I had forgotten that today was Show Us Your Books, which is why I’m writing this post late in the day after baby bedtime (well, I say baby bedtime but I’ve just put her down for the third time so we’ll see…). Luckily it won’t take too long since I only read three books in March. But that’s one more than in January or February so I’ll take it. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, as always.
The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips (The Beast and the Bethany #1). Beauty comes at a price. And no one knows that better than Ebenezer Tweezer, who has stayed young and beautiful for 511 years. How, you may wonder? Ebenezer simply has to feed the beast in the attic of his mansion. In return for meals of performing monkeys, statues of Winston Churchill, and the occasional cactus, Ebenezer gets potions that keep him young and beautiful, as well as other presents. But with every meal the beast grows greedier, and one day he announces that he’d like to eat a nice, juicy child next. Ebenezer has never done anything quite this terrible to hold onto his wonderful life. Still, he finds the absolutely snottiest, naughtiest, and most frankly unpleasant child he can and prepares to feed her to the beast. But the child, Bethany, may just be more than Ebenezer bargained for. She’s certainly a really rather rude houseguest, but Ebenezer still finds himself wishing she didn’t have to be gobbled up after all. Could it be Bethany is less meal-worthy and more…friend-worthy? This is a fun and very quick read. I loved the characters. They were really well written, even the side characters really came to life. Some of the humour was a little silly for my tastes but the right kind of child would love it. And despite the humour this is a surprisingly dark book so that balances out the silliness a bit. There are also a few things in the book that are obviously catering to adult readers – the most obvious being the reference to The Picture of Dorian Grey (except instead of a painting in the attic it’s a beast) but there were also references to a few other classics that I can’t remember now. Anyway, I gave it 4 stars.
Bonkers: My Life in Laughs by Jennifer Saunders. This is the biography of comedian Jennifer Saunders, most famous as one half of comedy duo French and Saunders and Bolly-swilling Edina from the TV series Absolutely Fabulous. It’s entertaining enough but there seemed to be a lot missing. The part about how she went from being friends with Ade Edmondson to marrying him is *very* brief – I’m still not really sure how they got together. Mainly she talks a lot about her friendship with Dawn French and how her various comedy projects came about while only briefly skimming over anything really personal, which seems to defeat the object of an autobiography. Also, as she herself frankly admits, her early life was fairly boring (which is good for her of course – a childhood free of drama and tragedy is definitely worth having!). It passed the time well enough though and the parts about writing/making Ab Fab were interesting. I read Dawn French’s autobiography a while ago and liked that a lot more (plus it made me cry). Three stars for this one. Read it if you’re a Jennifer Saunders/Ab Fab mega-fan, otherwise give it a miss.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. A cannon. A strap. A piece. A biscuit. A burner. A heater. A chopper. A gat. A hammer. A tool. For RULE. Or, you could just call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans when he enters the elevator in his apartment building. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s heading now, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? With each floor the elevator stops at, somebody else who’s connected to Will’s brother gets on. Somebody who can fill in another, bigger part of the picture Will thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if Will gets off that elevator. I really liked this It’s a really interesting way to tell a story and the story itself is thought provoking. For some reason I didn’t find it as emotional as I expected to but that’s probably a me thing. It was almost like I didn’t know Will enough to feel sad for his loss. It’s a good, quick read though. 4 stars.
That’s all I’ve got for you. Three books. One by a BIPOC/BAME author. For more book reviews make your way over to the link up. And make a note of Tuesday, 10th May for the next one.
First of all thank you to everyone who made suggestions for how to read with a small baby (I’m not sure I can continue calling her a newborn now she’s coming up 12 weeks!). Back when I wrote that post Zyma would regularly fall asleep while breastfeeding and have to constantly be reminded to drink. She’s much better now – although her new thing is wriggling and pulling and turning her head, which is slightly distracting and not really compatible with reading! I have actually remembered to bring my book into the living room in the morning for the last few weeks though, so I managed to do some reading while she napped (on me), but I’ve recently had to turn my attention to cross stitch (for a new baby gift). I can only pursue one hobby at a time so February was another two-book month.
I’m linking up with Steph and Jana as always even though I don’t have much to say! Here are the two books I read in February.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall immediately knows to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey who lost her mother tragically as a child and wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother. As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents show up, Hannah quickly realises her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity – and why he really disappeared. Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together, and as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon find themselves building a new future as well. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated. I feel like everyone and their dog was reading this last year so it was time I finally caught up! I really enjoyed this book. It wasn’t always totally believable but it kept me sucked in. If I didn’t have a newborn to care for I would have finished it in a day. I didn’t love the epilogue but it was nice to have some closure. Not sure I would really describe it as a thriller though. It’s somewhat suspenseful but not really thrilling. Anyway, 4 stars.
City of Rust by Gemma Fowler. Railey dreams of winning the drone races with her bio-robotic gecko friend, Atti. But when a bounty hunter crashes their biggest race yet, the pair are forced to flee to the feared Junker clans who mine the rubbish orbiting the Earth. Rescued by a couple of Junker kids, they discover a danger bigger than anything they’d imagined – but can three kids, a gecko and an ancient computer save the world against the huge trash bomb (and its power-crazed creator) threatening to destroy the world? This is a fun read with lots and action. I loved Atti! Some parts were confusing and I felt like a few of the characters could have been fleshed out more (Care) but it’s an enjoyable enough story and something I could imagine reading with my daughter in the future. 3.5 stars.
That’s it. Once again neither of the books I read were by BAME/BIPOC authors. Not the greatest start to THE year on that front! My goal for March is to read 3 books. Wish me luck! Check out the link up for more book reviews.
Good morning! It’s book day again with Steph and Jana. Before I get on to my reviews can I just say I have no idea how other parents of young children manage to read! Currently baby still takes caffeine citrate in the morning and she gets that together with a bottle that her dad gives her meanwhile I am pumping the milk for the next day’s bottle and I generally use that time to read. Other than that any time I’m not breastfeeding, winding, changing, comforting or just holding the baby is used for things that need to get done – like organising my COVID booster jab (this Thursday if you’re interested). Anyway, by reading while pumping I managed to get through two books.
Holy Island by L. J. Ross. Forced to take sabbatical leave from his duties as a homicide detective, Detective Chief Inspector Ryan retreats to Holy Island off the Northumbrian coast. A few days before Christmas, his peace is shattered and he is thrust back into the murky world of murder when a young woman is found dead amongst the ancient ruins of the nearby Priory. When former local girl Dr Anna Taylor arrives back on the island as a police consultant, old memories swim to the surface making her confront her difficult past. She and Ryan struggle to work together to hunt a killer who hides in plain sight, while pagan rituals and small-town politics muddy the waters of their investigation. I was excited for this book because it’s set in Northumberland (I’ve been to Lindesfarne or “Holy Island” many times, although not for years) and I definitely enjoyed the setting.The detective main character is a total cliché. Of course he has a tragic backstory! And I found myself rolling my eyes every time yet another woman on the island talked about how gorgeous he was. The blurb describes this as a detective novel but there’s a romance aspect that reads like it’s trying to be a Mills and Boon. Not that I have a problem with romance as a genre but here it feels it feels out of place and like the author should have stuck to one or the other. Plus the main character is pretty sexist and should not have been sleeping with that person in the first place. The actual crime/detective story is somewhat predictable but not bad – I was intrigued enough to read to the end. The epilogue ending is pretty far-fetched though. 2.5 stars.
Rise of the World Eater by Jamie Littler (Frostheart book 3). Ash faces his greatest challenge yet as the evil Wraith leader Shaard unleashes the dreaded Devourer from its centuries-long imprisonment. Only by uniting can the peoples of the Snow Sea hope to stand against the monster’s wrath, but as the Devourer targets the stronghold of Aurora, the tribes remain as divided as ever. In a last desperate move, Ash and the crew of the Frostheart journey to the yeti lands, where humans are forbidden, in search for the truth about the Devourer’s origins, and the one weakness that may prove its undoing. This is the third and final book in this series and it was definitely a worthy ending. It was great to learn more about Tobu’s past and I really enjoyed seeing Ash coming out of Tobu’s and Lunah’s shadows and learning to take action by himself. The Frostheart’s crew were as awesome as ever and really showed that they are there for each other no matter what. I was a little frustrated at times at just how many things had to go wrong along the way but overall I thought this was another fantastic book. 4 stars.
Neither of the books I read in January was by a BAME/BIPOC author so I haven’t got off to a great start on that front but oh well. The year is still young. Check out the link up for more book reviews from people who have more time than I do!
Hello! Once again I am typing this on my phone from a hospital bed soon apologies in advance for the lack of links and any autocorrect fails.
I was readmitted to hospital on 9th November so theoretically I should have had plenty of time to read. We shall see how many books I actually got through…
Of course I’m linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books.
Here’s what I read:
The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody by Kate Gilby Smith. On the day Alex was born, crowds surrounded the hospital. On her first day of school, people spied from the gates. And recently, strangers came to watch her perform in her school play … as the llama. But why? Alex has always been a nobody. Then a mysterious boy named Jasper starts at school and he alone seems to know the answer. But before he can tell Alex, he disappears … into the year 2100. Can Alex brave traveling into the future to discover what’s happened to him and to unravel the secret of her own astonishing destiny … before time runs out? This is a fun read. I enjoyed the friendship story. Jasper is lovely and I definitely related to his preferring books to action. I found the answer to who Alex is predictable and parts of the story felt a little simple but in fairness I’m not a child. 3.5 stars.
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. When Mary Yellan’s mother dies, her last wish is for her daughter to go and live with her sister, Patience in Bodmin. On arrival, Mary finds her aunt a frightened shell of her former self, married to the sinister and drunken Joe Merlin, proprietor of the now disreputable Jamaica Inn. From her first glimpse on that raw November eve, she senses the inn’s dark power. But never did Mary dream that she would become hopelessly ensnared in the vile, villainous schemes being hatched within its crumbling walls – or that a handsome, mysterious stranger would so incite her passions … tempting her to love a man whom she dares not trust. To me this book was just fine. I didn’t hate it but I couldn’t get into it the way I wanted to. The beginning especially was very atmospheric but at times it was almost too dramatic. I loved Rebecca but I guess this one just wasn’t for me. 2.5 stars.
The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery. Still reeling from her parents’ divorce and a life-changing accident, fourteen year old Grace comes Flambards house, out in the Essex countryside, where her mother has a job for the summer, and which just happens to be where her great-grandmother grew up. A reluctant tag-along at first, Grace gradually finds herself becoming involved with two boys: Jamie, who leads her down a path of thrilling freedom, and the deeply troubled Marcus, who is dealing with his difficult, potentially violent father, as well as uncovering more about her own family’s past. This is enjoyable enough, although a little predictable. All the conflicts/issues are resolved fairly easily without much actual input from Grace but I found the meandering storyline kind of relaxing. I especially enjoyed the parts where Grace was discovering the local wildlife – I would love to see otters in the wild! This is apparently a continuation of an older series that I’ve never heard of (by K. M. Peyton) but it works perfectly well as a standalone. 3.5 stars
The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes (Aveline Jones #2). Aveline is thrilled when she discovers that the holiday cottage her mum has rented for the summer is beside a stone circle. Thousands of years old, the local villagers refer to the ancient structure as the Witch Stones, and Aveline cannot wait to learn more about them. Then Aveline meets Hazel. Impossibly cool, mysterious yet friendly, Aveline soon falls under Hazel’s spell. In fact, Hazel is quite unlike anyone Aveline has ever met before, but she can’t work out why. Will Aveline discover the truth about Hazel, before it’s too late? I didn’t find this quite as spooky as the first one but there were still a few tense moments. I loved that Harold was part of it again – he and Aveline make a great team, and of course it was books that saved the day. Hurrah! As an adult I caught on to what was going on with Hazel fairly quickly but I think it would be less obvious to a child and it also didn’t ruin my enjoyment in way. 4 stars.
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. The year is 1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need. Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind. This book was fine but I think will ultimately be forgettable. I’ve already forgotten half the characters. The concept is definitely interesting and I enjoyed the parts with Peg (Frank’s mother). Frank’s “past hurts” are glossed over so quickly that I wondered why they were even relevant. They certainly didn’t seem to warrant his complete avoidance of love/commitment. 3 stars.
Bunny by Mona Awad. “We called them bunnies because that’s what they called themselves”. Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort–a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny,” and seem to move and speak as one. But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon,” and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door–ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision. This book is bizarre but also compelling. I didn’t want to put it down even though I was confused for most of it. I’m not even sure I can recommend it because I have no idea who it would appeal to! 4 stars.
The Polar Bear Explorer’s Club by Alex Bell. All Stella Starflake Pearl ever wanted is to be an explorer like her adopted father, Felix. But girls are forbidden from joining the various explorers clubs. So when Felix decides to take her along on his next adventure Stella feels like she has a lot to prove. Then she and three fellow junior explorers get separated from the main party. Join Stella and the others as they trek across the snowy Icelands and come face-to-face with frost fairies, snow queens, outlaw hideouts, unicorns, pygmy dinosaurs and carnivorous cabbages. Can they cross the frozen wilderness and live to tell the tale? This is a cute read and a lot of fun. I loved the characters – and especially the way Stella always stuck up for Beanie. The plot is a little predictable and some parts seemed to be glossed over very quickly without much explanation. The writing is a little simplistic at times and I feel like I don’t fully understand the world but I did really enjoy reading it. 4 stars.
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. When orphan Maia is sent to live with distant relatives who own a rubber plantation along the Amazon River, her British classmates warn her of man-eating alligators and wild, murderous Indians. But Maya looks forward to brightly coloured macaws, giant butterflies and plenty of adventure . Sure enough, she soon finds herself smack in the middle of more excitement than she ever imagined, from a mysterious “Indian” with an inheritance, to an itinerant actor dreading his impending adolescence, to a remarkable journey down the Amazon in search of the legendary giant sloth. This is delightful book, if a little clichéd. Our heroine is an orphan who is good and kind and cannot help but make friends with everyone she meets. Only the villains of the story don’t like her – and they seem to hate absolutely everything, including each other. But the writing is excellent and I really enjoyed Maia’s adventures. This is definitely a book I would have absolutely loved as a child. 4 stars.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman, leaving him with a choice to make. This is a weird and depressing book. It reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye in that the main character seems to just wander round aimlessly, having lunch here, sleeping with a woman there, without much really happening. He also seems strangely unemotional given that he’s telling a story involving the suicide of no less than three major characters. Even when he talks about how badly one particular death apparently affected him it was described in a way that I didn’t really feel anything. I also didn’t really get the ending. I didn’t hate reading this though. At the beginning I quite enjoyed it and found the writing style interesting. 2.5 stars.
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren. It’s the most wonderful time of the year… but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions. But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world – the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy. The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake… she’s on a plane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop – and finally get her true love under the mistletoe. Absolutely everybody was reading this book last year so I’m not sure my review will really add much! But anyway… This is a cute and easy read that really put me in the mood for Christmas. I loved the main character and was really rooting for her to find happiness. The love interest felt a little too perfect though, to the extent that I had trouble believing in his character. The whole time loop thing also seemed to be abandoned really quickly without any real closure. I did really enjoy reading this book though. It left me feeling all warm and fuzzy. 4 stars.
City of the Sun by Aisha Bushby (Moonchild #2). Farah is a Moonchild with a very special kind of magic and a jinni of her own. But although she loves her magical animal companion – a lizard called Layla – Farah isn’t entirely convinced that she’s cut out for the life of adventure, which seems to bring endless danger! When it becomes clear that Farah and her fellow Moonchildren – Leo and Amira – have unlocked moon magic that could destroy the Sahar Peninsula, Farah and her friends are thrust into another accidental adventure. And it takes them to a burning desert and another mysterious city which holds deadly secrets of its own… I liked this but not quite as much as the first book. It seemed slower and almost felt like it was trying to hard to “teach” the reader some mind of moral – about finding who you are or the importance of working together/letting people help you. Both fine lessons to learn but I found it a little obvious/forced. I did still enjoy the stories within the story and I really like all the jinn. 3 stars.
So that makes 11 books read in November, 2 by BAME/BIPOC authors.
Don’t forget to check out the link up for more book reviews.
Hello! It’s Show Us Your Books day again. Yay! This may come as a shock to some of you, but I actually only read four books in August. Partly because one of those books was long, but also I had a lot going on (I suspect most of you are only interested in the books, so if you care about the other stuff see my previous post).Anyway, as always I am linking up with Steph and Jana. Now onto the books.
River God by Wilbur Smith (Ancient Egypt #1). Ancient Egypt. A kingdom built on gold. A legend shattered by greed…. Now the Valley of Kings lies ravaged by war, drained of its lifeblood, as weak men inherit the cherished crown. Amongst all this is Taita, a multi-talented eunuch slave, owned by Lord Intef. Taita primarily looks after Lord Intef’s daughter, Lostris, but also plays a large role in the day-to-day running of Lord Intef’s estate. Also beside Taita is Tanus, Tanus, a proud, young army officer, who has vowed to avenge the death – at Intef’s hand – of his father, and seize Lostris as his prize. Together, the three share a dream – to restore the majesty of the Pharaoh of Pharaohs on the glittering banks of the Nile. This book is like a historical soap opera, but with more blood and brutality. The good guys are all the bravest, kindest, loyalist, most honourable people ever to have walked this earth. And stunningly gorgeous too of course – can’t forget that. And the bad guys are greedy, sadistic and just pure evil. I did enjoy reading it though, despite having to roll my eyes every time Taita turned out to be good at yet another thing. Without Taita the super slave Egypt would have been lost. Lost I tell you! 3 stars. I read this for the BBC Big Read and will likely not read any more in the series.
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard. Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable, despite all their differences. But as Caddy approaches her 16th birthday she begins to wish she could be more like Rosie. Confident, funny, interesting. Then a new girl joins Rosie’s school. Suzanne is beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious… and things suddenly get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realises, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own. It was quite refreshing to read a teen book that’s actually about friendship and doesn’t end up focusing more on boys (although Caddy is completely obsessed with wanting a boyfriend). I found myself rolling my eyes a lot at some of Caddy’s decisions but it felt realistic – I was a relatively “good” teen but I definitely did some things that were not the most sensible looking back. The teenage jealousy definitely felt real. I felt really sorry for Suzanne and cried at the end. 3.5 stars and trigger warnings for domestic violence.
The Shark Caller by Zilla Bethall. Growing up on New Island, one of the islands of Papua New Guinea, Blue Wing is desperate to become a shark caller to avenge the death of her parents. Instead, she is charged with befriending infuriating newcomer Maple, an American girl who has come to the island unexpectedly with her father. At first the two girls are too angry and out of sync to share their secrets and become friends, but when the tide breathes the promise of treasure they must journey to the bottom of the ocean to brave the deadliest shark of them all. This is a beautiful book about grief, loss, friendship and forgiveness. I know nothing about Papua New Guinea and I found the insights into its culture fascinating. I did guess the twist (although I also had a second theory about what might be going on) but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment in any way. I highly recommend this book. 4.5 stars.
The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke. When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister, Faith. Faith’s childhood was dominated by Laurel’s disappearance – from her parents’ broken marriage and the constant media attention to dealing with so-called friends who only ever wanted to talk about her sister. Thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the garden of the Logans’ old house, disorientated and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Laurel is home at last, safe and sound. Faith always dreamed of getting her sister back, without ever truly believing it would happen. But a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated and paranoid, and before long she begins to wonder if everything that’s lost can be found again. This was an interesting book. I thought Faith’s actions and emotions seemed realistic. Some parts felt a bit flat and almost dragged but I did mostly enjoy it. Unfortunately I guessed the twist at the end but that’s fine. 3 stars.
That’s it for today. Check out the link up for more book reviews. And definitely check it out next month for the seventh anniversary – the date to remember is 12 October.
(Don’t You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn. In Gardnerville, nobody ever gets sick. Outsiders who come to the town recover from their illnesses (anything from cystic fibrosis to cancer) and can go on to live long and happy lives. Sounds amazing, right? But of course, there’s a catch. Every four years whatever magic fuels Gardnerville infects the town’s teens. In a normal year, a teen might stop speaking to their best friend. In a fourth year they could end up killing them. Four years ago, Skylar’s sister, Piper, was locked away after leading sixteen of her classmates to a watery grave. Since then, Skylar has lived in a numb haze, struggling to forget her past and dull the pain of losing her sister. But the secrets and memories Piper left behind keep taunting Skylar – whispering that the only way to get her sister back is to stop Gardnerville’s murderous cycle once and for all. book is bizarre and confusing, but also kind of fascinating. I guessed one twist (the main one I suppose) but not the details. There are some things I still don’t think I really understand but I did mostly enjoy reading it. It’s definitely unique! 3.5 stars.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Brown Sisters #2). Danika Brown doesn’t do romance. he’s been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. Professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension are all she wants. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits – someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom. When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. Butthen a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Suddenly half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse? Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own. Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint? This is such a happy book. Both main characters are dealing with their issues and there are some serious parts, but their interactions are just so heartwarming, as are Zaf’s with his family and best friend. His mum is awesome! Zaf is the sweetest. He always said the right thing and just seemed like such a genuinely kind, caring person. Dani is hilarious and actually really lovely even though she doesn’t realise it herself. I kind of missed her sisters a bit in this book – I was glad to finally get a proper scene with them towards the end. I can’t wait to read Eve’s book! 4 stars.
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Everyone knows iconic 70s rock group Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the real reason why they split at the absolute height of their popularity…until now. Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go-Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Another band getting noticed is The Six, led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realises the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. I enjoyed this. It reads very realistically and I could easily believe it was a real rock band. The format made it a quick read but meant it was slightly difficult to really get to know the characters or be emotionally invested in anyone since it never really stayed with individual people for long enough. Most of them seemed like terrible people anyway, but I did really like Karen. 4 stars.
Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey. Violet Willoughby doesn’t believe in ghosts, especially since her mother has worked as a fraudulent medium for a decade. Violet has taken part in enough of her mother’s tricks to feel more than a little jaded about anything supernatural. The ghosts, however, believe in Violet. Now she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death. Violet must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose. This is an entertaining enough read. At times I had trouble believing Violet was from the 1800s – something about her just felt weirdly modern – but I did like her. The other characters were harder to get to know. There were too many of them and I honestly couldn’t tell you who exactly was even there. The solution was maybe a little predictable, although I was briefly misled in the middle so it wasn’t too bad. Violet’s mother is a horrible, horrible person and I wished she’d got her comeuppance (she kind of did but not nearly enough). Overall it’s a quick and fun read that passed a few hours just fine. 3 stars.
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis. For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mum to cancer has her a little bit traumatised and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known. Anthony Stone is a rich man with four other daughters – and rules for every second of the day. Tiffany tries to make the best of things, but feels like she doesn’t fit into her new luxurious, but super-strict, home. The only thing that makes her new life even remotely bearable is the strange boy across the street,. Marcus McKinney who has had his own experiences with death. But Tiffany has a secret. Another man claims he’s actually Tiffany’s real dad – and she only has seven days before he shows up to demand a paternity test and the truth comes out. With her life about to fall apart all over again, Tiffany finds herself discovering unexpected truths about her father, her mother and herself, and realising that maybe family is in the bonds you make. There was a lot I liked about this book. Tiffany is a fantastic character – she’s so strong despite everything she’s been through. Despite her anxiety she’s not about to take her dad’s meanness described as strictness/being a good parent lying down. And her dad is mean – his holier-than-though attitude made me so, so mad. I especially hated the way he treated his autistic daughter – it was basically abuse (I’m not sure the toddler needed to be autistic though and I prefer not to comment on how her autism was portrayed/represented because I don’t know enough). I kind of wanted to slap Tiffany’s step-mum – she had obviously stood up to her husband/set an ultimatum at least once in her life so I would have liked to see her step up again and tell him straight that she was not going to let him “discipline” the autism out of her daughter! Marcus – Tiffany’s neighbour/friend is also awesome. Weird, but awesome. 3.5 stars.
The Case of the Missing Moonstone byJordan Stratford (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #1). Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude -but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, when Mary is sent to share Ada’s tutor, she also becomes her first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary. This book is cute. As you probably guessed, it’s (very) loosely based on The Moonstone. It does require quite a bit of suspension of belief (especially the very convenient ending) but I feel like most young children wouldn’t notice, and this feels like it’s meant for relatively young children – maybe 7-9ish. It’s a fun introduction to the Victorian era and while to does take liberties with timelines I found the characters interesting. One thing that irritated me was the constant references to “math” – Ada is British so I’m fairly sure she’s into maths! 3 stars.
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. Tom and Penny belong to a world so perfect there’s no war, no poverty, no under-ripe avocados. But when something awful happens to Penny, and Tom tries to make it right, he accidentally destroys everything, and finds himself in our broken, dysfunctional world. Only here, Penny and Tom have a second chance. Should Tom go back to his brilliant but loveless existence, or risk everything by staying in our messy, complicated world for his one and only chance at true love? I have no idea how to review this book. It was weird and slightly confusing, the main character is annoying and not very likeable – and that’s despite the fact that he’s telling the story and obviously he at least thinks he’s the good guy. But the concept was really interesting and something about it made me want to keep reading so clearly it can’t have been all bad. I definitely didn’t hate it. Honestly, I don’t really have any particularly strong feelings towards it either way. I think I liked it slightly more than I disliked it. I guess that’s what people mean by damning with faint praise… 2.5 stars.
How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss. Hattie’s summer isn’t exactly going the way she would have liked. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to “find himself” and Kat’s in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and working at a local cafe. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby… Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future. I really njoyed this. Hattie and Gloria are both fantastic characters. Gloria’s story was absolutely heartbreaking and I was not expecting parts of it at all. Reuben is a waste of space and an idiot! The side characters are also well fleshed out for the most part – Hattie’s step-dad is a sweetheart and her sister Alice is hilarious. 4 stars.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet. The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect? I feel bad that I didn’t love this book like everyone else seemed to. I liked it and there were certain parts I really enjoyed, but honestly every time I put it down I felt no desire to pick it back up. I found Desiree’s story way more interesting than Stella’s. I thought it would be the other way round, I was really intrigued to find out how Stella passed for white, what advantages it gave her, etc. but when she ended up being a rich housewife I lost interest. I would have been more interested to see how she gained privileges as a normal person, but by marrying a rich man I felt like she just leap-frogged everyone and ended up being super privileged in a way that even most white people aren’t. Also, her refusal to talk about her past meant I never really got a sense of how it was for her to have given up everything in her old life. With Desiree, it was clear that without Stella she felt like part of her was missing but the other way round? No idea.I just felt like none of it went deep enough. I actually would have liked to see more of Desiree’s life back in Mallard and less of Stella falling out with her daughter. Not that I didn’t like the book… I did. But I was expecting to love it and ultimately ended up disappointed. 4 stars.
My favourite book of the month was probably Take a Hint, Dani Brown.
I am having to type this from my phone again, and yes it’s still annoying. Especially the adding links part. But I refuse to miss Show Us Your Books day just because technology hates me! So here we are. I’m linking up with Jana and Steph, of course. Here’s what I read in June:
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. It’s New Year’s Eve and a teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called on to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed. The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must. This is a hard book to describe. I can definitely see that a lot of people would hate it. The writing style is unusual and it’s very repetitive. I actually kind of enjoyed it though. If you go into this book thinking it’s going to be a mystery about a missing girl you will be disappointed. It’s more a story about a village, somewhat also about the people in it. The missing girl provides the starting point for the story, and she comes up throughout as people remember her, but it’s not really her story at all. I do have to admit to being a little disappointed that we never did find out what happened to Rebecca though! 4 stars.
A Spoonful of Murder by Robin Stevens (Murder Most Unladylike #6). When Hazel Wong’s beloved grandfather passes away, Daisy Wells is all too happy to accompany her friend (and Detective Society Vice President) to Hazel’s family estate in beautiful, bustling Hong Kong. But when they arrive they discover something they didn’t expect: there’s a new member of the Wong family. Daisy and Hazel think baby Teddy is enough to deal with, but as always the girls are never far from a mystery. Tragedy strikes very close to home, and this time Hazel isn’t just the detective.. it appears she’s also a suspect! The girls must work together like never before, confronting dangerous gangs, mysterious suspects and sinister private detectives to solve the murder and clear Hazel’s name – before it’s too late. This book is fantastic! I loved seeing Hazel come into her own and be the one who knew what was going on. I was greatly amused whenever Daisy sulked because she didn’t understand something. Petty maybe but she deserved to be shown that Hazel is just as good as her. Hazel’s little sister May is hilarious. And I loved the Hong Kong setting. It’s great to see the series back on track after a disappointing book 4. (Book 5 was great and this one is even better). 5 stars.
Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks. When Charlotte offers to take her best friend Harriet’s daughter to the school fair, she expects nothing more than a fun, care-free day. She swears she only took her eyes off the children for one second. But when her three kids all emerge from a ride safe and sound whole Harriet’s daughter Alice is nowhere to be found, Charlotte panics. Frantically searching everywhere, Charlotte knows she must find the courage to tell Harriet that her beloved only child is missing. And admit that she has only herself to blame. Harriet, devastated by this unthinkable, unbearable loss, can no longer bring herself to speak to Charlotte again, much less trust her. Now more isolated than ever and struggling to keep her marriage afloat, Harriet believes nothing and no one. But as the police bear down on both women trying to piece together the puzzle of what happened to this little girl, dark secrets begin to surface – and Harriet discovers that confiding in Charlotte again may be the only thing that will reunite her with her daughter. This is a fantastic thriller. I was not expecting the twist (I had actually guessed something else). What I really liked was how the book described the fall out from what happened – it seemed very realistic. I felt terrible for poor Charlotte! I also liked the ending – things didn’t work out too neatly. The characters’ feelings at the end made a lot of sense and I liked that it wasn’t nicely wrapped up with a happily ever after bow. 4 stars.
Where the Light Gets in by Lucy Dillon. While working at a nursing home, Lorna meets Betty. Defiant to the end, Betty encourages Lorna to face her fears… which is how she ends up in Longhampton, the childhood home she swore she would never see again. If Lorna’s learned one thing from Betty it’s that courage is something you paint on like red lipstick, even when you’re panicking inside. And right now, with the keys to the town’s gallery in her hand, Lorna feels about as courageous as Betty’s anxious little dachshund, Rudy, trembling beside her. Lorna’s come home to Longhampton to fulfil a long-held dream, but she knows, deep down, that she needs to lay her ghosts to rest first. As Lorna – and the little dog – tentatively open their cracked hearts to old friends and new ones, facing hard truths and fresh promises, something surprisingly beautiful begins to grow around the gallery. This is a fun, heartwarming read. I was expecting a romance, but it’s more a story about family and friendships really. There are little sprinklings of romance in there with two potential love interests but it’s not really a focus of the book. I loved the doggy characters – anxious little Rudy and Bernard the border terrier, who can be a bit of a handful. Joyce is a real character and I loved the little snippets we got to know of her past. I weirdly kept forgetting the main character’s name though – I just found all the other characters so much more interesting than her! She’s one of those people that’s almost too nice and just lets people walk all over her. Several times I found myself thinking if she’d just open her mouth and communicate occasionally she wouldn’t be in this situation. The other characters made up for it though. 4 stars.
Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean. Things aren’t going great for Archie Albright. His mum and dad are acting weird, and they’re doing a terrible job of pretending they don’t hate each other. All he wants is for everything to go back to normal, to three months before when his parents were happy and still lived together. If only he could figure out what the secret is that they’re keeping from him! When Archie sees a colourful, crumpled flyer fall out of Dad’s pocket, he thinks he may have found the answer. Only problem? The answer might just lie at the end of the rainbow – an adventure away. Together with his best friends, Bell and Seb, Archie sets off on a heartwarming and unforgettable journey to try and fix his family, even if he has to break a few rules to do it. This is a wonderful book. Very wholesome and heartwarming with some funny moments. Archie’s friends are fantastic. I did feel like the story was a bit superficial in some places – it just barely scratched the surface of it being okay for Archie to be upset about his dad being gay and I feel like it could have gone a lot deeper into that. I also would have liked to see Archie have a more serious conversation with his dad – they did eventually talk but it seemed to be over in a few sentences then everything was resolved and they all apparently lived happily ever after. My heart went out to Archie’s mum – she was so supportive of her husband while at the same time obviously struggling with the loss of the marriage she thought she had. 4 stars.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #1). While sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song has never had a boyfriend, she has been in love – five times. And she’s written a love letter to each of them, which she keeps in a hatbox her mother gave her. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control. Especially since one letter, the newest one, is sent to Josh – the very recent ex-boyfriend of her older sister, who has just left for college! First of all, full disclosure – I had never intended to read this series. But I was looking for a book by a POC author to read and every single thing I looked up from my to-read list wasn’t available on Scribd. Finally I remembered this series and decided to give book 1 a try. It turned out to be a cute and fun read. I enjoyed that there’s a lot about family along with the romance. Lara Jean’s sister Kitty is awesome – she may be my new favourite little sister in fiction. It’s a very teenage book and a bit overly dramatic at times but that’s kind of to be expected. There were things about Peter (the main love interest, kind of) that I didn’t like but he does seem to be a good person and not your typical popular boy which was kind of nice. The ending annoys me – it’s so clearly contrived to make you want to continue the series! Luckily I actually could read the next one straight away, but I hate it when authors do that. 4 stars.
P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #2). Don’t read this synopsis if you haven’t read the first book in this series and still want to ;-). Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. All along, they were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t – and now Lara Jean is more confused than ever. When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once? I didn’t like this one quite as much as the first book. I feel like introducing yet another potential love interest on top of everything else going on between Lara Jean and Peter was a bit much – even if the new guy was very sweet. I did enjoy it though. Once again Kitty was the star for me. 3.5 stars.
Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #3). Lara Jean is having the best senior year. And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends. Life couldn’t be more perfect! At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks… until she gets some unexpected news. Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans – but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to? I actually read the book I’m reviewing next before this one, but I thought I would keep the trilogy together here. didn’t enjoy this one as much as the others. It’s still cute but it doesn’t really add anything to the series. There’s not much of a plot to be honest – Lara Jean is just kind of living her life: baking, hanging out with her sister and boyfriend, crafting. It was quick and fun to read but ultimately I think I’ll forget most of it very quickly. 3 stars.
I’ll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark (Alvirah & WIlly #8). Two years after the day that her son Matthew was kidnapped in broad daylight, Alexandra Moreland is still torn between hope and despair. Now, on what would have been Matthew’s fifth birthday, photos surface that seem to show Alexandra kidnapping her own child. Her ex-husband blames her and even her good friends Alvirah and Willy seem to doubt her story. Alexander believes someone is pretending to be her. But who could it be… and why take Matthew? This book was fine. It’s apparently part of a series but that doesn’t matter at all when reading it. The premise is interesting but the solution is a bit predictable and some of it is far-fetched – nobody can be that good a makeup artist that someone who has literally met and spoken to them both couldn’t tell them apart. And even if they looked identical wouldn’t they have different voices? I also thought the motive was a little weak. It’s as if the author wanted to write about identity theft but then couldn’t come up with a plausible but still interesting reason why someone would do that. It’s an easy read though and I did like some of the characters. 2.5 stars.
No Way Out by Cara Hunter (DI Adam Fawley #3). It’s the Christmas holidays, and two children have just been pulled from the wreckage of their burning home in North Oxford. The toddler is dead, and his older brother is left fighting for his life. Why were they left in the house alone? Where is their mother, and why is their father not answering his phone? Then new evidence is discovered, and DI Fawley’s worst nightmare comes true. Because this fire wasn’t an accident. It was murder. I didn’t love this book quite as much as the first two in the series – possibly because I partially guessed the solution – but I still enjoyed it a lot. There are many twists and turns – another reviewer described it as peeling back the layers of an onion and that’s exactly right. I enjoy the way Cara Hunter always uses things like news articles (complete with comments) and social media in her books – showing how quick people are to judge a situation they know nothing about. DI Fawley is having some issues in his private life and takes a bit of a backseat in parts for this one, which was kind of nice since it allowed us to learn a bit more about some of the members of his team. 4 stars. I highly recommend this series.
And that’s it for this round. Total books read in June: 10. By BAME/BIPOC authors: 4 (yes, 2 were from the same series but it still counts!).
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but once I saw the starting point I really wanted to join in. I used to get Beverly Cleary books from the library when I was about 7 or 8 – I remember choosing the first one because I was so excited to see that a real life author had my name! Obviously being British mine is spelled Beverley, like the town in Yorkshire.
So, the idea of this game is that everyone starts with the same book – in this case Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Clearly – then adds six more books, each of which links in some way to the one before it, and we see where we end up. The host is Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best and the link up takes place on the first Saturday of the month (yes, I’m a day late linking up).
So, as I have said, Kate’s chosen starting point this month was Beezus and Ramona – very fitting giving Beverly Clearly died not long ago. This is about two sisters – Beezus (real name Beatrice) is the older sister and she often finds it hard to deal with having a little sister like four-year-old Ramona, who usually means well but is quite a handful!
For my first link, I have chosen another story about a mischievous younger sibling. My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards. This one is a little old-fashioned now (it was first published in 1962) but still great fun to read, featuring such stories as the time the narrator’s naughty little sister fell in the stream and got all wet or ate all the trifle at her friend’s birthday party.
From one naughty girl to another… my next link in the chain is The Naughtiest Girl in the School by Enid Blyton. I loved Enid Blyton as a child and I found her Naughtiest Girl books fascinating – a school where the children mostly govern themselves with the teachers only stepping in occasionally? So interesting (to seven-year-old me).
Sticking with the boarding school theme, my next choice is The Chalet School series by ELino M. Brent Dyer… the first of which is The School at the Chalet. I first discovered a few of these books at my grandma’s house (they originally belonged to one of my aunts) and since I loved them so much she let me keep them. I then went on to collect as many as I could, mostly from second-hand book shops (although books 1 and 2 were published as a collection under the title “School Stories” so I got that one new for one of my birthdays). To this day, I absolutely adore this series about an English woman who sets up a school in the Austrian Tirol. It later moves to Guernsey and then a Welsh island because of the Second World War and eventually ends up in Switzerland.
I feel like I should add another book with a Swiss connection since I live there, so up next is Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Do I need to tell you what this book is about? Heid is an orphan who’s aunt sends her to live with her gruff old grandfather in the Swiss mountains. Just as she’s got settled in and come to love the place, her aunt turns up again and forces her to move to Frankfurt to act as a companion to a sickly girl named Klara. Will Heidi ever see her beloved mountains again?
Next, another book about an orphan who is sent to live with relatives – Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery. Emily is slightly less famous than Montogomery’s other orphan, Anne (of Green Gables), but after reading this book for the first time last year I discovered I actually prefer Emily to Anne!
My final link is a little tenuous… but the title of the last book made me think of Emlyn’s Moon by Jenny Nimmo. This is the second book in the Snow Spider trilogy, another series I loved and adored when I was around 7. The Snow Spider was always my favourite of the three books, but I loved the main character in this one – Nia, the middle child in a large family who has always been led to believe that she’s the dull one who can’t do anything but proves she’s really quite special in this book.
So, that’s my chain. All children’s books, all quite different, and all but one very much loved by tiny me.
If you want to see everyone else’s links, see Kate’s post here. And if you want to join in please do – I would love to see what you come up with (obviously don’t forget to link to Kate and also add the link to your chain on her post).
That’s all for today. I hope everyone is well and happy.
Hello! Happy Show Us Your Books day! Like every month, I’m linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I’ve been reading. There are a few to get through so I’ll just launch straight in.
Anxious People by Frederik Backman When a failed bank robbery turns into a hostage situation at an open-house apartment viewing, eight anxious people find themselves trapped in a room together. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers gradually begin opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths. As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book at first. It’s all a bit too weird and quirky. But somehow it was also fascinating in a way that wouldn’t let me stop reading. Even though it all felt a bit far-fetched (and I couldn’t believe anyone would act the way these characters did while being interviewed by the police!) I also felt like I just had to know how it all came together. It ends up being a very clever puzzle and the author did a good job of putting it all together, but the overwhelming feeling I came out with was melancholy. I feel like nobody actually knows what they’re doing and we’re all just wandering through life making a whole series of bad or sometimes slightly less bad decisions. There are some nice touching moments and I think the ending and the overall message was supposed to be hopeful but personally I came out of it just feeling kind of down – which I suppose is the sign of a good author, being able to manipulate my emotions to that extent. 4 stars.
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne. For Farah and Dougan the only thing that makes life at Applecross Orphanage bearable is their friendship, which deepens into love as the years pass. Shortly after they seal their love in a “handfasting” ceremony at the ages of 10 and 13, the two are torn apart. Seventeen years later. Farah, now a clerk at Scotland Yard, where she is known as the widowed Mrs Mackenzie meets Dorian Blackwell. Known as the Blackheart of Ben More, Dorian is a ruthless villain – one of London’s wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him… and will fight to the death to seize what he wants – including Farah. But Farah is no one’s puppet. She possesses a powerful secret—one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he’d long thought dead? I enjoyed this. It was a fun read. It’s kind of predictable but honestly what romance isn’t? I really liked Farah – she doesn’t take anyone’s crap. I will most likely continue the series. 4 stars.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. There are no monsters any more – or so Jam and the other children growing up in Lucille have always been told. But one night, Jam meets Pet, Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood. Pet has come to hunt a monster – a monster it claims is lurking in Jam’s best friend Redemption’s house. Jam isn’t sure what to think, but if there’s even a chance that Redemption could be in danger she has to find out the truth. And so she must fight not only to protect her best friend but to find the answer to the question: How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist? It seems weird to describe a book as both charming and dark but that’s exactly how it felt to me. Jam’s family and friends are so loving and accepting of her. It’s mentioned early on that she’s trans and not a single person batted an eyelid when she told them she was a girl (at age 3). She rarely speaks out loud and it seemed like most of the town learned sign language to communicate with her – not just family friends but even the town librarian. And her relationship with best friend Redemption is the most lovely, heart-warming thing I’ve read in a while. Even when he tells her something unbelievable he believes her immediately without question. Then there’s the other side. They’ve always been told that monsters don’t exist any more, but now a creature named Pet is telling them that not only are there still monsters but one of them has been right under their noses the whole time. The moment when Redemption realised who he thought might be the victim of the monster was heartbreaking. And the end took a very dark turn – I would definitely not let anyone under about 12 it 13 read this book. The whole discussion of monsters and how assuming/claiming there aren’t any could cloud people’s judgement so that they missed all the signs is thought provoking and very relevant to our times. How do you know how the monsters are if they look like everybody else? My one complaint about this book – and it’s relatively minor – is I would have liked to know more about the world. What happened to the monsters? Is it just Lucille that’s monster free or the entire world – and if there are monsters elsewhere now do they keep them out? Are young people’s monitored for signs that they might grow up as “monsters”? Maybe I’m just expecting too much of a children’s book. 4 stars anyway.
Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicholl. Cora has no interest in being dragged along to her brother’s work do. She certainly doesn’t expect to make a friend there. Then she meets Adrien, son of the intimidating CEO of Pomegranate Technologies, and the first person ever to understand how Cora feels being neurodiverse in a world that isn’t made for people like her (Cora is autistic and Adrien has ADHD). As she becomes part of Adrien’s life, she is also drawn into the mysterious projects at Pomegranate. At first, she’s intrigued by them – Pomegranate is using AI to recreate real people in hologram form, with the aim of eventually allowing people to speak with relatives who have passed away. Having lost her mother a year ago, Cora can understand exactly why people would want another chance to talk to a loved one. But as she digs deeper, she uncovers darker secrets… Cora knows she must unravel their plans, but can she fight to make her voice heard, whilst never losing sight of herself? This book is a roller-coaster! There were so many ups and downs. What Pomegranate Industries was doing is genuinely disturbing. I totally got Cora’s dad’s concerns even before Cora uncovered the truth. It was an absolutely fascinating plot though. I loved the characters – even the villain in a love-to-hate kind of way. Cora’s friendship with Adrien is just the best, and of course I LOVE the dog. I cannot recommend this book enough.It’s slightly lacking in world building/some explanations (e.g. it’s never explained why people aren’t allowed to fly any more – I’m guessing climate change but it’s never actually addressed) but I gave it 5 stars anyway because I genuinely enjoyed it that much.
Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. Becky Bloomwood has a fabulous flat in London’s trendiest neighbourhood, a troupe of glamorous socialite friends, and a closet brimming with the season’s must-haves. The only trouble is, she can’t actually afford any of it. Her job writing for finance magazine Successful Savings not only bores her to tears, it doesn’t pay much at all. And lately the bank has been chasing her, sending letters with huge red numbers that Becky can’t bear to even look at. She tries cutting back. But none of her efforts succeeds. Becky’s only consolation is to buy herself something … just a little something… Finally she stumbles on a story that she actually cares about, and her front-page article catalyses a chain of events that will transform her life – and the lives of those around her – forever. I remember when this came out (my first year of uni) and it was absolutely everywhere. Somehow I never actually got round to reading it though, so when I spotted it in a free public bookcase I decided to grab it and see what all the fuss was about. It’s a fast, fun read but kind of ridiculous. Becky really annoyed me at times. The ending is kind of ridiculous but it’s exactly what I expect from this kind of book. If I had actually read it back in the day I would have adored it. At nearly 38 I just liked it. I did have fun remembering early 2000s life though – not many mobile phones, no Facebook, etc. – but I won’t bother tracking down the rest of the series. 3 stars.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed Midwestern town. But it’s okay – Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend Pennington College on a music scholarship, become a doctor, find a cure for the sickle cell disease that took her mother from her. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down… until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants less than to endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams… or make them come true? This is cute and fun even while dealing with some serious issues. I loved the characters – mostly. Liz’s friend Gabi kind of annoyed me at times and “mean girl” Rachel was sooo stereotypical. The ending was a little predictable and almost too perfect but that’s par for the course with this kind of book. My absolute favourite thing was the relationship between Leah and her brother – everything about their interactions was so heart warming. 4 stars.
Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis. At sixteen, Emmie Blue released a red balloon with her name, email address and a secret she desperately wanted to be rid of. Against the odds, Lucas Moreau found her balloon and emailed her, sparking an intense friendship between the two teens. Now, on the eve of their shared 30th birthday, Emmie is desperately hoping that Lucas is finally about to ask her to become his girlfriend – but instead he announces he is marrying someone else. Suddenly all Emmie’s dreams are shattered and she feels like she’s losing the only person on her life she can rely on. But what if Lucas isn’t her forever after all? What if her love story is only just beginning… This book is cute with some great characters – Emmie’s co-workers Rosie and Fox are hilarious. I loved every scene they appeared in. Certain aspects of the plot were very predictable – not just in the way that romance is always predictable but as in the second the person Emmie was “truly” meant to be with appeared I knew it was him and I also totally guessed something else that was integral to their eventual relationship. So one star off for that but overall I did really enjoy it. 4 stars.
Naomi’s Room by Jonathan Aycliffe. Charles and Laura are a young, happily married couple inhabiting the privileged world of Cambridge academia. One Christmas Eve, Charles sets off with their four-year-old daughter Naomi on a shopping trip to London. But, by the end of the day, all Charles and his wife have left are cups of tea and police sympathy. For Naomi, their beautiful, angelic only child, has disappeared. Days later her murdered body is discovered. But is Naomi really gone? This book started off well – very creepy and atmospheric, but the second half was almost too convoluted. I would have preferred more of a pure haunting than the “twist” with a certain person taking a more active role (trying to avoid spoilers there!). 2.5 stars.
The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde (The Last Dragonslayer #2). A long time ago magic faded away, leaving behind only yo-yos, the extremely useful compass-pointing-to-North enchantment and the spell that keep bicycles from falling over. Things are about to change. Magical power is on the rise and King Snodd IV of Hereford has realised that he who controls magic controls almost anything. One person stands between Snodd and his plans for power and riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. Meet Jennifer Strange, sixteen-year-old acting manager of Kazam, the employment agency for sorcerers and soothsayers. With only one functioning wizard and her faithful assistant ‘Tiger’ Prawns, Jennifer must use every ounce of ingenuity to derail King Snodd’s plans. It may involve a trip on a magic carpet at the speed of sound to the Troll Wall, the mysterious Transient Moose, and a powerless sorceress named Once Magnificent Boo. But one thing is certain: Jennifer Strange will not relinquish the noble powers of magic to big business and commerce without a fight. If you think that synopsis sounds bizarre you would be right! I remember really liking the first book in the series. Admittedly it’s been a while but this one just wasn’t as enjoyable. It’s very silly but to me somehow lacked in imagination. I liked the characters but the actual plot just isn’t that interesting. It’s quick and fun though and I don’t regret reading it. 3 stars.
Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen. Leelu, her mum and her older brother have moved from her warm, bright home country to cold, grey London. The neighbours are noisy, there’s concrete everywhere and Leelu struggles to fit in. Worst of all, they had to leave their father behind at home. But Leelu is not alone; someone is leaving her gifts outside her house – wonders which give her curious magical powers. Powers that could help her find a way home. In my opinion Leelu’s struggles with being in a new country and missing her dad was the best part of this book. Particularly the scenes in school where she felt out of place and scared were incredibly well written. And I loved her friendship with the refugee girl from next door. It provided a lovely spark of joy in an otherwise fairly dark book. The touch of magical realism was fun but I felt a little uncomfortable about her friendship with Bo – the old man neighbour. Obviously he ultimately turned out to be fine but I would have preferred if maybe her mum had met him first and he had become established as a trusted adult before Leelu went into his house. Maybe that’s me looking at it’s from too much of an adult perspective but I would not want my child thinking it’s okay to go off with random adults! 3.5 stars.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston. Amari Peters’ big brother Quniton has gone missing and she’s convinced it has to do with his mysterious job. So when she gets an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain this is her chance to find Quinton. But first she has to get her head around the idea that mermaids, aliens and magicians are real, and her roommate is a weredragon. Amari must compete against kids who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives, and when each trainee is awarded a special supernatural talent, Amari is given an illegal talent – one that the Bureau views as dangerous. With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is the enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three try-outs, she may never find out what happened to her brother. magical book! It’s very much character and plot-driven – the actual writing is nothing special. But the world is fantastic. It reminded me of Nevermoor in many ways, but this one is closer to our world (in a similar way to Harry Potter as in all this magical stuff is right there but normal people can’t see it) and also has a Men in Black vibe. It could have used a bit more editing – within the space of a few pages there were a few mistakes (one was just they’re instead of their, but the other was missing word and it threw me right out of the story). Amari is bullied for being different and the main instigator was such a spoiled mean girl cliché that I had trouble taking her seriously. I definitely recommend this book though and will read the next in the series when it comes out. 4 stars.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream – a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength. Most people probably already know this book. A lot would have read it in school. I didn’t. Objectively, this is a good book. It’s well written. There’s a good message. Everyone loves it. Personally I liked it okay but I didn’t love and adore it like most reviweres seem to. It’s a quick enough read that I would say read it and make up your own mind. 3 stars.
Waking Gods by Sylvain Nuevel (Themis Files #2). As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day. Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers – and even more perplexing questions. Now human-kind faces a deadly nightmare – can Dr Franklin and her team unlock the final secrets behind Themis before it’s too late? I’ve tried to make that synopsis as vague as possible to avoid spoiling the first in the series for those that haven’t read it! I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first one. It answered some of the questions from the first book but a lot of the answers were kind of underwhelming. The format again made it a relatively quick read but I felt like I couldn’t fully connect with the characters. The addition of some personal diary entries helped a bit bit for the most part I still felt like I didn’t fully understand their motivations. I will finish the series though because I want to know where it’s going with the way it ended. 3 stars.
Tell No One by Harlan Coben. Eight years ago David Beck was knocked unconscious and left for dead,and his wife Elizabeth was kidnapped and murdered. Everyone tells him it’s time to move on, to forget the past once and for all. Then an image of Elizabeth appears on David’s computer screen, and suddenly he is taunted with the impossible – that somehow, somewhere Elizabeth is still alive. The messages come with a warning: tell no one. And he doesn’t. But soon Beck himself is being hunted down… This book is certainly action-packed. It pulls you in at the beginning and just doesn’t let up. It ended up being a little too convoluted for me though and a few things were a little too convenient. Plus the final twist at the end just didn’t make sense. I also got so tired of hearing about what an angel Elizabeth was. Nobody is that perfect! A good way to pass the time but far from being a new favourite thriller. 3 stars.
For the third month in a row, I read 14 books and four of them were by BAME/BIPOC authors. I really need to up my game, but it’s difficult when I’m trying not to spend and most of my owned books are by white people. I should make more use of Scribd!
TL;DR: I ended up enjoying Anxious People but it’s a strange book and definitely not for everyone. I LOVED Show Us Who You Are. Pet is thought-provoking and interesting. You Should See Me in a Crown and Dear Emmie Blue are both cute with great characters (the first is YA, the second adult contemporary). Amari and the Night Brothers is reminiscent of Nevermoor and Men in Black. I recommend it if you enjoy books for their plot and characters and don’t mind so much about amazing writing.
That’s it for this month. Tell me what you’ve been reading recently. And don’t forget to visit the link up for more book reviews.
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.
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.