What I read in February 2021

Hello! It’s somehow book day again… time is going fast! I forgot to write a draft of this post to add to throughout the month so now I’m having to type the whole entire thing during my lunch break (and partly after work because I didn’t get finished at lunch time). As you can see from the title, I am linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I read in February.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Sequel to Greenglass House. It’s the Christmas holidays again and Milo is looking forward to spending his school-free time with his family, but once again they end up with a whole house full of guests, both familiar faces and new ones. There are fresh clues to uncover as Milo and his friends search for a mysterious map and a famous smuggler’s lost haul. I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the first one. It’s just as charming and there are some fantastic characters (I would love to see Milo and Marzana’s friendship continue to develop) but it did feel a bit too similar to the first book at times. i really enjoyed the aspects of Nagspeake folklore and getting to know something about the world outside the inn. 4 stars.

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Mila and her sisters live with their brother Oskar in a small forest cabin. It’s been winter in their village for 5 years – so long that Mila’s youngest sister doesn’t remember anything else. Their mother is dead and their father is gone. One night, a fur-clad stranger arrives seeking shelter for himself and his men. But by the next morning, they’ve gone – taking Oskar with them and, as they later find out, all the other boys in the village. Mila is determined to find her brother and bring him back, so with the help of Rune, the Mage, she sets out to do just that. This is well-written, and the beginning in particular is very atmospheric, but the story felt a bit vague. It’s based on folklore and very reminiscent of a fairy-tale but it lacks detail. It’s all a bit simple and most of the characters felt a bit flat – particularly Mila’s older sister Senna and Rune, the Mage. I would have liked to find out more of his back story and motivations. I did really love Mila’s little sister Pipa though. 3 stars.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson. 12-year-old Yanka has always felt out of place in her small village. She was found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby and has always felt drawn towards the forest. When she wakes up one morning to find that her legs have become bear legs, she sets off on an adventure with her house weasel Mousetrap to discover who she really is. Along the way she is joined by a motley crew of animals, all of whom have a lot to teach her about friendship and belonging. This is a wonderful adventure about family, friendship and discovering who you really are. I loved the stories interwoven throughout and the characters Yanka met along the way. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The House With Chicken Legs though. Yanka is a great character but I somehow didn’t feel as attached to her as I did to Marinka. One thing I did like better in this one was the Yaga house – I want it to be my friend! 3.5 stars.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Vasilisa – known as Vasya – the youngest child of Petyor Petrovich, is wild like her mother was. The family lives on the edge of the Russian wilderness (although at that point it’s not Russia yet, but Rus‘), where winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. Vasya spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. But then her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honouring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. In a village caught between a pagan past and the Christian church, Vasya is perhaps the only one who can save her people from what’s coming. This is really well written and I found the Slavic folk tale elements absolutely fascinating. I love Vasya and the various creatures/guardians. However it felt pretty slow at times – it seemed to take forever for the “real” story to get going. I will read the next book because I want to know where Vasya ends up going. 3.5 stars.

Boy, Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. When Boy Novak turns 20, she flees the home of her abusive, rat-catcher father – ending up in Flax Hill, Massachusetts, simply because it’s the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. There she meets Arturo Whitman – craftsman, widower, and father of Snow – a beautiful, cherished child who Boy is instantly smitten by. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird. When Bird is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart. There are a lot of themes in this book. Identity… what it means to be white/black, male/female. Appearances versus reality. There is a LOT to discuss and I feel like it would be a perfect book club book. It’s also really well written. But the plot kind of lost me. I felt like I was missing the whole point of the book. Then a few serious issues came up at the end that weren’t really explored at all and made me feel like I was missing something. The final twist at the end was handled fairly badly (to say how would be a spoiler though) and the book then ended abruptly without the reveal either being tied in to the rest of the plot or the author explaining what she was trying to do by putting that twist in there and having Boy react so badly. I’m not sure what the comparison with Snow White is about either. Sure there’s an obsession with mirrors and beauty but comparing the plot to Snow White seemed very far-fetched to me. 3 stars – maybe more 2.5 now I think about it.

The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club (various authors including Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers). In 1931 Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and 10 other crime writers from the newly formed Detection Club collaborated in publishing a unique crime novel. In a literary game of consequences, each author would write one chapter, leaving G.K. Chesterton to write a typically paradoxical prologue and Anthony Berkeley to tie up all the loose ends. The result was this book. Inspector Rudge does not encounter many cases of murder in the sleepy seaside town of Whynmouth. But when an old sailor lands a rowing boat containing a fresh corpse with a stab wound to the chest, the Inspector’s investigation immediately comes up against several obstacles. The vicar, whose boat the body was found in, is clearly withholding information, and the victim’s niece has disappeared. There is clearly more to this case than meets the eye – even the identity of the victim is called into doubt. Inspector Rudge begins to wonder just how many people have contributed to this extraordinary crime and whether he will ever unravel it… I love the concept of this book and it was interesting to see where each author took the story and what they added to it. Inevitably some chapters were better than others (or possibly more to my taste than others). I found the prologue by G.K. Chesterton surprisingly dull considering I like the Father Brown stories. Agatha Christie’s chapter was good, as could be expected. There were a few other chapters I enjoyed as well, some by authors I didn’t know, and I was impressed with how the last person managed to tie everything together. I had read this before but I was maybe 13 at the time so I obviously didn’t remember the solution! I do recommend it if you’re a fan of classic crime/mysteries – it’s definitely not the greatest detective mystery I’ve read but I still found it fun to see what people managed to do with someone else’s plot. 3 stars.

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens. A collection of short stories from the world of the Murder Most Unladylike series – including the Detective Society’s first ever mystery, the Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie. There are also tips from Daisy and Hazel on how to found your own Detective Society, a story from “rival” teen detectives (but actually friends) The Junior Pinkertons, and some discussion of real-life unsolved mysteries. It’s cute but ultimately unnecessary. The tips for setting up your own detective agency and writing in code are fun and there are a couple of new stories in there – I enjoyed reading about the Junior Pinkertons case. But ultimately I didn’t think it needed to be a whole separate book. One of the stories is actually included as a bonus at the end of Mistletoe and Murder and I felt like the same could have been done with the rest of the content. Also, I had felt that Daisy was getting better in Mistletoe and Murder, but reading from her perspective in this book she came across as an awful person and horrible friend to Hazel. She’s so possessive of their friendship while at the same time constantly putting Hazel down and treating her like an idiot. And when she’s giving her tips for setting up your own club she also talks directly to the readers as if they couldn’t possibly be anywhere near as clever as the amazing Daisy. Ugh! 2.5 stars.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. When Sydney Green takes part in a walking tour of the Brooklyn neighbourhood she’s lived in for almost her whole life, she is frustrated to find that the tour guide prefers to tell stories of the white people who lived there hundreds of years ago rather than the amazing African Americans – some of whom are actually still living there. Challenged to create her own walking tour if it means that much to her, Sydney decides to do just that, finding assistance from an unlikely – and unwanted – corner, one of the many new arrivals to the block – her neighbour Theo. As more and more FOR SALE signs pop up and the people Sydney has known her whole life gradually disappear – even while Sydney herself is literally battling to hold on to her own house – Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbours may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised. When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other – or themselves – long enough to find out before they too disappear? From reading the synopsis I could not figure out what the actual plot of this book was, I just knew it sounded interesting (and I had seen some high praise for it – I think actually through SUYB). It starts off fairly slow but by the end I was hooked – staying up until the early hours of the morning to finish it. I still have a few questions but overall it was a great read. Not a thriller in the traditional sense but certainly chilling and eye-opening. 4 stars.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson. When rookie policeman Ari Thór Arason is given his first posting in Siglufjörður – an idyllic (and remote) fishing village in the very north of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel – far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik, he isn’t expecting much beyond routine small incidents. But then a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, and Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. This is very atmospheric – you can really feel the claustrophobia of the small town, basically cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice. The story itself is verrrry slow, which isn’t always necessarily a bad thing but unfortunately something about the writing style just didn’t jibe well with me. It felt choppy. In fairness to the author it’s possible that something was lost in translation, although I would think the translator would have tried to accurately represent the original style. I also didn’t like Ari Thor very much – he needs to learn to communicate and stop assuming he knows how other people (his girlfriend) feel. Towards the end things started to pick up and there was a bit of action, which bumped this book up from a 2.5 to a 3 star. I probably won’t bother reading book 2 though.

Cinderella is Dead by Kaylynn Bayron. It’s been 200 years since Cinderella found her prince but the fairy tale is over. Siyteen-year-old Sophia knows the story off by heart though. She has to. Just like she and every other teen girl has to attend the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are “forfeit”, leaving the kingdom never to be heard from again. Sophia doesn’t want to go to the ball though. She doesn’t even want to get married – or not to a man anyway. She would rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend. When Sophia’s night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s tomb, where she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all – and in the process, learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew. I enjoyed this book. I do agree with the reviewers who said they would have liked more world-building, but if you view it through the lens of a fairytale of sorts it makes sense in a way for there to just be a kingdom and a forest. I liked Sophia but I would have liked to see her reasons for wanting to change the system developed a bit more. Obviously wanting to defeat the evil and get equal rights for everyone is a good thing – I’m not questioning that. But why does Sophia in particular choose to fight back while others prefer to follow the rules and try to conform no matter how much it hurts them? We are told it has something to do with Sophia’s grandmother, who also rebelled and was taken away, but I would have liked to be shown how her grandmother shaped her thinking. Maybe a scene with Sophia reminiscing about something specific that happened with her grandmother instead of her just constantly telling everybody “my grandmother told me the king is bad and must be stopped!”. The king himself is almost a caricature of evil – towards the end there was a point where I actually had to laugh because it was just getting so ridiculous! (It reminded me of a scene from Death Becomes Her). The twist on the fairy godmother was awesome and she was probably one of the best developed characters in the book to be honest. The romance felt very rushed – I felt like Sophia got over Erin very quickly. I did enjoy the experience of reading the book though and despite its flaws I flew through it, so I’m giving it 3.5 stars.

We Are Giants by Amber Lee Dodds. Sydney thinks her mother Amy is the best mum in the world – even if she is a bit different from other kids’ parents. As Amy explains it, when she was a girl she got to 48 inches tall and then stopped growing right there. It’s the perfect height, in Sydney’s opinion: big enough to reach the ice cream at the supermarket, but small enough to be special. And though Sydney’s dad died when she was only five, her memories of him, her mum’s love and the company of her brave big sister Jade means she never feels alone. When Sydney’s mum is forced to sell her furniture shop and the family moves away from London, things get tricky. Sydney and Jade have to fit in at a new school, make friends, and deal with growing up in a strange town. And the last thing Sydney wants to do is grow up! For such a short book this manages to pack a lot in – family, grief, growing up, dealing with changes and fitting in/making friends – but somehow it doesn’t seem crowded. Sydney’s voice felt authentic (to me – who has no children and clearly hasn’t been a child for a long time!) and I even teared up at one point. Jade’s teenage rebellion felt a bit cliché but still realistic. It’s a great little book for children who are worried about growing up or are struggling to cope with changes. 4 stars.

Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed. Zeba Khan is like any other sixteen-year-old British girl: enjoying herself, waiting for exam results and hanging around with friends. When her parents decide on a family trip to their home country of Pakistan Zeba isn’t exactly thrilled, but she goes along with it. Although she finds it a bit weird that her parents seem very stressed in the run-up to the holiday, she doesn’t really think much of it. It’s been a long time since they went home after all. Then they arrive, and her future is threatened by an unthinkable – and forced – duty to protect her father’s honour. This is a thought-provoking read. I liked that the author made it very clear that arranged marriage and forced marriage are two totally different things, and that forced marriage is actually frowned on in Islam as well (although it still happens). Zebra frustrated me at times – I wish she had just communicated when she had the chance. There is a surprisingly sad part in the middle. Most of the characters were well developed apart from Zeba’s mum, who just follows her husband in everything. I know that was the point – she’s supposed to be traditional and think men know best – but I didn’t understand how she could show literally zero emotion about her own daughter, even when the husband she was supposedly obeying was very obviously upset about what he felt he “had” to do. Zeba’s grandmother was fantastic and I loved how the author showed that the people you would expect to be most traditional in their thinking (the older generation) are perfectly capable of having minds of their own. The ending is a little too predictable and straightforward, but I can’t see how else it should have ended either so I suppose it makes sense. 3.5 stars.

A Wolf for a Spell by Karrah Sutton. Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans – especially witches – but when her family is threatened, she finds herself with no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing, and before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut – and Baba Yaga’s body! Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all. This is an absolutely magical book. The beginning gave me Red Riding Hood vibes, then it changed into something else. It has a definite fairytale feel, which isn’t surprising given it’s based on Slavic folk tales, but it also goes deeper than your traditional fairytale, which I liked. I loved all the characters, but my favourite was actually one of the supporting characters – I loved the raven with all his snark! One thing that didn’t quite work for me was the villain – he felt a bit flat and evil just for the sake of being evil. I guess he wanted power but that didn’t really come through. That’s a relatively minor complaint though – I definitely recommend this book. 4 stars.

I also read The Crowns of Croswald by D. E. Knight. Since it was from Netgalley, I’ve reviewed it separately here.

Total books read: 14. Books by BIPOC/BAME authors: 4 (not good enough!).

TL;DR: All the children’s books mentioned here are great – I particularly recommend The Girl Who Speaks Bear and A Wolf for a Spell if you like middle grade fantasy. If you (or your children) prefer more realistic stories then We Are Giants is also great. When No One is Watching is fantastic but don’t go into it expecting your typical thriller. I really enjoyed the experience of reading Cinderella is Dead but for me it lacked depth. None of the rest are terrible but they aren’t my new favourites either. Read them if they sound good to you.

That’s all from me. Visit the Show Us Your Books link up for more book reviews!

What I read in January 2021

Hello and happy Show Us Your Books day! I am linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I read in January.

I read 14 books and interestingly 5 of them had people’s names in the title. That was not intentional! Here’s what I thought of them:

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. Chloe Brown is chronically ill and still lives with her family. After almost being hit by a car while out for a walk, she decides she needs to “Get a Life” and comes up with a list of things she feels she “needs” to do, number 1 being get her own place. Other items include riding a motorbike… enter Redford ‘Red’ Morgan, her building’s maintenance guy. There’s just one problem: Chloe and Red hated each other at first sight! Can they get past their initial assumptions and learn to like – or even love – each other? This is sweet and sad and sexy. I really enjoyed it. There were a few strange phrases though – who refers to their nipples as “slutty batteries”? Lol.

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley. Uncle Montague lives alone in a big, creepy house and whenever his nephew comes to visit he tells him the scariest tales he knows. But as the stories unfold, another even more spine-tingling narrative emerges, one that is perhaps the most frightening of all. This was fun to read. The stories are creepy in an old-fashioned, gothic kind of way. Some were better than others. A few ended a bit abruptly and the final, bonus story, was rather underwhelming, but overall it’s enjoyable. I would certainly have been deliciously creeped out and entertained by it as a child – this was exactly the kind of thing young me enjoyed. 3.5 stars

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, a deadly strain of flu sweeps across the world wiping out most of humanity. Kirsten sees Arthur die as a child actor, and fifteen years later she’s part of the Traveling Symphony – a group of actors and musicians that tours the small towns of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Arriving in the town of St. Deborah by the Water, the troupe encounters a young man calling himself “the prophet” who threatens to destroy the life Kirsten has come to love. Moving back and forth in time the book tells the actor’s story from his early days as a film star to his death, and Kirsten’s story in the present, post-apocalyptic world. I thought I would fly through this book but parts of it were really slow. I did enjoy the post-pandemic parts, but I couldn’t have cared less about some actor’s marriages and affairs. I did appreciate how it all tied together in the end. 3 stars.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Michael is a half-Jamaican, half Greek Cypriot boy growing up in London. All his life he knows he’s different, first because he’s mixed race, then because he would rather play with dolls and his female friends than participate in traditionally “male” activities, and because he’s gay. When he gets to university, hethinks he can finally be free but he still feels out of place, until he discovers the drag society and finds his wings as The Black Flamingo. This book is wonderful! I loved Michael and it made me so happy to see him figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Being neither black (/mixed race) nor gay I obviously couldn’t “relate” as such but this book gave me so many insights into how it must feel to be different (I have often felt different/out of place but never because of my race or sexuality.) For some reason I thought this was set in America so it was a nice surprise to find it took place in the UK. 5 stars.

Do Not Disturb by A. R. Torre (Deanna Madden #2). In book 1 we met Deanna Madden, a camgirl who hadn’t left her apartment for 3 years for fear of what she might do. Until she had to leave when she believed one of her clients was responsible for a girl’s abduction. Now Deanna is back in her apartment and back to following the three simple rules she’s set for herself: 1. Don’t leave the apartment. 2. Never let anyone in. 3. Don’t kill anyone. Well, mostly. She does allow herself to leave occasionally with Jeremy, the delivery driver who helped her in the first book and now – dare she say it – her boyfriend. But somebody out there has become obsessed with Deanna’s alter ego, Jessica. If he manages to find her, who knows what might happen. I enjoyed this just as much as the first one! It’s a little repetitive at times – Deanna thinks about killing. Deanna distracts herself with cyber sex. But when the tension picked up I was hooked, even though the “bad guy” is a bit of a cliché. I also loved Deanna’s developing relationship with Jeremy. It’s am looking forward to finding out where things go in book 3. 4 stars.

The Unadoptables by Hanna Tooke. The rules for baby abandonment at Little Tulip Orphanage are simple. The baby should be wrapped in a cotton blanket. The baby should be placed in a wicker basket. The baby should be deposited on the top step. Not once have they been broken, until a few months in 1880 when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack and one in a coffin-shaped basket. Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou. Twelve years later, their cruel matron has dubbed them “the unadoptables”, but they know their individuality is what makes them special. When a sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart, the gang make a daring escape across the frozen canals of Amsterdam. I’m o torn on this book. I loved, loved loved the characters. The story itself is fantastic – the writing, the adventure. But I could not in good conscience give it to a child. Based on the blurb, I thought the evil matron would hate the five children because they were quirky and curious and bright and wonderful (and they are all of those things) when she wanted drab, obedient, conforming orphans. And while it’s true that she hates all orphans, it becomes clear that these particular ones are labelled “unadoptable” because – for want of a better word – they have something “wrong” with them. One is mute, one has extra fingers, one is Asian. And it would be fine if only the matron, who is clearly the bad guy, thought that way, but very close to the beginning a couple come looking for someone to adopt and almost physically recoil when they realise Lotta has six fingers on each hand… and nobody ever explicitly points out how wrong that is. Yes the five orphans are the heroes of the story and yes there is one adult later who is kind about Lotta’s extra fingers, but the subtle message is still there that it’s okay to discriminate against people for being different. As an adult I know it’s wrong, but as a child? I most likely wouldn’t even have noticed (just like it never occurred to me that, in the Narnia books, the only people described as having dark skin are the bad guys!), but subconsciously taken onboard that it was absolutely fine to be racist or ableist or just plain cruel. And as for children who look different themselves, or have a disability, or are clumsy and not traditionally cute… how could reading a book like this NOT make them feel awful? It’s a shame because the story itself really is wonderful and I genuinely enjoyed reading it. *Sigh*
Note: I am aware that it’s historical fiction and that’s exactly how things would have been in those days, but I still feel like there should be something, somewhere that explicitly lets children know that THIS IS NOT OKAY. As an adult I know things weren’t great in the past, I can look past it and simply enjoy the story for what it is, but this is a children’s book and it really should be made clear that just because this kind of thing was common in the 1800s doesn’t make it right!

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying. What to eat, where to go, who to love. But one thing she is sure of is that she wants to spend her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea. Then Lea dies in a car accident, and Rumi is sent away to live with her aunt in Hawaii. Miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, feeling abandoned by her mother, and the aching absence of music. With the help of her aunt’s neighbour, teenage surfer Kai who doesn’t take anything too seriously, and old George Watanabe who succumbed to grief years ago, Rumi seeks her way back to music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish. This is a very emotional book, as you can probably guess from the synopsis. Rumi is a difficult person to like. She’s prickly, sour and prone to childish tantrums. And the way she spoke about her mother is awful – I understand that she’s grieving but even before Lea died, in her flashbacks, she often seemed to be mean to/about her mother, basically accusing her of being neglectful and forcing Rumi to be a substitute mother to her sister. But at the same time I could really relate to Rumi – I have often been guilty of not thinking before I spoke and saying something cynical or sarcastic that came across as mean. And how many times have I wished I was a naturally sweet, cheerful,kind person who everybody loved? Rumi’s love for her sister shines through at all times and I truly felt for her in her grief (even if I wanted to shake her at times), which is a testament to how good the writing is. 4 stars. (Also Rumi is probably asexual and possibly also aromantic – she’s still working things out. I don’t want to comment on how good the rep is since I am neither of those things but it’s something people might want to know is in there.)

Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montogomery (Emily #1). Emily Starr never knew what it was to be lonely–until her beloved father died. Now an orphan, she left in the care of her mother’s relatives at New Moon Farm where she’s sure she won’t be happy. Emily deals with stiff, stern Aunt Elizabeth and her malicious classmates by holding her head high and using her quick wit. Things begin to change when she makes friends, with Teddy, who does marvelous drawings; with Perry, who’s sailed all over the world with his father yet has never been to school; and above all, with Ilse, a tomboy with a blazing temper. Amazingly, Emily finds New Moon beautiful and fascinating. With new friends and adventures, Emily might someday think of herself as Emily of New Moon. There was quite a bit I enjoyed about this book but also a few things I didn’t. It’s definitely darker than Anne of Green Gables – one character’s mother KILLS ANIMALS because she thinks her son is getting too attached to them and she wants him all to herself. Wtf? Dean Priest is creepy and actually so is Mr Kelly (I think that’s his name). Who tells a 12 year old she has “come hither eyes”? I don’t care which century it was! I did really enjoy Emily’s friendships (with people her own age!) and her love of writing – in some ways she reminded me of myself as a child. I actually like Emily better than Anne. She felt more real to me. Other than Anne’s supposed “red-head temper” I always thought she seemed too sweet and perfect. Emily with all her faults is much more human and interesting. My favourite character in this book is cousin Jimmy. I also really liked Great Aunt Nancy – she just didn’t care what people thought of her and it was AWESOME! 3.5 stars

Birthday by Meredith Russo. Eric and Morgan were born on the same day, at the same time, in the same place. They’ve always celebrated their birthday together, but as they grow up they begin to grow apart. Everyone expects Eric to get a football scholarship, but no one knows he’s having second thoughts. Former quarterback Morgan feels utterly alone, as she wrestles with the difficult choice to live as her true self. Both of them are struggling to be the person they know they are. Who better to help than your best friend? I loved this book, but it’s so emotional. It made me cry – more than once. But despite the sadness it’s also heart-warming and I adored the ending. 5 stars.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukaemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate – a life and a role that she has never challenged…until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister – and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves: she hires a lawyer to sue for the rights to her own body. This was a re-read for me. I would have been in my early 20s the last time I read it. This time the ending felt almost emotionally manipulative but it did still make me cry. I’m not sure what the point in the Campbell/Julia side story is (I’d forgotten about that to be honest). I do still think Jodi Picoult is a good writer though. So I’m downgrading my former 5 star rating to 4.

The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig. Meet Ginny. She is 14, autistic, and after years in foster care, Ginny is in her fourth forever family, finally with parents who will love her. Everyone tells her that she should feel happy, but she has never stopped crafting her Big Secret Plan of Escape. Because Ginny has a secret – something happened, a long time ago, something that only Ginny knows, and nothing will stop her going back to put it right… I don’t want to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter is not enjoyable! Poor Ginny has been through so much and she deserves the world. I don’t know how authentic Ginny’s autism was (this is not own voices but the author does have an adopted autistic daughter) but she felt like a real person to me. Most of the adults in this book are despicable though! Well, Brian I guess is at least kind of trying. Obviously the birth mom is supposed to be an unfit parent but the adoptive mom (“Forever Mom” in Ginny’s words) made me so mad. You don’t get to get rid of your adopted daughter because you have your own baby now! She wouldn’t even give poor Ginny a chance. Also I guessed Ginny’s “secret” almost immediately so how NOBODY figured it out – including the therapist she had been seeing for about 5 years is beyond me! 4 stars.

The Winter House by Nicci Gerrard. When Marnie receives a phone call that summons her to the side of a once-beloved friend who is dying, she is wrenched from her orderly London life and sent back into a past from which she has fled but never escaped. Ralph, Marnie and Oliver once knew each other well, and now they meet again in Ralph’s secluded cottage in the Scottish highlands, to spend the precious days that Ralph has left with each other. As they reminisce, Marnie is taken back to the summer years ago when everything changed between them and heartbreak and desire broke up their little group. Will Ralph finally say what needs to be said before it’s too late? I had read this before but I didn’t remember much of it.
The best word I can think of to describe this book is “melancholy”. And not just because somebody is dying. Marnie takes us back through her memories, telling Ralph the story of their lives together, but there always seems to be an undercurrent of sadness even in the supposedly happy times. And I did not like Ralph! While he was obviously troubled and fragile, and honestly could probably have done with some therapy, he came across as really selfish. I wondered how Marnie’s life would have turned out if she hadn’t spent most of her teens trying to protect Ralph and his feelings. Lucy also deserved better (and thankfully seemed to have got it – I think she was the only character in the book who did manage to escape the teen drama!). The ending at least seems hopeful and the writing is beautiful. 3 stars.

Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely. Blanche White is a feisty, middle-aged African-American housekeeper recently returned to South Carolina from NYC. When she is called into court for a bounced check after a client fails to pay, she goes on the lam, hiding out as a maid for a wealthy family at their summer home. Although distracted thinking about how to deal with her own problems, Blanche gradually realises that her employers are acting strangely, even for white people. And when there’s a murder that Blanche fears she could be blamed for, she’s forced to use all her savvy, sharp wit and her old-girl network of domestic workers to discover the truth and save her own skin. wasn’t what I expected. It’s pretty slow until almost the end (the murder that the synopsis refers doesn’t even happen until over halfway through!). I was expecting a bit of actual detecting, but all Blanche seemed to do was gossip with her friend (which did lead to some answers but Blanche herself wasn’t involved and we didn’t see any of the information gathering process), worry about her sister’s kids (who she is guardian for) and then finally sit down and properly listen to someone at the very end, which led to her solving the “mystery”. I really liked Blanche but the story itself was too repetitive and honestly a bit boring. 2.5 stars.

Gargantis by Thomas Taylor (Eerie on Sea #2). There’s a storm brewing over Eerie-on-Sea, and the fisherfolk say a monster is the cause. Someone has woken the ancient Gargantis, who sleeps in the watery caves beneath this spooky seaside town where legends have a habit of coming to life. It seems the Gargantis is looking for something: a treasure stolen from her underwater lair. And it just might be in the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, in the care of one Herbert Lemon, Lost-and-Founder. With the help of the daring Violet Parma, ever-reliable Herbie will do his best to figure out what the Gargantis wants and who stole her treasure in the first place. In a town full of suspicious, secretive characters, it could be anyone! This was another fun adventure. It’s very atmospheric and you get a real sense of danger. I was truly worried for Herbie at some points. I really enjoyed Herbie and Violet’s friendship and it was nice to find out something of where Herbie came from and what happened to his parents, although I definitely have more questions. It doesn’t quite have the spark that would make it 5 stars, but it’s a solid 4-star read. I highly recommend this series.

And here’s something new I’ve decided to do this year… I’m keeping track of how many books I read by BAME/BIPOC authors. This month it was 4 – not good enough.

TL;DR. I highly recommend The Black Flamingo and Birthday, recommend Get a Life, Chloe Brown and the Deanna Madden books (in both cases only if you don’t mind explicit sex scenes). I also really enjoyed The Original Ginny Moon and Summer Bird Blue. The Eerie on Sea series is excellent for children (and adults) who like an adventure. I really enjoyed The Unadoptables but I’m not sure I would let a child read it without adult guidance and I recommend that you look into it yourself before giving it to the children in your life.

What have you been reading lately? Don’t forget to check out the link up for more reviews!

What I read in December 2020 + My Book Challenge by Erin 14.0 reading list

Hello! It’s Show Us Your Books day with Steph and Jana and I’m here to talk about last year’s reading for the final time. December is always my worst reading month, partly because Jan and I are both off work so we tend to spend time together and also because it’s the one time that I actually watch quite a lot of TV. Jan switches on the TV practically every time he enters the living room but I’m usually perfectly happy to leave it off and get lost in a book. All the fun, heart-warming films are on TV at Christmas though and I like to indulge in those and really switch off. Anyway, enough about that. You’re here for the books – and despite all the TV and boardgames plus getting my Christmas cards finished in the earlier part of the month, I managed to read nine.

One of Us Is Next A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up in the year since Simon died, but in all that time, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts. Until now. Someone has started playing a game of Truth or Dare. But this is no ordinary Truth or Dare. This game is lethal. Choosing the truth may reveal your darkest secrets, accepting the dare could be dangerous, even deadly. Once again the teenagers of Bayview must work together to find the culprit, before it’s too late. I loved One of Us Is Lying and I’m honestly amazed it took me so long to pick this one up. I was immediately sucked back into the world of Bayview and all their drama. I did guess who was behind everything a bit before the end, but considering I stayed up until midnight to finish it despite having work the next morning I couldn’t not give it 5 stars. It’s probably more like 4.5 but I’m happy to round up in this instance.

North Child by Edith Pattou (also published under the title East). According to Rose’s mother’s superstitions, a child who is born facing North is destined to be wild, a wanderer, always seeking adventures. So she lies to everyone – including herself – and claims that Rose was born facing East. But despite her mother’s best attempts, Rose is a North child through and through, and the old stories say she is destined to travel far from home on a dangerous journey. Making a pact with an enormous white bear, Rose travels on his back to a mysterious castle that holds a dark enchantment, a darker temptation, and the key to her true destiny… North Child is a retelling of the fairytale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but I don’t know the original fairytale. I enjoyed this book overall, but it suffered a bit from being overly long. There were a few parts in the middle that felt agonisingly slow so that when I put it down I didn’t feel eager to pick it up again. It is beautifully told but that wasn’t enough to fully hold my attention. I liked the parts told from the white bear’s perspective. The ending felt both too drawn out and rushed – lots of chapters to explain the happy ending but then it went very quickly from “I love you” to two weddings within a few weeks. I do recommend it though, just be aware that it’s not all action, all the time. 3 stars.

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten. Nothing much happens in Sycamore, the small village where Clara lives – or so it seems. She loves eating ripe mangoes fallen from trees, running outside in the rainy season and escaping to her secret hideout with her best friend Gaynah. There’s only one problem – she can’t remember anything that happened last summer.When a quirky girl called Rudy arrives from England, everything starts to change. Gaynah stops acting like a best friend, while Rudy and Clara roam across the island and uncover an old family secret. As the summer reaches its peak and the island storms begin, Clara’s memory starts to return and she finally has to face the truth of what happened last year. This is such a gorgeous book. I loved the small-town atmosphere and the sense of community. You really get a sense of life in a Jamaican village. Rudy is a great character as well and such a lovely friend to Clara. I’ve read the same twist in another book (although handled slightly differently) so it didn’t shock me but I did think it was well done. I would definitely read more books by this author. 4 stars.

Out of Heart by Irfan Master. Adam is a teenage boy who lives with his mum and his younger sister, Farah. His dad no longer lives with them but is still close by. His sister has stopped speaking and his mum works two jobs to make ends meet. Adam feels the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Then his grandfather dies and in doing so he donates a very precious gift – his heart. William is the recipient of Adam’s grandfather’s heart. He has no family and feels rootless and alone. In fact, he feels no particular reason to live. And then he meets Adam’s family. William has received a great deal, but it appears that he has much to offer Adam and his family too. This is a quick read and a decent enough story but I felt like it didn’t go into enough depth. There are a lot of serious topics in there but they all seem to be rushed through a bit. I loved the characters, especially Farah and Laila (a girl from Adam’s school). Overall it could have done with either being longer or concentrating on just one or two issues. 3 stars.

The Unlucky Lottery by Håkan Nesser (Inspector Van Veeteren #6). Four friends celebrate a winning lottery ticket. Just hours later, one of them – Waldemar Leverkuhn – is found stabbed to death in is bed. With Chief Inspector Van Veeteren on sabbatical, working in a second hand bookshop, the case is assigned to Inspector Munster. But when another member of the lottery group disappears, as well as Leverkuhn’s neighbour, Munster appeals to Van Veeteren for assistance. Soon Munster will find himself interviewing the Leverkuhn family, including the eldest – Irene – a resident of a psychiatric clinic. And as he delves deeper into the family’s history, he will discover dark secrets and startling twists, which not only threaten the clarity of the case – but also his life. This was a re-read for me, part of my ongoing attempt to decide which books I actually want to keep. I didn’t remember much about it thoigh – certainly not who the murderer was or why. It’s a fairly typical detective crime novel, absolutely fine but nothing special in my opinion. At times the writing style was a bit disjointed – short, almost clipped sentences. I think it was supposed to represent how one police officer thought but it was a bit annoying. As with most series of this type, you don’t need to have read the earlier books to read this one (I haven’t read any of them). Overall I liked it well enough but didn’t love it. 3 stars – and it shall be departing my shelves.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle, moves to Ohio with her dad – a move she is not very happy about – and strikes up a friendship with Phoebe Winterbottom. During the course of a road trip to Idaho with her eccentric grandparents, Sal tells the story of Phoebe who received mysterious messages, who met a “potential lunatic,” and whose mother disappeared. As Sal talks, her own story begins to unfold – the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose only wish is to be reunited with her missing mother. torn on this book. I loved the writing style but I found the story really predictable (I knew what had happened to Sal’s mother from almost the beginning and I had a pretty good guess on what was going on with Phoebe’s mother/”the lunatic” as well) and was NOT impressed with most of the adult characters. The teacher is awful (who reads out students’ private thoughts in class?) and Sal’s grandparents are quite frankly a liability. There were a few parts that had me genuinely invested though and the ending was quite moving. Maybe I would have enjoyed it better if I was 13 years old, but honestly I think there are better teen books out there. I really enjoyed Bloomability by the same author, but this one didn’t live up to my expectations. 3 stars.

What to Do When Someone Dies by Nicci French. Ellie Falkner is devastated to hear that her husband has died in a car accident. To then learn that he died with a mystery woman as his passenger only makes things worse. Was Greg having an affair? Drowning in grief, Ellie clings to Greg’s innocence, and her determination to prove it to the world at large means she must find out who Milena Livingstone was and what she was doing in Greg’s car. But her actions leave those around her questioning her sanity and motive. And the louder she shouts that Greg must have been murdered, the more suspicion falls on Ellie herself. Sometimes it’s safer to just keep silent when someone dies. This book is rally weird. I thought I had read it before since I’ve owned it for ages but literally nothing about it was familiar so I guess not. It was really quick to get through but it felt like not much really happened until about two-thirds of the way through. Towards the end I was enjoying it but then the resolution was kind of underwhelming. Also Ellie is really annoying and obsessive. I understand that people do weird things when they’re grieving but some of it felt very far-fetched. And since when do babies smell like sawdust and mustard? (I think that’s what it was – something bizarre anyway). Definitely not a patch on the Frieda Klein series, which I love. 3 stars.

Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt. Nicolette, or Nicki, Demere is not your average thirteen year-old. She never knew her birth mother, and she hasn’t heard from her father since he was sent to prison seven years. Having been taught the art of pick-pocketing by her grandmother, before landing in the foster system after he death, Nicki developed kleptomania. And now just happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be exactly what is needed. Nicki, alias Charlotte, swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the spectre of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past. I really enjoyed this book. I loved Nicki/Charlotte and I thought her relationship with her new “younger brother” was realistic. Obviously some suspension of belief is required – I don’t think anyone would actually send a child/teenager into such a dangerous situation even if they did come from the foster system and obviously they would never have given said child a taser – if anyone got one it would have been one of the parents. Basically if you can’t suspend your belief this one probably isn’t for you. But if you can manage that then it’s a fun adventure that I think kids will love. There were a few emotional parts – I definitely teared up at one scene between Nicki/Charlotte and her new “mom”. 4 stars.

Heartbreaker by Tania Carver. After years of abuse, Gemma Adderley has finally found the courage to leave her violent husband, after one beating and humiliation too many. Taking her seven-year-old daughter Carly, she leaves the house, determined to salvage what she can of her life. She phones Safe Harbour, a women’s refuge, and they tell her which street corner to wait on and what the car that will pick her up will look like. They tell her the word the driver will use so she knows it’s safe to get in. And that’s the last they hear from her. Gemma Adderley’s daughter Carly is found wandering the city streets on her own the next day. Her mother’s mutilated corpse turns up by the canal several weeks later. Her heart has been removed. Detective Inspector Phil Brennan takes on the case, and his wife, psychologist Marina Esposito, is brought in to try and help unlock Carly’s memories of what happened that day. The race is on to solve the case before the Heartbreaker strikes again. Then another woman is found dead… There is quite a bit of action in this book but oddly it still felt slightly slow at times. It’s part of a series but it doesn’t matter too much if you haven’t read the others (I haven’t) as the author drops just enough hints of what happened before without it feeling info-dumpy. I liked the characters (except DS Ellison – what an odious man) and the writing but the plot was fairly predictable. I knew who had done it long before the end. It’s by no means a bad book though, I just wouldn’t class it as a great one. 3 stars.

That’s it for the reviews, but since I didn’t read as many books as usual this time I am going to tell you my picks for Book Challenge by Erin 14.0, which started on 1 January and runs until 30 April 2021. I have already read some of them.

5 points: Freebie – The Unadoptables by Hanna Tooke
10 points: Read a book you have been meaning to re-read – My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
10 points: Read the first book of a series you have never read before – Get a Life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (Brown Sisters #1)
15 points: Read a book with a mostly green and/or pink cover – The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
20 points: Read a book with a male relationship word (son, father, etc.) in the title – Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror but Chris Priestly
20 points: Read a book set in a place that’s on your bucket list of places to visit – Emily of New Moon by L.M Montgomery (Canada)
25 points: Read a book that reminds you of 2020 – Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel (the majority of the population is wiped out by a deadly flu)
30 points: Read a book written by an LGBTQIA+ author – Birthday by Meredith Russo (transgender author)
30 points: Read a book with the name of a bird in the title, or the word bird/birds in the title – Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
35 points: Read a book where the protagonist has a questionable profession – Do Not Disturb by A. R. Torre (Deanna Madden book 2, the main character works as a cam girl)

That’s all from me. Have you read anything good recently? Don’t forget to check out the link up for more book reviews!

The book review of 2020

This is my fifth year doing this – how time flies! I got it from Kezzie. The original, with slightly different/more categories was from The Perpetual Page Turner – the link is to this year’s version. I am also linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books yearly favourites.

Best book you read in 2020:

As always, this is a really difficult question to answer. I read a lot of good books this year. But I think it has to be The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. The first half is wonderful and magical and I so wanted to visit Papa Jack’s Emporium myself and play with the toys and meet Sirius, the patchwork dog. Then the second half came along and absolutely devastated me. I read this in February and I am still mad at one particular character!

Best children’s fiction:

I have read a lot of really good children’s fiction this year and it’s impossible to choose just one, so have two: A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison (this is the sequel to A Pinch of Magic, which I also read in 2020, but I liked the second book better) and Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby.

Best crime fiction:

The Whisper Man by Alex North. There was a bit in the middle that was a little slow, but it was very creepy and overall a good crime/police procedural novel.

I also want to mention Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone here, although it’s not really crime as such but more thriller/suspense. It is an excellent book though and deserves to be mentioned somewhere.

Best classic:

I wasn’t sure whether I had even read a classic this year, but I went through all my books and found two that I think count – at least as modern classics maybe? Of those, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was my favourite.

Best non-fiction:

It will surprise absolutely nobody to learn that I read a grand total of two non-fiction books this year. I absolutely loved both, but I’m going to go with Born a Crime by Noah Trevor.

Best dystopian fiction:

I didn’t read much dystopian fiction this year… I think real life was dystopian enough! I think Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle counts though – although it’s more apocalyptic. I can only think of one other dystopian book I read and I didn’t love it, so yeah.

Best YA:

This is hard, but I’m going to say With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo.

Most surprising (in a good way) book read in 2020:

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm. I don’t usually read a lot of space books and I wasn’t sure what to expect from a children’s book set in space, but this ended up being one of my favourite books of the year.

Book You Read In 2020 That You Recommended Most To Others:

Umm… the only book I can remember recommending constantly in 2020 is Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend and I didn’t read that this year. I did read the third book in the series, Hollowpox, in November though so maybe I can count that instead?

Best series you discovered in 2020:

There are two series I could choose for this, so I’m going to use one here and the other for the next question. So, the Pages and Co series by Anna James. I read books 1 and 2 this year and gave both 5 stars.

Favourite new to you author you discovered in 2020:

I have enjoyed books by a few new to me authors in 2020, but for this question I like to use an author I’ve read at least two books by. So Holly Jackson. I have read both of her books and loved them both.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love But Didn’t:

This isn’t a book but a series, although I was also disappointed with the first book in its own right. The Truly Devious trilogy. The first book made me mad with the way it ended on a cliff hanger, the second book was actually pretty good, and most of the third book could easily have been condensed into the second book plus the reveal of who was responsible for the present-day deaths and why was underwhelming. There is actually a fourth book now, but it follows a different mystery and I won’t be reading it – unless someone gives it to me or I find it somewhere for free. But I won’t go out of my way to read it.

Best Book That Was Out Of Your Comfort Zone Or Was A New Genre To You

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. A political thriller – not my usual genre at all – it ended up being a three-star read, which is better than I expected. I would never have picked it up if it wasn’t part of the BBC Big Read!

Book You Read In 2020 That You’re Most Likely To Read Again In 2021:

As I say every year, it is highly unlikely that I will re-read a book again so soon. I will hopefully read Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilanwith my kid(s) someday.

Favourite Book You Read in 2020 by an Author You’ve Read Previously:

I feel like I’m choosing too many children’s books, but I think I have to go for Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winter.

Best Book You Read In 2020 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

Umm, I picked up Potkin & Stubbs by Sophie Green because it was the Middle Grade Monthly book club pick for September. I had been meaning to read it anyway, but only because of Jade who is a) one of the hosts of said book club and b) the only reason I had even heard of the book in the first place!

Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2020:

I love the cover of All the Things We Didn’t Say by Sara Shepard! Sadly the book itself was disappointing.

Book That Had The Greatest Impact On You In 2020:

This Lovely City by Louise Hare. The way the Windrush immigrants were treated – after being invited to come and work in Britain – was awful and this book will stick with me for a long time.

Book You Can’t BELIEVE You Waited Until 2020 To Read:

The Shining by Stephen King. It actually came on holiday with me twice – the first time we left the suitcase on the train and the second time I found no time at all to read. But I finally read it this year and it was excellent.

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. The ending was most definitely a “wait… what?!” moment that had my dying to read the sequel and get some answers. Although I have since bought the sequel and not yet read it.

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2020 (be it romantic, friendship, etc):

Ash and Lunah’s relationship in Escape from Aurora (Frostheart book 2). Actually, I love Ash’s relationship with the entire Frostheart crew and with Tobu as well, but he and Lunah are just the best team.

Most Memorable Character In A Book You Read In 2020:

Would it be weird to say the house in The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson? It really did feel like a character in its own right!

Genre You Read The Most From in 2020:

I actually kept a tally this year and my most-read genre was fantasy – primarily because of all the children’s fantasy books I read.

Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2020:

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski. It kind of reminded me of the Faraway Tree books, except the various worlds were inside suitcases instead of at the top of a tree. I really enjoyed reading about the different places and wondering what odd feature the next one would have.

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2020:

In the Skin of a Monster by Kathyrn Barker. It’s a slightly bizarre and confusing book that not everyone would enjoy but I loved it and, yes, it made me cry.

Book You Read in 2020 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out:

I’ve never seen anyone else talk about Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan. It’s a story about friendship and being different, and partly also about prejudice (against immigrants, in particular) and I really think more people should read it.

Total books finished in 2020 (so far): 184 (but I am hoping to finish my current read – Heartbreaker by Tania Carver – and make it 185).

Now some statistics: The longest book I read in 2020 was Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb at 757 pages and the shortest book I read was Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke with 82 pages.
The first book I read in 2020 was Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, and as of right now, the last book I finished was Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt.
Finally, inspired by a post Alexandra made on Instagram earlier this year: I read a shameful 29 books by BIPOC/BAME (pick your acronym) authors in 2020. Next year I plan to keep track throughout the year and do my best to read a lot more.

Now go check out the link up and discover everyone’s favourite books of 2020.

What I read in November 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I read in October 2020

Hello my lovelies! It’s my favourite day of the month – when I add even more books to my never-ending to-read list and try to fool myself into believing I will actually get to them soon 😉 But first let me tell you what I read last month. It’s slightly less than usual (although still a lot by most standards) because I was very busy making items for a Christmas auction (see my previous post if you’re interested).

Obviously I am linking up with Jana and Steph.

Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb. This is the third book in the Farseer Trilogy so I don’t want to say too much about it because it will definitely spoil the other two. But Fitz (of Fitzchivalry Farseer) is the illegitimate child of king-in-waiting Chivalry. His maternal grandfather brings him to the palace as a young child, where King Shrewd has him raised as the king’s assassin. In this book, as the title suggests, Fitz goes on a quest to save the kingdom. I started this book in September, but it is long and I read the last 200-ish pages in October. It’s really well written, the beginning is excellent and I love, love, love Nighteyes (Fitz’s wolf) but I just couldn’t seem to get into this book in the same way as the other two. I enjoyed it until about a third of the way through but then it started getting repetitive. Fitz stumbles onto some kind of danger/is captured or betrayed, manages to escape (with the help of Nighteyes or occasionally another character), continues his journey only to stumble into more danger. Lather, rinse, repeat. Also I was annoyed that after everything he’s been through he still wasn’t allowed any happiness. I sometimes get the feeling Robin Hobb hates Fitz – all she seems to do is pile more misery on him. I loved the development of Fitz and the Fool’s relationship and finding out more about the Fool’s background. So a mixture of good and not so good things that ultimately add up to 3 stars. I do plan to read the next book that’s set in this world though.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are staying at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbours are more than two miles in either direction. As Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young and friendly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologises and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Then three more strangers arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out, “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.” Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwine. feel like I must have been missing something with this book. I didn’t find it “terrifying” or “glorious” (according to the blurbs by, among others, Stephen King). I enjoyed the beginning and I really liked Wen, but then there was what felt like pages and pages of the intruders saying “let us in” and the family saying “no, go away, you can’t come in” until they finally, inevitably, get in. After that the pacing was weird, alternately fast and slow. I couldn’t bring myself to care about any character other than Wen, the random bits of back story made me want the author to just get on with it and the ending felt cliché and clunky. Obviously this one was not for me. 2 stars.

Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson. (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #2). Having solved the murder case in book one, Pip Fitz-Amobi released a true-crime podcast about the murder with the help of Ravi Singh, and now it’s gone viral. Yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her – she promised her parents. But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared but the police won’t do anything about it. And if they won’t look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town’s dark secrets along the way… and this time EVERYONE is listening. But will she find him before it’s too late? I didn’t love this book *quite* as much as the first one, I think I found the mystery more interesting in the first one, but this is still an excellent read. I adore Ravi, and I still think Pip and Cara have the best friendship. At one point Pip stays awake to watch Netflix with Cara via the phone since it’s the only way Cara can manage to fall asleep after the events of the first book. Could you actually ask for a better friend? I still think Pip’s dad is amazing and I love that her parents worry about her and try to keep her safe while at the same time treating her like the adult she (almost) is. I was actually suspicious about someone but couldn’t figure out who her would have been involved. It turned out I was right but didn’t have all the information. And I was also suspicious of someone who turned out not to be involved so I guess my detective skills aren’t all that after all 😉 4 stars, maybe even 4.5.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. “The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their live.” In a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters- beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the neighbourhood boys – commit suicide one by one over the course of a single year. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence. I don’t know what I thought this book was going to be, but definitely not what it actually is. I thought it would be darker, but the way it’s told I felt totally detached from the actual suicides. I really liked the writing, but I didn’t love the story itself. I liked this book okay, but it wasn’t amazing. I do want to give the author another chance though because the synopses of his other books sound really intriguing. 3 stars.

Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke. At first glance, Phil Pendleton and his son Adam seem to be a perfectly ordinary father and son. They take walks in the park together, visit county fairs, museums, and zoos, and eat together overlooking the lake. Some might say the father is a little too accommodating given the lack of discipline when the child loses his temper in public. Some might say he spoils his son by allowing him to set his own bedtimes and eat candy whenever he wants. Some might say that such leniency is starting to take its toll on the father, given how his health has declined. What no one knows is that Phil is a prisoner, and that up until a few weeks ago and a chance encounter at a grocery store, he had never seen the child before in his life. This is such a weird little novella. Very creepy and the writing is excellent but I found the reveal somewhat lacklustre. I don’t really know what I was expecting instead though. Anyway, I liked it well enough and it was a quick read at only 82 pages. 3 stars.

The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. The only person who might have the answers to a baffling murder case is the victim’s seven-year-old daughter, found hiding in the room where her mother died – but she’s not talking. Newly promoted, out of his depth, detective Huldar turns to Freyja and the Children’s House for their expertise with traumatised young people. Freyja, who distrusts the police in general and Huldar in particular, isn’t best pleased. But she’s determined to keep little Margret safe. It may prove tricky. The killer is leaving them strange clues: warnings in text messages, sums scribbled on bits of paper, numbers broadcast on the radio. He’s telling a dark and secret story – but how can they crack the code? And if they do, will they be next? Fair warning: the murders in this book are BRUTAL! Not in a particularly graphic way – the actual deaths take place “off screen”, so to speak, but you find out how they were killed and it’s not nice to imagine. From the prologue I thought I knew what the motive was going to be and maybe which of two characters was doing it but I turned out to be wrong. This dark, compelling story is my first by this author and I definitely intend to continue the series. 4 stars.

Beartown by Frederick Backmann. Beartwon is a tiny community deep in the woods that doesn’t have much going for it – besides hockey team. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. Then something happens, something bad that leaves a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected. I had been minorly spoiled for this book before I read it so I knew what the bad thing was before I got to it (although for some reason I thought several people were involved – maybe I’m thinking of a different book?). I expected this book to devastate me but instead it made me ANGRY! So many characters I wanted to shake. But also a few who surprised me. This is an excellent book that deals with some every heavy topics. Highly, highly recommend. 5 stars.

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Hermann. After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York – the town where her mother grew up. She soon finds out that she’s descended from one of the town’s founders doesn’t help much – a fact that causes most of the other residences to regard her with respect and something very like fear. When she meets Justin, May, Isaac, and Harper, all children of founder families, and sees the otherworldly destruction they can wreak, she starts to wonder if the townsfolk are right to be afraid. The town is home to the Gray – a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. And the founder’s descendants are the only ones who can keep the monster at bay. Now the Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, she Justin, May, Isaac, and Harper must band together to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities and save the town.I absolutely devoured this book (ha, I know, that was terrible). I loved the main character Violet, and also Harper. Justin was annoying but kind of grew on me. The atmosphere is great, very creepy. I’m still a bit confused about what the thing in the Gray actually is and where it came from but maybe book 2 will help with that. 4 stars.

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega. Many people would like to think that ghosts exist, but Lucely Luna knows they do. The spirits of her deceased family members live in her house, appearing as fireflies to everyone else. When something odd starts happening to her ghost family shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout their town. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on, reverse the curse and save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late. This book is great fun. At times it gets quite intense for a middle grade – I would have loved it as a child but others might find it too scary so maybe bear that in mind. I loved the cats named after Goonies characters and also that adults got involved and helped. I am always a fan of adults who aren’t totally oblivious to what’s going on with no good explanation to get them out of the way! The ending felt a little rushed and everything was wrapped up pretty quickly but overall it was a cute, fun read that was perfect for October. 3.5 stars.

The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup. A psychopath is terrorizing Copenhagen. His calling card is a “chestnut man”, a handmade doll made of matchsticks and two chestnuts, which he leaves at each bloody crime scene. Examining the dolls, forensics makes a shocking discovery – a fingerprint belonging to a young girl, a government minister’s daughter who was kidnapped and murdered a year ago. A tragic coincidence—or something more twisted? To save innocent lives, a pair of detectives must put aside their differences to piece together the Chestnut Man’s gruesome clues. Because it’s clear that the madman is on a mission that is far from over. This book is pretty gory and quite dark. There are a few clichés of the genre in there – two cops reluctantly working together, at least one of them “troubled” with a tragic past. I figured out the culprit but but only fairly late in the book so it wasn’t a big deal. Overall it’s a pretty solid police procedural, but something about it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. 4 stars.

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle. Unlike her recently devout parents, seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. When a clue leads her to California, Vivian, her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, embark on a desperate cross-country road trip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivian Apple isn’t looking for a saviour. She’s looking for the truth. This is a fast read and I really liked some aspects of it. I love the characters, especially Harp. But there were some aspects that I had trouble believing or would have liked some explanation for – like where on Earth are all the other countries? Did nobody even notice that the US had been taken over by a doomsday cult? Also the ending was kind of anticlimactic. Trying not to give spoilers but after everything she went through and found out the way Vivian just eats breakfast then leaves without saying anything was just weird. I would definitely have a lot more to say! Will I read book 2? I’m not sure yet. 3.5 stars.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. England, 1976. Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbours blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God – they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and keep the rest of the avenue’s residence safe. As spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues, the cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. It seems everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in. was a fun read. The writing is good and I loved the two girls most of the time – although Grace got a bit annoying with her constant hair flicking and insinuating that Tilly is too immature to understand anything because she’s something like a whole two months younger. Some of their misunderstandings were hilarious – I loved their conversation in church. I felt like there was a bit too much going on at times though – one mystery turned into everyone having half a dozen secrets. The only decent person in the whole street was the poor man everyone hated for absolutely no reason! Not quite as good as her later book, Three Things About Elsie, but still a decent read. 3.5 stars.

So, 12 books. A reasonable amount if not quite as many as other months. In case anyone couldn’t be bothered to read everything…

TL;DR: If you like YA I recommend both The Devouring Gray and Good Girl, Bad Blood (it can theoretically be read as a stand-alone but I would say read book 1 first). Beartown is not an enjoyable book but it’s a good one. The Chestnut Man and The Legacy are both decent – but dark – police procedural type thrillers. Most of the others are fine. The only one I personally do not recommend is The Cabin at the End of the World.

What have you been reading lately? And if you’ve read any of these what did you think – do you agree with me?

Don’t forget to visit the link up for even more book reviews!

Believathon III: The Mystery of the Missing Maleficarum

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

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

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

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

1. THE KEY

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

2. THE FINGERPRINTS

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

3. THE SCREAM

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

4. THE TORN PAGE

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

5. THE CROWN

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

6. THE SPILLED INK

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

7. THE DAGGER

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

8. THE BACKPACK

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

9. THE FOOTPRINTS

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

10. THE HAND MIRROR

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

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

11. THE CHAIN

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

12. THE FLASH OF LIGHTNING

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

13. THE SHADOW

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

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

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

What I Read in September 2020: Part 2

Happy sixth anniversary to the Show Us Your Books link up, and many thanks to Jana and Steph for hosting it! As promised, here is the second part of the books I read in September.

Potkin and Stubbs (Potkin and Stubbs #1) by Sophie Green. Lil Potkin is desperate to be a reporter – not for The Herald, the newspaper run by the mayor of the Peligan City, but for the underground paper The Klaxon. She just needs to find the scoop that will get them to notice her. Little does she know it’s sitting right in front of her at the bus station! Nedly Stubbs needs Lil’s help to solve a missing persons case. Who is this missing person? Well, actually, he is… turns out Nedley is a ghost. When they discover that his death is connected to a series of mysterious murders, Lil and Nedly set out to expose those responsible, with the help of Abe, a down-on-his luck private investigator, who might hold a clue to Lil’s hidden past. It took me a little while to warm up to this book – I think after hearing so many good things about it my expectations were too high. But I did end up enjoying it. I like that there’s an actual adult involved – at one point Lil and Nedley decide something looks too dangerous and they should come back with Abe. Lil is kind of annoying at times but I loved Nedly. 4 stars.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Esther Greenwood is a young girl spending a summer on a dream assignment on a big-time New York fashion magazine. She’s on the brink of her future. Yet she is also on the edge of a darkness that makes her world increasingly unreal. This autobiographical novel chronicles Esther’s descent into a breakdown in a world that refuses to take woman’s aspirations seriously. I had no idea what this book was actually about, other than relating to Plath’s own attempted suicide. I just picked it up from a free bookcase on the basis that it was supposed to be a classic. Honestly, I had been putting off reading it for ages because I expected it to be really heavy and depressing, but while parts of it were obviously sad there were some surprisingly funny moments. I really enjoyed the writing – especially there’s a part about a fig tree that was so well done. 4 stars.

The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius. Sally Jones is an extraordinary ape and a loyal friend. In overalls or in a maharaja’s turban, this unique gorilla moves among humans without speaking but understanding everything. She and the Chief are devoted comrades who operate a cargo boat. After being out of work for a while, one day they are offered a job that will pay big bucks, but the deal ends badly, and the Chief is falsely convicted of murder. For Sally Jones, this is the start of a harrowing quest for survival and to clear the Chief’s name. Powerful forces are working against her, and they will do anything to protect their secrets. This book is very long for middle grade (my copy has 588 pages), but it’s worth it. It’s an awesome adventure! Sally Jones is a very well travelled gorilla. I would love to read more of her adventures in the future. 4 stars.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. How far will you go to protect your family? Will you keep their secrets? Ignore their lies? In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment centre, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident. A powerful showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Chapter by chapter, we shift alliances and gather evidence: Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners – immigrants from South Korea – hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college so she can have a better life than they did? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe? Or was some other unknown person there that day? Wow, this book. So many secrets, so many lies! Was there any character that wasn’t hiding something? I eventually figured out who was responsible but it took me a long time. This is so well written and I absolutely recommend it. One minor niggle: I listened to the audiobook and if I heard the words “it made her/him want to scream” one more time I would have been tempted to scream myself! (I also now know how Americans pronounce “buoyed” – I was so confused the first time it came up.) 4 stars. An excellent debut.

The Train to Impossible Places by P. G. Bell. When a noise wakes Suzy one night, she is surprised to find a grumpy troll building a railway through her house – especially when a gigantic steam train then crashes into her hallway! But the Impossible Postal Express is no ordinary train. It’s a troll-operated delivery service that runs everywhere from ocean-bottom shipwrecks, to Trollville, to space. After sneaking on board, Suzy suddenly finds herself Deputy Post Master aboard the train, and faced with her first delivery – to the evil Lady Crepuscula. Then, the package itself begs Suzy not to deliver him. A talking snow globe, Frederick has information Crepuscula could use to take over the entire Union of Impossible Places. But when protecting Frederick means putting her friends in danger, Suzy has a difficult choice to make – with the fate of the entire Union at stake. A fun adventure with some great characters. It could have done with some more world building though – I’m still completely confused about how the Impossible Places actually work. At times it felt like there was almost too much action and not enough explanation. It’s an enjoyable enough read though. It’s the first in a series so I suppose there will be more explanation in the later books. 3 stars.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. One night, in the midst of a family crisis, blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her babysitter, Emira Tucker, to come and take her toddler, Briar, out of the house. Alix is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living from showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when Emira is confronted while walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket that night,. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping the two-year-old. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix realises she knows next to nothing about her long-time babysitter and resolves to make things right. But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other. This book wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it would be more about the actual event in the synopsis but that’s really only a small part of it. I didn’t like Alix, even from the very beginning – she came across as incredibly entitled just from the way her way of life is described. Who even comes up with the idea of writing to companies to get products instead of, you know, getting a job and buying them? I loved Briar and liked Emira, although I felt like she seemed younger than 25/26. This is supposed to be an adult book, but to me it almost read like YA? Overall it’s a good read that covers some important issues but there was something missing that would have made me love this book rather than just like it. I feel kind of bad, but I gave it 3.5 stars.

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds. When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and movies, Jack knows he’s falling – hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. When Kate dies six months later, their story should be over, but her death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind, but if he has any chance to prevent Kate’s death he obviously has to take it. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves. I enjoyed this book. I felt like Jack could have focused more on his other relationships at some point rather than trying to save Kate at all costs (he definitely neglects his friends in some of the go-throughs) but I did like their relationship. I also loved Jack’s friendship group and his parents were awesome. 4 stars.

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden. Kizzy is a Diddakoi – half Irish, half “gypsy”. Orphaned when she was very young, she lives in a wagon with her gran and her horse, Joe, and she doesn’t need anything else. Then Gran dies, her wagon burns, and Kizzy is left all alone – in a community that hates her. This is a lovely book. I adored Kizzy, and Miss Brooke and I was glad she got a happy ending. Minus one star because I was annoyed that the horrid, vicious bullying Kizzy experienced was never properly resolved or punished. But I did genuinely enjoy reading this book and wish I had read it as a child, so I can’t go any lower than 4 stars.

The Shining by Stephen King. Do I ned to tell you the synopsis? Really? Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is his five-year-old son, Danny, who has a history of knowing things he couldn’t possibly know… thought this would take me longer to read, but the closer I got to the end the faster it seemed to go. Even though I’ve seen the film (years ago) and knew the vague story – although there are differences – I was hooked. This is definitely Stephen King at his best. 5 stars.

And that’s all I’ve got for you today. I also read 510 pages of Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb in September, but I didn’t actually finish the book until October so you’ll have to come back next month for that review. For more book reviews, get thee to the link up (and congratulate Steph and Jana on six years of running it!). There is also a give away over there, in case seeing what everyone has been reading isn’t enough of an incentive.

TL;DR: Honestly, I recommend all the books here. I didn’t love Such a Fun Age like I wanted to, but I do think it’s an important book that everyone should read. And although I only gave The Train to Impossible Places 3 stars it’s a fun book and kids will love it.

What I read in September 2020: Part 1

Hello! The Show Us Your Books (sixth anniversary!) link up is tomorrow, but I read quite a few books again in September so I’m splitting my recap into two posts, one today and one tomorrow. Here is the first part, with nine books. Most of these books are YA and middle grade (apart from Black Eyed Susans). If that’s not what you’re looking for check back tomorrow – I have a couple more adult books then. In the meantime, I shall get on with today’s reviews.

Solitaire by Alice Osman. Victoria, or Tori, Spring has just started Sixth Form. She likes to blog and she likes to sleep and that’s about it. Apparently “last year” she had friends, although I’m not sure how given she seems to hate everyone. But that was before A-Levels and university applications. And before everything that happened with her brother Charlie. (Trigger warning for self-harm and eating disorders here). Now there’s Solitaire. And there’s Michael Holden. Tori doesn’t know or care what Solitaire are trying to do and she definitely doesn’t care about Michael Holden… honest. is a quick and easy read, which is good because it meant I didn’t waste too much time on it. Maybe I’m just too far away from my teen years but I could not relate to Tori at all. I understand that she’s supposed to be suffering from undiagnosed depression but she’s also just a horrible person. Not that there’s anything wrong with unlikeable characters, but she’s not even unlikeable in an interesting way. She’s just plain mean and looks down on everyone (except her brother and *maybe* his boyfriend). Even when she’s being self-depreciating and calling herself mean it’s clear that she still thinks she’s better than everyone else. Like “Oh, I’m so mean having these bad thoughts but also X really *is* terrible and unworthy of my attention”. I also found the plot pretty predictable. It was kind of obvious who was behind Solitaire and also obvious what was going to happen with Michael. Meh. 2 stars (because I actually liked Nick and Charlie).

The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle by Deva Fagan. All Prunella wants is to be a proper bog-witch. Unfortunately, her curses tend to do more good than harm. When her mixed-up magic allows a sneaky thief to escape her grandmother’s garden, Prunella is cast out until she can prove herself. It’s hard enough being exiled to the unmagical Uplands, but travelling with the smug young thief Barnaby makes it even worse. He’s determined to gain fame and fortune by recovering the missing Mirable Chalice. And to get what she wants, Prunella has help him, whether she likes it or not. This is fun read with a fairly obvious message about not judging people based on what you’ve been told. The story is a little simple but it was a quick and cute read. 3 stars.

Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan. Asha lives on the family farm with her mother in rural India. Her father is away working in the city, and when the money he sends stops suddenly, a ruthless moneylender ransacks their home and her mother talks of leaving. Guided by a majestic bird which Asha believes to be the spirit of her grandmother, she and her best friend Jeevan a pact with her best friend, Jeevan, to find her father and save her home. But the journey is dangerous: they must cross the world’s highest mountains and face hunger, tiredness – even snow leopards. Will they make it? is a gorgeous book full of adventure with a slightly magical aspect. I felt like some parts were rushed through a bit so they didn’t evoke my emotions quite the way I felt they should have. But overall it’s a great little read. I loved all the descriptions of India and especially the food references. 3.5 stars. And the cover is gorgeous!

The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk. Autumn always knew exactly who she was: a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan has always turned to writing love songs when his real love life was a little less than perfect. But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered. Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind. This book is sad, but ultimately hopeful. I feel like it was spread a bit thin by focusing on 3 main characters, and I never really connected with the whole Autumn/Dante thing or cared as much about Autumn a the other 2 characters. I liked Shay’s part best, mostly because I absolutely adored her friendship group. 3.5 stars.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. Kyle Keeley is the class clown and a huge fan of all games – board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the construction of the new town library. And Kyle is lucky enough to win a coveted spot as one of twelve kids invited for an overnight sleepover in the library, where they get to spend the entire night playing lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route and win an extra special prize. This is a cute, fun read. A little predictable and of course the “nice” kids who work together win, while the nasty ones get their comeuppance. If I’d read it as a kid I would definitely have been writing down every book referenced that I hadn’t already read to try and track it down at my library. As an adult I was pleased when I understood a reference. 3 stars.

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin. Left with three other girls in a grave shrouded by black-eyed Susans, Tessa alone survived, her testimony helping to put a killer behind bars. Sixteen years later, with he execution date rapidly approaching, Tessa is starting to wonder whether she really did the right thing. Because someone is planting black-eyed Susans outside her window. Someone is sending her daughter sinister messages. And there’s a lawyer telling her the man about to be put to death is innocent. I really liked this. It’s more suspense/mystery than true thriller – there are no real scary moments (for Tessa maybe after everything she’s been through but nothing that had me worried as the reader). I enjoyed all the DNA and forensics stuff, and I was not expecting what happened at the end. I was entirely fooled by the path I think the author was trying to take me down, although the clues were there and I feel like I could have known what happened if I was paying attention. 4 stars.

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan. Armed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England in search of her father, who abruptly stopped contacting them a year earlier. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At home her mother’s heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat. This book is told in verse and it’s very quick read – I read it in about 30-45 minutes. I enjoyed it but I almost felt like it was over a little too quickly. I would have liked more of Kasienka’s memories of her life before England. I was really glad when she stood up to her bullies and realised it’s okay to be different. 3.5 stars.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. But on the first day of his senior year, Greg Gaines thinks he’s figured it out. The answer to the basic existential question: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad? His strategy: remain at the periphery at all times, being friendly with all the groups but not friends with any of them. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics. But then Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel, who has just been diagnosed with leukaemia. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives. I really don’t know what to say about this book. There are a few funny parts but mostly it’s just annoying. Especially Greg. I was hoping he would get better as the book went along, maybe redeem himself by actually being a real friend to Rachel? But nope… right the way to the end I just wanted to punch him. And Rachel was so bland and almost pointless that I literally felt nothing when she died. The only decent character was Earl. I felt like cheering when he finally told Greg exactly what everyone else should have been telling him throughout the entire book Points for being a semi-realistic teen cancer book, I guess. People don’t change their entire personalities overnight and become inspirational philosophers just because they’re dying. It’s just a shame Greg was a colossal idiot whose only personality trait, apparently, was trying not to *have* a personality so nobody would notice him. 2.5 stars.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again. Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who who is struggling to cope with his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all… even without arms. I adored this. Aven is a fantastic character, I loved how positive and proactive she was (most of the time) even while feeling vulnerable and I liked how she was there for Connor. Even if she was a little pushy at times her heart was in the right place. The little mystery was fun. The ending is maybe a little too sweet but this is a children’s book after all. I will definitely be reading the sequel! 4.5 stars. I recommend this one for fans of Wonder.

That’s it for today. Tune in tomorrow for more book reviews! And in case anyone couldn’t be bothered to read the entire post even though there are only 9 books here (and honestly why I you looking for book recommendations if you can’t even read a whole blog post?)…

…TL;DR: I highly recommend Black Eyed Susans if you like thrillers and Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus if you’re into children’s books, and I recommend Asha and the Spirit Bird, The Beauty That Remains and The Weight of Water if they sound interesting to you. I most definitely do not recommend Solitaire or Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

What I read in August 2020

Hello, hello! It’s Show Us Your Books day again… time to link up with Jana and Steph to tell you about the book I finished last month. Considering I didn’t read a single page for the first 11 days of August, it actually ended up being quite a few. Not as many as usual, but a decent amount by normal people’s standards.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. On returning from WWI, Tom Sherbourne is a broken man. He needs a place away from other people, where he can be alone and think.And so he becomes a lighthouse keeper, eventually ending up on the small island of Janus Rock, an extremely remote location off the coast of Western Australia. Before heading out the island, he spends some time in the small town of Partageuse, where he meets Isabel Graysmark. They start a relationship via letter before getting married in 1926, then Izzy joins him on the island. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind… a boat has washed up on the island. It holds a dead man – and a crying baby. Now they have a devastating decision to make. They break the rules and follow their hearts. This is the story of what happens next. This book is just so sad. It’s obvious all along that there’s no way all the characters can be happy. I did not like Isabel at all. I understood her grief – I have had miscarriages and it is an awful thing to go through – but she was just so selfish. The way she treated Tom was nothing short of emotional manipulation. If he even dared mention that there might be another solution she instantly accused her of not loving him. Just no. That isn’t to say it’s not a good book though. Read it if you want, but be prepared for sadness and frustration. 3 stars.

A Keeper by Graham Norton. Elizabeth Keane returns to Ireland after her mother’s death, determined to clear out the house and then close with that chapter of her life forever. Having spent many years in America, she feels the small town she grew up in holds nothing for her any more. Her childhood home is packed solid with useless junk, her mother’s presence already fading. But within this mess, she discovers a small stash of letters, and ultimately the truth about her mother… and about herself. was very quick to read and I actually quite liked the writing. Elizabeth’s mam’s story was really intriguing although beyond a certain point I guessed what had happened. I didn’t really like Elizabeth though. All she seemed to do was complain about everybody and everything – her aunt and uncle, her ex, how terrible it was growing up in a small town in Ireland. Then there’s a whole side story about her teenage son that seemed kind of unnecessary. It was good enough that I would read another book by Graham Norton though (and for the Brits, yes as in the chat show host/Eurovision commentator!). 3 stars.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. Ever since Anthony Peardew lost a keepsake from his fiancée, Theresa, on the very day she died suddenly, he has collected lost things. In a way, his assistant Laura is one of those lost things. As Anthony nears the end of his life, he tells Laura his life story, eventually bequeathing her his house and – along with it – his life’s secret mission. To reconcile all the lost things with their owners. Together with her new friend, the neighbour’s quirky daughter, Sunshine (this is what the synopsis says – Sunshine has Down’s Syndrome) and the gardener Freddie, sets out to realize Anthony’s last wish. Long ago, Eunice found a trinket on the London pavement and kept it through the years. Now, with her own end drawing near, she has lost something precious—a tragic twist of fate that forces her to break a promise she once made. As the Keeper of Lost Objects, Laura holds the key to Anthony and Eunice’s redemption. But can she unlock the past and make the connections that will lay their spirits to rest? This is a cute book, but almost a bit too sweet at times. I actually enjoyed the parallel story about Bomber and Eunice more than the main one. Laura kind of annoyed me She’s constantly having tantrums and moaning about being “middle-aged” (she clearly fancies Freddie and is convinced he could never like someone “old” like her). Sunshine is the best character, and I loved Douglas the dog. 3 stars.

Nicola and the Viscount by Meg Cabot. A YA, historical romance. Nicola Sparks, sixteen and an orphan, has just finished school and is ready to dive headlong into her first London Season. A whirlwind of fashionable activities awaits her, although nabbing a husband, ordinarily the prime object of every girl’s Season, is not among them. For Nicola has already decided who she wants: a handsome viscount by the name of Lord Sebastian – who she and her best friend Eleanor refer to as “God”. Lord Sebastian Bartholomew is wealthy, attractive, and debonair, even if the few tantalizingly short moments Nicola has spent with him have produced little save discussions about poetry. Nicola is sure that a proposal from Lord Sebastian would be a match made in heaven. Everything is going well, until the infuriating Nathaniel Sheridan – Eleanor’s older brother – begins to cast doubt on the viscount’s character. Nicola is convinced Nathaniel’s efforts to besmirch Lord Sebastian’s sterling reputation will yield nothing. But when she begins to piece things together for herself, the truth that is revealed has as much to do with the viscount as it does with Nicola’s own heart. is very predictable, a little silly and I’m not 100% sure of it’s historical accuracy but it’s great fun to read. Apparently even in the 1800s teens were unnecessarily dramatic! I did like Nicola though. 3.5 stars.

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ is the third boyfriend that her younger sister – the favourite child, the beautiful one – has dispatched in, she claims, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. A kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where Korede works, is the bright spot in her life. She dreams of the day when he will realize they’re perfect for each other. But one day Ayoola shows up to the hospital uninvited and he takes notice. When he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she knows what’s to come. But how can she save one of the people she loves without sacrificing the other? is an odd book. It’s a very quick read and strangely compelling but I didn’t actually like either of the sisters. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to? I initially assumed we were supposed to be on Korede’s side and want her to win Tade for herself before her sister killed him, but she’s so horrible about literally everyone else who works at the hospital that I ended up thinking neither sister deserved a decent man! It’s a surprisingly fun read though given the subject matter. It’s billed as a thriller, but really it’s more of a drama about an extremely dysfunctional family. 3.5 stars

Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan. When Sarah Zoltanne moves from sunny California to a small town in Missouri, she feels like she’ll never fit in. Her mother is dating a jerk, the kids at her school despise her, and she misses her old home. Nevertheless, when a popular boy asks her to tell fortunes at a school fair she reluctantly agrees. But her role-playing takes a sinister turn when she begins to see actual visions that come true and the other students turn on her, branding her a witch and setting off a chain of events that mirror the centuries-old Salem witch trials in more ways than one. This is a very creepy read – it actually got darker than I was expecting towards the end. The adults in this town are the actual WORST. The ending is slightly cheesy and not everything was believable, but this was exactly the kind of book I absolutely devoured as a teen in the 90s. 3 stars.

The Missing Ones by Patricia Gibney (Detective Lottie Parker #1). When a woman’s body is discovered in a cathedral and hours later a young man is found hanging from a tree outside his home, Detective Lottie Parker is called in to lead the investigation. Both bodies have the same distinctive tattoo clumsily inscribed on their legs. It’s clear the pair are connected, but how? The trail leads Lottie to St. Angela’s, a former home for wayward children, with a dark connection to her own family history. Suddenly the case just got personal. As Lottie begins to link the current victims to unsolved murders decades old, two teenage boys go missing. She must close in on the killer before they strike again, but in doing so is she putting her own children in terrifying danger? This is a decent enough police procedural/detective story that takes on the Catholic Church in Ireland and its not exactly savoury past. Not at all bad for a debut, although parts of it did drag. I guessed most of the reveal apart from one twist at the very end. 3 stars.

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson. Andie had her whole life planned out. When you are a politician’s daughter who’s pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future. Important internship? Check. Amazing friends? Check. Relationships? No one’s worth more than three weeks. But that was all before. When a political scandal costs Andie her summer pre-med internship, and lands both she and Dad back in the same house together for the first time in years. Suddenly she’s doing things that aren’t Andie at all. Working as a dog walker, doing an epic scavenger hunt with her dad, and maybe, just maybe, letting the super cute Clark get closer than she ever thought any guy would. Her friends – Palmer, Bri, and Toby – tell her to embrace all the chaos, but can she really let go of her control and find the joy in the unexpected? This book is cute, but very predictable (and I’m not even talking about the main protagonist’s relationship!). Also I honestly found it too long. There was a point that felt close to an ending but then there we’re still about 200 pages to go?! I enjoyed the friendship group though. Although – and this is going to sound petty – the fact that Toby was female kept confusing me. Short for Tobyhanna, apparently. What kind of name is Tobyhanna? Or Palmer for that matter? And then people in the book actually have the nerve to mock Clark‘s name? 3 stars.

The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta. Danny has no idea why she picks out Tempest, California when she and her mother try to find a new place to live – a place away from all the trouble Danny has been in recently. When she arrives, she finds the Grays: a group of friends who throw around terms like queer and witch like they’re ordinary and everyday, though they feel like an earthquake to Danny. But Danny didn’t just find the Grays. They cast a spell that calls her halfway across the country, because she has something they need: Imogen, the most powerful of their group – is lost. And they believe Danny has the power to find her. But before Danny can find Imogen, she finds a dead boy with a redwood branch through his heart. Something is very wrong amid the trees and fog of the Lost Coast, and whatever it is, it can kill. The best description I can come up with for this book is “whimsical”, but not in the fluffy sense – there are some serious things going on as well. I loved the friendship group although I felt like I only got to know a few of them properly. For instance all I remember about Lelia is she’s non-binary (but fine with “she” for now), asexual or aromatic (or possibly both?) and is friends with ravens who bring her gifts (which, honestly, is AWESOME). The characters are almost a little too quirky at times – for instance there’s a scene where one of them goes into the woods wearing shorts and, as afar as I could tell, nothing else? Which apart from just being plain weird also seems kind of dangerous. Woods and nakedness don’t really go together as far as I’m concerned -or maybe I’m just too much of an adult? I also would have liked to know more about the Grays’ powers and how they found out which kind of magic they had. I really enjoyed reading it though – I just felt like it needed to be longer to explain things a bit more and a few aspects seemed to be quirky/weird/”out there” purely for the sake of emphasising how different and “special” the characters are. 3.5 stars

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Jumbies #1). Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her – and certainly not jumbies. There’s no such thing anyway. They’re just myths, a monster tale parents made up to frighten their children. But when Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest she notices a pair of yellow eyes following her. It couldn’t be a jumbie, could it? The next day, Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market. When this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home. I wasn’t sure what to think of this book at first, but by the time Severine turned up at the market I was hooked! I don’t think I’ve read any Caribbean folktales before, so I found that aspect extremely intriguing. I loved the jumbies – they’re supposed to be the “bad guys” but they’re so well described and I was fascinated by all their different characteristics. The child characters are very well written, but Corinne’s father was a little one-dimensional, which was a shame given what a major part he played in the story. I liked the fact that Corinne is clearly flawed and is forced to learn that she can’t do everything alone and friendships are something to be valued. I will definitely read the next book in the series. 4 stars.

Tell me what you’ve been reading lately, and don’t forget to check out the link up!