What I read in March 2018

Good morning lovely people. It’s that time of the month again (no, not that time)… today is Show Us Your Books day with Jana and Steph, so here I am showing you my books. March ended up being a surprisingly good reading month – surprising because I didn’t think I would read very much with Anna Karenina to plough through. I guess all the much-needed breaks from it paid off (not that I hated it, it’s just hard work… but more on that below).

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Anyway, I have 16 books to review today, so I’d better get on with it. Starting with those for Erin’s challenge.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (481 pages, read for the category “A book featuring a character with a debilitating physical illness). I feel like people have been going on about this book for yeeeears. When did it come out? *Checks Goodreads* 2012, so it probably has been literally years. Anyway, I had it on my bookcase – although I have no memory of how it got there – and it was the only book I owned that had been previously chosen for this category. Before I start my review, I should say I took a break from Anna Karenina to read this, which may have influenced my opinion slightly. Anyway, this is an easy read and the story really sucked me in. I didn’t cry though, and I am definitely the type to cry at books. The ending made me mad more than anything. Gah! Not without its flaws but a solid enough read. I gave it 4 stars.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (837 pages, read for the category “A book with a character’s name in the title). I have so many books with names in the title, but somehow this was the only one that had been previously chosen for the challenge. It took me over a month, but I actually finished this book! It had to come to Dijon with me and into the office twice, but I got through it. All this makes it sound like I hated it, but I actually didn’t. was more readable than I expected and interesting to read about Russian society. I even enjoyed some parts. But there were parts that just draaagged. In my opinion, it could have been at least 200 pages shorter without missing out any of the actual story. Whole sections dedicated to the act of ploughing a field manually. What was that all about?  And then the Levin character… I quite liked him at first but by the end I was so annoyed with his preachy tone. 3.5 stars. It would have been four, but the last few chapters really annoyed me.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (352 pages, read for the category “A book that takes place mostly on a form of transport”. The category I got to choose!). Again, this was the only previously-chosen book I owned. What is it with people choosing books I don’t have? 😉 I actually had no interest in this book – the only reason I owned it is because it’s on the BBC Big Read list. Neither war stories nor naval stories are my kind of thing. That said, I liked it more than I expected to. I actually liked the character of Dr Maturin, although I feel like he was mostly in the book to provide someone who knew nothing about ships so that the author could explain things to the reader without patronising them? If that was the case, it actually worked. (Although I recognised some of the terms from my time in sea cadets.) I will definitely not be reading the remaining 19(!!) books in this series though. One’s enough! 3 stars.

And with that I finished Book Challenge by Erin 8.0!

Now for the non-challenge books I read.

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop. This is a cute children’s book about a girl who was abandoned in a bookshop when she was 5. The owners – a woman and her son – didn’t manage to find her parents, so she stayed and lived in the bookshop with them. Although she really loves her life there, she has a huge secret: she can’t actually read. They then win a competition and the prize is an amazing bookshop called The Montgomery Book Emporium. Of course, they win the competition, but when they move in all is not as it seems… This is such a fun little book and I really want the Book Emporium to be real! If only my adult brain hadn’t kept asking awkward questions like “how do you just get to keep a girl who gets left in your bookshop without any authorities getting involved?” and “why do neither of those kids go to school or have any form of home-schooling?”. Surely they would have realised she couldn’t read if they’d ever actually tried to, you know, have her do lessons? And it’s not like it’s set in the distant past when these things wouldn’t have mattered! I’m sure children won’t care about those things though. I gave it 4 stars.

Vanish by Tess Gerritson. Dr. Maura Isles is about to leave after an exhausting day at the morgue when one of the “corpses” opens its eyes. Later, the woman who had been presumed dead shoots a security guard with his own gun and then takes a number of people hostage, one of whom is pregnant detective Jane Rizzoli who is about to go into labour at any moment. I was expecting an ordinary crime/thriller, but there was actual a conspiracy theory kind of plot going on, which bothered me a bit. The writing is amazing though! The description claimed that “Only Jane, trapped with the armed madwoman, holds the key to the mystery,” which was misleading – I was waiting the whole time to find out what she knew about the mysterious not-dead woman. Jane did solve the mystery in the end, but not because she “held the key” as far as I could tell. This is the 5th book in a series, but I read it just fine without having read the others. Overall it’s a decent, fast-paced crime/thriller but not one of my favourites. 3 stars.

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr. I had been wanting to read this book for ages, so finally I just bought it. Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumour that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. But when her best friend’s boyfriend, Drake, kisses her, she actually remembers it! So when an e-mail from Drake seems to suggest she should meet him in Norway, she decides it’s the perfect opportunity for her reclaim her life and sets off on a mad adventure. I love Flora! I love that she’s mostly positive, despite everything. Some people were annoyed by the repetitiveness, but I wasn’t. Hey, enough normal teenagers will go on and on and ON about how they kissed a boy, at least Flora has an excuse 😉 There is a twist, of course – memory loss books always have a twist!  This one has kind of been done before, but it wasn’t entirely what I expected, and didn’t stop me from really enjoying the book. 4 stars.

Wilf the Mighty Worrier Saves the World by Georgia Pritchett. The story itself is cute. It’s about a little boy called Wilf who worries about everything and what he does when the self-proclaimed “Most Evil Man in the World” moves in next door. It would probably appeal to younger boys, especially those who have a tendency to worry about things themselves. But can someone PLEASE explain to me why a book set in Britain by a British author uses “vacation” and “mom”? At first I actually thought it was supposed to be set in America, until it became obvious it wasn’t and I had to look the author up  Did I somehow get hold of a copy that was adapted for the US or does the author think Americanisms will help her book sell faster? Kids maybe wouldn’t notice but it really annoyed me! (I have no problem with books set in America using mom, etc by the way, but British children go on holiday, not vacation!). There’s a whole series of these books but I won’t be reading the rest. 3 stars because the story was quite good, it’s just the Americanisms that put me off.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James. Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J. The new ship is more modern and much faster, so will be able to catch up with her although she is still moving. Over the months that the new ship is travelling towards her, the two communicate by e-mail and gradually Romy finds herself falling in love. I really, really liked this book. I usually say I don’t like science fiction, but that isn’t strictly true. I don’t like science fiction where the sciency stuff is the entire story. The storyline of this one didn’t go where I thought it was going – or it partly did, I had an inkling about “J”, but only when it was quite close to the end. I’m sure other people would work it out much faster though. Romy is a really believable character and at times I felt genuinely anxious on her behalf. 4.5 stars for this one.

The Everything Machine by Ally Kennen. Sometimes I read a book just to see whether it’s something I could give to my younger brother (who will be 12 this year). This was one of those books – as was the Wilf one, actually. In The Everything Machine’s case, I can definitely say he will be getting it for his birthday in September. I loved it! Basically, a boy called Olly accidentally receives a machine that can make absolutely anything he wants. His siblings quickly find out and hijinks ensue. But is getting everything you’ve ever wished for all it’s cracked up to be? I can’t say too much more without spoiling things, but I will say I really enjoyed the fact that Olly’s 14-year-old sister is really intelligent and into science, and she’s portrayed really positively, showing that a) girls can be scientists and b) science can be cool! The sibling relationship was really realistic too. Olly uses a swear word at one point, which may be something to be aware of before giving this book to your child. A great kids book, 4.5 stars.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller. In 1976, when Peggy Hilllcoat is 8-years-old, her survivalist father takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has gone, and her mother and everyone she’s ever known is dead. That isn’t a spoiler – we know this from basically the start. The story is about how and why she makes it home. For some reason, I was under the impression that this book way YA – maybe because of the protaganist’s age? It really, really is NOT though. It’s shocking, heart-rending… and the ending is devastating and awful. Peggy is obviously an unreliable narrator, but I really want her version of events to be real, because I just can’t cope with the ending being true. I gave this 4 stars, but it is definitely not for the faint of heart!

Alice and the Fly by James Rice. This one actually is marketed as Young Adult, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it to most teenagers. Certainly nobody under the age of about 16. I had no idea what to expect from this book when I started and I ended up being totally stunned. The synopsis doesn’t do it justice. It’s about phobias, love, obsession, families, loneliness, being an outcast, mental illness.  It’s dark and disturbing and heart breaking but I honestly could not put it down! 5 stars.

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder. I read this one immediately after finishing Anna Karenina because I needed something a bit easier. A children’s book featuring dragons fit the bill perfectly.  It’s about a dragon named Miss Drake whose human pet Amelia, who she calls Fluffy, has recently died. Now she has a new pet, Amelia’s great-niece Winnie, who seems to be under the impression that Miss Drake is her pet. Ridiculous! As always, where magic is concerned, not everything goes to plan for Miss Drake and Winnie… Aah, this book is so cute. I adore Miss Drake and especially Winnie. She’s a bit cheeky at times, but so bright, mature and resourceful that I just had to love her. I will definitely be getting book 2, and I can’t wait for my godson to be old enough to read it. 5 stars.

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. I ordered this as a potential “debilitating illness” candidate because, at the time, I didn’t feel like reading a book as long as Me Before You. But then I ended up reading the other one before this arrived. Anyway, this book is really well written and I enjoyed reading it, but I’m honestly not sure what it was actually about! Obviously I’m not clever enough for this book? Basically it’s about a woman named Sofia who brings her mother, Rose, to Spain in a final attempt to find out what’s causing her (the mother’s) mysterious illness. But I’m not actually sure whether the mother really was ill, or a hypochondriac, or if the daughter is somehow imagining things? Such a weird book. 3 stars.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I had actually been reading this book on and off for nearly two years, so when I only had about 100 pages left I rolled my eyes at myself and decided to finally just finish the damn thing! I think it’s supposed to be philosophical, but basically it’s the story of a man called Tomas’s sexual exploits with almost everyone but his wife, Tereza, and also the story of his lover, Sabina, and her lover, Simon. All set against the backdrop of the invasion of the Czech Republic by the Soviet Union. It’s all very odd and the narrator keeps directly addressing the reader, explaining things, giving away future events, waxing philosophical. This is another book that I don’t feel “clever” enough for, although I did mostly find it interesting while I was reading. 3 stars.

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange. It’s 1919 and Henrietta, known as Henry, has moved to the countryside with her parents and her baby sister, all of them still reeling from the death of her older brother a year before. This book is just beautiful. Magical, but without any actual “magic”. It reminds me of all the classics I read as a child. Henry is a fantastic character. Highly recommended. 5 stars.

The Guardians by John Christopher. I started reading this book in school in year 9, but then moved before we finished it. I’m surprised I didn’t read ahead actually – I can only assume the book was kept at school so I only got to read it in class with everyone else? I only had a very vague recollection of the plot, and it’s only now, through the power of Google, that I’ve managed to work out what the book actually was! It’s amazing what you can find by searching for “dystopian children’s book where a boy living in the city escapes to the country by crawling under a fence”.  I remember being fascinated by this book when we were reading it in school, and it still was pretty fascinating. In this dystopian future, the world has been divided into a huge city with all modern technologies, known as the Conurb, and the countryside where people have reverted to using horses and carts, known as the County. Only rich people and servants live in the country. I enjoyed reading it,  but the ending was so abrupt… HOW does it just end there? I wonder if the author intended to write a sequel but never got around to it because it seemed to just stop in the middle of the story. Based on the rest of the book it would have been four stars, but I’m disappointed enough to only give it 3.

And that’s it for March. 16 books finished is pretty good, even if 3 were really short, quick children’s books and I only had 100 pages left of another. I think finishing Anna Karenina is my achievement of the year, so far!

Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with my assessment? And have you read anything good recently? Check out the link up if this massive post wasn’t enough bookishness for you! And if you have a post about what you’ve been reading recently, why not join in?

Okay, I’m stopping. If you’re even still here, I’m sure you’ve had enough by now…

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What I read in February 2018

In my February recap, I said I had read 16 books but I miscounted and it was actually 17. Yay. Erin’s challenge is still going on, and I started the bonus round in February but didn’t finish it – partly because some of the books I chose turned out not to be long enough so I had to wait for replacements, partly because I kept getting distracted by non-challenge books and partly because Anna Karenina is just so damn long! But let’s just get on with it shall we… this post is going to be long enough without me blabbering on.

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Challenge books first, then the rest.

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel (352 pages, read for “a book originally published in another language”; originally Danish). This can basically be categorised as Scandanavian crime – although I hadn’t read a Danish before. The body of an unidentified woman is found and nobody seems to know who it is, until someone comes forward saying she used to care for her in a state mental institution many years ago. The only problem is the girl and her twin sister supposedly died more than thirty years ago. The case ends up taking Louise Rick who is in charge of the investigation back to her childhood home, which she isn’t too happy about due to traumatic events in her past. I mostly enjoyed this book, although some parts seemed a little disjointed. I wonder if that was a translation issue? I would like to read the next one because there seem to be some secrets relating to Louise’s past that intrigue me. 3 stars.

Us by David Nicholls (396 pages, read for “a book with a red cover). This seemed to take me a weirdly long time to read, possibly because of the short “sections2 (not really chapters). I would think I had read loads, then see it was only a few pages. Douglas Petersen’s wife, Connie, tells him she wants a divorce, but she still wants to go ahead with their holiday, touring Europe with their almost-18-year-old son before he leaves for university. This is the story of their relationship and the tour, which Douglas hopes will help him win her back. This book started off slow but I ended up enjoying it. There are some funny moments and some touching ones. Poor Douglas just wants everyone to like him (although there were times I wanted to tell him to stand up for himself). I hated Connie though – she was basically horrible to Douglas all the time. 4 stars.

Everlost by Neal Shusterman (320 pages, read for “a book with a plot twist). Two teens, Nick and Allie, die in a car accident, but instead of going “where they’re supposed to” (presumably heaven) they end up in a sort of limbo halfway between life and death – they’re still in the real world, but the living can’t see them. An interesting take on the afterlife and what happens after we die. The characters were well written and mostly interesting. The writing style seemed younger than the sometimes very creepy and odd themes though, which threw me off a bit. The “twist” involves some of the people they meet and characters maybe not being what they seem. I didn’t love it but I liked it enough to want to know how the story continues. 3 stars.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Blunt (355 pages, read for “a book with house/home in the title). Fourteen-year-old June Elbus feels like the only person who ever understood her was her uncle Finn, so when he dies of AIDS she’s understandably devastated. When she begins spending time with another person who was close to her uncle, she starts to realise she isn’t the only one who misses him. This is a beautiful, emotional book about grief, feeling different and what it means to be a sibling. 4 stars.

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner (401 pages, read for “freebie”). A politician has an affair. This book is described as the story of what his wife and two daughters do in the aftermath of the “betrayal”, although really it’s more what his wife does. At least one daughter’s story was shaped by events that happened way before the affair. Anyway. This book was okay. It’s an easy read and I got through it quickly enough, but most of the characters are boring – except the elder daughter, Diana who’s just a total bitch, but at least does something. 2 stars.

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch. Lina is forced to spend the summer in Tuscany because it was her mother’s dying wish. She doesn’t really want to be there, until she’s given an old journey of her mother’s and starts learning about the year she spent in Italy and various secrets surrounding it. A cute, fluffy YA read that I read in an evening. I loved the descriptions of Florence. Lina was supposed to be 17 but she seemed younger – I would have happily believed it if she was 14! But I suppose then she wouldn’t have had as much freedom to explore on her own and find things out. It passes the time well enough. 3 stars.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (428 pages, read for “an author whose first and last name start with the same letter). This is the second book in the “Peculiar Children” series and I feel like I should have re-read the first book before starting this one… it’s been a while and I had forgotten most of what happened. I liked the way the peculiar parts ate intertwined with the reality of World War 2 and I was definitely not expecting the twist. I will read book 3. 4 stars.

That was all my challenge books for this month. Categories still to go: A book with a character’s name in the title (Anna Karenina… I will finish you!), a book that takes place on a form of transportation and a book featuring a character with a debilitating physical illness.

Now for the non-challenge books.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This is a pretty short book and I read most of it while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. It read a bit like a self-help book disguised as fiction, or maybe a biblical parable. At first I was enjoying it and found a few quotes I really liked, but after a while it got too preachy. If it weren’t so short and on the BBC Big Read list I doubt I would have bothered reading it all. 2 stars.

The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff. This is a cute little book about growing up, friendship and how it feels to be “different”. Georgie has dwarfism and the beginning of each chapter there’s a little paragraph that asks the reader to do something and then explains that Georgie can’t do that very thing. This is a great way to gently show children that even people who look different are just the same as everyone else on the inside. Wonder is a better book along the same lines, but this is a nice one for younger children. 3 stars.

Little Wolf’s Book of Badness by Ian Whybrow. This book is so fun! Little Wolf is too well-behaved, so his parents have sent him off to Cunning College to learn the Rules of Badness from his Uncle Big Bad. The story is told in the form of letters that Little Wolf writes home during his journey to school and once he arrives. I enjoyed the references to familiar fairy tales, and I’m sure young children will too. I will definitely be buying this for my Godson at some point. 4 stars.

The Dance in the Dark by Sophie Cleverly. Book three in the Scarlett and Ivy series, in this one someone is sending nasty letters to pupils and staff, and then “accidents” start to happen. Is somebody out to get the school? This book was better than the second one. I found Scarlett less annoying this time round. She came across as feisty and determined rather than spoiled and stubborn. After starting off slow, the middle and end of the book were action-packed. I wish a series like this had been around when I was 10! 4 stars.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I wanted to read this as my plot twist book for the challenge, but it turned out not to be long enough. I decided to still read it anyway though. I absolutely loved it! It’s so wonderfully creepy and gothic. 4 stars.

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach. This book is so strange! I read it while waiting for a train – it didn’t take me long since half the pages are just photos of seagulls. Jonathan Livingston is a seagull who believes it is every gull’s right to fly. In doing so, he ends up being ostracised by his flock, who claim a gull’s entire purpose in life is to find food. It’s 95 pages of pure weirdness. 2 stars.

Sunday Morning Coming Down by Nicci French. I thought this was the last book in the Freida Klein serious – after all, Sunday is the end of the week – but it seems there will be another one, which really will be the last. That’s good because I still need answers and I’m not ready to say goodbye to the characters yet! I can’t really say much about this book without spoiling the others, so I will just say read this series! Book one is Blue Monday. 5 stars for this one.

What Happened to Cass McBride by Gail Giles. This one had been on my to-read list for a while so I finally decided to just read it. A boy named David has committed suicide, and his brother, Kyle, decides to take revenge on the person he perceives to be responsible (Cass) by burying her in a box underground. The only way for Cass to survive is to keep Kyle talking. This was an incredibly intense story and I could not stop reading! Not perfect, but certainly gripping. 4 stars.

Sophie Someone by Hayley Long. Sophie Nieuwenleven is English, but she came to live in Belgium with her family when she was four or five years old. Now she’s 14 and still isn’t quite sure why they moved to Belgium in the first place. One day she discovers something so shocking about her family that she can’t put it into words, so instead she uses a special “language” to tell her story. The aforementioned “language” actually just involves replacing some words with others – so people are pigeons and parents are parsnips, for instance. At first I found that really confusing, and I actually thought Sophie had something wrong with her that made her mix up her words. It was quickly obvious that even people she met for the first time weren’t confused, so I soon realised that was her supposed “language”, and once I got used to it I could read it fine. I really liked this book and loved the character of Sophie. Her parents need a good shake though – her dad at least ends up paying for his actions, but in my opinion the mother is just as bad. No spoilers here, so if you want to know what they did you’ll have to read it 😉 4 stars.

Deceived by Julie Anne Lindsey. Gabriella, or Elle, has been moving around the country constantly for as long as she can remember. For her senior year of high school she finally convinces her dad to let her go to boarding school, but then weird things start happening and Elle wonders whether she’s losing her mind. I enjoyed the plot of this one. I guessed some of what was happening before the end, but not everything. I didn’t particularly like the characters though. Gabriella/Elle alternates between boring and ridiculously naive. I did want to know what was happening though and read it all in one sitting. 3.5 stars.

And that was all for February. As mentioned above, I started Anna Karenina but I’m stillll not finished. We’ll see if I get to include it in my March review.
Sorry this post is so long – I tried to keep my individual descriptions/reviews brief but I didn’t succeed as I would have liked! I’m linking up with Jana and Steph, of course. If you still need more book talk, check out the link up.

Have you read any good books lately?

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.

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!)