It’s Show Us Your Books day! May was a much better reading month for me than April, in terms of both quantity and quality. There are some I didn’t love but the ones I did definitely balance them out. There’s a lot to get through so I’ll stop rambling and just give you the reviews, okay?
Ten Things We Shouldn’t Have Done by Sarah Mlynowski. When April’s dad and step-mum announce they are moving, April persuades them to let her stay with her best friend Vi, at least for the rest of the school year. What they don’t know is that Vi’s mum isn’t actually going to be there. After all, what sixteen-year-old wouldn’t jump at the chance to live parent-free for a while? And she and Vi are totally responsible and able to take care of themselves. Turns out that tiny lie was just the first in a list of things they probably shouldn’t have done. This is a light, quick, fun read. Not great literature by any means but just what I needed at the time to get me to actually finish a book after feeling meh about most of the few books I read in April! Some things could definitely have been handled better but generally it was good – a bit like reading the diary of a spoiled, rich teenager (I couldn’t believe it when April claimed she’d never been grocery shopping before?!). 3.5 stars.
After the Fire by Will Hill. Before, she lived inside the fence. Before, she was never allowed to leave the property, never allowed to talk to Outsiders, never allowed to speak her mind. Because Father John controlled everything – and Father John liked rules. Because Father John knew the truth. He knew what was right, and wrong. He knew what was coming. But Moonbeam had started to doubt. Started to see the lies behind Father John’s words. Then came the fire. This is an uncomfortable read but also absolutely riveting. From my limited experience I think it gives a great insight into life in a cult. Moonbeam is a fantastic character – nobody should have to go through what she did. I also really liked Honey and would have loved to see even more of her. I’d probably give it a 4.5 stars although honestly I’m not sure what the author could have done to make it 5. I just wanted a little more information on a couple of things.
Tilly and the Map of Stories (Pages & Co. #3). Strange things are happening. A man comes into Pages Co looking for a book… then suddenly can’t remember it. Tilly and her family feel like the world is changing – but can’t quite put their finger on why. Meanwhile, the Underwoods are expanding their control over bookwandering. Leaving the safety of the bookshop, Tilly and her friend Oskar head to America to find the legendary Archivists and save bookwandering. Wandering in layers of story, the two of them come up against dangers they could never have expected, team up with an unexpectedly familiar face, and ultimately find themselves taking on the biggest threat to stories there has ever been – with only their courage and ingenuity to help them. As well as some of their dearest fictional friends. Another fantastic instalment in this magical series. Tilly and Oskar are the best team! The stakes are very high in this one and the action never lets up. I was enthralled throughout. I was a tiny bit confused at one point, so I’ve rounded my rating down by one star, but I was definitely not disappointed. I can’t wait for the next book in the series when we will move on from this arc and hopefully learn more about the world of bookwandering. 4 stars.
The Edge of the Ocean (Strangeworlds Travel Agency #2). At the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, each suitcase transports you to a different world. All you have to do is step inside… Flick is now a badge-wearing member of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency so when an urgent summons arrives at Strangeworlds from Pirate Queen Nyfe, she and Strangeworlds Society guardian Jonathon immediately pack their bags for an adventure to Queen Nyfe’s world: The Break, a place of magic and piracy. Nyfe’s world is falling apart. The Break is used to having ships vanish without a trace, but there has been a sudden increase that can’t be explained by giant squid or mer-people. The edge of their flat world is coming ever closer to them and they need to escape before it collapses entirely. Can Flick and Jonathan find a way to transport the inhabitants of the Break to another world before theirs disappears forever? I loved this sequel just as much as the first one. It’s another high-stakes adventure and this time there are pirates! And mer-people! The tension barely lets up for a minute. At the end there are some interesting revelations about the source of Flick’s abilities and I can’t wait to see where this series takes us next. 5 stars.
The Cut-Throat Café (Seth Seppi #3). Seth Seppi is excited to arrive in Gramichee, one of the few towns where a cluster of magical folk live. But he’s worried that Angelique has only brought him here because she’s desperate to find someone to help him with his magic, which has been nothing but a disaster so far. When he is offered a trial apprenticeship, Seth is keen for the chance to study properly to become a sorcerer. But he is also worried that if someone discovers that his magic is dangerous, he’ll be banned from ever joining the world of the sorcerers. Then he learns he has arrived in Gramichee at the worst possible time – an apprentice has been attacked and it’s not the first incident. This is the start of Seth’s most worrying case so far. Why are apprentices being targeted? Is it an accident? A prank gone wrong? Is one of the apprentices responsible, or is something much darker at the bottom of it all? Once again, Seth will need to keep his wits about him and dig deep into the magical world and his own magic to find answers. Yes, three kids books in a row. Can you tell I was trying to catch up on some series? This book took me a little longer than the others to get into. It started off a bit slow. Things did pick up though. I found some aspects of the plot a bit obvious/predictable and found it a little unbelievable that the actual grown up detective investigating the case wouldn’t have figured things out sooner even if it did take Seth forever! I liked seeing Seth actually start to make something of his magic though. The ending very much seemed to set things up for a book 4 and I think I would probably read it if one does come out. 3.5 stars.
Still Life by Louise Penny ( Chief Inspector Armand Gamache#1). The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force. But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets. This is a traditional style (cosy) murder mystery set in Canada. The type where the detective does a lot of thinking and noticing – your classic Sherlock Holmes or Poirot type, although this one is actually in the police. The solution was a little predictable but I liked the characters and enjoyed the setting. There were also a few unexpectedly amusing parts. The writing wasn’t always the best but for a debut it was very good. I definitely plan to continue the series. 4 stars.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. (Tristan Strong #1) Seventh grader Tristan Strong has felt anything but strong since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Now Tristan is being sent to his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, for a month to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s notebook. Tristan chases after it – is that a doll? – and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and his new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. I mostly enjoyed this book although parts of it were a little slow and it felt too long. Some of the side characters could have been fleshed out more. Gum Baby is hilarious and honestly made the book for me. There are some great messages and it was refreshing to read about black/African American gods and I learned a few things I didn’t know. I got sick of hearing the phrase “sweet peaches!” – Tristan seemed to say it every 5 minutes! 3.5 stars.
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Meet Dolores Price. She’s 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi that her anxious mother supplies. When she finally orbits into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she’s determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before really going belly up. I quite enjoyed this book in the beginning then it all started to get a bit too much. Everything bad that could possibly happen did happen to this character. If there was a way for things to go wrong it did. I also found myself wanting to shake the main character at times – yes horrible things happened to her and I felt sorry for her at times, but she also brought some things on herself with her quite frankly ridiculous decisions. Also, if I was a lesbian I would honestly be offended by Dolores’ brief flirtation with a women. It’s a relatively easy read despite being so long and I actually found myself liking it again at the end (Rita is an awesome character!) so I’m giving it 3 stars.
The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Ruth Young and her widowed mother, LuLing, have always had a tumultuous relationship. Now, before she succumbs to forgetfulness, LuLing gives Ruth some of her writings, the story of her life growing up in China – a past that Ruth knew nothing about. In a remote mountain village where ghosts and tradition rule, LuLing grows up in the care of her mute Precious Auntie as the family endures a curse laid upon a relative known as the bonesetter. When headstrong LuLing rejects the marriage proposal of the coffin maker, a shocking series of events are set in motion. The truth that Ruth learns from her mother’s past will forever change her perception of family, love, and forgiveness. I really enjoyed the parts of this book that were set in China. LuLing’s story is both fascinating and heartbreaking and it wasn’t hard to see why she ended up the way she did. I really, really didn’t like Ruth though. She’s described as a “people pleaser” which apparently means going along with what makes other people happy but at the same time resenting every single thing she does for them and never actually communicating her own wants and needs. Unfortunately we spent most of the story inside her head, listening to her complain. I also found her life and relationship quite boring. The writing is fantastic though. 3.5 stars.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. For years, rumours of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her. But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world – until the unthinkable happens. I loved this book! Parts of it are a little unbelievable and it was slightly slow at times but the writing is beautiful. I can’t believe it’s a debut. I loved Kya – she’s so resilient and still capable of love despite everything she goes through. 4 stars.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files #1). “Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.” Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a – well, whatever. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. Which is when things start to get… interesting. I enjoyed this book. It’s fun. It’s true what other reviews say about Harry’s misogyny/chauvinism but for some reason that didn’t put me off. Parts of it were repetitive and predictable but other parts were great. There are some fantastic characters. I love Bob – he’s hilarious – and also Morgan, the way he just appears out of nowhere like some vengeful angel. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to like this but I will definitely be reading the next book. 4 stars.
Exes Anonymous by Lauren Henderson. Rebecca split up with Patrick, the love of her life, over five months ago. He’s moved to New York, but she still keeps mistaking other men for him on the street, in restaurants; on the bus, everywhere; as if he were a ghost. However hard she tries, she just can’t get over him. When her best friend Davey discovers that Rebecca has kept her flat like a shrine to Patrick, he decides she needs an intervention. And so the idea for Exes Anonymous is born – a self-help group for people who are having trouble getting over their exes. The seven broken-hearted members soon become friends, meeting at each other’s homes to swap stories, offer support and possibly even contemplate revenge. Rebecca starts to think she might be able to beat her addiction after all. But life – and love – still have plans for her. I picked this up because I was exhausted and wanted something that was a bit fun and easy to read – nothing too taxing for my brain – and it certainly fit the bill. There were some more serious moments amongst the fluff (poor Jim) but even those were somehow easy to read about. I liked that Rebecca didn’t have a cliché chick-lit job (most of them seem to work in TV or write for magazines or something). She works in a male-dominated field and her colleagues/bosses are all men but she definitely holds her own. I did get annoyed when she started talking about how women can’t eat what they like because they have to stay skinny for men though. Grrr. I liked that everyone took the “exes anonymous” group seriously and did their best to work through things and gain their lives back – it could have ended up just being a bunch of people bitching about their exes but the author took it in a different direction that I actually enjoyed. It’s quite cliché in parts but it was exactly right for what I wanted at the time. 3.5 stars.
A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriaty (The Colours of Madeleine #1). Madeleine and her mother are living in Cambridge having run away from Madeleine’s father. They used to live an exciting, flamboyant life, but now they don’t have much money so those days are gone. Fortunately Madeleine has her two friends Jack and Belle to take her mind off things. Elliott lives in the Kingdom of Cello, in a small town called bonfire. His father disappeared a few months ago, on the same night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. In Elliott’s world, Colors are dangerous creatures that attack people and he’s convinced his dad was taken by a Purple – which also killed his uncle. He is determined to find both his dad and the truth. When Madeleine finds a message inserted in a parking meter, the two teens begin exchanging letters across the worlds – through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. Contact with someone from the World is strictly forbidden in Cello, but Elliot takes his chances and he keeps writing to Madeleine. Over time the two begin to bond and, surprisingly, find that they may even have the solution to each other’s problems. This book is charming but very confusing. Madeleine’s side of the story doesn’t seem to have much of a plot – she just quirkily wanders around being all colourful and quirky, she and her friends have some quirky home-schooling that doesn’t actually seem to involve many real lessons, then she gets into a sort of vague relationship with her friend that doesn’t really work out. She eventually faces some challenges towards the end that are resolved pretty much instantly – all the while exchanging letters with someone who lives in another world. Which brings us to Elliot… his side of things at least has an interesting backstory and a vaguely coherent plot. The beginning is confusing because the author just plunges straight into a “Colour attack” in Cello without explaining what “Colours” actually are, how they’re different to colours with a small c and how on Earth a colour manages to hurt people. If you’re confused now as well I’m afraid I can’t help you, I still don’t feel like I really understand “Colours”. I did end up liking the book but I’d be hard pressed to tell you what it’s actually about and have no interest in continuing the series! 3 stars.
Total books read: 13. BIPOC/BAME authors: 2. Huh, I was sure there were more but nope. Worst ratio of the year so far (not that the other months have been great… unfortunately most of my owned books are by white people and I’m trying not to spend money. I will do better in June though!)
TL:DR. I highly recommend After the Fire, even if you don’t normally read YA books. I also loved Still Life and Where the Crawdads Sing. If you enjoy children’s books I definitely recommend the Pages & Co and Strangeworld’s Travel Agency books but obviously start from the beginning of the series. The rest you can read if they sound interesting. The only ones I wouldn’t particularly recommend are She’s Come Undone and A Corner of White. Not that I hated either, there’s just not much going for them.