What I read in November 2018

Hello friends! It’s Show Us Your Books day again with Jana and Steph, and in November I managed to read ten whole books! Slightly better than October’s four…. even if one of them was a picture book. Anyway, let’s just get started…

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Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley. I’ve had this book for a while but for some reason didn’t want to pick it up. This is book 8 in the Flavia de Luce series. I can’t say too much without spoiling the previous books, but Flavia is back from her brief stay in Canada and, as usual, wherever Flavia goes death has usually gone before… This one took me a little longer to get into than some of the others, but once I got past the first couple of chapters it was nice to be back in Flavia’s world. I only gave this one 3.5 stars though… something about the mystery was lacking and Flavia seemed to miss the obvious in her sleuthing. There are two more books to go, so hopefully the next one will be back to the usual standard! And I do highly recommend reading the other books in the series.

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders. I can’t remember how I found this book, but as soon as I did I knew I had to read it based purely on the title. I mean, how fun does it sound? And fun it was! Lily and Oz Spoffard’s family has just inherited a house with a mysterious boarded-up chocolate shop on the ground floor. The twins’ ancestors were famous chocolate-makers and their chocolate was anything but ordinary. In fact, it was magical! Now an evil gang is after the secret recipe, and it’s up to Lily and Oz to stop them. The fate of their family and the world depends on it! This is a fantastic book It has everything my ten-year-old heart would have wanted. Mystery, adventure, talking animals (Demerara the cat is wonderful), magic hiding right there in plain sight. There’s a LOT going on and it almost felt like it needed to be longer to give more time to get to know the characters, or maybe it should have been part of a series and some of the many adventures could have been in a second book. Overall it was a really fun read and I definitely recommend it. 4 stars.

Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones. Ah, now we come to the picture book. I bought this for my little cousin’s birthday present so of course I had to read it first 😉 Izzy Gizmo loves to invent things, but somehow it never works out quite the way she wants. When she finds a crow with a broken wing, she really wants to help. She tries and tries to build him a new pair of wings, but something always goes wrong. Can Izzy overcome her failures and help her new friend? This is a lovely story about never giving up. I loved the names of Izzy’s inventions, and most of all I loved the crow. 4 stars.

Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder. Rebecca is not happy when her mother suddenly leaves her father and drags Rebecca and her little brother to their grandmother’s house in another state. While avoiding the rest of the family, Rebecca discovers a magical breadbox that will give her anything she wishes for… as long as it fits inside. As always with wishes, there’s a catch and suddenly the bread box starts making life more difficult. And anyway, the thing she really wants (her family back together) won’t fit in a bread box… I really liked this book. Rebecca is a believable and relatable character. At times I felt really sorry for her. I enjoyed the combination of magic and everyday – the breadbox story felt like part of the story rather than being a separate adventure. Even with access to magic, Rebecca still had to deal with her real-life problems. 4 stars.

Why the Whales Came by Michael Murpugo. Gracie and her friend Daniel have always been warned to stay away from the Birdman and his side of the island, but when they go there anyway they discover he’s not what they thought and develop a lovely friendship with him. When the children get stranded on Samson Island they don’t know whether to believe the Birdman’s story that the island is cursed. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a child – a story of everyday children doing normal things, but with a hint of suspense thrown in (is there *really* such thing as curses? And who is the Birdman anyway?). Michael Morpurgo is an excellent writer – there are some great descriptions in the book. 4 stars.

The Girl in 6E by A. R. Torre. Deanna Madden hasn’t left her apartment for three years. To earn money, she works for a sex site under the name Jessica Reilly, stripping and performing sexual acts on camera for her clients, who pay $6.99 a minute for her time. The money is piling up in the bank, she’s one of the site’s most popular cam girls and she hasn’t killed anyone in years. But when Deanna sees on the news that a little girl called Annie has gone missing, she realises the scenario is uncomfortably similar to the dark fantasies of one of her clients. She’s convinced he’s responsible for the girl’s abduction – but no one will listen to her. So, she finally decides to leave the apartment… This book is how I was hoping Darkly Dreaming Dexter would be (except obviously without the cam girl part). I didn’t love every single thing but I was gripped for most of it. I will definitely pick up the sequel. 4 stars.

When I Was Me by Hilary Freeman. Ella wakes up one morning to find that she’s not herself. She looks different, her friends are not her friends (and the people she thought were her friends don’t seem to know her), and she’s taking different subjects at college. And yet, nobody else thinks that anything weird has happened. The concept of this book was really interesting, but I found the main character really annoying! Obviously her situation is difficult to deal with, but she was horrible to basically everyone. She clearly thought her original life was far superior to the one she had found herself in and spent the entire book looking down on “other Ella’s” friends. I kept reading because I really did want to know what was going on and the final chapters were interesting, but I found the solution to Ella’s “problem” (for want of a better word) somewhat disturbing. 3.5 stars.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thomson. Every time Molly Southbourne bleeds, a new Molly is created, identical to her in every way and intent on destroying her. Oh yeah, and that includes when she has her period. Molly has to kill or be killed, and her parents taught her well. But no matter how well she follows the rules, eventually the mollys will find her. Can Molly find a way to stop the tide of blood, or will she meet her end at the hand of a girl who looks exactly like her? This is a short and very strange book but surprisingly good. It’s creepy and the brief glimpses into the world Molly lives in are intriguing – there seems to be something dystopian about it? But there wasn’t enough detail to be sure. I enjoyed it anyway. 4 stars.

Decked by Carol Higgins Clark. If you’re wondering whether this author is related to Mary Higgins Clark, the answer is yes… Mary is Carol’s mother. Anyway, the book. P.I. Regan Reilly is attending a class reunion in England (from what I gather, she and some other Americans spent a year in some kind of college there? I didn’t really get that part). When the body of her former room mate, who disappeared ten years ago, is found, Regan wants to investigate, but instead is committed to a transatlantic cruise. As it turns out, the clues to the mystery follow her on board. This was an okay book, but just okay. There are way too many characters so parts of it just ended up being confusing. It read like a strange mash-up of a thriller and a traditional cosy mystery. The supposed investigator was a bit useless really – the synopsis made it sound like she was at least aware of the danger she was in but actually she was totally oblivious. A quick read that passed the time alright but I won’t bother continuing the series. 3 stars.

You Can’t Make Me Go to Witch School by Em Lynas. When Daisy Wart’s grandmother drops her off at a boarding school for witches, she is furious. No matter what anyone says, she is convinced she is not a witch but is “ac-chew-ally” an actress who really, really needs to return to her old primary school to perform her Bottom. This is a really quirky, fun book perfect for fans of The Worst Witch. Although the constant “ac-chew-allys” drove me slightly mad (what? You didn’t think I was the one that came up with that, did you?). 4 stars. There are two more books in this series, although I’m not sure yet whether I’ll read those.

I also started three other books but didn’t finish them, so hopefully I’ll get round to those in December. I’m in the office tomorrow, so four hours of train time should hopefully allow me to get at least one book finished!

What have you been reading lately? Anything good?
There will be Favourites of 2018 Special SUYB on 26 December, so I’ll be looking forward to that. In the mean time, go here to check out the last regular link up of the year!

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What I read in September and October 2018

I didn’t read much in October… which isn’t really surprising given how the month started. It took me until the 14th to stop feeling weak and dizzy from a combination of low iron and (I’m told) hormones still going haywire, then I was back at work on the 16th, which was okay but working eight hours left me feeling exhausted for the first few weeks. That said, I didn’t actually take part in Show Us Your Books last time (which is a shame since it was the 4-year anniversary, but I just wasn’t in the frame of mind for it plus the aforementioned dizziness wasn’t really compatible with screen time) so I still have all of September’s books to review. So I’ll just get on with it shall I?

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September books

Looking for Alaska by John Green. Miles “Pudge” Halter is fed up with his sad life at home and being a total outcast at his school, so he persuades his parents to send him to boarding school, where he meets Alaska who is apparently the girl of his dreams… gorgeous, intelligent, daring… and completely self-destructive. I found this book okay… but just okay. I didn’t particularly like the main character – for someone who had no friends at his old school Miles is awfully judgemental. I was probably supposed to feel sorry for Alaska, and yes her situation was sad, but she was just too clichéd and quite frankly a really horrible person. A quick read and I didn’t hate it, but I won’t read it again. 2.5 stars.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. I suppose most people know this story so I won’t describe it here. Personally, I thought the scariest thing about this book wasn’t the weird goings in but the supposedly caring husband who is willing to do literally anything  for the sake of his acting career. Ugh. It’s well written but I preferred The Stepford Wives. 3 stars for this one.

Of Bees and Mist by Erick SetiawanMeridia grows up in a lonely home, neglected by her mother and hated by her father, who avoids her as much as he can. At 16, she meets and falls in love with Daniel. Soon, they marry, and Meridia can finally escape to live with her charming husband’s family… who turn out to be not so charming after all. This was a weird book. Some parts I loved, others felt odd or pointless. Meridia’s mother in law was like a literal caricature of a villain. She seemed to have literally no redeeming features whatsoever. Very one-dimensional. Overall, this passed the time well and I liked it but I won’t be adding it to my favourites. 3 stars.

What Lexie Did by Emma Shevah. Lexie lives in London with her Greek-Cypriot family, and her best friend is her cousin Eleni, who has a heart condition. After their grandmother dies, Lexie tells a terrible lie that splits the family apart. It’s up to her to bring the family back together, but after everything how can she find a way to tell the truth? is a really enjoyable book. I loved the multi-cultural aspect with a Greek-Cypriot girl growing up in London. Lexie is a fantastic character – flawed but well-meaning – and the friendship between her and Eleni is wonderful. A lovely middle grade book that I thoroughly recommend. 4.5 stars.

Greetings from Somewhere Else by Monica McInerney. Lainey Byrne is an expert at juggling the chaos of a demanding job, her chef boyfriend (who she hardly sees) and her crazy family. But then her Aunt May dies and in order to collect their inheritance one member of the Byrne family has to spend a year running Aunt May’s B&B back in Ireland. They really need the money since her dad isn’t working after being in an accident some time before, and apparently Lainey is the only one who can possibly drop everything for a year. I’d had this book on my shelf for years and couldn’t remember whether I’d actually read it so I decided to give it a go. It turns out I had read it before – at least a few parts seemed vaguely familiar – but obviously it wasn’t very memorable. I didn’t really like Lainey – she really was bossy and self-centred, and hated the idea that anyone other than her could sort out anything. Her best friend in Ireland, Eva, was my favourite character. Overall it’s a pleasant enough read but very forgettable. 3 stars.

The Night Garden by Lisa van Allen. In upstate New York, Olivia Pennywort cares for the family farm and the incredible garden maze at its centre. According to local legend, visitors to the gardens can gain answers to their problems just by walking through them. But the gardens have never helped Olivia, She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harbouring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But then her childhood best friend returns to the valley and Olivia starts to wonder whether she could, at last, let somebody in. This reads like a fairytale for grown-ups – Olivia, who is apparently incredibly beautiful, literally lives in a tower and there is even a scene with an axe-wielding man having to rescue somebody. There were some beautiful descriptions that made me really want to visit the garden, but some parts seemed wordy and long-winded. Olivia’s dad was selfish and annoying. Overall it’s a pleasant way to pass the time but it’s quite “fluffy” and I feel like more could have been made of the story. 3 stars.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. Mia Winchell seems like a typical teen, but she’s keeping a secret. Sounds, words and numbers have a colour for her. No one knows, and Mia wants to keep it that way, but when it starts causing her problems at school Mia is forced to finally reveal her secret and learn to accept her condition. I started off liking this book, then after a certain point I didn’t but at the end I did again, which makes it really hard to review. I enjoyed the story of Mia trying to figure out who she is and embrace her differences, but was annoyed with her parents, who immediately started blaming each other for what they perceived to be “wrong” with Mia. Halfway through, Mia suddenly became boy crazy, which seemed unnecessary to me – the growing up and dealing with being different was enough of a storyline. Some people have said this story isn’t a good depiction of synaesthesia… I wouldn’t know about that and am disappointed if it’s true because I find synaesthesia fascinating and that was one of the aspects of the book I really liked. However, those reviewers who doubted it would be something kids would be teased for make me wonder whether they have ever actually been children? Kids/teens are cruel and will definitely make fun of anything that’s even a little bit different – or maybe that was just at my school? Anyway, I gave this one 3 stars.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. As the youngest daughter, Tita has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to spend her life looking after her mother. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, who in desperation marries her sister so that he can be close to her. Tita, in turn, pours all her feelings into the food she cooks, which has strange effects on all who eat it. This is a really odd book! Not bad by any means, but strange. At times I felt like I didn’t fully understand it. I did enjoy reading it though – it’s well-written and absorbing, very sensual. And I loved the descriptions of food. 4 stars.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen. This is the sequel to Garden Spells, which I really enjoyed. It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and as temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women become restless. Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Although they are selling well, the business is costing the everyday joys of her family and causing her to doubt her belief in her gifts. Meanwhile, Sydney Waverley is desperate for a baby, a namesake for husband Henry. But the more she tries – and fails – the more desperate she gets. Finally, Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to. If only she could find a way to make him see it too… In amongst all this, a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family. Somehow, the Waverley sisters need to find a way to hold the family together until first frost, when everything will be okay again. didn’t enjoy this as much as Garden Spells. It was just as well written, but it had a different kind of feel for me. Garden Spells is comforting, like a cosy blanket. This one felt less whimsical and more tense. It was nice to catch up with the Waverley family though and Sarah Addison Allen is, as always, an excellent writer. 3.5 stars.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back. So she’s understandably confused when an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage seems like the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her former best friend. But something goes horribly wrong, secrets are uncovered and the past finally catches up with Nora. I read this in one sitting – I was so intrigued to find out what was going on and who had done what. I was annoyed by almost all the characters though. Especially Nora whose entire life was apparently ruined by a relationship when she was a teenager. Clare I think was actually supposed to be unlikeable, but I’m not even sure what the point of Melanie was. It was very tense though and all the twists and turns definitely kept me interested. 4 stars, but a low 4 stars (too good to be only 3!).

So, ten books read in September, but not the best reading month since the majority were 3-star reads. None of them were really terrible, but the majority were just okay.

October books

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. This book had been on my shelf for ages until I decided to take it with me when I went to the hospital for the second time with spotting. I ended up being admitted, and read this on the Thursday while hooked up to an iron drip. When Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she doesn’t just want to run from somewhere, she wants to run to somewhere, so she chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing her younger brother Jamie has money, which will be needed, she invites him along. While hiding out at the museum, Claudia and Jamie find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue purchased at auction for a bargain price of $225. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master, Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions… or is it? Claudia is determined to find out, a quest that leads her to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the old woman who sold the statue to the museum. This is such a cute, fun book. I loved Claudia and Jamie. Their personalities and concerns seemed very realistic and I enjoyed their adventure. I can see why this is considered a classic. 5 stars.

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard. Elvia Carr has a “Condition” (most likely some form of autism) and according to her mother is useless – incapable of interacting with the rest of society or looking after herself. But when her mother has a stroke, Elvira is forced to do just that. In an effort to cope with the world, she comes up with seven social rules to help her fit in. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that most people don’t live their lives according to the rules, leading to awkward encounters and a few unpleasant situations. But through it all Elvira keeps learning about herself and the people around her, knowledge that will help her navigate her way through a confusing world. I loved this book! I adored Elvira from the very first page. She has such a distinctive voice and her descriptions of the way her mother treated her made me want to give her a hug and tell her she’s most definitely NOT useless – as she proved again and again throughout the book. There are some dark moments and Elvira encounters some not very nice people, but there are also some truly wonderful characters – I loved Charlie and Karen. Highly recommend. 5 stars.

The State of Grace by Rachel Lucas. It only occurs to me now that I read two books in a row with autistic characters. Interesting. (I actually started another one in between but still haven’t finished it.). Anyway… Grace has Asperger’s and her own way of looking at the world. She has a horse and a best friend who understands her, so what more does she need in life? But when Gabe kisses her and things start to change at home, suddenly life doesn’t make sense any more. Everything seems to be falling apart and it’s up to Grace to fix it. race is a wonderful character – her lovely personality shines through. She always tries to do the right thing even though it’s difficult for her and she often doesn’t understand what the right thing would be. I’m not autistic so I don’t know whether this was an accurate representation of autism, but given that both the author and her daughter are on the spectrum I would imagine it is. Even without being autistic some of Grace’s thoughts resonated with me as a socially awkward introvert, like when she was all peopled out and just wanted to be at home with her familiar things. Grace’s friend Anna is also a lovely character and wonderful friend to Grace. My one minor criticism of this book is that there’s a side story about Grace’s sister that wasn’t fully explored. The book would have been just as complete without it. Apart from that I really enjoyed the book and gave it 4 stars.

The Polka Dot Shop by Laurel Remington. When 13-year-old Andy’s school announces a new no-uniform policy, she is the only pupil who isn’t over the moon. All she wants is to dress like everyone else, but instead she’s forced to wear pre-loved items from her mum’s run-down vintage boutique. The distance between Andy and her mum is growing all the time, and to top it off the shop seems to be doing increasingly badly. When Andy finds a bag of high-quality designer clothes at the back of the shop she suddenly begins to see the potential of vintage clothing. But can she turn things around before it’s too late? I loved everything about this book. The characters are diverse. Andy and her friends are so supportive of each other, and I loved the fact that, despite their differences, Andy really does love her mum and want her to be happy. I also liked the way people took Andy and her ideas seriously and didn’t just dismiss her as a stupid kid. There is a mental health aspect to the book, which maybe have been addressed in more detail, but other than that it’s just a lovely, feel-good book, which was precisely what I needed at the time. 4.5 stars

Despite the fact that I only read four books, October turned out to be a much better reading month as I enjoyed all four of them. One was a children’s book and two were YA, but I think some relatively “easy” reading was exactly right for my frame of mind in October. As November progresses and the dark nights draw in, I’m hoping to get back into my usual varied range of reading materials… if I can find the time in between stitching and making a million Christmas cards!

Have you read anything interesting recently?
If you want even more book reviews, definitely check out the link up.

 

A Photo an Hour: 22 September 2018

On Saturday I took part in another photo an hour, hosted by Louisa and Jane. I live posted my photos to Twitter on the day, so some of you may have seen them, but I like to do a write up on my blog as well because it’s fun to look back on how I spent a random day in the past.

9:30 a.m. Yes, this is earlier than I’m normally up on a Saturday! Thought I’d better at least have breakfast with Jan since he had choir practice for almost the entire weekend.

10:30 a.m. Time for a shower.

11:30 a.m. Cross stitching… or backstitching really at this point. You may think it’s too early for Christmas but this is the only way I can possibly get everything done.

12:30 p.m. As Jan was leaving he informed me that we were out of dishwasher tabs so I headed out to buy some plus food for my lunch.

1:30 p.m. Making a start on Halloween cards… I have about 40 to make for Post Pals!

2:30 p.m. With quiet time over I did a bit of hoovering to clean up some washing powder I had spilled.

3:30 p.m. Back to Halloween cards.

4:30 p.m. Snack time! Apple, feta cheese and pecan nuts. (This is a perfectly normal, tasty combination… not a pregnancy craving!).

5:30 p.m. Cutting more shapes for card-making… Halloween and other.

6:30 p.m. I made a birthday card! Still deciding whether to add anything else.

7:30 p.m. With tea (baked potatoes) in the oven I settled down to write a letter.

8:30 p.m. Food demolished, deciding which letter to reply to next. Sadly the pile still hasn’t reduced by much.

9:30 p.m. Choosing a book to read in bed. This is just part of my to-read shelves!

10:30 p.m. Final photo of the day… Eeyore says goodnight.

How was your Saturday? Did you get up to much?
And on an entirely unrelated note I final joined Instagram just before starting this post. I have no idea what I’m doing but feel free to add me… user name confuzzledom.

What I read in August 2018

Hello! I’m here today to link up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books and tell you about the books I read in August. There are a lot so I won’t bother with too much preamble and just get straight into it. Books for Erin’s challenge first, then the rest. This will be long so feel free to skip parts, or the whole post. Whatever.

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The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy (read for a book with something relating to water in the title). I started reading this one in July but it took a while because it’s nearly 700 pages! This is women’s fiction… I don’t think I would call it chick lit. I feel like chick lit is usually shorter, more frivolous, easy reads I guess. Anyway, it’s the story of Kit MacMahon, who lives in a small village in Ireland. When her mother, Helen, disappears and is presumed drowned her life changes in an instance. A short time later, she receives a letter from a woman named Lena Gray, who lives a tempestuous life in London with Louis, her great love. Who is Lena Gray and why is she interested in Kit? The story then follows Lena and Kit over many years. This book is like a warning to women not to let your entire life centre around a man and how one mistake – however innocent – can change everything for more than just yourself. The story itself is actually pretty good but went on for way too long – I would have been happy with about 200 pages less – so I gave it 3 stars.

Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes. I had to change my original book with an orange cover to this one because I just couldn’t get into the other one. This is a YA book about a sixteen-year-old girl named Maguire. Since she was involved in a car accident that killed her father, uncle and brother while she walked away with barely a scratch and then found herself on a rollercoaster when it jumped off its tracks, but again was unhurt herself, she’s convinced that she’s a curse and causes horrible things to happen. So all she wants to do is stay in her room where she can’t hurt anyone, but her therapist has other ideas so she reluctantly tries out for the tennis team. The synopsis goes on to say “then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star who wants to help her break her unlucky streak”, but that makes it sound like she’s “saved” by a boy, but that’s not really how it is. He does help her, but so do her therapist and her new friends, and ultimately she does most of the work herself. I really enjoyed this book. Maguire is a fantastic character and her issues felt realistic. I mean, I’ve never had PTSD but I could totally understand how she would get the idea that she’s bad luck after everything she’s been through. I also really loved her step-dad – he was obviously trying so hard while also struggling himself with a far from ideal situation. 4.5 stars for this one.

The Collector by John Fowles. I read this book for the categroy “a book with an unlikeable character” and it definitely fulfilled that! It’s about a man called Frederick who collects butterflies and is obsessed with a beautiful stranger, an art student named Miranda. When he wins a lot of money, he buys a remote house in Sussex and abducts Miranda, believing she will learn to love him in time. He honestly seems to believe he treats her well… despite the fact that she’s trapped in a cellar with no possibility to leave or contact her family?! This is disturbing and creepy, but somehow addictive – I felt compelled to keep reading to find out how it what happened at the end. Part 2 of the book is written from Miranda’s perspective and I’m ashamed to say that part bored me. I just didn’t like her at all – which feels like an awful thing to think given her situation. 3.5 stars, would have been 4 if it had stuck to Frederick’s perspective.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (read for the “PBS Great American Reads” category). I had been putting off reading this for ages so I finally ended up taking it on the train to work with me… being stuck on trains with nothing else to do generally encourages me to read whatever I have with me 😉 I presume most people know the story (I knew the basics before reading it) so I won’t describe it. I will hopefully not spoil anything with me review though. So, there were parts of this I really, really loved but other parts I didn’t. The Randall character annoyed me… he almost seemed like a caricature of a villain. At some point his chasing Jamie all the way round the country just became unrealistic and slightly ridiculous. There was also a lot of sex. Not that I have anything against sex scenes, but I swear at one point Jamie and Claire were at it on every page!Cutting a few sex scenes would probably have made the book about 100 pages shorter 😉 I really liked the way Claire’s skills as a nurse were tied in with the herbs and equipment that were available in the past and I did like Jamie, although I’m not lusting over him like everyone else seems to be. He seems like a decent guy though, especially given the time period. Overall I liked it but didn’t love it. I would like to know what happens next and where they go from here, but I’m not sure I’m interested enough to be willing to read another 800 pages! 3.5 stars.

That was my last book for the first round of the challenge, then I read two for the bonus round.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick (read for the category “a book featuring another participant’s profession). Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life, following the same routine every day, just like he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. Now, a year after her death, he goes to finally start clearing out her things and finds a charm bracelet that he doesn’t remember seeing before. One of the charms has a phone number on it, which he calls, and discovers his wife once lived in India. What follows is a quest to find out more about his wife’s life before the two of them met. This is a lovely book – I kind of want to say charming… too punny? I really enjoyed following along on Arthur’s adventures. Some of the events were a little implausible and a few times the writing felt a little flat, but overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. 4 stars.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (read for the category “a book with an alliterative title”). This is an interesting take on the “Cinderella” story. Eleanor, known as Ella, was inadvertently cursed at birth by a fairy named Lucinda, who bestowed on her the “gift” of obedience. An obedient child sounds like every parent’s dream, right… but it means she has to do whatever anyone tells her to do. If she’s told to eat cake, she has to keep eating until she’s told to stop. Despite all this, she manages to rebel… finding way to do as she’s told but not necessarily in the way the person expected. After her mother dies, she sets out to try and find a way to break the curse, encountering ogres and giants along the way, and of course ending up with a stepmother and stepsisters to order her around… This is a cute, fun read. Despite her curse, Ella has a mind of her own and a rebellious spirit. She’s no weak little princess waiting for Prince Charming to come and rescue her! 4 stars. Apparently there’s a film, but I haven’t seen it.

Those were all the books I read for Erin’s challenge in August, so now for the rest. This is already long… I’ll try to be quick!

Am I Normal Yet by Holly Bourne. Evie has OCD, but all she wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. SGoing to parties, making friends… all that’s left is to find a boyfriend. But teenage relationships are messy at the best of times. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends the truth about herself how is she going to cope when she falls in love? I absolutely LOVED this book. It’s the perfect blend of fun and serious. I love that the teenagers in this book actually act like teenagers with all their flaws and mistakes. This is the first book in a series and I can’t wait to read the other two. 5 stars.

The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster. Eleven-year-old Joe has spent most of his life in hospital. He has an autoimmune condition that means literally everything could kill him. Even his few visitors at the hospital risk bringing life-threatening germs inside his ‘bubble’. But then somebody new enters his world with a plan that will change his life forever. I really enjoyed this. I loved the characters for the most part. oe’s conversation seems really mature for his age – which I suppose it would be if you’d been locked in a room all your life with only adults to talk to. At the same time he’s quite naive, never really seeming to question or think about the consequences of what he’s doing, which again seems realistic… he’s just a child after all, with no experience of the real world. I wasn’t sure about the Amir character… I can’t say much without spoilers, but how did he get onto the ward just like that? This book deals with some heavy topics and isn’t as hopeful and heart-warming as Wonder (the book I keep seeing it compared to), but it’s a great story and I definitely recommend it. 4 stars.

The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner. AJ Flynn has just failed all but one of his GCSEs, and his future is looking far from rosy, so when he is offered a junior position at a London law firm he hopes his life is about to change – and it does, in most unexpected ways. While tiding up one day, AJ finds an old key, mysteriously labelled with his name and date of birth – and he becomes determined to find the door that fits the key. This is the start of an amazing adventure that literally takes him to the past. A brilliant blend of mystery, historical fiction, time travel and coming of age story. I loved the bond between AJ and his friends. My only complaint is that it was too short – it felt like some parts were rushed over too quickly and explanations were given almost as an aside. More detail would have been nice. Because of that I gave it 4 stars.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I feel like I’m the last person to read this, so I’ll be brief. It’s the story of a Havard professor who discovers she has early-onset Alzheimer’s and her life as the disease progresses. This was a hard book to read given that my grandma has Alzheimer’s (not early-onset, but still). We can never truly know what it’s like to be inside the mind of an Alzheimer’s patient, but to me it felt authentic. John (the husband) annoyed me at times – I get that it’s a difficult situation to deal with but he just seemed so selfish. Of her children, I absolutely loved Lydia and thought she coped brilliantly with everything. An emotional read but well worth it. 5 stars.

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel. What is it with me reading dead sister books this year? I think this was about the fourth? Anyway, this book starts with Juniper on the first day of the new school year… and the first school day since her sister, Camilla, dies sixty-five days ago. On that first day, Juniper borrows Camie’s handbag for luck – and discovers an unsent break-up letter inside. It’s mysteriously addressed to ‘You’ and dated the day of the accident. Juniper is determined to find the mysterious ‘You’ and deliver the letter, so she starts to investigate. But then she loses something herself. A card from her daily ritual, The Happiness Index – little note cards where she rates each day – a tradition she started with her sister. The Index has been holding Juniper together since Camie’s death and now there’s a hole in it. And this particular card contains Juniper’s own secret: a memory that she can’t let anyone else find out. I loved this book! Juniper is a fantastic character. It’s clear that she’s grieving but she keeps on trying to live her life anyway. There were a few sad bits but mostly it’s just a lovely book. The expected resolution doesn’t come at the end, but I think that’s okay. I took off one star because Brand, the bad-boy character, seemed a little stereotypical, so 4 stars.

The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell. Lydia, Robyn and Dean don’t know each other – yet.
They live very different lives, but they’re all about to find out a secret and learn just how they’re connected.
I will never fail to be amazed by the many different stories Lisa Jewell manages to tell. All her books are so different! I really like Lisa Jewell as a writer, but unfortunately I wasn’t as impressed with this book as I have been with others of hers. With the subject matter, I felt like this could have had a lot more depth to it. Lydia was the only character I felt like I really got to know. Robyn seemed really snobby and annoying and I never felt like I really found out anything about Dean. The story is interesting though and I did like it – I just didn’t love it. 3.5 stars.

While My Eyes Were Closed by Linda Green. Lisa Dale is playing hide-and-seek at the park with her four-year-old daughter, Ella. When she opens her eyes, Ella is gone. The police, the media and Lisa’s family all think they know who took Ella. But what if the person who has her isn’t a stranger… and what if they think they’re doing the right thing? This book is a bit odd. It’s not the tense thriller the description makes it out to be. As readers, we know very quickly who has Ella, so there’s no real sense of tension, wondering where she is and what will happen to her. Instead it’s a great look at the effects a missing child has on the other members of the family. The “twist” for want of a better word and the ending felt rushed and weird – the ending especially didn’t feel authentic. It’s well written but if you’re expecting a proper thriller you will be disappointed. 3 stars.

Being Miss Nobody by Tamsin Winter. Rosalind hates her new secondary school. She’s suffered from selective mutism for as long as she can remember, and now she’s labelled as a freak… the Mute-Ant. So with the help of her little brother, Seb (who is suffering from cancer), Rosalind starts a blog – Miss Nobody; a place to speak up, a place where she has a voice. But there’s a problem… Is Miss Nobody becoming a bully herself? Parts of it are heartbreaking, but there are also some wonderful relationships. Ailsa is a fantastic friend and the brother/sister relationship between Rosalind and Seb is wonderful. Rosalind’s relationship with her new therapist is also fantastic – I loved how Octavia was portrayed and how the book showed that finding the right therapist who truly gets you is so important. The school bullying scenes are awful but also realistic – I can genuinely imagine those exact kinds of things happening at my high school. Rosalind really grows as a person throughout the story and is strong enough in the end to admit her mistakes and do her best to make amends. 5 stars. Highly recommend!

How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst. Emma Cartwright has just been released from a Psychiatric Institute. Three years ago, her name was Susan Webster and she was imprisoned for murdering her twelve-week-old son… a crime she has no memory of. Then she receives an envelope addressed to Susan Webster, containing a photo of a toddler with the name “Dylan” on the back. What if her son isn’t actually dead? This book was so twisty and convoluted… I almost felt like there was too much going on. It took me ages to work out how the past and present stories were connected… although I did eventually guess who one present-day character was going to turn out to be. Parts of the plot also seemed kind of far-fetched to me. Or maybe I’m just naive and money really can get you out of anything. It isn’t really  bad book, I just feel like I’ve read better thrillers. 3 stars.

The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman. I don’t want to say too much about this, because I didn’t know much about it going in. Luna and her sister take a trip to Beau Ridge, Brooklyn, to sell their mothers house with their estranged Aunt Stephanie, and maybe find out a bit about their mother in the process.  Then Luuna discovers that she may have a chance to save her mother… but will that mean sacrificing her own life? I loved this! It wasn’t what I was expecting – but then I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting? Luna is a fantastic character and such a caring big sister – she made me wish I was that close to my siblings. The love story is genuinely adorable. I pretty much just liked everything about this book. Just a warning that the storyline does involve a rape. 5 stars.

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker. In this post-apocalyptic novel, Edgar Hill finds himself separated from his family and has to travel 550 miles to get to them or risk losing them for ever. With no other option left, he and a small group of companions start running. I’m not sure what to think of this book. I enjoyed the story, but I really, really didn’t like the main character. Ed is whiny, annoying and a terrible husband. I honestly have no idea why his wife stayed with him never mind procreated with him a second time after he was so useless the first time! But the story was fast-paced and eventful and kept me wanting to know whether the group would ever actually reach their destination. Some of the events seemed a bit far-fetched but I suppose the book would have been a bit boring if they they’d just stopped encountering obstacles after a certain point. I did find it annoying that all the “bad” people were working class/seemed to be from council estates while the middle and upper-class people ended up helping and feeding the group. Overall it is a good read and the running thing makes it a different kind of story. 3.5 stars.

When Autumn Leaves by Amy S. Foster. So apparently the author of this book is the daughter of record producer (David Foster… never heard of him) and her real job is a songwriter, among others for Michael Bublé. I didn’t know this until I read it on the back of the book and honestly I don’t really care. When Autumn learns she’s been promoted to a higher coven, she has to find her own replacement. But who in Avening is in tune enough with her own personal magic to take over the huge responsibility of town witch? Autumn has been given a list of 13 people who just might have what it takes, but how can she get them to open their eyes to the magic in their lives? I bought this because the description sounded interested and it had been compared to Sarah Addison Allen. This is not Sarah Addison Allen! I really liked the basic storyline – it was an interesting concept and could have been great, but the writing was really not for me. It felt somehow juvenile. Also, there were too many characters and I never really felt like I got to know any of them properly, except Autumn herself, of course. It almost ready like a book of short stories that are loosely related. It had potential and at least it was an easy read so I got through it quickly, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I still like the title and the cover is really pretty, but 2 stars.

Phew… finally that is all of them. 18 books! A pretty god reading month with a fair few four and five star books. For anyone who didn’t feel like reading all my reviews I highly recommend picking up Am I Normal Yet? (YA) Being Miss Nobody (middle grade) and The Summer of Impossible Things (science fiction with a bit of romance). And for those who haven’t got their fill of books, definitely check out the link up.

Have you read any of these? Do you agree with my opinions?

Recent doings #31

Hello lovely readers. I don’t know how it was for anyone else, but for me August went fast! I can’t believe it’s September already and time for another round-up of what I’ve spent the past month doing. As always on the first Thursday of the month, I’m linking up with Kristen for What’s New With You? So, here’s what I did in August.

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Eating. This is really bad, but I ate so many plain (as in just salted) crisps in August. So many. I’m not proud. Also tinned soup.

Drinking. Ice tea… the shop bought kind that’s full of sugar. Again, not the most nutritious. But it’s refreshing and it’s been too hot for normal tea. I’ve also been drinking Rhubarb juice – I found it when we went to a supermarket in Germany and I was intrigued so into the basket it went.

Reading. I read a lot in August, and managed to finish Erin’s reading challenge. The longest book I read was probably Outlander. Unnecessarily long if you ask me…

Watching. We went to the open air cinema and watched the new Jumanji film. I really enjoyed it. I liked how they made it recognisably related to the first one but a different concept so it didn’t feel too repetitive. And I thought the brief mention of Alan Parrish (Robin Williams’ character in the first film) was a nice touch.

Cross stitching. Birthday cards for my brother and my godson. Both have their birthdays in September, so their gifts needed to be sent off in August to make sure they arrived on time.

Making. A pattern I stitched in July into a birthday card for a friend’s son – sometimes I stitch things then take ages to actually do the card-making part!

bear birthday card

Seeing/hearing. The original Blues Brothers! They were at a free music festival in Basel so obviously I had to go and see them.  Then Jan and I went to a performance on Friday (31 August – so just about last month) featuring someone Jan is in a choir with. Even when Jan isn’t directly involved I have to go and support his choir members 😉 It was bizarre but very cool.

Celebrating. My birthday! I was working during the day and in the evening Jan had his first choir practice after the summer break the day of my birthday so he couldn’t really miss it, but I treated myself to cake and we went out for a meal the following evening. I got some lovely gifts and enjoyed relaxing and having control of the remote for a change 😉

Winning. At mini-golf… as you will know if you read my last post. One item off the 40 before 40 list already. Woo hoo!

Buying. All the books…. I’m so bad. And soup… I placed an order with British Corner Soup and the day it arrived I immediately had Scotch broth for lunch. YUM!

Also, a few updates ago, you may remember me hinting about something else that was going on around here that I couldn’t tell you about yet. Well, after multiple rounds of interviews with various increasingly higher up people, I can now reveal that Jan has a new job! He starts in November and it will be in Zurich, but we have no plans to move – at least for the moment. We both love living in Basel and he thinks the commute will be similar to his current one so we’ll see how it goes.

I don’t know what else to tell you about August. Jan was away one weekend for a choir practice weekend. I was pretty much just here and mostly working. As I mentioned in the intro, I feel like the entire month went by in a flash… but I’m okay with that. Next Friday we have visitors coming and I have the last two weeks of September off work so I’m very much looking forward to the next few weeks.

How was your August? I hope you all had a good one! Check out the link up to see what’s new with Kristen and all the other participants.

The books I read in July 2018

Hello! My 35 before 35 challenge is now officially over (as of yesterday), but I’m not going to talk about that yet because today is Show Us Your Books day! This post isn’t going to be quite as long as the last one… in my monthly recap, I told you I read 6 books for Erin’s challenge, finished a book I started in June and read 3 full other books. I actually read 4 other books (I had forgotten one), so that gives me a total of 11 books to review this time round. Still a lot, but not quite as bad as 18 😉
I’ll just get on with it shall I?

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Books for Erin’s challenge first, then the rest.

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville (read for the category: a book that’s been on your TBR the longest). I actually bought this book for Jan a while ago for his birthday or something. I thought it might be something we would both like to read. When I checked my Goodreads to-read list, this was the book that had been on there the second longest (the first book I added was too short for the challenge). This is a story about an alternative London… “London through the looking glass”, as it’s described in the blurb. Un Lun DUn = un-London, obviously. Un Lun Dun is where all the lost and broken objects from the original London end up – and sometimes people too. Where words are alive, carnivorous giraffes roam the streets, and a talking book tells a prophecy of a hero who will save them all. I loved this book! All the characters are fantastic. I never thought I would end up adoring a smelly milk carton – you’ll have to read it to find out what I’m on about ;-). Deeba is an awesome character and definitely not “just a sidekick” (again, you’ll have to read it). I also love the cover – it’s so delightfully creepy. 5 stars.

Red Ribbons by Louise Phillips (read for the category: a book with an alliterative title). The body of a missing schoolgirl is found buried in the Dublin Mountains, her hands clasped together in prayer, two red ribbons in her hair. When another girl’s body is discovered 24 hours later, the hunt for the killer reaches epic proportions. Criminal psychologist Kate Pearson is called in to help, but the more she discovers about the killings, the more it reminds her of a terrifying event in her own past. Meanwhile, Ellie Brady has been institutionalised for 15 years, for the killing of her twelve-year-old daughter, Amy. After all this time, does Ellie hold the key to finding the killer of the Dublin schoolgirls? I thought this was reasonably good for a debut, but for me it didn’t quite live up to all the rave reviews. Some of the dialogue in the beginning felt a bit stilted, but it got better as the book went on. I really enjoyed the parts from Ellie’s perspective. 3.5 stars.

The Irish Cottage Murder by Dicey Deere (read for the category: a character who shares your profession). The second book in this series describes the protagonist as a translator of children’s books. In this one it turns out she’s actually interpreting (but also does translating – just not during this book). Still close enough to my profession, I guess. So, Torrey Turret accepts an invitation from a stranger who spills soup on her at a restaurant to stay at his Irish castle while she’s interpreting for a conference in Dublin. Not long after she arrives, she stumbles on a murdered man in the forest near the castle. When a priceless heirloom disappears and an old secret from her past surfaces, all fingers point to Torrey… and when her host, too, is murdered it doesn’t look good for her. If she doesn’t find out who really did it, she faces ruin… and gaol. An easy read and entertaining enough if you can ignore all the inconsistencies. It’s supposed to be set in the 90s but it feels like a much earlier time period. And why would an American be employed to interpret between French and Hungarian? That’s not how it works! I also found the number and combination of languages Torrey speaks implausible. But the murder mystery aspect was interesting and I didn’t guess who was responsible. A low 3 stars, but I enjoyed it enough not to go all the way down to 2.

Love Always by Harriet Evans (read for the category: a book with an emotion word in the title). The book begins with Natasha Kapoor on her way to Cornwall for her beloved grandmother’s funeral. This trip reunites her with her large and complicated family for perhaps the last time: Summercove, her grandparents’ beautiful house by the sea, is being sold. Along with it go a generation of memories and perhaps the key to the death of her aunt Cecily many years ago at just fifteen years of age. When she finds the opening pages of Cecily’s diary, written the summer she died, she final begins to learn all the family secrets she never knew. But where is the rest of the diary? There is so much intrigue and family drama in this book. Who is doing what with whom and who is guilty of what? Not high literature but fun to read. Not as fluffy as I expected from the cover picture. 4 stars.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (read for the category: title starts with N). Morrigan Crow is a cursed child. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears and whisks her away to the safety of a town called Nevermoor. There, Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each with an extraordinary talent. But Morrigan insists she doesn’t have a talent… so how will she ever pass the final trial? I loved this! It’s such a fun read. The trials were not what I was expecting. The characters are fantastic – Hawthorne is so fantastic and I adore Fen. I definitely want to read the next book. 5 stars.

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio (read as my freebie book). This book reminds me of The Secret History in a way, in that there’s a group of friends one of whom has ended up dead – an accident or murdered by his friends? Who knows. As the book begins, Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day of his release, he is greeted by Detective Colborne – the man who put him in prison. Colborne is retiring, and now he wants to know what really happened a decade before. Oliver agrees to tell him, strictly off the record. Ten years ago, Oliver and his friends/house mates were drama students at an exclusive university. Early on, the friends notice that they are always cast in similar roles that seem to match their off-stage personalities – villain, hero, temptress. When the teachers change the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and eventually tragedy strikes. One of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless. I loved The Secret History, but I think I actually liked this one even more – probably because I can’t relate to ancient Greek studies, whereas quoting Shakespeare is right up my alley (except in my case not as an actor, but a reader). While similar to The Secret History, I found this to be an excellent story in its own right. Some people might find the constant dropping of Shakespeare into ordinary conversation annoying, but I didn’t. 5 stars.

So, that was the books I read for Erin’s challenge… six down in month one, four more to go. Now for the rest of the books I read.

In Wahrheit wird viel mehr gelogen by Kerstin Gier. This book doesn’t exist in English, so my rough translation of the title is “In truth, we tell a lot more lies”. Carolin is 26 and recently widowed. Now, while still grieving, she has to fight over an inheritance with her stuffy ex-boyfriend (who happens to be the son of her dead husband!) and his annoying family. So it’s no wonder Carolin gets drunk for the first time ever, starts seeing a therapist and spends a small fortune on shoes. And constantly feels like she’s surrounded by idiots… because, oh yes, Carolin is a genius! Luckily Carolin is not alone in her darkest hour, and with the help of her family and a new friend she is able to get through it. This was a fun read. I really liked Carolin, and I’m glad she didn’t get over her loss by getting into a new relationship straight away, which is what usually seems to happen in this type of book! 4 stars.

I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson. At 12 years old, Emma Freke is almost 6 feet tall with bright red hair – which makes it difficult not to be noticed. And on top of that there’s her name, which her wacky, hippy-ish mother didn’t bother to say out loud before putting it on the birth certificate. She’s certain that if she ever meets her father’s family she will figure out her place in the world – but she’s never even met her father, never mind the rest of them. Then she receives an invitation to attend a Freke family reunion. This is a lovely little book about finding your identity and being yourself. Emma’s mum wasn’t the best – she acted like a petulant teen most of the time – but I liked that she had her back when it actually mattered. 4 stars.

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron. Nadia lives in Canaan, a walled-in city where life is safe, structured… and every twelve years everybody forgets what’s come before. In Canaan, your book is your whole life… the place where you write down everything about yourself: your job, who your spouse and children are, where you live. It’s the only way to know who you are after the Forgetting. For everybody except Nadia, that is – Nadia does not forget. When begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the Forgetting approaches, the two of them need to find a way to battle an unexpected threat to the city. I absolutely loved this. Yes it was confusing at first but after a while it properly sucked me in and I *needed* to know what was going on. I was not expecting what Nadia and Gray found behind the wall, although I did have a suspicion about a certain character after a conversation they had with Nadia. Gray’s constant smirking was kind of annoying, but the story had me enthralled enough not to care. 4 stars.

Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson. This was the book I had forgotten to include in my monthly round-up, so clearly it was very memorable. Leigh Nolan has just started her first year at Stiles College where she is studying psychology. Her high-school boyfriend, the over-achieving, ambitious Andrew, is also there. Leigh is excellent at psycho-analysing herself and everyone around her, but totally misses the obvious.. like the fact that her boyfriend is a selfish jerk and his room-mate, Nathan, is actually rather lovely. It’s a cute book with a fairly predictable romance. There was one scene that made me uncomfortable involving an oblivious and very stereotypical Chinese character named Li Huang – I’m not even sure what the point in him being there was. I guess that part was supposed to be funny, but it just felt racist and unnecessary. Nathan is lovely (of course) and Andrew deserves a slap. My favourite character was Rebekah, who Leigh was mentoring as part of her course. I would happily read a whole book about Rebekah. Overall a fun read but very forgettable. 3 stars.

Katherine by Anya Seton. My final book is one I started in June and managed to finish in July. This is a BBC Big Read book that I’ve been putting of for ages, mainly because I have no interest in the love affairs of royalty, even if it is based on a true story. I eventually forced myself to read it by taking it with me when I had to go to the office – there’s nothing like a two-hour train journey each way to make you happily read whatever’s available! I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected. It’s an interesting read and now I want to learn about the real Katherine Swynford. 4 stars.

I also started reading The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy, but since I only finished it in August I’ll tell you about it in next month’s round-up.

And that was my reading month of July. A fair few 4 and 5 star books there, so I’m happy.
What have you been reading lately? Check out the link up for more book reviews.

The books I read in June 2018

Hello everyone. The Show Us Your Books link up is here again, a.k.a the day I discover more books I want to read than on all the other days of the month put together. In June I managed to finish 18 books again, so I won’t ramble on too much but just get on with it…

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Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden. I started reading this book on the plane to England then read the final chapter on the morning of 1 June while everyone else was still sleeping. When Tess Devlin bumps into her ex-she’s furious when he acts like he doesn’t know her. An angry phone call reveals that it couldn’t possibly have been him. Meanwhile Frank Lindbergh is attacked in his home by an intruder with his face. Gradually a whole group of people realise they have doppelgangers… and all of them were once involved in a project at a creepy mansion on a hill. This was an interesting concept and nicely creepy. Parts of the story had me gripped, but sometimes the writing felt a bit clunky. The final page was chilling. A decent enough read. 3.5 stars

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan. I read this book on the way home from England and it was interesting enough to hold my attention through two flights. Margot Lewis is a teacher who also works as an agony aunt for a local newspaper under the name “Amy”. When she receives a letter from someone claiming their name is Bethan Avery and they’ve been kidnapped she assumes it must be a hoax – Bethany Avery has been missing for nearly two decades. But with a girl from her class also missing she reluctantly turns over the letters to the police just in case. Then it turns out the letters are genuine. Unlike most reviewers on Goodreads, I really enjoyed this. I must be slow because I did not see the twist coming until just before it was revealed. Not a perfect book by any means but I liked it. 4 stars.

I Do Not Sleep by Judy Finnegan. Five years ago, Molly Gabriel lost her 20-year-old son, Joey, to a sailing accident. His empty boat was discovered washed ashore on the rocks but his body was never found. Now Molly has returned to Cornwall, the scene of the accident, unable to accept that he’s really gone. Against the wishes of her family, she confronts Joey’s best friend to find out more about what went on that day. The mystery in this book is intriguing, but there are some odd supernatural components I wasn’t expecting. Despite its length, this somehow a quick read. It was 448 pages but it didn’t feel like I read that many words. 3 stars, I liked it okay but wouldn’t necessarily read anything else by this author.

Stitch Head by Guy Bass. At Castle Grotteskew, Professor Erasmus conducts his bizarre experiments on living things. His very first creation – a small, almost-human creature, known only as Stitch Head – has been long forgotten. Poor Stitch Head has spent years trying to get the attention of his creator while also keeping the increasingly bizarre other creations under control. When the leader of a freak show promises to make Stitch Head a star, he wonders whether there is a better life out there for him. But first he has to deal with the professor’s latest creation – a monstrous three-armed creature that’s just smashed its way to freedom. This is a cute, fun little book. I love little Stitch Head and the Creature. I would recommend it for children aged 8+ and all fans of slightly gothic children’s books. It’s the first in a series and I’m looking forward to reading book two. 4 stars.

Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas. Libby Hall never really wanted to be noticed. But after she saves the children in her care from a fire, she finds herself headline news. And horrified by the attention. It all reminds her of what happened nine years ago. The last time she saw her best friend alive. So when she and her husband get an offer to take part in a house swap it seems like a dream come true. But this stylish Cornish home isn’t the getaway they’d hoped for. They make odd, even disturbing, discoveries in the house. It’s so isolated-yet Libby doesn’t feel entirely alone. As if she’s being watched. Is Libby being paranoid or is something strange really going on? This book has so many twists and turns. The moral of the story, apart from how well do you really know somebody, appears to be if something seems too good to be true it probably is. Towards the end, after the reveal, I kept being confused about who was speaking now but other than that I enjoyed this so much more than Local Girl Missing by the same author. 4 stars.

Whisper by Chrissie Keighery. How do you know if your friends are talking about you behind your back or if a boy likes you? They could act innocent, but you’d know from the rumours. You’d hear the whispers. But what if you couldn’t hear those whispers any more? What if everything you took for granted was gone? Being a teenager is hard enough without being deaf as well! This is a lovely book. Demi, the deaf main character, felt so real to me with all her problems – some brought about by her being a typical teenager, being jealous of her older sister and making assumptions about other characters. Yes, people can be mean but I liked how this book showed not everything is about discrimination, although Demi often assumed everything was because she’s deaf. I also loved Demi’s nephew, Harry. He’s so pure and lovely. At one point he says “My auntie Demi can do anything!” Awww. It’s a simple story but really insightful. 5 stars.

Half Life by Shelley Jackson. I’m not sure whether this is supposed to be set in the future or some kind of alternative reality, but either way it takes place in a world where conjoined twins are much more common than in our society because of increased radioactivity. Nora is one such person, and she’s tired of being attached to her twin, Blanche, who has been asleep for the past 15 or 20 years. So she goes to London in an attempt to track down a society that is rumoured to illegally separate conjoined twins (illegal because one always dies in the process). Once in England, Nora’s past begins to emerge and Blanche may or may not be waking up. This book is both fascinating and confusing. I started off enjoying the story and by the end I wasn’t sure which parts had actually happened or to who. The closer to the end it gets, the more bizarre and surreal it becomes. Definitely one that will require a careful re-read in the future. 4 stars.

Der Fremde Gast by Charlotte Link. This has been translated unto English as “The Unknown Guest”. Inconsolable after the death of her husband, Rebecca Brandt has decided to take her own life. But an unexpected visitor keeps her from carrying out her plans, an old friend who shows up at her secluded house in the South of France and bringing two strangers along with him: the students Inga and Marius, who wanted to hitch hike to the sea. Rebecca befriends the two of them and even lets them use her boat. But while they’re out sailing, they get into a terrible fight, and at some point Marius goes overboard. A short time later, his picture appears in the German papers in connection with a murder. Almost all the female characters in this book were weak and annoying, pandering to their husbands’ whims… spending their entire lives trying not to make them angry. Ugh. The plot was intriguing though. There were so many points of view that I was confused half the time, but I had to keep reading because I needed to know how they were all connected. I had a feeling something weird was going on with one person but did not guess the culprit. A high 3 stars but not quite a 4. Would 3.75 be too weird?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Finally I got to read this one! Everyone has been raving about it but I was waiting until I could find a cheap copy. Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, sticks to her routine, and doesn’t really talk to anyone. She has learned how to survive but it’s very clear from the start that no matter what she says she is not completely fine. I honestly don’t know how to review this book. I didn’t really like Eleanor at first – I mean, she really isn’t very likeable to be fair. But I did feel sorry for her. She had totally grown on me by the end and I wanted the best for her. There’s a twist at the end that I did not see coming. I don’t want to say more. Honestly I think it’s best to go into this one knowing very little about it. 5 stars – probably my favourite book of the year so far.

Paperweight by Meg Haston. Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped. In her life. And now in an eating-disorder treatment centre. She doesn’t plan to stay there for long though. There are only twenty-seven days until the anniversary of her brother Josh’s death—the death she caused. And if Stevie gets her way, there are only twenty-seven days until she, too, will end her life. I really enjoyed this book – as much as you can say you “enjoy” this subject matter. Stevie is a hard character to like – she’s so cynical and mean at the beginning. But I kind of get it and she does change/grow as the book goes on. There are some great side characters – I love her room-mate Ashley! I cried towards the end so obviously this book got to me. I can’t comment on how accurate the eating disorder/treatment side to it was having never been in that situation but it felt realistic to me. 4 stars.

Steps to the Gallows by Edward Marston. When the editor of a newspaper that regularly reveals the details of political and sexual scandals and publishes caricatures of public figures in compromising situations is killed, a group of amateur sleuths called the “Invisible Detectives” (according to the blurb – this doesn’t come up in the book) are hired by the man who financed the production of the paper. He wants the killer brought to justice and the scandal sheet revived. Meanwhile the actual police are also on the case, and are not happy that the amateurs are butting in. Kezzie gave me this book when I met up with her last August and I only got round to reading it now. Shameful! I enjoyed the story but some of the dialogue was a little clunky. Nobody uses anyone’s name that much! It’s pretty much a standard murder mystery/amateur sleuth novel in the vein of Agatha Christie, etc. but with weapons experts instead of old ladies. This is book 2 in a series but not having read the first one wasn’t an issue. 3.5 stars.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. As a result she knows things nobody would ever expect… for instance that her family has moved to the island of Vane because her father is fleeing a scandal. And when her father is discovered dead she knows he was murdered. Hunting through her father’s possessions, Faith discovers a strange tree that only bears fruit when she whispers lies to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. Can the lie tree help he find her father’s murderer? I absolutely loved this. It’s dark and twisted and so interesting. Faith is a fantastic character and I just know that one day she’s going to show everyone that women are just as good as men. 5 stars.

Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm. It’s 1953 and 11-year-old Penny dreams of a summer of butter pecan ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But she she’s not allowed to go swimming because her mother’s afraid she’ll catch polio at the pool. To make matters worse, her dog, Scarlett O’Hara, is sick. Her favourite uncle is living in a car. Her best friend is turning into a criminal. And no one will tell Penny the truth about how her father died. This book is based on Jennifer Holm’s own Italian-American family and it’s wonderful. Heart-warming, amusing, historically insightful. Penny is a great character. After the story, the author has included photos of her family members who inspired the book’s characters. 5 stars.

Cloud 9 by Alex Campbell. If there was a wonder-drug to make you feel happier, would you take it? In this book’s society, everyone takes a drug called Leata. With no side effects, it’s the perfect pick-me-up. Well, almost everyone takes it. Tom’s dad has always been against Leata and the company that makes it… and now he’s dead. Tom begins to suspect it wasn’t an accident and that there’s something odd going on with Leata. Meanwhile, his next-door-neighbour Hope is a YouTube star and blogger who honestly believes in Leata’s power to make the world a better place (her father is also a lawyer for PharmaCare, the company that make the drug, so she may have other reasons for being the perfect Leata advocate…). Tom and Hope used to be best friends, now they don’t talk any more. But they’re going to have to work together to figure out what’s really going on. I really enjoyed this. It seemed believable and really made me think about the influence  of social media as well as society’s obsession with happiness and putting on a positive front to fit in. How many people really want to know how you’re feeling when they ask “how are you?”. I hated Hope at first but it was quickly obvious something more was happening beneath the surface. I had a bit of an issue with the ending, but I won’t go into that here for fear of spoilers. Overall I thought it was a really good story though and a nice introduction to dystopia for teens. 4 stars.

What Came First by Carol Snow. This book is told from the perspective of three women. All Vanessa wants for her 29th birthday is an engagement ring from her boyfriend, Eric. Instead she gets a mix CD and learns that her boyfriend is not interested in having children with her, ever. Wendy and her husband struggled to have children and eventually decided to use a sperm donor. Now her twins are 5 and completely out of control while her husband spends all his time playing computer games. Wendy feels like she got the raw end of the deal. Laura is a single career woman. She never needed a man to have a baby… just an anonymous sperm donor. Now her son, Ian, wants a sibling and she’s determined to grant his wish. Her search ends up bringing the three women together. I liked most of this book but I didn’t love it. Vanessa really annoyed me – I did think Eric treated her badly and I could understand why she was upset but she was just so whiny all the time, about everything. Also I didn’t get the part where Laura had to spend 10 minutes in the toilet every day with an OPK… yes the instructions say to look at it within 10 minutes but the line comes up pretty quickly. She really didn’t need to be sneaking off for 10 minutes every day and being grateful that her assistant was more interested in her phone… that part just felt like an excuse for Laura to get in another dig about her assistant. I gave this one 3 stars.

Der Mann von Nebenan by Amelie Fried. This one hasn’t been translated, but the title means “The Man from Next Door”. After getting divorced, Kate has recently moved to the countryside with her son. Not long after she arrives, she finds a woman lying dead in a field. Not really, the idyllic village of her dreams. Luckily she has nice neighbours… but gradually the man next door gets more and more pushy. Is he really as friendly as he seems? Kate and her new friends decide there’s only one thing for it: the neighbour has to be dealt with. This is such an odd book. The murder at the beginning never actually seems to be cleared up, although there is a detective who shows up at the weirdest times. One of Kate’s neighbours practices what seems to be some kind of voodoo – at one point casting a love spell for Kate (which apparently works?). And the drama with the next-door neighbour takes an unexpected turn. It was a pleasant enough read and quick to get through – kind of chick-lit-ish with a slight twist – but not one I would say people need to rush out and read. If it hadn’t been in a free public bookcase I wouldn’t have picked it up. 3 stars.

Peas and Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners by Sandi Toksvig. This is literally what the title suggests – a book about manners. How should yo eat peas? What do you do if people are making a noise in the quiet carriage? How to behave when living with other people. It’s framed as a series of letters to the author’s niece, each followed by a section on how to behave in a certain situation. I was intrigued by the title and had seen a good review on it so decided to give it a go. Unfortunately it was fairly useless for me – it didn’t tell me anything about how to behave that I don’t already now. I liked Sandi Toksvig’s writing style and the beginning of the book, about the history of manners, etc., was really interesting. I also found the little asides about the origins of words interesting. Overall it was okay, a relatively quick read, but I’m not really sure who I would recommend it to, if anyone. 3 stars. At least I got to cross another non-fiction book off my list…

The Humans by Matt Haig. When Professor Andrew Martin solves a maths problem, aliens decide he needs to be eliminated because the human race is not ready for this kind of knowledge. One of their number is sent to invade his body so they can also get rid anyone with whom he has shared his findings. But then the alien tasked with taking over his body starts to experience life and discovers he actually rather likes being human. This book disappointed me. I thought I was going to absolutely adore it, but for some reason I didn’t. The perspective is interesting and I found myself agreeing with a few things (humans are absurd!) but overall it just didn’t really do it for me. It’s a good book, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great one. Also, the writing style seems almost but not quite patronising, which may be the point given the narrator but I don’t like feeling as though authors are trying to tell me I’m not clever enough. My favourite part was the list at the end (if you want to know what that means you’ll have to read it). I know other people have loved it, so if you think it sounds interesting I would say give it a go, but for me it was just 3 stars – not the 5 I expected to give it.

And that’s it for today. 18 books described and reviewed. Sorry it’s so long again! I’ve only read 4 books so far in July, so maybe next month you’ll get lucky and my round-up post will be shorter 😉

Have you read any of these books? DO you agree with my thoughts? Or have you read something good recently that you think I should try too? And if you haven’t had enough book talk, go and check out the link up for more reviews and recommendations.