What I read in January 2018

Hello! I’m back again for another round of Show Us Your Books with Steph and Jana… very late to the party given the link up was on Tuesday when I was on a train for two hours then in the office then back on a train for another two hours. No time for blogging! But I am here now and I want to talk about reading.

After only finishing 4 books in December, I did really well in January managing to complete the first round of Erin’s book challenge in 20 days. That’s 10 books read from 1st to 20th January, leaving me with another 11 days for non-challenge reading. So let’s take a look at my January books.

Challenge books first, then the rest. Apologies in advance – this is going to get long!

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The Lost Twin (Scarlet and Ivy book 1) by Sophie Cleverley (288 pages, read for: book with a mostly red cover). I absolutely adored this book. It’s both a boarding school book and a mystery, and it features twins, three things I’ve always loved in a book. Where were all the books like this when I was 10? The basic story is that 11-year-old Ivy is “invited” (i.e. forced) to a prestigious boarding school to take the place of her sister, Scarlet, who has disappeared. Once there, she finds a series of clues planted by Scarlet, which she follows in attempt to get her twin back. I loved Ivy and her room mate/best friend Ariadne, I loved the mystery… basically I loved everything about this book. Five stars and highly recommended!

A Parcel for Anna Browne by Miranda Dickinson (528 pages, read for: book with a character name in the title). The basic idea of this book is that the titular Anna Browne starts receiving mysterious packages at work, each of which makes her feel special and encourages her to come out of the shadows and change her life for the better. Most of her friends find it creepy, but Anna thinks it’s nice. Eventually she decides she does want to know who is sending the packages, so she can at least say thank you. Sounds like a fun story, right? I really wanted to love this one. I mean, mysterious packages – it sounds so intriguing! But somehow I just couldn’t get into this one the way I wanted to. Anna is a perfectly nice character, but that’s all she is… just nice. Almost too nice at times. And bland. Except when she’s getting weirdly possessive about her parcels and refusing to open them until she’s own her own. “It’s my gift… why should anybody else get the pleasure of seeing me open it“. My precioussss! When the reveal finally came I was disappointed – it just didn’t make sense to me! (Although I can’t say why without spoiling it). There is also a romance that I just didn’t get at all. They just don’t seem to have anything in common. I gave it three stars because it’s a perfectly nice story, but nothing more than that.

Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas (368 pages, read for: a book that starts with L). This one is difficult to review. It’s basically the story  of a woman – Francesca or Frankie, whose best friend disappeared, presumed drowned twenty years ago. When human remains are found, Frankie returns to the village she grew up in to face her past. It should have been precisely the kind of thriller I love, but somehow it wasn’t. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t keep me wanting to read it when I should have been doing something else. It’s rare that I can easily put a book down because it’s time to sleep! I didn’t guess what happened, but a lot of people did so I guess I’m slow. There is a rape scene, so be aware of that if that is likely to upset you. I gave this one 3 stars.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold (352 pages, read for: a book that takes place (mostly) on a form of transport). After two mediocre books, this one was a breath of fresh air. I LOVED it! When Mim Malone’s parents divorce, she is forced to move from Ohio to Mississippi with her dad and new stepmother. A conversation she overhears leads her to believe her mother needs her, she sets off on a Greyhound bus, meeting a whole bunch of quirky characters along the way. Mim obviously has issues and is entirely unreliable as a narrator, but I still found myself adoring her and rooting for her all the way. I gave this book 5 stars, although in the interests of honesty I should point out that that may have been a reaction to how “meh” I found the previous books. To an extent, my ratings are always dependent on my current mood though, so it’s really nothing new.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (282 pages, read for: a book from a specific list of books with twists). Okay, first of all I have to say I have no idea why this book was on the list it was on. There wasn’t really a twist, as such. While it’s not immediately obvious what’s going on, the knowledge is imparted gradually throughout the book starting from very early on. Anyway, it’s really hard to review this book without spoiling it. You really need to go in not knowing what’s going on. It’s creepy and dystopian and raises interesting questions about people’s willingness to go along with things. And that’s all I’m saying. Just read it. 5 stars.

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (336 pages, read as my freebie). This book has a bit of everything… teenage pregnancy, illegal immigration, first love, a woman who has no idea how to be a parent but is trying her best. But despite all that it somehow didn’t seem too full – all the various issues just seemed to make sense as part of the whole story. Maybe also because – to me at least – it also didn’t seem that deep. It was relatively easy to read despite dealing with some really heavy issues. That spoiled it a bit for me – with all that going on I would have expected to have loads of thoughts about all these issues, but instead I just breezed through it. Which sounds like it should be a compliment, so maybe this is just me being weird? Anyway, Vanessa Diffenbaugh is an amazing writer and I can’t wait to read more from her. I gave this one 4 stars.

The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester (272 pages, read for: a book with “house” or “home” in the title). I didn’t even manage to write a review for this one on GoodReads because I honestly didn’t know what to say! It’s… weird. A family drama with possibly the strangest set of twins I’ve ever encountered in literature. The book opens with the twins’ father dying by falling off a cliff he’d been living next to all his life… maybe you would be a bit strange after that, but from the back story it seems like they were always strange. And not just because they were weirdly close. The writing is good but the characters are all equally unlikeable… except maybe the grandfather. I can’t really describe it better than this, so all I can say is if you’re intrigued maybe give it a try? 3 stars.

Das Mohnblütenjahr by Corina Bomann (528 pages, read for: a book originally written in a language that is not your own). As you can see, I’m a show-off so I actually read the book in the original language that is not my own 😉 Other books by this author have been translated into English but apparently not this one. This is a story that takes place in two time periods. In the present, we have Nicole, who is pregnant and has just found out her baby has a probably genetic heart problem. Nicole never met her father and knows nothing about him, but when the doctor asks her to find out about possible heart problems in his family she finally persuades her mother to talk. Then we have Nicole’s mother’s story, which takes us through her childhood to the year she spent teaching in France, where she met the man who was to become Nicole’s father. I enjoyed the past story more, partly because I just didn’t like Nicole that much, but also because it was more interesting. I got through this one relatively quickly, mostly thanks to having to go into the office which meant four hours on trains. It’s not a bad book, but I much preferred Die Schmetterlingsinsel – the only other book I’ve read by this author. By the way, that one has been translated, under the title Butterfly Island. Anyway, I gave this one 4 stars.

After the Fear by Rosanne Rivers (314 pages, read for: a book whose author’s first and last name start with the same letter). This is a dystopian novel set in a Great Britain of the future. Basically, the country has managed to get into loads of debt with other countries and the citizens all have to help pay it back, either by paying to go to “demonstrations” or by being involved in “demonstrations”. Said demonstrations are basically fights to the death between “demonstrators” and criminals. It seems like anyone can be chosen as a demonstrator (some were really young), and of course our heroine, Sola, ends up being chosen. The story itself is quite interesting. I was intrigued by the idea of this society and would have liked to find out more about ordinary life for the citizens. However, the writing isn’t great – if I saw the word “which” one more time I swear I would have started taking red pen to it! Half the time they should have been replaced with “that”, but in some instances there just didn’t need to be anything there at all. Aaah! Where was the editor? Of course, there’s a mean girl who seems almost too mean. Like a caricature of meanness. Even after nearly dying she’s still showing no emotion and trying to manipulate people?And this is a girl in high school – not some super villain! And there’s a romance, but it is kind of intregal to the plot so I’ll let it go. Lots of people compared this one to The Hunger Games. I haven’t read it, so I wouldn’t know. What the demonstrations really reminded me of was the gladiator fights of Roman times. Anywaaay, time to wrap this up. It was good enough to pass the time but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. There are better dystopian YA novels. 3 stars.

Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt (400 pages, read for: a book with a character who has a debilitating physical illness). The illness is leukaemia. So yes, this is a teen cancer book. Given the subject matter, it feels kind of wrong to say I enjoyed this book. When Mia is diagnosed with leukaemia, she doesn’t want anyone to know. She somehow thinks she can go through the treatment, beat it, and get on with her life. But obviously it can’t work like that. In real life, I probably would have hated Mia – cheerleader, popular student with her very own “clique”. But I actually really felt for book Mia. I wanted to shake her at times, then I felt sorry for her, then I cried. There is a love triangle going on, but for once I didn’t mind it. Both boys had their flaws, but it wasn’t just a case of “amazing just-a-friend guy who she should clearly be with” vs. “bad boy who is actually really not good for anyone but of course our main character believes she can change him”. Ryan, the popular “hot jock” really did seem to care for Mia and one thing I loved was a scene where Ryan and Mia are making out in his bedroom and he keeps asking if things are okay, then when she tenses up/hesitates he notices and stops what he was doing. This should not even be a thing that deserves special mention, but sadly it is. So yeah. I’m in the minority here, but I liked this so much more than The Fault in Our Stars.  Not a full 5 stars but very readable.

And that brings us to the end of my challenge reading. Now on to the other books I read in January. Sorry – I did say it was going to be long!

The Whispers in the Walls by Sophie Cleverly (Scarlet and Ivy Book 2). In this book, the twins return to Rookwood School where there is once again a mystery to solve. This time the terrifying headmaster seems to be involved. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the first one – possibly because it was written from alternating points of view and I just wasn’t a fan of Scarlet. I loved Ivy in the first one and I wish she had continued to be the narrator this time round. Every time it switched to Scarlet’s point of view I wanted to shake her. She comes across as such a selfish, spoiled brat! That’s not to say I didn’t like the book though – I just didn’t love and adore it like the first one. I’ve since read book 3 and have book 4 waiting for me. YAY! 4 stars for this one. Also, I have to mention the dedicatione:

In Memory of Sir Terry Pratchett
“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”

*Sniffle*. Now I miss Terry Pratchett all over again!
By the way, I had to re-buy this book because the cover of the copy I originally got didn’t the rest of the series. Tragedy! So if anyone wants to start reading these books let me know and I’ll send this one to you. I’m afraid you’ll have to get hold of book 1 yourself though.

The Queen’s Nose by Dick King-Smith. I remember watching this TV series when I was about 12, but I had never read the book. I recognised some things from the TV show, but I feel like screen Harmony was older than book Harmony? She’s 10 in this but I seem to remember the girls being about 13 and 16? Anyway, this is a cute little book about a magic 50p coin that grants wishes. It’s set in 1983 and references cables, but other than that and mentions of Harmony being born in 1973 it doesn’t feel too dated to me. Maybe it’s a little slower than modern books? I still think children aged 8-10 year will enjoy it anyway. 4 stars.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt. This story is narrated by 12-year-old Jack, whose family is fostering 14-year-old Joseph. Before Joseph arrives, all Jack knows about him is he has a daughter and he’s just been released from a young offenders’ institute. So it’s about teen parenthood, but it’s also about so much more than that – friendship, love and about not judging a person without getting to know them first. And it’s about cows… I loved the cows! (Jack’s family live on a farm). My main issue with the book is that the ending seemed rushed. I felt like I was just getting to know Joseph then BAM… The End! I gave it 3.5 stars, so 4 on Goodreads because I like to round up.

The Witch of Demon Rock by Gabrielle Kent (Alfie Bloom book 3). I am still really enjoying this series. At the start I wasn’t sure whether I was going to enjoy it as much as the previous two, but then I ended up staying up until 1am to finish it sooo… 😉
My favourite thing about these books is still the friendships. Alfie and his cousins/friend are a real team even if they bicker occasionally. I also like that the parents (or in Alfie’s case his dad) are present and the adults are all actually responsible! In this one the children go back in time to visit someone (sounds odd – you have to read it!) and before they do the person they’re visiting insists on meeting with Alfie’s dad and arranging things possible. The dad in turn insists that an adult (the butler) go with them. Of course, the children do end up dealing with things on their own throughout the series, but there’s always a reason the adults aren’t around. I’m really interested to see where the series will go now that what seems to be the main adversary has been dealt with.

Elen’s Island by Eloise Williams. The basic story: When Elen’s parents go abroad, she’s sent to stay with her grumpy granny on a Welsh island. Elen and a new friend she meets there become convinced there’s treasure on the island and set out to find it. This is very much a book for younger readers. It says age 7-9 but I think at 9 I might have found it a little boring. That may just be me though – I was reading Agatha Christie at 10. As an adult I could see the charm in this sweet little book. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I got to the end of this book and my first thought was “what on Earth did I just read?!”. It doesn’t really have a plot as such – it’s just a bunch of guys travelling across the US time and again, getting drunk and high and having lots of sex. Surprisingly, I didn’t hate it, although I didn’t really like it either. None of the characters are particularly likeable and the way women are treated in the book is awful (and don’t try to tell me it’s a product of its time!). How enough people chose it as their favourite book for it to end up on the BBC Big Read list is beyond me! I won’t be reading it again, so if anyone wants it let me know and I’ll post it out to you. 2 stars.

On the Road was my final January read – I actually finished it on the train home from Germany on 31st January so it only just made it into this post! Sooo that’s 16 book reviews in this post. Phew!

Oh, and if anyone’s still wondering how I read so many books, I don’t usually include page numbers other than for challenges (to prove the books were long enough), but just so you know The Queen’s Nose has 150 pages (and large font), Orbiting Jupiter is 183 pages and Elen’s Island is 153 pages (and again large font). So other than being anti-social and spending Saturday afternoons reading, my tip is: read short books that are actually meant for 8 year olds 😉

If you’ve read any of these books let me know what you thought. Do you agree with my opinions? Or just tell me something good you’ve read recently. And of course check out the link up to see what everyone else has been reading.

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Fenwick’s Christmas Window 2017 – Paddington Bear

While we were over in England for my sister’s wedding, my dad wanted to take us shopping in Newcastle for Christmas presents. Having missed out on Fenwick’s window in 2016 (to my eternal sorrow – it was Peter Rabbit. I love Peter Rabbit/Beatrix Potter, to the extent that I had the bedding when I was little), I was determined to get a look at last year’s effort… Paddington. My favourite bear (sorry Winnie-the-Pooh – you’re a close second if it’s any consolation). It was Thursday afternoon and the schools hadn’t broken up for Christmas yet so we were able to get right up to the window for a proper look. Here are my photos… with apologies for all the reflections of passers-by and the buildings opposite. Pretty difficult to avoid!

I presume Paddington was chosen as the theme because of the second film coming out, but to me it seemed like a fitting tribute to Michael Bond, the author of the original books, who passed away in June 2017. Although I personally prefer the books, it’s nice that the films are ensuring the story of the little bear from Darkest Peru is continuing for a new generation of children.

The books I read in November 2017

I am a day late for the Show Us Your Books link up! I should have been back on Monday night, leaving plenty of time yesterday to do laundry and write a blog post, but instead we only arrived home at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon… 24 hours after leaving my dad’s house in Northumberland! It’s a good job I had taken yesterday off work as well…

Anyway, today I am talking about the books I read in November plus three that I read in October that weren’t included last time because Goodreads wasn’t showing me them! Interestingly, all of them are either children’s or YA…

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October first:

Dear Whiskers by Ann Whitehead Nagda. This is a charming little book about a school class who has to write letters to children in a younger class pretending to be a mouse who lives in the younger child’s desk. Everyone but Jenny receives a response, then when Jenny does get one it turns out her pen-friend has just arrived from another country and doesn’t speak English. It would be great for helping children understand how lonely it is to move to a new country where you don’t speak the language – a valuable lesson in today’s world! 4 stars.

Mein Leben, mal eben by Nikola Huppertz. My vague translation of the title would be “It’s just my life”, although that doesn’t rhyme nicely like the German. This is a YA book written in the form of a journal. While trying to install a game on her computer (unnamed, but clearly meant to be The Sims), Anouk starts typing. She starts by writing a list of all the things she’s going to do differently in the new school year so that she will finally be “normal” and fit in – including listening to pop music, wearing the right clothes and playing computer games. Unfortunately it’s difficult to be normal when you have two mothers and a father (friend of the mothers who donated his sperm but is also still in Anouk’s life) in a rock band! In the end, Anouk makes a new friend and realises that she’s fine as she is. An amusing book that made me feel glad I don’t have to relive my teens! 4 stars.

The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross. I watched the TV series of this for a while in the 90s so I decided to finally actually read the book. It’s well-written and the premise is extremely creepy, but I’m not sure what children today would think of it. Somehow it seemed a bit dated although I can’t point to anything specific that seemed to place in the 80s, when it was written (other than a lack of mobile phones). Also, something that never struck me when I was watching it on TV is that the boys seem surprisingly normal despite everything. They keep saying they’re scared, but nobody seems as terrified as they SHOULD have been in that situation. I obviously didn’t notice as a child though (or the TV series was different) so I’m sure it’s fine for the target audience. Anyway, it was an enjoyable enough little book and nice for some nostalgia. 3 stars.

And now for what I actually read in November:

Purple Class and the Skellington by Sean Taylor. A collection of short stories about a primary school class. A lot of the things in it were familiar to me from my own childhood – wet break time, sitting on the carpet for playtime and there were even rumours that my primary school was haunted (in our case, it was a staircase that people didn’t like to go down alone). This would be a great book for children in primary school who want to read a realistic book about children like them. I think 6 to 9 year olds would find purple class’s antics funny. 3 stars.

Roar, Bull, Roar by Andrew Fusek Peters. The story of a Czech family who have come to live in England for a while. The book is told from the perspective of the children, a brother and sister. Some of the local children bully them and the girl can’t understand why they have such a problem with people who are different. It all comes right in the end when the children solve a “mystery” and a nasty person gets him comeuppance. This book would be a nice way to show children that “foreigners” aren’t so different even if they do speak another language and eat different foods. I liked that there were smatterings of Czech throughout and a glossary at the end to explain them (complete with pronunciation). 4 stars.

Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy by Lara Williamson. I absolutely loved this! Adam Butters is adopted – a fact that he’s always known. When his class is assigned a project to make a family tree, he decides he wants to find out about his birth mother – after all, he already knows his adopted family! At the same time, he notices that his mum seems down, so he decides to become a superhero to cheer her up – “everyone loves superheroes, they solve problems and make people happy“. I really felt for Adam. He’s such a lovely, genuine character who tries desperately to do the right thing – even if he isn’t sure what that thing is. The ending is really heart-warming and I love the letter Adam writes to his friend. An adorable book that I definitely recommend. 5 stars.

And that was it for November. I spent most of my time reading Magician but I still haven’t finished it so the review will have to wait until January! With time off for Christmas I will hopefully finish this month… I also started reading The Naming of the Shrew, but didn’t finish until December so that will be in next month’s round up.

Have you read anything good recently? Check out the link up if you want even more recommendations! This was the last regular Show Us Your Books for 2017, but there will be a special edition on Boxing Day (that’s 26th December to non-Brits!) for people to discuss their favourite reads of the year.

The books I read in October 2017

It’s that time of month again where I link up with Jana and Steph to tell you all about what I read in the previous month, in this case October 2017. I completed Erin’s book challenge 7.0 and also read three other books. As in previous months, challenge books are listed first.

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman (592 pages, read for the category “A book with a non-human main character”). I found this book hard to get into at first, and lots of times I actually managed to put it down after finishing a chapter, just like I had promised myself, but by the end I was invested. The storytelling is amazing! I was rooting for Shadow all the way and it was really interesting finding out where he came from along with him. Wednesday was a difficult character to like, but I think maybe that was the point? Honestly, I preferred Neverwhere, but I couldn’t bring myself to give this one less than 5 Goodreads stars. Probably I would give it 5 and a half, but they won’t let me!

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (495 pages, read for the category “A book with a cardinal/compass direction in the title”). Lots of Goodreads reviewers seem to have hated this book. Maybe I’m too easily pleased, but I really enjoyed it. I liked Elphaba and thought it was interesting to read about her childhood and get an explanation for why she was green. It was nice to see her treated as a human being and not just some caricature of evil. I also liked that, in this book at least, she wasn’t really wicked. Towards the end she started to go crazy, but most of the time she was trying to do the right thing, in her own way. It’s not a perfect book and there are things that I would have liked more explanation of, but for the most part I enjoyed reading it and in my world that counts for a lot. 4 stars.

And, with that, I completed the bonus round of Erin’s challenge. Woo!
I probably would never have actually read the Wicked book if it hadn’t been for needing a new previously chosen book for my final category (I changed it from East of Eden because there was just no way I was going to be reading that in the final weeks of the challenge!),  so that was nice. Of all the books I read for the challenge this time, I think my favourite was Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief. And now I’m looking forward to the next challenge… categories to be announced in December. I’m so excited!

Now for the other books I read in October.

Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo. This book had been sitting on my bookcase for over a year and I have no idea why I hadn’t read it before! I absolutely loved the Snow Spider trilogy by this author when I was a child (I must have read it at least 20 times), which is part of the reason I bought this one, but somehow I never got round to reading it? I finally picked it up when I needed something nice and quick that wouldn’t task my brain too much. And I LOVED it! The one thing that slightly annoyed me is that, despite being the main character, Charlie didn’t seem to do anything much. His name is in the title, yet it seemed like other people were constantly making all the decisions, doing all the dangerous things and generally saving his backside. And two of those people didn’t even have any special powers/gifts! His friends are awesome though, so I can’t really complain too much about them having a large role. I just hope Charlie gets more proactive in book 2! Oh, and lots of the reviews called these books a rip-off of Harry Potter… just because it’s set in England, involves children with special powers and involves a school doesn’t automatically make it a Harry Potter rip-off! The school isn’t even for magic as such – it’s a school for the gifted (musicians, artists, etc.) that also takes people with “magical” gifts. Anyway, I gave it 4 stars.

The Wrong Train by Jeremy de Quidt. I really liked this, probably because the stories reminded me of the type of ghost stories we used to tell each other as children (the babysitter and the heavy-breathing phone calls anyone?). I liked that it’s short stories, but with an overarching storyline tying them all together (basically a boy gets on the wrong train and while he’s waiting for the right one, on a dark, creepy platform, an old man starts telling him scary stories). Most of the stories were the perfect blend of “is this all in the protagonist’s head or could it, just maybe, be real?”, but the final one was a bit weird and silly and, in my opinion, let the whole collection down. This would be a great book for teens who like to creep themselves out… way better than the Point Horror books I adored at that age! 4 stars (without the final story it would have been 5).

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This is a weird little book. It’s well written and very clever, but I didn’t find it particularly spooky – more confusing. Was any of it really happening or was the narrator just mad? Maybe that was the whole point? Maybe I’m just too stupid to understand? 3 stars.

And those were all the books I finished in October. I then started reading Magician, which has eleventy billion pages (okay, 841). Maybe I’ll finish it it time to include it in my reviews for November… or maybe it will have to appear in the January’s “Show Us Your Books”. We’ll see. I’m enjoying it so far anyway, but I can only read it at bedtime because it’s too big to take on the train!

That’s it from me. Read anything good recently? Check out the link up if you want to fill your to-read list with even more lovely, lovely books.

The books I read in September 2017

This episode of Show Us Your Books marks the three anniversary. I am a day late to the party thanks to having to be in the office yesterday, but congratulations Jana and Steph!

Let us take a look at what I read in September. There were 7 books, four of which were for the bonus round of Erin‘s reading challenge. As in previous months, I will list the challenge books first followed by the others.

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A Whole New World by Liz Braswell (376 pages, read for the category “a book relating to a Disney movie”). This basically takes the Disney version of Aladdin but changes one key feature, namely what if Aladdin had not kept the lamp but given it to Jafar like he was supposed to?  The beginning of the book was literally a retelling of the Disney version of Aladdin, even down to repeating parts of the dialogue word for word! The remainder is definitely fast-paced and there are a few good moments. The characters’ personalities never seemed to be properly developed – I felt like the author was relying on readers knowing them from the film. It passed the time okay and was entertaining enough but I think I’ll skip the rest of the series. 3 stars.

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Krause (264 pages, read for the “starts with B” category). Well, this was basically complete and utter trash… but entertaining trash! A YA werewolf book that somehow manages to make the transition from human to wolf form sound sexy. I wish I had found it back when it first came out because I’m sure I would have lapped it up then (ha, pun totally not intended but I’ve seen it now and I’m keeping it). Reading it as an adult I give it 3 stars.

The Dog Who Came in From the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith (352 pages, read for the “animal on the cover” category). I feel like I was missing something with this book. Maybe it’s because I didn’t read the first book in the series? It took me ages to figure out that all the characters with their little mini stories were somehow vaguely connected. And the poor dog, who is in the actual title, barely even features. Parts of it were quite good, others were really boring. 3 stars.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (320 pages, read for the “book featuring mental illness” category). I can’t say I enjoyed this book exactly – that isn’t the right word. It is really, really good but quite disturbing in some ways. It’s supposed to be for children, but I would definitely recommend an adult reading it first then deciding whether it’s suitable for the child in question! The mental illness concerned is never actually spelled out, but one of the main characters is a war veteran who is obviously suffering from some kind of PTSD. Betty (the bully) is a real nasty piece of work – far more than just an ordinary school-girl bully, and Annabelle (the main character) is far braver than I ever would have been. Sorry if this is confusing – it’s a difficult book to review! 4 stars anyway – read it!

That was the four challenge books, now on to the rest.

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Technically I didn’t read this one, but listened to it. Aaalso, I started listening to it over a year ago so I didn’t really “read” it in September 2017 at all. But I finished it! I would have been finished ages ago but I had to keep waiting for Jan to listen with me. Anyway, I can’t objectively review this one because I’m 90% sure I loved it because it was Night Vale and I got to listen to Cecil’s voice for HOURS, not just one measly little episode of the podcast (I mean, I never actually listened to only one episode, but that isn’t the point). Whether it actually works as a print novel? I have no idea. Whether anyone who doesn’t already know and love Night Vale and all its characters would enjoy it? Maybe not. So my 5 star rating is very, very biased, but I don’t care. Recommended to anybody who loves the weirdness that is Welcome to Night Vale.

Blood Sisters by Jane Corry. I interrupted my challenge reading for this one because I couldn’t resist reading it the day it arrived. It kept my attention and made me want to keep reading long after my bedtime. I really liked the different perspectives, especially the chance to get inside Kitty’s head. Towards the end it almost felt like there were too many twists and the final one just made me go “hmmm”, but overall I enjoyed it. 4 stars.

Bogwoppit by Ursula Moray Williams. I read Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by this author when I was about 8, and now I’m sad that the big box of books my step-dad brought home for us one day didn’t contain Bogwoppit as well. This book is adorable. Basically it’s the story of Samantha, an orphan who is packed off to live with her spinster aunt when he guardian (another aunt) moves to America and decides she doesn’t want her any more. At the spinster aunt’s house, she discovers a creature that nobody else knows exists – the Bogwoppit – and various adventures ensue. I love the Bogwoppit (The One and Only), even if he is trouble at times. I love Samantha, she is mostly polite and kind, but knows how to stand up for herself and the way she spoke to adults would have amazed me as a child (I would never have dared!). It’s a little dated now but I think 7-10 year olds would still love it. 5 stars.

And that’s it for September. Quite a satisfactory reading month.

Have you read anything good lately? This is a link up, so scroll back up and follow the links (I’m too lazy to put them in again. Sorry!)

The books I read in July 2017

Once again it’s time to link up with Jana and Steph for Show Us Your Books… and I warn you this is going to be a long one! I well and truly got my reading mojo back in July, and not only completed Erin’s reading challenge but even managed to read another four books for a total of 14! This time I’m listing the challenge books all together (in the order I read them) and then the others.

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Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (570 pages, read for the “banned book” category). Uhh, what even was this book? It was more enjoyable than the typical war story I was expecting, but it was really confusing and nowhere near as hilarious as people make out! Some bits were funny, but a lot of the humour just felt forced and ridiculous. It did a good job of showing how ridiculous and insane war is, but I wouldn’t read it again. 3 stars.

Lost DogHow to Look for a Lost Dog by Ann M. Martin (240 pages, read for “A book with an animal on the cover” – see photo for evidence of animal). I loved this book! I loved Rose, I loved Uncle Weldon and I wished I had a dog like Rain. I wanted to strangle the dad though, especially when he said things like “why do you have to be like this ” and told Rose to behave herself at school. Grrr. Read if you’re an animal love and like having your heart strings pulled on. 5 stars. (Note: this is the same book as Rain, Reign under a different title).

 

Alfie Bloom 2Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief by Gabrielle Kent (272 pages, read for “A book with a mostly yellow cover” – see photo for evidence of yellowness). Book two in the Alfie Bloom series is even better than book 1… and I already gave the first one five stars, so now what do I do! I’m glad Amy had a bigger role in this book – she’s an amazing character. And it was interesting to find out more about Ashton and Emily. One of my favourite things is that the girls in the book weren’t treated differently because they were girls – at one point Alfie wants Amy to carry out a plan because she’s “the best swimmer out of all of them”. Not like the books I read a child where the girls were always being told they couldn’t do something because “it’s too dangerous” (Famous Five, I’m looking at you!). Everyone should read this series! 5 stars.

A Seven Letter Word by Kim Slater (297 pages, read for the freebie category). I enjoyed this, but not as much as this author’s previous book (Smart – reviewed here). Finlay is an likeable enough character and I did feel sorry for him, but somehow his story didn’t grip me in the same way as Kieran’s did. I did enjoy the little titbits of information about Scrabble at the beginning of each chapter. 4 stars.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (336 pages, read for “A book published in 2017”).  I loved this one and read the entire thing in two hours (when I should have been sleeping, but oh well). The characters are all so lovely and I could definitely identify with Molly and all her insecurities. It was also nice to read a book about older teens – most seem to have characters aged around 13-15. I wish this had been around when I was 16! And I also wish my sister and I had the kind of relationship Molly and Cassie do.  5 stars.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (359 pages, read for “Read a book with a non-human main character). This book had been sitting on my bookcase for over a year and I have no idea why I put of reading it for so long. I mean, there are DRAGONS! Dragons who can change their form and walk around looking human no less. There is also intrigue, secrets and a kick-ass main character. I finished reading it and then immediately ordered book two. 5 stars.

Broken Silence by Danielle Ramsay (408 pages, read for “A book that starts with the letter B). I had been looking forward to reading this book for ages because it’s set close to where my family live, so I was incredibly disappointed to discover that the author apparently hates Whitley Bay. Seriously, is there any need to mention every two pages that it’s “a once bustling seaside town” that’s now run-down and seedy with kids doing drugs on every corner? If you hate the place that much then sod off back to Scotland! Also, the main character is a total cliché and the entire book read like the author had done a creative writing course and learned to vary her writing style, with the result that she sprinkled adjectives around like confetti. Nobody could just “say” anything, ever. They always had to demand, instruct, state and order. Or even question sceptically, answer coolly or whisper hoarsely. Every. Single. Time. However, I did like the basic crime story that was hidden in there somewhere and persevered because I wanted to know who the murderer was (I guessed correctly slightly before the detective). right towards the end the writing suddenly got better and there was a fantastic interview scene, which is why I gave this book 3 stars instead of the 2 I had originally intended.

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida (256 pages, read for “A book with a cardinal/compass direction in the title). This book was strange. I actually really enjoyed it but I can’t quite explain why. The writing is amazing, almost poetic, but the story is strange, not particularly realistic (so many coincidences!) and, based on the ending, I don’t think Clarissa learned anything from her experiences. And yet I gave it 4 stars.

Thirteen Hours by Narinder Dhami (272 pages, read for “A fictional book featuring mental illness”). The mother of the main character has agoraphobia, so there#s the mental illness connection. I really liked this book. It’s gripping from start to finish (the beginning in a different way to the end). I felt for Anni and her mum and even liked the intruders. The “secret” was entirely different to what I had expected. I also liked that the author included an explanation of young carers and agoraphobia after the story. It could have been a lot more detailed, but for the young age group it’s aimed it I thought it was really good. 4 stars.

Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Stalten (272 pages, read for “A book that’s related to a Disney film”). Obviously this book is nothing like the Disney version, but I was expecting that. It’s quite graphic at times and not really a book for young children – I wouldn’t give it to anyone under ten. It’s a nice enough story and wonderfully written, but I felt like the author went a bit overboard on the portrayal of man as totally evil. 3 stars.

Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher. I meant to read this for my “mental illness” book, but it turned out the main character’s refusal to speak was on purpose and not true selective/ elective muteness after all (rather than being unable to speak, at one point she has to force herself not to!). I enjoyed this book and read the entire thing in a morning while waiting for some people who were visiting us to wake up. I felt sorry for Tess, and although the way she handled her situation wasn’t the best, it felt realistic for a teenager. The heart to heart between Tess and her parents at the end really made me smile. Not perfect, but really good. 4 stars.

Toten Stille by Daniela Arnold. Read in German, the title literally translates as Deadly or Deathly Silence. A serial killer is keeping women prisoner for months and torturing them before killing them and leaving the bodies for the police to find. At the same time, a woman is involved in an accident and her husband, child and friends then claim she’s not who she says she is. When the evidence points to her being the murderer of the other women she needs to figure out what’s going on. This book was fast-paced and thrilling, the action never let up for a minute. The ending annoyed me though – somehow the detective working on the case managed to work out who the culprit was based entirely on her intuition despite the fact that they had never come across this person in the course of the investigation and his name had not once been mentioned in the book. Umm, okay then. It passed the time well enough and was a quick read but I’m not sure I would read anything else by this author. 3 stars.

Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson. In the interests of disclosure, I should say I wouldn’t have read this book if it wasn’t on the BBC Big Read list. I don’t think this is one of Jacqueline Wilson’s better efforts. While it is interesting to see a book for pre-teens and younger teens that deals with death/grief, it seemed a bit simplistic even for the target age. Also, I just could not like Vicky, even though I was probably supposed to feel sorry for her being dead? Actually I thought Jade had a lucky escape – at least now she can get on with her life without her bullying so-called “best friend” putting her down all the time! 2 stars.

Bang, Bang, You’re Dead by Narinder Dhami. After Thirteen Hours, this book was a bit of a disappointment. I really felt for Mia and was worrying about Jamie right along with her, but then the ending went in a direction that I wasn’t expecting and I wasn’t sure what to think.  It was all a bit odd. The “twist” was a bit too abrupt and it felt like there wasn’t enough time left to handle it properly. The mum’s bipolar disease is handled well though. 3 stars.

And that’s it… 14 reviews. If you’ve got this far you deserve a medal (I did warn you though!). One day I will learn to review books more succinctly. Head to the link up to see what everyone else has been reading and – if you’re anything like me – add even more books to your never ending want-to-read list! And if you’ve read any of these books let me know in the comments whether you agree with my opinion 🙂

The books I read in June 2017

Exciting news everyone… I am just over halfway through Erin‘s latest book challenge! (Thank you train journeys!) But I’m getting ahead of myself… clearly books read for the challenge come under my July reading and I’m here to talk about June.

The Show Us Your Books link-up was technically yesterday, but it was one of my days to be in the office in Germany, which meant I was out of the house all day (from 6:20 a.m.) and had no time for blogging. I’m still allowed to add my link today though, and so I shall.

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My June reading looks a little better than May’s, mainly because I finished two books that I had started previously… As always my books are simply listed in the order I read them.

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. This one took me forever to read! I started it in April and battled with it for the whole of May. At first I really liked the story but had to force myself not to skim the philosophy bits – they just read too much like a textbook for me! Later, when Sophie actually met the philosopher and it was more of a conversation, I got more into the philosophy bits – at least until Sophie started explaining the philosophical concepts back to him in a way that I can’t imagine any 15 year old speaking (and totally differently to her “voice” throughout the rest of the book). Then right after showing she had understood a difficult philosophical concept she would ask the meaning of a relatively simple word. What? (That probably sounds confusing – I wish I had written down an example). Overall I liked the book and it does provide a good introduction to philosophy and give you something to think about (are we really living our lives? How can we be sure?). I wavered between 3 and 4 stars and eventually gave it 4, but I don’t think I would read it again.

The Sense of Style by Steve Pinker. Another one that took forever, but with non-fiction I expect that. I actually read this one for work because I was hoping it would help me with style in my translations – although this is more a guide for writers some of the concepts can be applied. It’s an interesting and engaging read. I didn’t enjoy every single part, but any non-fiction book that can actually more or less hold my interest right to the end (other than a biography) is great in my book! I want to go back and copy out some of his example sentences for future reference. Four stars.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. I adored this. It’s so cute and heart-warming – I want Jonah to be my best friend and Biscuit to be my dog! Some people may find it a little too sweet and get annoyed by all the quirky characters, but personally I like quirky characters. Recommended to anybody who likes words and magic (and ice cream!). 5 stars.

The Last Academy by Anne Applegate. Trying not to give any spoilers… I have read a few reviews by people who said it was obvious what was happening/what the school is as soon as the man on the plane said his name. I don’t agree – it wasn’t obvious to me and I don’t think it would be to teenagers either (unless they are experts in Greek mythology). I did get an inkling of what was going on with Camden and her classmates, especially after a scene between her crush/boyfriend and his mother, but I never figured out Barnaby/Mr Cooper’s role. It was a quick read and passed the time well enough. Three stars.

The Center of Everything by Linda Urban. A lot of reviewers loved this book, but I honestly found it quite boring. I think I would have liked it at 7 or 8, but then all the maths and science would have gone over my head. The best friend is selfish and annoying, wanting Ruby to constantly be there for her, never listening to a word she says then getting mad that she didn’t tell her a secret (uhh, when should she have done that when you wouldn’t SHUT UP!) and being annoyed that she dared find a new friend. There is a kind of apology near the end but it was too little for me. There is a scene where Ruby is crying in the art room that was fantastic and the conversation with her dad towards the end was genuinely touching. If the rest of the book had been like that I would have loved it. As it is, those two things are what pull it up from two stars to three. Wouldn’t really recommend.

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. My grandparents bought me a million classics when I was a child but somehow I missed out on this one! How? Why? I looooved it! In some ways it reminded me of Charlotte Sometimes (an all-time favourite). It’s old-fashioned and sweet and… I don’t know. Just read it! Five stars.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. Technically, I haven’t finished this book yet since the copy I am reading (see link) is two books in one. I did finish the Two Men in a Boat part though, which is the one that’s on the BBC Big Read list, so I shall review that one here. I found this a lot more readable than I expected, although definitely not as hilarious as other reviews seem to suggest. Strangely, it read a bit like a blog from before there were blogs. Maybe I should say it’s like a diary from a holiday, but written by somebody who expects others to read it and keeps throwing in touristic references and recommendations for places to eat. Oh, and that somebody also has ADHD and keeps getting distracted and going off on random tangents. Slightly bizarre but surprisingly good. Four stars.

So, seven reviews (although only four full books read). Slightly better than May’s three!

Linking up with Jana and Steph, of course.

Show Us Your books will be back in July, when I will have lots of books to review thanks to Erin’s challenge and my new resolve to prioritise reading (I didn’t realise how much I had missed books until I forced myself to make time for them again).