous – it goes from barely even friends to “I’m totally in love with you and want to help you raise your baby” in about 2 pages. I actually liked Rob as a character, just the romance made no sense! 2.5 stars.

So, that was June. A slightly disappointing month… And zero out of two books were by BIPOC/BAME authors. On to July…

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins. When the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford College Master vanishes in the middle of the night, police turn to the Scottish nanny, Dee, for answers. As Dee looks back over her time in the Master’s Lodging – an eerie and ancient house – a picture of a high achieving but dysfunctional family emerges: Nick, the fiercely intelligent and powerful father; his beautiful Danish wife Mariah, pregnant with their child; and the lost little girl, Felicity, almost mute, seeing ghosts, still grieving her dead mother. But is Dee telling the whole story? Is her growing friendship with the eccentric house historian, Linklater, any cause for concern? And most of all, why was Felicity silent? Some things didn’t make sense and I found the ending predictable but overall I really enjoyed this book. It’s very suspenseful. I especially liked the character of Linklater and the descriptions of Oxford’s old cemeteries. 4 stars.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. Do I really need to write a synopsis for this one? Does anyone not know what it is? Allie Brosh’s second graphic novel in which she again tells stores from her own life including tales from her childhood, the adventures of her very bad animals and merciless dissection of her own character flaws. She also talks about the awful experiences that resulted in this book being delayed for so long. I found parts of the book hilarious – especially the stories about her childhood – while others were heart breaking. It seems so unfair that so many bad things have happened to one person while others seem to live a completely charmed life. Not all the stories resonated with me and I didn’t love it as much as Hyperbole and a Half but I still really, really liked it. 4 stars.

City of the Lost by Kelly Armstong (Rockton #1). Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday her crime will catch up to her. Casey’s best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana’s husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it’s time for the two of them to disappear again. Diana has heard of a town especially for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton, and if you’re accepted it means walking away from your old life entirely, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada. No cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. As a murderer, Casey isn’t a good candidate, but she has something they want: She’s a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realises that the identity of a murderer isn’t the only secret Rockton is hiding… and she starts to wonder if she and Diana might actually be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives. This is a very different kind of police procedural – the setting alone changes things and makes for a very suspenseful atmosphere. And there were at least two twists that I was not expecting. I will definitely be continuing this series. 4 stars.

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa. Rintaro Natsuki loves Natsuki Books, his grandfather’s tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. It’s the perfect refuge for a teenage boy who tends to be somewhat of a recluse. When his grandfather dies suddenly, Rintaro is left devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to embark on three magical adventures to save books from people have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone… This is definitely one for book lovers! It’s very quotable and reads almost like a love letter to the power of books/reading. It’s utterly bizarre in the way only Japanese fiction can be and I feel like I didn’t understand all of it but I did enjoy it. It’s also a very quick read – I finished the entire thing in one day, during two of my daughter’s naps. 4 stars,

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross (The Laundry Files #1). Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. His world was dull and safe – but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob is up to his neck in spycraft, parallel universes, dimension-hopping terrorists, monstrous elder gods and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than a full system reboot to sort this mess out… This book is based on the premise that “magic” and parallel universes, demons, etc. exist in our world, but it’s not actually magic… it’s all based on maths and computing. I did actually mostly enjoy the storyk, but the unfortunately the maths parts went completely over my head, which meant it took me ages to finish and spoiled it a bit for me. I would never have bought this book (it was a gift years ago) and don’t intend to continue the series, but it’s not actually bad. Just really not right for me! 3 stars.

In July I read 5 books, one of which was by a BAME/BIPOC author.

We’re now over a week into August and I’ve yet to finish a single book, so we’ll see whether it’s even necessary for me to try and remember to post next month! In the meantime let me know if you’ve read anything good recently.

What I read in May 2022

I’m a day late writing this post for what it turns out is the final Show Us Your Books. It really does feel like the end of an era and I haven’t even been around since the beginning! Many thanks to Steph and Jana for all their years of hosting (since October 2014!). I’ve found so many good books through this link up and also some of my favourite bloggers.

Now let’s get to the books shall we?

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine. When a good-looking boy with an American accent presses a dropped negative into Rowan’s hand, she’s convinced it’s just a mistake. She knows she didn’t drop anything, but he’s adamant it was her. But before she can say anything more he’s gone, lost in the crowd of bustling shoppers. And she can’t afford to lose her place in the checkout queue – after all, the food shopping isn’t going to take itself home! Rowan has more responsibilities than most girls her age. These days, she pretty much looks after her little sister single-handedly – which doesn’t leave much time for friends or fun. But when she finds out that Bee from school saw the whole thing, it piques her curiosity. Especially when it turns out the dropped item does have a connection to her after all… I enjoyed this. Some parts of the story line were predictable but I was okay with it. Stroma is fantastic – definitely one of my favourite little sisters in fiction. I thought Bee’s character could have been fleshed out a bit more – we are told how special and amazing she is but I didn’t really feel it. I did love Harper though. This is the kind of book I would have devoured as a teen. With Rowan’s struggles at home, I would compare it to Jacqueline Wilson, but for older readers. 4 stars.

Another Mother’s Son by Janet Davey. Lorna Parry is the mother of three boys, each one lurching uncomfortably into adulthood. In the claustrophobic loneliness of her own home, Lorna orbits around her sons and struggles to talk to them; she’s still angry at her ex-husband, uncomfortable around her father’s new girlfriend, and works quietly as the only employee left in a deserted London archive. Life seems precariously balanced. Then a shocking event occurs in the stationery cupboard at the boys’ school and her world threatens to implode. This was an incredibly depressing book. I’m not sure I’ve ever read such a pessimistic representation of motherhood. The youngest son, Ross, was just awful. I know teenagers are difficult but I would never have got away with talking to my mother like that! (Constantly telling her to shut up, you can leave now, nobody’s interested in you.) The “incident” wasn’t what I thought it was going to be and in the end didn’t even feel like a main plot point. I did think the writing was good though. It was certainly evocative – I could actually feel how dull Lorna’s live was! 2.5 stars.

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. She’s skipped multiple grades and doesn’t really connect with the older kids at school, but she’s not comfortable with her family, either. Because Sophie has a secret, an ability that she’s never been able to share with anybody. She can read the thoughts of everyone around her. When she meets Fitz, a mysterious (and adorable) boy, she learns she’s not alone. She discovers that there is a place she belong, but also that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known. There are new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.” And the danger isn’t over either. There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory – secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans – that other people desperately want. Would even kill for. It’s up to Sophie to figure out why she’s the key to her brand new world… before someone else works it out first. This was a fun read. It definitely has its flaws and Sophie’s constant perfection (despite being new to the world and school, she’s the absolute best ever at everything except one subject) got annoying, as did her suddenly remembering random things or discovering completely new abilities when it was convenient for the plot, but I stayed up longer than I planned reading and had to force myself to go to bed without finishing it, which anyone who has ever had a young baby knows is a big deal, so 3.5 stars. Also, for some reason I thought this book involved gods but it’s not that at all.

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer. (Benny Griessel #2) As morning dawns in Cape Town, it promises to be a very trying day for homicide detective Benny Griessel it promises to be a very trying day. The body of a teenage girl has been found on the street, her throat cut. She was an American – a PR nightmare in the #1 tourist destination in South Africa. And she wasn’t alone. Somewhere in Cape Town her friend, Rachel Anderson, an innocent American, is hopefully still alive. On the run, Rachel is terrified with no idea who she can trust or where to turn in this unknown city. It’s up to Benny to find her, in a race against the clock. Meanwhile, he gets pulled into a second case, the murder of a South African music executive. Griessel has been sober for nearly six months – 156 days. But day 157 is going to be a tough one! This is a thrilling book with great characters. I found all the politics and tension between the different cultures – Zulus, Xhosa, and Coloreds (mixed race and South Asian) slightly confusing (despite having read Born a Crime, which explains a lot of the background) but still enjoyed the story. We don’t find out what Rachel has that the criminals want until near the end and I absolutely could not guess what it might be! The book was originally written in Afrikaans but as far as I can tell it loses nothing in the translation to English. Despite being the second in a series I didn’t feel like I had missed anything too vital. I found this one randomly in a free bookcase but wouldn’t be averse to buying other books by this author in the future. 4 stars.

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella. Katie – or Cat, as she is known at work – Brenner has the perfect life, with a flat in London and a glamorous job at a branding company… or so her Instagram feed would suggest. Okay, she actually rents a tiny room in a shared flat where she doesn’t even have space for a wardrobe, has a nightmare commute to a lowly admin job and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t actually hers. But one day her dreams are bound to come true, right. Fake it til you make it and all that. But then her not-so-perfect life comes crashing down when her boss, the mega-successful Demeter who she has been desperately trying to emulate, gives her the sack and Katie is forced to move home to Somerset. When Demeter books in for a glamping holiday on Katie’s family’s farm, she can’t resist the opportunity to get revenge. But does Demeter – the woman who seemingly has everything – really have such an idyllic life. Maybe the two women have more in common than it seems? This is a quick read for how long it is (431 pages) and there’s quite a bit of humour in it. Katie is a little annoying at times, but it’s less fluffy than I was expecting and has a good message underneath. The love interest (because obviously there is one) is fairly forgettable and honestly I would have been fine with this being a book about someone finding themselves without any added romance, but it was fine. Ultimately, this will probably be a fairly forgettable book but it was the perfect not-too-taxing read for baby nap times. 3.5 stars.

For my final Show Us Your Books post it would have been nice to say all the books I read were by BIPOC/BAME authors, but alas none of them were. Even Deon Meyer is a white South African – although I feel like the fact that the book was originally written in Afrikaans makes it somewhat diverse? No? Okay. Anyway, I am linking up with Steph and Jana forthe very last time and you really should click on one of those two names and go and check out what the rest of this amazing book community has been reading since the last link up.

What I read in April 2022

Second Tuesday of the month already! That means it’s books day. As always, I am linking up with Steph and Jana. In April I managed to read a whole 4 books! I am slowly learning how to read while she feeds – although I still end up being forced to stop if she gets too wriggly and distracted.

Beach Read by Emily Henry. January is a hopeless romantic who has always believed that anyone’s life can be wonderful if they just look at things the right way… at least until her beloved father passes away and she discovers he wasn’t the man she thought he was. Spending the summer in a lake house she never knew he owned, she finds herself living next door to none other than her college rival, Augustus. Gus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale. There’s no way the two of them are ever going to get on. But they actually have more in common than you’d think: They’re both broke. They’ve got crippling writer’s block. They need to write bestsellers before the end of the summer. The result? A bet to see who can get their book published first. The catch? They have to swap genres. The risk? In telling each other’s stories, their worlds might be changed entirely… This is cute but at the same time darker than I was expecting. It does go into some deeper issues alongside the cute romance. The writing style was a little odd at times – at one point January describes something as being “atop” something. Who uses the word “atop” when just thinking to themselves?! I enjoyed it though despite little things like that throwing me out of the story and gave it 4 stars.

Damsel Distressed by Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after – in fact, she doesn’t even think they’re possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has been in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status. When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Carmella (aka Ella) Cinder, moves in, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace – the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant – aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time. While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crushed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story. And maybe even find herself a happily ever after. As far as I can tell as a non-sufferer, this is a good representation of anxiety and depression. However I just did not like Imogen. It felt like she was hiding behind her mental illness as an excuse for being just not a very nice person. Yes some people are mean to her (make comments about her weight, etc.) but Imogen is horrible to other people as well. She complains that her dad sprung his marriage on her but she literally says she didn’t want to know about his relationship – I guess she wanted him to spend the rest of his life alone and in mourning? So the fact that she lost her mother is obviously a perfectly reasonable excuse to be horrible to/about her stepmother who is nothing but kind to Imogen throughout the book. And this is when Imogen has supposedly been doing well with her mental health – she only starts to spiral during the book when her stepsister shows up. And speaking of the stepsister (Carm)Ella, she’s portrayed as being completely evil just for the sake of it with no redeeming features. But before she even does a single nasty thing Imogen seems to hate her for being pretty and wearing tight/short clothing… i.e. Imogen total slut shames her although at that point there’s no evidence that Ella even acts slutty (and even if there were who is Imogen to judge? Imogen who hates being judged herself). Eventually there are some hints that Ella’s life maybe hasn’t been so perfect but by that time the reader has already been led to believe that poor Imogen is the victim of the nasty stepsister who hated her on sight for literally no reason at all. Most of the other supporting characters are too good to be true: the best friend straight out of Dawson’s Creek, the new girl who is actually nice and doesn’t realise how pretty she is, the nauseatingly adorable gay couple, one of whom just happens to be *amazing* with a needle and thread. And when Imogen messes up they’ve all already forgiven her before she even attempts to apologise. The writing actually isn’t bad and like I said the representation of mental illness seems to be realistic and isn’t glamourised or trivialised. Maybe it’s a me problem rather than a book problem. Either way I found this one just okay. 2.5 stars.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. Almost ten years ago, on the last day of hunting season, Lewis, Ricky, Gabe and Cass, young Blackfeet men, did something they would come to regret. Even at the time they knew it was wrong, but caught up in the adrenaline of the moment, of the hunt, they got carried away. Now, with the anniversary coming up, Lewis, who is now married to a white woman and living far from the Reservation, begins to be haunted by images of that day as an entity tracks the childhood friends hellbent on getting revenge. I really enjoyed the beginning of this book and the final third-ish. Parts of it were really slow though and I didn’t always love the writing style. It’s certainly a good book, just not quite for me. 3 stars.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin. Seventeen-year-old Lenni is stuck on the terminal ward of a Glasgow hospital, but even while knowing she’s dying she still wants nothing more than to live for as long as she has left. After finding out that patients have to be allowed to visit the chapel for religious reasons, she jumps at the chance to see a new part of the hospital. There, she meets and befriends the hospital priest, Father Arthur. meanwhile, eighty-three year old Margot is in the same hospital. When Lenni and Margot meet in an art class, Lenni realises that their combined age is 100… and so the two of them decide to paint a picture for each year of their lives. As they are painting, each of them tells the story of these key events – from Lenni’s childhood in Sweden and her mother’s struggles with mental health to the devastating loss that led Margot to leave Glasgow for London and eventually meet the two great loves of her life. This book is an absolute joy, which may seem an odd thing to say considering it’s about a terminally ill teenager, but it really is. Lenni is fantastic – it seems so unfair that she’s dying – and Margot’s story is fascinating. I loved the supporting characters as well, especially Father Arthur who is a sweetheart and a great sport about Lenni’s questions. There’s a story involving homeless man that seemed a bit random and I’m not exact sure why it was in there but I absolutely devoured the rest, and yes I cried at the end. 4 stars.

That’s all from me for this month. Don’t forget to check out the link up!

What I read in February 2022

First of all thank you to everyone who made suggestions for how to read with a small baby (I’m not sure I can continue calling her a newborn now she’s coming up 12 weeks!). Back when I wrote that post Zyma would regularly fall asleep while breastfeeding and have to constantly be reminded to drink. She’s much better now – although her new thing is wriggling and pulling and turning her head, which is slightly distracting and not really compatible with reading! I have actually remembered to bring my book into the living room in the morning for the last few weeks though, so I managed to do some reading while she napped (on me), but I’ve recently had to turn my attention to cross stitch (for a new baby gift). I can only pursue one hobby at a time so February was another two-book month.

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana as always even though I don’t have much to say! Here are the two books I read in February.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall immediately knows to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey who lost her mother tragically as a child and wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother. As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents show up, Hannah quickly realises her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity – and why he really disappeared. Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together, and as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon find themselves building a new future as well. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated. I feel like everyone and their dog was reading this last year so it was time I finally caught up! I really enjoyed this book. It wasn’t always totally believable but it kept me sucked in. If I didn’t have a newborn to care for I would have finished it in a day. I didn’t love the epilogue but it was nice to have some closure. Not sure I would really describe it as a thriller though. It’s somewhat suspenseful but not really thrilling. Anyway, 4 stars.

City of Rust by Gemma Fowler. Railey dreams of winning the drone races with her bio-robotic gecko friend, Atti. But when a bounty hunter crashes their biggest race yet, the pair are forced to flee to the feared Junker clans who mine the rubbish orbiting the Earth. Rescued by a couple of Junker kids, they discover a danger bigger than anything they’d imagined – but can three kids, a gecko and an ancient computer save the world against the huge trash bomb (and its power-crazed creator) threatening to destroy the world? This is a fun read with lots and action. I loved Atti! Some parts were confusing and I felt like a few of the characters could have been fleshed out more (Care) but it’s an enjoyable enough story and something I could imagine reading with my daughter in the future. 3.5 stars.

That’s it. Once again neither of the books I read were by BAME/BIPOC authors. Not the greatest start to THE year on that front! My goal for March is to read 3 books. Wish me luck! Check out the link up for more book reviews.

What I read in January 2022

Good morning! It’s book day again with Steph and Jana. Before I get on to my reviews can I just say I have no idea how other parents of young children manage to read! Currently baby still takes caffeine citrate in the morning and she gets that together with a bottle that her dad gives her meanwhile I am pumping the milk for the next day’s bottle and I generally use that time to read. Other than that any time I’m not breastfeeding, winding, changing, comforting or just holding the baby is used for things that need to get done – like organising my COVID booster jab (this Thursday if you’re interested). Anyway, by reading while pumping I managed to get through two books.

Holy Island by L. J. Ross. Forced to take sabbatical leave from his duties as a homicide detective, Detective Chief Inspector Ryan retreats to Holy Island off the Northumbrian coast. A few days before Christmas, his peace is shattered and he is thrust back into the murky world of murder when a young woman is found dead amongst the ancient ruins of the nearby Priory. When former local girl Dr Anna Taylor arrives back on the island as a police consultant, old memories swim to the surface making her confront her difficult past. She and Ryan struggle to work together to hunt a killer who hides in plain sight, while pagan rituals and small-town politics muddy the waters of their investigation. I was excited for this book because it’s set in Northumberland (I’ve been to Lindesfarne or “Holy Island” many times, although not for years) and I definitely enjoyed the setting.The detective main character is a total cliché. Of course he has a tragic backstory! And I found myself rolling my eyes every time yet another woman on the island talked about how gorgeous he was. The blurb describes this as a detective novel but there’s a romance aspect that reads like it’s trying to be a Mills and Boon. Not that I have a problem with romance as a genre but here it feels it feels out of place and like the author should have stuck to one or the other. Plus the main character is pretty sexist and should not have been sleeping with that person in the first place. The actual crime/detective story is somewhat predictable but not bad – I was intrigued enough to read to the end. The epilogue ending is pretty far-fetched though. 2.5 stars.

Rise of the World Eater by Jamie Littler (Frostheart book 3). Ash faces his greatest challenge yet as the evil Wraith leader Shaard unleashes the dreaded Devourer from its centuries-long imprisonment. Only by uniting can the peoples of the Snow Sea hope to stand against the monster’s wrath, but as the Devourer targets the stronghold of Aurora, the tribes remain as divided as ever. In a last desperate move, Ash and the crew of the Frostheart journey to the yeti lands, where humans are forbidden, in search for the truth about the Devourer’s origins, and the one weakness that may prove its undoing. This is the third and final book in this series and it was definitely a worthy ending. It was great to learn more about Tobu’s past and I really enjoyed seeing Ash coming out of Tobu’s and Lunah’s shadows and learning to take action by himself. The Frostheart’s crew were as awesome as ever and really showed that they are there for each other no matter what. I was a little frustrated at times at just how many things had to go wrong along the way but overall I thought this was another fantastic book. 4 stars.

Neither of the books I read in January was by a BAME/BIPOC author so I haven’t got off to a great start on that front but oh well. The year is still young. Check out the link up for more book reviews from people who have more time than I do!

What I read in December 2021

Yes I am posting twice on the same day. No I do not expect anybody to read both of them… or even one of them. Today is the first Show Us Your Books link up of the new year and I didn’t want to miss it even though I only actually read four books in December.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up weekly to discuss unsolved crimes. They call themselves the Thursday Murder Club. When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves with their first live case to solve. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late? This s a fun read with some quirky characters who I liked a lot. However, overall there are too many characters so it got to little confusing. Also the motive for one of the murders didn’t entirely make sense to me. 3.5 stars.

Convenience Store Woman by Murata Sayaka. Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so that she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life, but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis – but will it be for the better? I really liked Keiko as a character and I got what the author was trying to do bit something about this story was kind of unsatisfying. I’m happy that Keiko stayed true to herself but I was hoping those around her would also learn to accept her for what she was and stop talking about wanting her to be “cured”. 3 stars.

I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman. Suburban wife and mother Eliza Benedict’s peaceful world falls off its axis when a letter arrives from Walter Bowman. In the summer of 1985, when Eliza – then known as Elizabeth – was fifteen, she was kidnapped by this man and held hostage for almost six weeks. Now he’s on death row in Virginia for the rape and murder of his final victim, and Eliza wants nothing to do with him. Walter, however, is unpredictable when ignored – as Eliza knows only too well – and to shelter her children from the nightmare of her past, she agrees to see him one last time. But Walter is after something more than forgiveness: He wants Eliza to save his life… and he wants her to remember the truth about that long-ago summer and release the terrible secret she’s keeping buried inside. The best way I can describe this book is anticlimatic. I was really intrigued by the premise and wanted to know what the big secret was going to be revealed at the end but it turned out to be meh. No wonder I didn’t guess something so trivial. The writing is good but for a thriller it’s incredibly slow and the main character is so passive she’s actually boring. 2.5 stars.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked.. until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint and meets Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back. Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant -along with several other unlikely candidates – to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City – and maybe herself most of all. I wanted to love this book. So many people raved about it. But to me it was underwhelming. It’s an enjoyable enough read with a few interesting characters but I thought it was just good rather than great. The love triangle also kind of annoyed me – I just wanted the author to get to the pageant already. I would rather have read more about the other girls instead of once again being reminded of how hot Bo was. 3 stars.

So a rather disappointing month. I’m hoping January will be better – although so far I’ve only managed to read one book and that wasn’t great! Oh well, onwards and upwards.

Out of the four books I read in December, one was by a BAME/BIPOC author. This year I really hope to do better!

Thanks to Steph and Jana for hosting! Click on one of those links to see what everyone else has been reading lately.

What i read in November 2021

Hello! Once again I am typing this on my phone from a hospital bed soon apologies in advance for the lack of links and any autocorrect fails.

I was readmitted to hospital on 9th November so theoretically I should have had plenty of time to read. We shall see how many books I actually got through…

Of course I’m linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books.

Here’s what I read:

The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody by Kate Gilby Smith. On the day Alex was born, crowds surrounded the hospital. On her first day of school, people spied from the gates. And recently, strangers came to watch her perform in her school play … as the llama. But why? Alex has always been a nobody. Then a mysterious boy named Jasper starts at school and he alone seems to know the answer. But before he can tell Alex, he disappears … into the year 2100. Can Alex brave traveling into the future to discover what’s happened to him and to unravel the secret of her own astonishing destiny … before time runs out? This is a fun read. I enjoyed the friendship story. Jasper is lovely and I definitely related to his preferring books to action. I found the answer to who Alex is predictable and parts of the story felt a little simple but in fairness I’m not a child. 3.5 stars.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. When Mary Yellan’s mother dies, her last wish is for her daughter to go and live with her sister, Patience in Bodmin. On arrival, Mary finds her aunt a frightened shell of her former self, married to the sinister and drunken Joe Merlin, proprietor of the now disreputable Jamaica Inn. From her first glimpse on that raw November eve, she senses the inn’s dark power. But never did Mary dream that she would become hopelessly ensnared in the vile, villainous schemes being hatched within its crumbling walls – or that a handsome, mysterious stranger would so incite her passions … tempting her to love a man whom she dares not trust. To me this book was just fine. I didn’t hate it but I couldn’t get into it the way I wanted to. The beginning especially was very atmospheric but at times it was almost too dramatic. I loved Rebecca but I guess this one just wasn’t for me. 2.5 stars.

The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery. Still reeling from her parents’ divorce and a life-changing accident, fourteen year old Grace comes Flambards house, out in the Essex countryside, where her mother has a job for the summer, and which just happens to be where her great-grandmother grew up. A reluctant tag-along at first, Grace gradually finds herself becoming involved with two boys: Jamie, who leads her down a path of thrilling freedom, and the deeply troubled Marcus, who is dealing with his difficult, potentially violent father, as well as uncovering more about her own family’s past. This is enjoyable enough, although a little predictable. All the conflicts/issues are resolved fairly easily without much actual input from Grace but I found the meandering storyline kind of relaxing. I especially enjoyed the parts where Grace was discovering the local wildlife – I would love to see otters in the wild! This is apparently a continuation of an older series that I’ve never heard of (by K. M. Peyton) but it works perfectly well as a standalone. 3.5 stars

The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes (Aveline Jones #2). Aveline is thrilled when she discovers that the holiday cottage her mum has rented for the summer is beside a stone circle. Thousands of years old, the local villagers refer to the ancient structure as the Witch Stones, and Aveline cannot wait to learn more about them. Then Aveline meets Hazel. Impossibly cool, mysterious yet friendly, Aveline soon falls under Hazel’s spell. In fact, Hazel is quite unlike anyone Aveline has ever met before, but she can’t work out why. Will Aveline discover the truth about Hazel, before it’s too late? I didn’t find this quite as spooky as the first one but there were still a few tense moments. I loved that Harold was part of it again – he and Aveline make a great team, and of course it was books that saved the day. Hurrah! As an adult I caught on to what was going on with Hazel fairly quickly but I think it would be less obvious to a child and it also didn’t ruin my enjoyment in way. 4 stars.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. The year is 1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need. Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind. This book was fine but I think will ultimately be forgettable. I’ve already forgotten half the characters. The concept is definitely interesting and I enjoyed the parts with Peg (Frank’s mother). Frank’s “past hurts” are glossed over so quickly that I wondered why they were even relevant. They certainly didn’t seem to warrant his complete avoidance of love/commitment. 3 stars.

Bunny by Mona Awad. “We called them bunnies because that’s what they called themselves”. Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort–a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny,” and seem to move and speak as one. But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon,” and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door–ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision. This book is bizarre but also compelling. I didn’t want to put it down even though I was confused for most of it. I’m not even sure I can recommend it because I have no idea who it would appeal to! 4 stars.

The Polar Bear Explorer’s Club by Alex Bell. All Stella Starflake Pearl ever wanted is to be an explorer like her adopted father, Felix. But girls are forbidden from joining the various explorers clubs. So when Felix decides to take her along on his next adventure Stella feels like she has a lot to prove. Then she and three fellow junior explorers get separated from the main party. Join Stella and the others as they trek across the snowy Icelands and come face-to-face with frost fairies, snow queens, outlaw hideouts, unicorns, pygmy dinosaurs and carnivorous cabbages. Can they cross the frozen wilderness and live to tell the tale? This is a cute read and a lot of fun. I loved the characters – and especially the way Stella always stuck up for Beanie. The plot is a little predictable and some parts seemed to be glossed over very quickly without much explanation. The writing is a little simplistic at times and I feel like I don’t fully understand the world but I did really enjoy reading it. 4 stars.

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. When orphan Maia is sent to live with distant relatives who own a rubber plantation along the Amazon River, her British classmates warn her of man-eating alligators and wild, murderous Indians. But Maya looks forward to brightly coloured macaws, giant butterflies and plenty of adventure . Sure enough, she soon finds herself smack in the middle of more excitement than she ever imagined, from a mysterious “Indian” with an inheritance, to an itinerant actor dreading his impending adolescence, to a remarkable journey down the Amazon in search of the legendary giant sloth. This is delightful book, if a little clichéd. Our heroine is an orphan who is good and kind and cannot help but make friends with everyone she meets. Only the villains of the story don’t like her – and they seem to hate absolutely everything, including each other. But the writing is excellent and I really enjoyed Maia’s adventures. This is definitely a book I would have absolutely loved as a child. 4 stars.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman, leaving him with a choice to make. This is a weird and depressing book. It reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye in that the main character seems to just wander round aimlessly, having lunch here, sleeping with a woman there, without much really happening. He also seems strangely unemotional given that he’s telling a story involving the suicide of no less than three major characters. Even when he talks about how badly one particular death apparently affected him it was described in a way that I didn’t really feel anything. I also didn’t really get the ending. I didn’t hate reading this though. At the beginning I quite enjoyed it and found the writing style interesting. 2.5 stars.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren. It’s the most wonderful time of the year… but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions. But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world – the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy. The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake… she’s on a plane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop – and finally get her true love under the mistletoe. Absolutely everybody was reading this book last year so I’m not sure my review will really add much! But anyway… This is a cute and easy read that really put me in the mood for Christmas. I loved the main character and was really rooting for her to find happiness. The love interest felt a little too perfect though, to the extent that I had trouble believing in his character. The whole time loop thing also seemed to be abandoned really quickly without any real closure. I did really enjoy reading this book though. It left me feeling all warm and fuzzy. 4 stars.

City of the Sun by Aisha Bushby (Moonchild #2). Farah is a Moonchild with a very special kind of magic and a jinni of her own. But although she loves her magical animal companion – a lizard called Layla – Farah isn’t entirely convinced that she’s cut out for the life of adventure, which seems to bring endless danger!
When it becomes clear that Farah and her fellow Moonchildren – Leo and Amira – have unlocked moon magic that could destroy the Sahar Peninsula, Farah and her friends are thrust into another accidental adventure. And it takes them to a burning desert and another mysterious city which holds deadly secrets of its own… I liked this but not quite as much as the first book. It seemed slower and almost felt like it was trying to hard to “teach” the reader some mind of moral – about finding who you are or the importance of working together/letting people help you. Both fine lessons to learn but I found it a little obvious/forced. I did still enjoy the stories within the story and I really like all the jinn. 3 stars.

So that makes 11 books read in November, 2 by BAME/BIPOC authors.

Don’t forget to check out the link up for more book reviews.

What I read in July 2021

Hi everyone! I’m a day late for Show Us Your Books but oh well. I couldn’t post yesterday.

In July I read nine books, all of which were for Book Challenge by Erin (now on its 15th round!).

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

(Don’t You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn. In Gardnerville, nobody ever gets sick. Outsiders who come to the town recover from their illnesses (anything from cystic fibrosis to cancer) and can go on to live long and happy lives. Sounds amazing, right? But of course, there’s a catch. Every four years whatever magic fuels Gardnerville infects the town’s teens. In a normal year, a teen might stop speaking to their best friend. In a fourth year they could end up killing them. Four years ago, Skylar’s sister, Piper, was locked away after leading sixteen of her classmates to a watery grave. Since then, Skylar has lived in a numb haze, struggling to forget her past and dull the pain of losing her sister. But the secrets and memories Piper left behind keep taunting Skylar – whispering that the only way to get her sister back is to stop Gardnerville’s murderous cycle once and for all. book is bizarre and confusing, but also kind of fascinating. I guessed one twist (the main one I suppose) but not the details. There are some things I still don’t think I really understand but I did mostly enjoy reading it. It’s definitely unique! 3.5 stars.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Brown Sisters #2). Danika Brown doesn’t do romance. he’s been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. Professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension are all she wants. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits – someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom. When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. Butthen a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Suddenly half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse? Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own. Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint? This is such a happy book. Both main characters are dealing with their issues and there are some serious parts, but their interactions are just so heartwarming, as are Zaf’s with his family and best friend. His mum is awesome! Zaf is the sweetest. He always said the right thing and just seemed like such a genuinely kind, caring person. Dani is hilarious and actually really lovely even though she doesn’t realise it herself. I kind of missed her sisters a bit in this book – I was glad to finally get a proper scene with them towards the end. I can’t wait to read Eve’s book! 4 stars.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Everyone knows iconic 70s rock group Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the real reason why they split at the absolute height of their popularity…until now. Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go-Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Another band getting noticed is The Six, led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realises the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. I enjoyed this. It reads very realistically and I could easily believe it was a real rock band. The format made it a quick read but meant it was slightly difficult to really get to know the characters or be emotionally invested in anyone since it never really stayed with individual people for long enough. Most of them seemed like terrible people anyway, but I did really like Karen. 4 stars.

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey. Violet Willoughby doesn’t believe in ghosts, especially since her mother has worked as a fraudulent medium for a decade. Violet has taken part in enough of her mother’s tricks to feel more than a little jaded about anything supernatural. The ghosts, however, believe in Violet. Now she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death. Violet must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose. This is an entertaining enough read. At times I had trouble believing Violet was from the 1800s – something about her just felt weirdly modern – but I did like her. The other characters were harder to get to know. There were too many of them and I honestly couldn’t tell you who exactly was even there. The solution was maybe a little predictable, although I was briefly misled in the middle so it wasn’t too bad. Violet’s mother is a horrible, horrible person and I wished she’d got her comeuppance (she kind of did but not nearly enough). Overall it’s a quick and fun read that passed a few hours just fine. 3 stars.

Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis. For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mum to cancer has her a little bit traumatised and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known. Anthony Stone is a rich man with four other daughters – and rules for every second of the day. Tiffany tries to make the best of things, but feels like she doesn’t fit into her new luxurious, but super-strict, home. The only thing that makes her new life even remotely bearable is the strange boy across the street,. Marcus McKinney who has had his own experiences with death. But Tiffany has a secret. Another man claims he’s actually Tiffany’s real dad – and she only has seven days before he shows up to demand a paternity test and the truth comes out. With her life about to fall apart all over again, Tiffany finds herself discovering unexpected truths about her father, her mother and herself, and realising that maybe family is in the bonds you make. There was a lot I liked about this book. Tiffany is a fantastic character – she’s so strong despite everything she’s been through. Despite her anxiety she’s not about to take her dad’s meanness described as strictness/being a good parent lying down. And her dad is mean – his holier-than-though attitude made me so, so mad. I especially hated the way he treated his autistic daughter – it was basically abuse (I’m not sure the toddler needed to be autistic though and I prefer not to comment on how her autism was portrayed/represented because I don’t know enough). I kind of wanted to slap Tiffany’s step-mum – she had obviously stood up to her husband/set an ultimatum at least once in her life so I would have liked to see her step up again and tell him straight that she was not going to let him “discipline” the autism out of her daughter! Marcus – Tiffany’s neighbour/friend is also awesome. Weird, but awesome. 3.5 stars.

The Case of the Missing Moonstone byJordan Stratford (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #1). Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude -but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, when Mary is sent to share Ada’s tutor, she also becomes her first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary. This book is cute. As you probably guessed, it’s (very) loosely based on The Moonstone. It does require quite a bit of suspension of belief (especially the very convenient ending) but I feel like most young children wouldn’t notice, and this feels like it’s meant for relatively young children – maybe 7-9ish. It’s a fun introduction to the Victorian era and while to does take liberties with timelines I found the characters interesting. One thing that irritated me was the constant references to “math” – Ada is British so I’m fairly sure she’s into maths! 3 stars.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. Tom and Penny belong to a world so perfect there’s no war, no poverty, no under-ripe avocados. But when something awful happens to Penny, and Tom tries to make it right, he accidentally destroys everything, and finds himself in our broken, dysfunctional world. Only here, Penny and Tom have a second chance. Should Tom go back to his brilliant but loveless existence, or risk everything by staying in our messy, complicated world for his one and only chance at true love? I have no idea how to review this book. It was weird and slightly confusing, the main character is annoying and not very likeable – and that’s despite the fact that he’s telling the story and obviously he at least thinks he’s the good guy. But the concept was really interesting and something about it made me want to keep reading so clearly it can’t have been all bad. I definitely didn’t hate it. Honestly, I don’t really have any particularly strong feelings towards it either way. I think I liked it slightly more than I disliked it. I guess that’s what people mean by damning with faint praise… 2.5 stars.

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss. Hattie’s summer isn’t exactly going the way she would have liked. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to “find himself” and Kat’s in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and working at a local cafe. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby… Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future. I really njoyed this. Hattie and Gloria are both fantastic characters. Gloria’s story was absolutely heartbreaking and I was not expecting parts of it at all. Reuben is a waste of space and an idiot! The side characters are also well fleshed out for the most part – Hattie’s step-dad is a sweetheart and her sister Alice is hilarious. 4 stars.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet. The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect? I feel bad that I didn’t love this book like everyone else seemed to. I liked it and there were certain parts I really enjoyed, but honestly every time I put it down I felt no desire to pick it back up. I found Desiree’s story way more interesting than Stella’s. I thought it would be the other way round, I was really intrigued to find out how Stella passed for white, what advantages it gave her, etc. but when she ended up being a rich housewife I lost interest. I would have been more interested to see how she gained privileges as a normal person, but by marrying a rich man I felt like she just leap-frogged everyone and ended up being super privileged in a way that even most white people aren’t. Also, her refusal to talk about her past meant I never really got a sense of how it was for her to have given up everything in her old life. With Desiree, it was clear that without Stella she felt like part of her was missing but the other way round? No idea.I just felt like none of it went deep enough. I actually would have liked to see more of Desiree’s life back in Mallard and less of Stella falling out with her daughter. Not that I didn’t like the book… I did. But I was expecting to love it and ultimately ended up disappointed. 4 stars.

My favourite book of the month was probably Take a Hint, Dani Brown.

Total books read: 9. By BIPOC/BAME authors: 3.

For more book reviews, check out the link up.