What I read in February 2020: Part 1

Hello friends! Even though February was a short month, I managed to read a lot, so I am splitting my book round-up into two again. As you can tell, this is part 1. I will publish part 2 next week, on Show Us Your Books day and link both up with Steph and Jana. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

The Toymakers

Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver. Liesl lives all alone in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother, with only the shadows and mice for company. But then a ghost named Po and his pet, Bundle, appear from the darkness. That same evening, an alchemist’s apprentice named Will, accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable. That innocent mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey. I found this book randomly on Scribd and thought it sounded cute. I ended up really liking it. It’s a story about grief but it’s magical and adorable. I loved the characters – Bundle is my favourite ♡. There are some cliché elements and the good and bad characters are very much black and white, but nonetheless it’s an enjoyable and fast read. 3.5 stars.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else. Then one day, after a silly argument, Jack stops talking to Hazel. Then he disappeared into the forest with a mysterious woman in white. Now it’s up to Hazel to go into the woods too and rescue him, because that’s what friends do – even if Jack doesn’t want to be friends any more. This is a retelling of The Snow Queen, but because of the title I kept thinking it should be Hansel and Gretel! Anyway, this is such a sad book. I felt really bad for Hazel, not fitting in and not being able to understand why (it’s because the rest of them are sheep and you are awesome!). Once Hazel entered the woods/other world, I loved all the references to other fairytales and stories, and how the author turned them on their heads and nothing was as it seemed. 4 stars.

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter… It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment. The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into the midst of this family business comes young Cathy Wray, a girl with a secret, running away from a shameful past. But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own… My friend gave me this book for Christmas 2018 and it took me way too long to get around to reading it. When I finally did, I was expecting something magical and wonderful and escapist. And the first half truly is . I felt so nostalgic for my own childhood. Then it gets darker… war comes and some people end up changed forever. The second half of the book absolutely devastated me. There is also a theme of sibling jealously running throughout, and I honestly may never forgive one character for what he did. Nonetheless, I 100% recommend. 5 stars.

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson. When daydreamer Clementine discovers a mysterious house standing in the middle of town that was never there before, she is pulled towards it by a powerful sense that it has something to do with the mother who left when she was very young. Inside, she finds the house full snowglobes, each containing a trapped magician, watched over by Gan, the bitter keeper of the house. Inside one of the globes is Dylan, a boy who teases her at school but now needs her help. So Clem ventures into the snowglobes, rescuing Dylan and discovering her own powerful connection to the magic of these thousand worlds. This is very magical and I loved the parts where Clem and Dylan were journeying through all the different snowglobes. Clementine’s relationship with her father is lovely. But Dylan’s story felt somewhat lacking, like it had been tacked on to provide a reason for Clem to enter the snowglobes in the first place. It’s still an enjoyable read, I just feel like more could have been made of it. 3.5 stars

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his Christmas holidays relaxing. But on that first icy night, the guest bell rings. Then rings again, and again. Soon Milo’s home is full of mysterious guests each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and his new friend Meddy must untangle the clues and investigate the mystery to discover the truth about Greenglass House. I absolutely adored this book. It’s so fun! Milo is a fantastic character and it was great to see his confidence develop throughout the book. I also loved that his (adopted) parents are there throughout the story, albeit busy trying to run an inn. There’s no conveniently getting the parents out of the way so the kids can investigate like in so many children’s books – Milo has to sneak around a lot and he does end up getting in trouble a couple of times! This would have been a perfect Christmas read. If I wasn’t on a book buying ban I would definitely have devoured the sequel by now. 5 stars.

Nevertell by Katherine Orton. Twelve-year-old Lina was born in a Soviet labour camp, a place of hunger, cruelty, and deprivation, and has never known the world outside. Then one night she escapes with her best friend Bogden, into the frigid Siberian winter, vowing to find her way to Moscow and her long-lost grandmother who she hopes will help her rescue her mother. But out in the snowy wilderness, the pair are soon pursued by a vengeful sorceress and her pack of shadow wolves. The children will need every ounce of courage – and a whisper of magic – if they are to survive. This is a fast-paced and magical adventure. I felt like some of the characters could have been developed a bit more but I loved Lina. The atmospheric writing is excellent – I could really picture the snowy conditions. I wasn’t sure about the ending though. 3.5 stars.

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. Fiftenn-year-old Zoe has a secret. A dark, terrible secret that she can’t tell to anyone she knows. Then one day she hears about a criminal, Stuart Harris, who is on death row in Texas. Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder. So Zoe starts writing him letters, telling her story and confessing the secrets that keep her awake at night. I enjoyed reading this book. There is an issue with consent at the beginning that is never actually resolved and Zoe makes a lot of stupid decisions. So many things could have been resolved if she had just communicated with people. Lots of typical teenage drama that could have been avoided. But despite that something about it kept me reading. And honestly the drama is very realistic – I know my friends and I had a lot of drama as teens that could easily have been resolved if we weren’t all so ridiculous. I absolutely LOVED the glimpses into Zoe’s family and her sibling relationships. I don’t think this book would be for everybody, but despite the few issues I had with it, I’m giving this 4 stars.

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens. It’s the school holidays and Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a trip on the famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that everyone in the first-class carriages has something to hide. Then there is a scream from one of the cabins, and a wealthy heiress is found dead, But the killer has vanished – as if into thin air. Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked room mystery – and with several other sleuths on the case, they are determined to be the ones that solve it! I’m really enjoying this series. This is book 3, and I think it’s my favourite in the series so far. It’s great fun and a wonderful tribute to Agatha Christie. I enjoyed seeing Hazel’s father in this one and I liked how it incorporated some of the background issues of the political situation in Europe at the time without getting bogged down in too much detail. I also like how this book addressed xenophobia and the way people who are different are treated – it was a bit of a theme in the first two books, but it really comes into play here. I’m looking forward to continuing the series. 4.5 stars.

Nooks and Crannies by Jessica lawson. She, sweet Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, although her horrible parents think the only thing she’s good at is being a nuisance. Her only friend is her pet mouse, Pemberley, with whom she shares her dingy attic bedroom. Then one day Tabitha and five other children receive a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere. None of them sure why they’ve been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed. When the children start disappearing, all Tabitha’s investigative skills are put to the test as she attempts to solve the case and rescue what just might be her first ever real friends. This is such a fun mystery! I loved the descriptions of the house – especially the library. I want it! Tabitha is a fantastic character (with truly horrible parents – think Roald Dahl style). Her pet mouse is awesome and I really enjoyed all her detecting. There was at least one Americanism that threw me out of the story briefly (I don’t think “trash” was British English even hundreds of years ago) but that’s a minor detail. I also guessed part of the reveal and I thought the ending was a bit too happily-ever-after but I had so much fun reading it. A fully deserved 4 stars.

The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. It doesn’t matter that Megan would rather be at the mall, Cassidy is late for hockey practice, Emma’s already read every book in existence, and Jess is missing her mother too much to care – the new book club is scheduled to meet every month and the girls will attend. But what begins as a mom-imposed ritual of reading Little Women soon helps four unlikely friends navigate all the drama of middle school – from stolen diaries to fashion-fiascos. This is a cute read. I enjoyed the facts about Little Women and Louisa May Alcott interspersed throughout the books. There were a couple of things I wasn’t happy about – remarks are made about one character based on her weight, including by adults. This particular person isn’t very nice but I feel like making fun of her size instead of calling out her meanness is a bad message. There’s also a totally cliché environmentalist character. Even as a non-vegan I know it is actually possible to make food that is both healthy/vegan and tasty! However, it is a fun and fast read. If you want to give it a go, I recommend reading Little Women first otherwise you will be spoiled. 3 stars.

So, that is 10 books and somehow 8 of them are children’s/middle grade books (Ketchup Clouds is young adult). Not intentional, I promise! For those who couldn’t be bothered to read all of the above:

TL;DR. I highly, highly recommend The Toymakers. It is magical and wonderful and devastating all at once and I loved it. I also highly recommend Greenglass House for fan’s of children’s books (and actual children, of course). And if you haven’t discovered the Murder Most Unladylike series yet and you’re into mysteries check that out. None of the books I read this month were really bad though, so if any of them sound like your thing then do check them out.

I shall return next week with reviews of the other ten books I read in February.

What I read in January 2020: Part 2

Hello! As promised, I am now going to recap the rest of the books I read in January. And of course I am linking up with Jana and Steph for Show Us Your Books.

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Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winter. Jemima Small just wants to fit in. But it’s hard when she’s the exact opposite of her name – she#s sick of everyone at school calling her “Jemima Big”. Being forced to join the school health group – aka Fat Club – doesn’t exactly make things better. And she can’t even apply for her favourite TV show without worrying everyone will laugh – even though she knows she has a good chance of winning. But Jemima also knows that the biggest stars in the universe are the brightest. So maybe it’s her time to shine. I loved everything about this book! Well, I didn’t love the bullying, obviously, but I did love how Jemima dealt with it and realised what was important. Some of the other characters aren’t as well fleshed out (like the others who are singled out as being overweight/forced to join the so-called “fat club”) but Jemima herself is fantastic. I also loved Jasper, her big brother – despite being annoying and occasionally joining in on the teasing he did seem to love her and want to look out for her, and her friend Miki is amazing. 4.5 stars.

Pog by Pádraig Kenny. David and Penny’s strange new home is surrounded by forest. It’s the childhood home of their mother, who’s recently died. But other creatures live here too. Magical creatures – like Pog. He’s one of the First Folk, charged with protecting the boundary between the worlds. As the children explore, they discover monsters slipping through from the place on the other side of the cellar door. Meanwhile, David is drawn into the woods by something darker that lures him in with promising that there is a way to bring his mother back. This is a story about grief and monsters that’s surprisingly creepy at times (for a children’s book) but also heart warming. I would love a friend like Pog! 4 stars.

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.” It’s also famous for being the scene of a crime – shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed “Truly, Devious.” Now true-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan. She intends to solve this cold case. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. Now Stevie finds herself investigating two mysteries. After seeing many rave reviews of this book I was expecting to love this book. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked it – enough to read about two thirds in one sitting then finish it in my lunch break the next day – but I wasn’t completely bowled over. I liked Stevie a lot, and also some of her fellow students. And I’m intrigued by the mysteries but parts of the book were pretty slow. Also, I’m annoyed by the ending. Cliff hangers are one thing but this felt like the author had run out of time or something. It was just so abrupt! I wish someone had warned me not to start this one unless I could read book 2 immediately. Nonetheless, 4 stars.

Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrian Edmonson. When seven-year-old Tilly’s dad builds a time machine in the shed and asks her what time he should take her back to, there’s really only one answer. She wants to go back to her sixth birthday party, when she ate too many cupcakes and her mummy was still here. But then something goes wrong! Tilly’s dad gets stuck in the past and only she can save him! Thus starts an exciting journey through time. Will Tilly and her dad make it back in time for tea? This book is so cute and fun (but also emotional). Tilly is very resourceful – she reminded me a bit of Kevin from the Home Alone films, but nicer and better behaved. A fantastic time travelling adventure children at the younger end of middle grade (probably around 6+). 4 stars. (Oh, and apparently those with more cultural awareness than me will have heard of Adrian Edmondson from his role in the TV series The Young Ones.)

Tilly

Wormwood Gate by Katherine Farmar. Aisling and Julie are bickering, as usual, when they are almost run over by a white horse with a red mane. Suddenly, they find themselves somewhere else… in a city that’s Dubmin, but not quite. Three castles for three Queens blaze on the horizon and pigeons and seagulls are at war with one another. Can Aisling and Julie find the Wormwood Gate and get back to Mortal Realms? And could it be possible that they like each other more than they first thought? This book has a few bad reviews on Goodreads (although in fairness it currently only has 12 reviews total), but I actually quite liked it. The world building could have been more detailed but it was a quick, fun read with nods to folklore and other stories (I liked the white rabbit). It’s not exactly a fantasy masterpiece but not everything has to be! A high 3 stars.

So Long At the Fair by Christina Schwarz. Is it possible to be in love with two women at the same time? This is a question Jon has been asking himself frequently these days. He’s loved is wife Ginny ever since they were back at school together and he was afraid to even talk to her. But recently, he’s been becoming increasingly infatuated with his Freddi, his colleague at the ad agency, where late-night brainstorming sessions devolve into giggles and sexual attraction. This book covers one day in Ginny, Freddi and Jon’s lives, while also weaving in stories from their families’ past. This book is quite honestly boring. I finished it because I was in a train with nothing else to read and the writing is decent, but I honestly couldn’t have cared less about the story. The affair is totally cliche and the story from the past seemed entirely unnecessary. The original synopsis says ” Ginny is getting closer and closer to a thirty year olds secret” but there’s never even the slightest hint of her finding out anything about the past. Only the reader realises what went on! 2 stars.

Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson. Luke falls. He’s new in school, and on his first day, he has an epileptic fit in front of the whole class. As it turns out, he has much bigger issues too. Esther falls. In love. It’s wonderful – but there’s a shadow that she can’t identify and she can’t make go away just by loving Luke. Luke’s experience has taught him to despise himself; Esther’s self-belief is fragile. And love is not as easy as it looks. Will they be still falling at the end of term? I liked this book well enough but I didn’t love it. The two main characters are interesting but I didn’t like how a particular situation was resolved, or not really resolved to be honest. Part of the reason I picked this book up is because it’s set in Belfast and that part I did like – it’s a nice change to read about teens who are neither American nor English! 3 stars.

The Night She Disappeared by April Henry. This was a reread – I read it for the first time five years ago. Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also works part-time as a delivery girl at Pete’s Pizza. One night, Kayla – another delivery girl – goes missing, having swapped shifts with Gabie. To her horror, Gabie learns that the supposed kidnapper had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working. Unable to get past the thought that she was supposed to be the actual victim, Gabie becomes obsessed with finding Kayla and teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete’s. Together they set out to prove that Kayla isn’t dead – and hopefully to find her before she is. This is a fast-paced book that had me hooked from the very beginning. I didn’t remember most of what happened from my first read. I really liked the mixed media approach with interviews, newspaper articles, etc. I feel like some parts could have gone into more depth but overall it’s a good read. 3.5 stars.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to move into their minivan… again. Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s Jackson’s old imaginary friend. Now he’s back in Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything? Considering this book is literally called Crenshaw, the imaginary cat features surprisingly little. Instead it’s a sweet but sad book about a boy who is terrified of becoming homeless again and feels like he has to be the adult in his family because his parents won’t take anything seriously. It seemed to dwell on the past a lot with Jackson’s memories of when the family had to live in a minivan before – I would have liked to have seen more of the present day situation and especially of his friend Marisol who seemed awesome! Not as good as The One and Only Ivan but still a good read. It would be a good way to introduce topics like homelessness and poverty to children. Also, I listened to this on Scribd while cleaning so I do wonder if I might have got into it more if I actually read it? 3 stars anyway.

Chances by Freya North. When Vita’s relationship with Tim ended, they both knew they had to move on but Vita’s struggling to come to terms with Tim’s new girlfriend. And the fact that she and Tim own a gift shop together doesn’t exactly help matters! Meanwhile, active and outdoorsy Oliver runs his tree-surgery business as calmly as his home – but his love life is intensely private. When Vita and Oliver’s paths cross at a pear tree, he seems to her to be the perfect man. But  will she ever be able to compete with the memories of his late wife? As spring turns into summer, both Vita and Oliver are given choices and chances. But will they take them – or walk away? I have enjoyed Freya North books in the past but this one was just okay. The main character, Vita, is supposed to be this amazingly sweet human being who everybody loves (literally there’s a scene where someone shouts at her on the phone and it’s all “she didn’t know how to react –  nobody ever shouted at Vita”), but for the first half of the book I honestly just found her annoying. Things improved once Vita and Oliver finally got together and I loved Jonty, the teenage son, but overall this book is distinctly average. 2.5 stars.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Young, handsome and fabulously rich, Jay Gatsby seems to have it all. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life, Gatsby is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon, this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel. lot of people seem to love this but for me it was meh. I just didn’t care about any of the characters or what they did. The writing is good but the story is boring – as evidenced by the fact that it took me 3 days to read (and my copy was only 192 pages long). I honestly only finished it because it’s on the BBC Big Read. Meh. 2 stars.

TL;DR. Again, I don’t have loads that I would wholeheartedly recommend, but this half is definitely better than part 1! Jemima Small Versus the Universe is fantastic if you’re into middle grade/YA (it’s kind of between the two… older middle grade and younger teens). I also recommend Pog and Tilly and the Time Machine if you’re into children’s books – or have kids to share them with. Maybe Crenshaw as well. Truly Devious is a decent enough mystery but make sure you have book 2 on hand to avoid being completely disappointed with the lack of any sort of reveal at the end!

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for you. Check out the link up for more book reviews!

What I read in January 2020: Part 1

One month of reading is done already and it was a good one in terms of quantity. Quality… I shall let you see for yourself. There were a couple of gems in there but also some duds. Since I managed a whole 22 books, I’ve decided to split my recap up again, so this will be part one and part two will be published tomorrow (hopefully!), which also happens to be Show Us Your Books day. I will then link up both posts with Jana and Steph. Sounds good? Okay. Let’s get on with it then.

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Into the Forest by Jean Hegland. Over 30 miles from the nearest town, and several miles away from their nearest neighbour, sisters Nell and Eva experienced a near-idyllic childhood. Despite the fact that their happy world is rocked when their mother dies of cancer, they and their father are determined to carry on even as society gradually decays and collapses around them. There is talk of a war overseas and upheaval in Congress, but it still comes as a shock when the electricity runs out and gas and groceries are nowhere to be found. When their father is killed in an accident, and a dangerous stranger arrives at their door, the girls are forced to confront the fact that they must find some new way to grow into adulthood. I loved the writing style and really enjoyed the beginning, then there’s a disturbing event in the middle (*SPOILER* and I’m not even talking about the rape scene that occurs randomly out of nowhere!). Then the end is just bizarre. I still enjoyed the experience of reading it, I’m just not convinced about the events of the story. 3.5 stars.

My Mum Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. Jess and Tracy Beaker are the perfect team. Jess thinks Tracy is the best mum ever (even when Tracy shouts at her teachers). Tracy is fun and daring, but she also works hard to give Jess the family home she desperately wanted when growing up in the Dumping Ground. Their flat may be small and a bit mouldy, but they’ve made it a home anyway. But when Sean Godfrey –Tracy’s rich new boyfriend – comes onto the scene, Jess is worried things are going to change. What if Sean wants to turn Jess’s brilliant mum into a new person altogether? Sean’s superstar mansion and fancy cars might have been Tracy’s childhood dream, but maybe the Beakers’ perfect home was right in front of them all along. I loved watching the Tracy Beaker TV series back when I was at university (yes I was too old for it; no I didn’t care), and I enjoyed the original books when I read them for the BBC Big Read a few years ago. So when I saw that there was a new one, I both wanted to find out what had happened to Tracy and was apprehensive that it might ruin the originals. As it turned out, I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the earlier Tracy Beaker books but it was nice to revisit her as an adult and learn what she’s up to now. The book is written from Tracy’s daughter’s perspective and I kept being thrown out of the story when she used words and phrases that I couldn’t imagine any ten year old saying – no matter how intelligent. It was a nice quick nostalgic read though. 3.5 stars. (But a better 3.5 than the last one. Hmm. Ratings are hard.)

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone. Jane’s days at a Midwest insurance company are perfectly ordinary. She blends in well, unremarkably pretty in her floral-print dresses and extra efficient at her low-level job. She’s exactly the kind of woman middle manager Steven Hepsworth likes – meek, insecure, and willing to defer to a man. But plain Jane is not all she seems, and nothing can distract her from going straight for Steven’s heart. She will allow herself to be seduced into Steven’s bed, insinuate herself into his career and his family, and expose all his dirty secrets. Then she will take away everything that matters to Steven – just like he did to her. This is such a great book. At first the narrator’s voice reminded me of the main character from the Girl in 6E, but Jane quickly became very much her own distinct person. I absolutely loved this and will definitely read the sequel at some point. 5 stars.

Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson. Once it had been the great forest of Lythe – a vast and impenetrable thicket of green with a mystery in the very heart of the trees.  And here, in the beginning, lived the Fairfaxes, grandly, at Fairfax Manor. But over the centuries the forest had been destroyed, replaced by streets named after trees.  The Fairfaxes had dwindled too; now they lived in ‘Arden’ at the end of Hawthorne Close. Here, sixteen year old Isobel Fairfax awaits the return of her mother, who mysteriously disappeared when she was a child, and occasionally gets caught up in time warps. Meanwhile, she gets closer to the shocking truths about her missing mother, her war-hero father, and the hidden lives of her close friends and classmates. This book is odd. I really loved the writing style, but I found parts of it very confusing. It’s kind of fairytale-esque, with a mystery and a coming-of-age story thrown in. It’s sad in parts, shocking in parts, and half the time it’s not even clear what’s real and what isn’t. I’m not selling it very well, but I actually quite enjoyed reading it. 3.5 stars.

The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh. When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. After spending six glorious days together, Eddie has to leave for a holiday, but promises to call from the airport, and Sarah has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call. Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened – there must be an explanation. As time goes by, Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth. I liked this more than I was expecting – I kind of enjoyed the romance with added mystery format. I thought I knew where it was going until the author threw in another twist. Sarah, the main character, was annoying at first and I couldn’t believe someone would be *that* upset about a man not calling after such a short time, but I did get into the mystery and find myself wanting to know what happened. And after the reveal I found myself feeling sorry for her. Another 3.5 star read.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmen Rushdie. Haroun is a 12-year-old boy whose father Rashid is the greatest storyteller in a city so sad that it has forgotten its name. But one day something goes wrong and his father runs out of stories to tell. Haroun is determined to return the storyteller’s gift to his father, which leads him on a quest to another world to turn on the storywater tap. This s a really hard book to rate. I enjoyed the beginning and I loved the end, but there was a part in the middle that barely held my attention and I was honestly unsure whether to continue. I like whimsy but it became almost too fantastical or something. I don’t know. Overall I liked this book but didn’t love it. 3 stars.

The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella. In 1895, impoverished poet Robert Wallis is sitting in a London coffeehouse contemplating an uncertain future when he meets coffee merchant Samuel Pinker and accepts a commission to categorise the different tastes of coffee. He meets Pinker’s three daughters, Philomenia, Ada and Emily, and falls in love with spirited suffragette Emily, but is soon separated from her. Sent to Abyssinia to make his fortune in the coffee trade, he becomes obsessed with a slave girl, Fikre. He decides to use the money he has saved to buy her from her owner – a decision that will change not only his own life, but the lives of the three Pinker sisters. This is an interesting book. It immediately grabbed my attention, quickly became a little dry, but then picked up again. The Africa parts were fascinating and I enjoyed reading about the suffrage movement, but every time I got interested in one aspect of the story it skipped to something. To me it felt like too much was packed into one book. I did like it but not enough that I would read it again. 3 stars.

Off With His Head by Ngaio Marsh. The village of South Mardian always observes the winter solstice with an ancient, mystical sword dance – complete with costumed performers. But this year the celebration turns ugly when one of the performers is murdered. Now Inspector Alleyn has to perform some nimble steps of his own to solve the case. The beginning of this was quite frankly weird and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. But once the murder had happened (which did, in fact, involve a beheading, so the title was pretty apt) and the detective turned up I started to enjoy it a lot more. In hindsight, I should have been able to guess who did it, but alas I did not. I did work out what the murder weapon was though. Not on the level of an Agatha Christie mystery but a decent enough read. 3.5 stars.

Beneath the Skin by Nicci French. Zoe. Jenny. Nadia. Three women of varying ages and backgrounds. They don#t know each other and have little in common, except one thing. Someone has sent them each a note informing them that they will be killed. Invisible and apparently unstoppable, the letter-writer delights in watching the women suffer, thrilled by his power to destroy their lives and their faith in those closest to them. And now, with no clear suspect and amid the growing threat of violence, the victims become the accused as authorities dig into their backgrounds for clues as to why they might have attracted the unrelenting attention of a killer. This is good but not amazing. It’s surprisingly escapist for a suspense thriller. A little predictable in parts. I liked Nadia best of the three women. There are better Nicci French books though – this one isn’t a patch on the Frieda Klein series. 3 stars.

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. In 1963, after the last conventional attempt to assassinate President de Gaulle has failed,  an anonymous Englishman has been hired by the Operations Chief of the O.A.S. to murder General de Galle. Known only as The Jackal this remorseless and deadly killer must be stopped, but how do you track a man who exists in name alone? I admit I was not expecting to like this book, and I was bored for roughly the first 200 pages. Far too much politics/detailed descriptions of French history that read more like non-fiction. Once the investigation into who the Jackal was actually started things picked up and I started to enjoy it a bit more. The political stuff at the beginning is probably fascinating for the right kind of reader, but it’s not for me. 3 stars.

The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook. Chaya has just stolen the queen’s jewels. She promises she had a good reason for it, but unfortunately she got caught… and her friend is being blamed. One thing leads to another, and soon she is escaping into the jungle with her friends. And the King’s elephant. This is such a difficult book to review. On the one hand I loved the setting and descriptions – it was great to read about an entirely unfamiliar culture. It’s also fast paced and you never get bored. But as a result the story felt a little simplistic and rushed, and there was never any real sense that Chaya learned any lessons or actually changed. Even if she thought she was doing the right thing she came off as kind of a brat and honestly not a very likeable person. I loved Ananda the elephant though. 3 stars.

TL;DR. I mean, this post is already a kind of tl;dr by virtue of me splitting my reviews across two posts, but okay. The only book from this section that I fully, wholeheartedly recommend is Jane Doe. Other than that none stand out as being amazing. Human Croquet is a fairly enjoyable read and if you like political thrillers I can imagine The Day of the Jackal would appeal to you much more than it did me. But for most of the books I truly enjoyed in January you will have to wait for part two.

Did you read anything amazing last month? And if you’ve read any of these did you enjoy them more than I did? (Or even just as much in the case of Jane Doe.) Stay tuned for more reviews!

What I read in December 2019

Good morning friends! It’s the first Show Us Your Books link up of the year, and I’m here to tell you about the books I read in December. In terms of actual books, it isn’t as many as usual but I read most of It by Stephen King in December, which is a lot of pages! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning…

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

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What She Saw by Wendy Clarke. First of all, the actual synopsis of this book is totally misleading so I’m going to try to write my own. Leona and her daughter Beth have always been close. But their closeness has meant Beth struggled to make friends. Her mother’s over-protectiveness has led her to be sheltered and totally reliant on her parents. Meanwhile, Leona has a secret that she can’t tell anybody – not even Beth. Something in her past has caused her to be wary of strangers and meant she’s had to lie to Beth ever since she was a child. Could that past now be catching up with them? This is a reasonable enough thriller but rather predictable. I guessed most of the twists, apart from being misled on one thing I expected to happen that didn’t. 2.5 stars. I think the author has potential but this particular book was average.

The Real Katie Lavender by Erica James. 30-year-old Katie Lavender thinks she is better than most when it comes to dealing with life’s surprises. But when she loses her job and receives a request to visit a solicitor all on the same day, she has no idea of the dramatic turn her life is about to take. The solicitor gives her a letter from her deceased mother that will change everything Katie thought she knew about herself. So. Much. Drama. This is more soap opera than book. Everyone is having affairs, half the characters are adopted. Suspension of belief is one thing but so much happening in one family eventually just became ridiculous. And most of the characters didn’t feel authentic – either cliché or too perfect. It’s an easy read and goes by quickly (with so much going on it has too!) but honestly it’s not that great. 2 stars.

The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf. When you’re a hypochondriac, there are a million different things that could be wrong with you, but for Izzy, focusing on what could be wrong might be keeping her from dealing with what’s really wrong. With her mother suffering from a rare disease, a best friend who seems to have suffered a personality transplant, and a way-out-of-her league maybe boyfriend who keeps blowing hot and cold, Izzy’s life feels out of control. But when the worst-case scenario actually happens Izzy realises there’s no handy list of symptoms to help her through. This book is a little predictable and there were almost too many issues, but I actually quite liked reading it. Parts of it are actually pretty funny. I felt bad for Izzy even if she caused some of her own problems. 3.5 stars.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland, but the similarities end there. They couldn’t be more different. Connell is one of the most popular boys at their high school, handsome,star of the football team and an excellent student. The only thing he lacks is money. Marianne is from a fairly well-off family,  but she’s plain-looking, odd, stubborn and completely ostracised at school. However, there is a deep and undeniable connection between the two teenagers, one that develops into a secret relationship. When both are accepted into Trinity College in Dublin, their roles end up being reversed. This book follows the two of them throughout their university years, as they fall in and out of romance. And as Marianne experiments with an increasingly dangerous string of boyfriends, Connell must decide how far he is willing to go to save his oldest friend. I bought this on a whim at the train station because I needed something for the journey home and I’m so glad I did. I read the entire thing on the train and enjoyed every minute. It’s emotional, hard hitting, thought provoking. I can imagine a lot of people hating it but I loved it. It reminded me a lot of One Day. The characters’ failure to communicate drove me crazy at times but the author perfectly captured the feeling of not fitting in. Not quite a 5 star read, but almost… I’m giving it 4.5.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. Now, newly married, newly widowed, and pregnant, Elsie is sent to her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge. With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Behind a locked door inside her home, she finds a painted wooden figure – a silent companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition until other strange things start to happen. This is a great read. Very creepy and gothic. And I was not expecting the ending at all. 4.5 stars.

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen. This is the story of various people who all end up wearing the same little black dress for one reason or another, for example a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl who would love a way to get back at her lawyer ex-boyfriend who’s engaged to someone else after just two months, a woman has been quietly in love with her happily married boss for twenty years and, now he’s a widower, just needs the right situation to make him see how perfect she is for him, and a private detective specialising in finding evidence on cheating husbands. For all of them, everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season. This is a cute, quick read. It’s kind of fluffy and with so many characters it doesn’t truly go into depth with any story but it’s perfect escapism and I really enjoyed it. Definitely nothing earth shattering but a nice palate cleanser. 4 stars.

In the Dark by Cara Hunter. The second in the DI Adam Fawley seires. A woman and young child are found locked in a basement room, barely alive. Nobody knows who they are and the woman can’t – or won’t – speak. The elderly man who owns the house, and seems to be suffering from dementia, claims he has never seen them before.The inhabitants of the quiet Oxford street are in shock – how could this happen right under their noses? But DI Adam Fawley knows that nothing is impossible, and nobody is as innocent as they seem. I loved the first book in this series, but found the ending a little hard to swallow. This second book was even better. It’s a great thriller with many twists and turns – by the end you’re not sure whether anyone can be trusted! And I really didn’t expect the final twist. I am very excited to continue with this series. 5 stars.

The Clocks by Agatha Christie. Sheila Webb, typist-for-hire, arrives at 19 Wilbraham Crescent in the seaside town of Crowdean to accept a new job. Instead, she finds a well-dressed corpse surrounded by five clocks. Mrs. Pebmarsh, the blind owner of No. 19, denies all knowledge of ringing Sheila’s secretarial agency and asking for her by name, and neither does she own all those clocks. And neither woman seems to know the victim. Colin Lamb, a young intelligence specialist working a case of his own – and a friend of the police detective who ends up taking on the case – happens to be on the scene at the time of Sheila Webb’s ghastly discovery. Lamb knows of only one man who can properly investigate a crime as bizarre and baffling as this – his friend and mentor Hercule Poirot. This was the first ever Agatha Christie book I read, back when I was 10! I read it again for the first time in over 20 years on the plane home from England. It’s pretty typical Christie fare full of intrigue and mysterious relationships. I was certainly kept entertained, and after all this time I couldn’t remember who the culprit was. It’s a slightly bizarre addition to the Poirot series given that Poirot only turns up at the very end and doesn’t actually do any investigating, but following Colin Lamb is just as interesting. Maybe not Christie’s best work, but this was a fun bit of nostalgia for me. 4 stars.

It by Stephen King. Finally we come to the behemoth that is this book. I started it in October and read 212 pages then abandoned it for Believathon, which meant I read 1164 pages of it December! Most people know what this book is about, so just quickly: Only the children of Derry could see and feel what made their home town so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, It lurked, taking on the shape of every person’s deepest dread. Sometimes it reared up, going on a killing spree, before falling back into a sleep. Until one group of children figured out a way to stop the cycle for that year. Time passed, the children grew up, moved away, forgot. But now it’s starting again and the grown-up children have been called back again to confront It once more and this time, hopefully, put a stop to it for good. Stephen King certainly can write! It takes talent to hold my attention throughout most of a book this long. There were parts I didn’t like as much and I did think there were a few tangents that could have been left out. Also one particular scene was just horrible and entirely unnecessary! I’m sure he could have found a better way to renew the children’s bond (if you’ve read it, you’ll know). It definitely did not need to be over 1,300 pages long, but overall I really liked it. A solid 4 star read.

And that’s it. Nine books is relatively few for me, but as I said, in terms of page count I still read a lot!

TL;DR. If you really need this for a post with only 9 books I’m not sure you can be helped! However, I shall give you my recommendations anyway: thriller fans please read the DI Adam Fawley series by Cara Hunter. I promise they’re not your usual police procedural books. I feel like Normal People will be a Marmite type book (you will either love it or hate it) but I really liked it. The Silent Companions is a great gothic book and a fairly quick read. And I expect you will know whether you’re interested in reading It or not.

Check out the link up for more book recommendations, and let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them.

That’s all from me. Hope you have an awesome day/afternoon/night/whatever!

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.

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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.

What I read in August 2019

I had a slightly slower reading month in August, mainly because of a couple of books that seemed to take me forever to get through (more on that when I get to them). I managed thirteen books, which I am aware is still a lot by most people’s standards, but it’s a definite drop from last month’s 20! The majority of my reading was, again, dominated by Erin’s book challenge 11.0 – I was on to the bonus round, which meant reading books that had previously been chosen. There was also an extra rule for the bonus round this time: you could change as many books books from your preliminary list as you wanted, but for each one you exchanged you would incur a 5 point penalty… which is the reason I slogged on with a certain book that wasn’t really doing much for me. But anyway, let’s get on with it. As always, I’m linking up with Jana and Steph.

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Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Somer’s is newly married and has started her career as a physician in San Francisco – everything is going perfectly, until she makes the devastating discovery she never will be able to have children. That same year, a poor mother in India makes the heartbreaking choice to save her newborn daughter’s life by giving her away. It is a decision that will haunt Kavita for the rest of her life. Asha, adopted out of a Mumbai orphanage, is the child that binds the destinies of these two women. We follow the lives of the two families, connected by an invisible thread, until Asha’s journey of self-discovery leads her back to India. I liked this, but it almost felt like it didn’t go deep enough. I think the author was trying to pack too much in with Kavita and Jasu’s story, Somer and Kris’s story and then Asha’s individual story on top of all that. The beginning when Somer was struggling with infertility really resonated with me. There’s a part where she’s wondering whether her inability to conceive is a sign that she’s not supposed to be a mother and honestly if you can find someone who’s struggling to conceive who has never thought that then please bring them to me so I can learn their secret! However, I was really annoyed when during arguments Somer would tell Asha “At least I wanted you, I chose you!” despite having admitted she had no idea who Asha’s real mother was or why she had given her away. Way to give your child a complex! And Kavita did want her daughter. Anyway, 3.5 stars.

Frogkisser by Garth Nix. Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her disinterested stepmother, evil stepstepfather Duke Rickard (what happens when your father dies, leaving you with your stepmother who then remarries), and annoying older sister Morven, who is supposed to be crowned queen when she turns sixteen in three months, but is far more interested in handsome princes than in ruling. When Morven’s latest suitor is turned into a frog, she asks Anya to do the dirty work of changing him back. Meanwhile, Duke Rickard has decided to send Anya on a perilous journey. Tanitha, the senior royal dog, tells Anya that she must leave the palace and seek help from others to defeat the Duke. And so, our princess embarks on a Quest with a capital Q, accompanied by Arden, a young and excitable royal dog. The two soon pick up other allies, including Shrub, a junior thief who’s also been shape-changed by a sorcerer into a huge, bright orange talking newt. And thus adventure ensues. This book is so adorable and fun. I love Anya – a princess who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, saves herself and, once made aware of her privilege isn’t afraid to do something about. Ardent is also a wonderful character. Puppy! I also enjoyed the nods to other stories… the Frog Prince is the obvious one, Robin Hood is in there, and Snow White is not at all what you expect. It felt like it was setting up for a potential sequel and I really hope there is one! 5 stars.

The Girl in the Green Dress by Cath Staincliffe. Teenager Allie Kennaway heads off with for prom night, cheered on by her dad Steve and little sister Teagan. But Allie and her friends get separated, and Allie never comes home, instead being found later that night beaten to death in an apparent hate crime because of her transgender identity. As police investigate the brutal murder, a crime that has appalled the country, one mother is at becoming increasingly concerned about her son’s behaviour. Is what’s going on with him more than just adolescent mood swings? And if her suspicions are correct, then what does she do? Meanwhile, another parent will do anything to save his boy from the full force of the law. But if he succeeds then Allie and her family will never get the justice they deserve. This is a compelling crime thriller with the added “twist” that the victim is transgender. It’s kind of a police procedural in that we get to follow the investigation, it’s also more than that because we also get the perspectives of the victim’s family among others. Some characters are better developed and more believable than others, and I was wavering between a 3 and a 4 star, but decided on 4 rather than 3.5 because the end made me cry.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Cassie Logan is an eleven-year-old girl black growing up in the Deep South of the 1930s. Through Cassie’s eyes, we see the events of one turbulent year in the life of the family – a year in which the Logans (and their neighbours) face racism and social injustice. A year in which Cassie learns just why having their own land has always been so important to her father. I don’t want to say I “enjoyed” this book – given the subject matter that seems like the wrong word. But it was very compelling and I read it a lot faster than I expected to. Cassie is independent and feisty, but she’s also quite naïve and at times I wanted to slap her, but overall I found it fascinating to see things through her eyes. This is technically middle grade but I think it’s an important book for teens and adults as well. 4 stars.

The Good House by Ann Leary. Middle-aged and divorced, Hildy Good is an oddity in her close-knit, coastal town. But Hildy isn’t one for self-pity and instead meets the world with a wry smile, a dark wit and a glass or two of Pinot Noir – but only when she’s alone. Ever since her daughters staged an intervention and packed her off to rehab, Hildy hasn’t had a drink in public. But honestly, she thinks all this fuss is ridiculous. After all, why shouldn’t she enjoy a drink now and then? But gradually we start to see another side to Hildy Good and learn just how deep her denial goes. Soon, a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, with devastating consequences… It’s difficult to describe my thoughts on this one. It was kind of slow in parts and a lot of the time I was wondering where the story was actually going. Things picked up towards the end though and I did end up liking it, but wouldn’t read it again. 3 stars.

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. This is the sequel to Nevermoor. Having passed the trials in the first book, Morrigan is now a member of the mystical Wundrous Society. She can’t wait to start her studies with best friend Hawthorne and the other successful applicants. But while everyone else gets to take cool subjects, all the Society wants to teach Morrigan is how evil Wundersmiths. Meanwhile, someone is blackmailing Morrigan’s unit, turning her last few loyal friends against her. Has Morrigan escaped from being the cursed child of Wintersea only to become the most hated figure in Nevermoor? To make matters worse, people have started to go missing. Can Morrigan solve the mystery before she ends up losing her new home altogether? As I expected, I absolutely adored this book. Loved the story, loved the characters. I read it in one go – staying up past my bedtime to do so. And I didn’t regret it for one second. I cannot wait for book 3 – I need to know more about Morrigan’s powers. 5 stars. Also, this book is so pretty – both the dust jacket and the actual book itself. Once again, massive thanks to Kristen for sending it to me ❤

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang. On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road. What made Meridian High’s most popular junior girl decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Mass, acceleration, momentum, force: Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she still doesn’t understand it. How do we impact one another? What does it mean to be a daughter, a friend, a mother? Is life truly more just than cause and effect? I had read this book before, but I had forgotten that until after I read the first few pages. But the challenge bonus round had a new rule this time –  a five-point penalty for changing any of your chosen titles. So I read it again. My opinion is the same as the first time. I didn’t find it to be the best written, and in my copy (hardcover) there were a lot of typos. I never really warmed up to the main character she was a complete bitch and I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for her at all. It’s a story that’s been done before, although I liked the slightly unusual narrator in this one. 3 stars.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett. Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. Eva is cycling when I dog runs out in front of her, causing her to swerve. Jim is walking down the same path. There are three possible outcomes to their encounter, three small decisions that could determine the rest of their life. And then there is David, Eva’s then-lover, an ambitious actor. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses all their lives could take following this first meeting. I loved the beginning of this book, but then once it got to the point where Eva and Jim actually have their encounter it just felt sooo slow. It actually took me an entire week to read this book because I kept putting it down and not really caring about picking it back up. There were parts I really enjoyed, but just as I was getting into them it would suddenly switch to another “version” and by the time it got back to the one I had been enjoying we’d skipped several years into the future. I also kept getting confused about which version I was in now, especially when random new characters I’d never heard of appeared and I found myself wondering whether I’d forgotten somebody. I feel like three different versions was a bit much, or maybe the whole thing spanned too many years. However, it’s well written and I would definitely give the author another chance. This one just wasn’t entirely for me. 2.5 stars.

The Long-Lost Home by Mary-Rose Wood. This is the sixth and final book in the Incorrigible Children series. Governess Penelope Lumley is trapped in Plinkst, an awful village in Russia where everyone is miserable and even the beets it’s famous for refuse to grow. How will she ever get back to her beloved pupils and break the curse on the Ashton family? Meanwhile, the three brave Incorrigibles, are worriedly preparing for the arrival of Lady Constance’s baby with no idea of the danger they’re in! I took a break from Erin’s challenge to read this as soon as it arrived – I had been waiting forever for it to come out in paperback. I felt like this one started slowly compared with the other books in the series (or maybe I just don’t remember?) and parts of it fell a bit flat for me. I still loved the children (Cassiopeia is my favourite) and I was happy to finally get some answers. The ending is so sweet. I’m glad I read it and finished the series, but this one just can’t compete with books 4 and 5. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, but it’s between 3 and 4 really. I definitely recommend the series though.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens – on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles – the narrator of The Sellout was raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, spending his childhood as the subject in various racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral. Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his home town, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map and he is determined to bring it back. With the help of the town’s most famous resident – the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins – he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court. This book is hard work! It’s totally absurd and I kind of get what it’s trying to do but it just went on and on. Half if it reads as pretentious – like it’s trying too hard to be clever and the other half is really repetitive. I did like some bits but it took me way too long to read and I don’t really feel like it was worth the effort. If this wasn’t part of the challenge I wouldn’t have finished it. 2.5 stars.

Just Before I Died by S. K. Tremayne. Kath lives with her husband Adam and daughter Lyla in a desolate stone longhouse deep in Dartmoor National Park. She loves her life, considers herself happy, despite their struggles with money, work and their daughter’s quirks and extreme shyness. But ever since Kath awoke from a coma after a near-fatal car accident, her family have been acting strangely. Adam seems furious with her and Lyla keeps making cryptic comments about a man on the moor. Then Kath learns that the car crash wasn’t what she thinks and her whole world collapses into panic. What really happened that day and why does she feel like someone is out there, watching her? This book was intense! I bought it to read on the train home from work since I had finished my other book and I literally read the whole thing over the course of the 2-hour journey. I’m not usually a fan of twists that rely on withholding information from the user then suddenly revealing that aha… here’s something you did not know that will turn all your suspicions on their heads, but in this case I could live with it because the characters didn’t have that information either. There writing is excellent – very atmospheric and creepy. I wasn’t keen on some aspects of the ending so only 4 stars instead of 5 but I recommend it to fans of slightly spooky thrillers involving isolated settings.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. I could have used the previous book for the “author uses initials in their name” category of Erin’s challenge, but this was the one I had listed and, again, I didn’t want to lose points for switching books, so I still read this one. Anna Fox lives as recluse in her New York City home, her agoraphobia leaving her unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies . . . and spying on her neighbours. Then a new family, the Russells, move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family, a painful reminder of how her own life was not too long ago. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble – and its shocking secrets are laid bare. What is real and what is imagined? Who’s in danger  and who is in control? Is anyone really what they seem? I guessed part of what was going on in this book, but I had no idea about the final twist. It’s a really quick read but honestly I didn’t particularly care about Anna as a character and I was all set to give it three stars until close to the end, but then the last little bit really picked up and changed my mind. 3.5 stars.

Counting Stars by Keris Stainton. Eighteen-year-old Anna is moving out! Not to go to university, like her parents wanted, but to Liverpool where she’s landed her dream job at a theatre. Finally, in the exciting (if slightly run-down) house with her fun and welcoming house mates, she can be the person she’s always wanted to be… the confident, happy Anna she is when she vlogs for her YouTube channel. She soon realises that although her new friends are great, they’re also a little mixed-up… and it’s not long before she starts using her vlog to talk about her experiences. But when Anna spills a bigger secret than she can handle, suddenly the consequences are all too real. This is a cute little novel. It was a bit confusing at first with all the characters, but once I’d got them all straight I liked reading about them and enjoyed the dynamic between all the friends. One character is gay and I liked that it’s just accepted, nobody makes a big deal about it – just as it should be. Everything wrapped up a little too conveniently for me, with everyone forgiving Anna for her “mistake” surprisingly quickly. I thought there was going to be more drama/adventure with Anna’s move to the city, but it all felt very normal. It was nice to read a book about younger adults leaving home for the first time and finding their feet. I don’t think there are too many of those around – it’s either teens in school or people in their 30s. Overall it was a nice read, very quick to get through, but I’m not sure how much of it will stick with me. I liked the writing style and would try something else from Keris Stanton if I came across it. 3.5 stars

TL;DR. For those who couldn’t be bothered to read it all even though there were fewer books this month ;-). August was a bit of a mixed bag. I very highly recommend Frogkisser for those who like children’s books, fairytales and talking animals. Wundersmith is amazing, but obviously read Nevermoor first. The Girl in the Green Dress is compelling, although some characters are less believable than others and I didn’t love everything about it. Everybody should read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – I think it’s technically either middle grade or YA but I truly believe everyone needs to read it. Thriller fans should definitely read Just Before I Died.

That’s about it for this month. Tell me what you’ve been reading. And if you want more book recommendations, check out the link up.