I’m a day late writing this post for what it turns out is the final Show Us Your Books. It really does feel like the end of an era and I haven’t even been around since the beginning! Many thanks to Steph and Jana for all their years of hosting (since October 2014!). I’ve found so many good books through this link up and also some of my favourite bloggers.
Now let’s get to the books shall we?
Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine. When a good-looking boy with an American accent presses a dropped negative into Rowan’s hand, she’s convinced it’s just a mistake. She knows she didn’t drop anything, but he’s adamant it was her. But before she can say anything more he’s gone, lost in the crowd of bustling shoppers. And she can’t afford to lose her place in the checkout queue – after all, the food shopping isn’t going to take itself home! Rowan has more responsibilities than most girls her age. These days, she pretty much looks after her little sister single-handedly – which doesn’t leave much time for friends or fun. But when she finds out that Bee from school saw the whole thing, it piques her curiosity. Especially when it turns out the dropped item does have a connection to her after all… I enjoyed this. Some parts of the story line were predictable but I was okay with it. Stroma is fantastic – definitely one of my favourite little sisters in fiction. I thought Bee’s character could have been fleshed out a bit more – we are told how special and amazing she is but I didn’t really feel it. I did love Harper though. This is the kind of book I would have devoured as a teen. With Rowan’s struggles at home, I would compare it to Jacqueline Wilson, but for older readers. 4 stars.
Another Mother’s Son by Janet Davey. Lorna Parry is the mother of three boys, each one lurching uncomfortably into adulthood. In the claustrophobic loneliness of her own home, Lorna orbits around her sons and struggles to talk to them; she’s still angry at her ex-husband, uncomfortable around her father’s new girlfriend, and works quietly as the only employee left in a deserted London archive. Life seems precariously balanced. Then a shocking event occurs in the stationery cupboard at the boys’ school and her world threatens to implode. This was an incredibly depressing book. I’m not sure I’ve ever read such a pessimistic representation of motherhood. The youngest son, Ross, was just awful. I know teenagers are difficult but I would never have got away with talking to my mother like that! (Constantly telling her to shut up, you can leave now, nobody’s interested in you.) The “incident” wasn’t what I thought it was going to be and in the end didn’t even feel like a main plot point. I did think the writing was good though. It was certainly evocative – I could actually feel how dull Lorna’s live was! 2.5 stars.
Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. She’s skipped multiple grades and doesn’t really connect with the older kids at school, but she’s not comfortable with her family, either. Because Sophie has a secret, an ability that she’s never been able to share with anybody. She can read the thoughts of everyone around her. When she meets Fitz, a mysterious (and adorable) boy, she learns she’s not alone. She discovers that there is a place she belong, but also that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known. There are new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.” And the danger isn’t over either. There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory – secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans – that other people desperately want. Would even kill for. It’s up to Sophie to figure out why she’s the key to her brand new world… before someone else works it out first. This was a fun read. It definitely has its flaws and Sophie’s constant perfection (despite being new to the world and school, she’s the absolute best ever at everything except one subject) got annoying, as did her suddenly remembering random things or discovering completely new abilities when it was convenient for the plot, but I stayed up longer than I planned reading and had to force myself to go to bed without finishing it, which anyone who has ever had a young baby knows is a big deal, so 3.5 stars. Also, for some reason I thought this book involved gods but it’s not that at all.
Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer. (Benny Griessel #2) As morning dawns in Cape Town, it promises to be a very trying day for homicide detective Benny Griessel it promises to be a very trying day. The body of a teenage girl has been found on the street, her throat cut. She was an American – a PR nightmare in the #1 tourist destination in South Africa. And she wasn’t alone. Somewhere in Cape Town her friend, Rachel Anderson, an innocent American, is hopefully still alive. On the run, Rachel is terrified with no idea who she can trust or where to turn in this unknown city. It’s up to Benny to find her, in a race against the clock. Meanwhile, he gets pulled into a second case, the murder of a South African music executive. Griessel has been sober for nearly six months – 156 days. But day 157 is going to be a tough one! This is a thrilling book with great characters. I found all the politics and tension between the different cultures – Zulus, Xhosa, and Coloreds (mixed race and South Asian) slightly confusing (despite having read Born a Crime, which explains a lot of the background) but still enjoyed the story. We don’t find out what Rachel has that the criminals want until near the end and I absolutely could not guess what it might be! The book was originally written in Afrikaans but as far as I can tell it loses nothing in the translation to English. Despite being the second in a series I didn’t feel like I had missed anything too vital. I found this one randomly in a free bookcase but wouldn’t be averse to buying other books by this author in the future. 4 stars.
My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella. Katie – or Cat, as she is known at work – Brenner has the perfect life, with a flat in London and a glamorous job at a branding company… or so her Instagram feed would suggest. Okay, she actually rents a tiny room in a shared flat where she doesn’t even have space for a wardrobe, has a nightmare commute to a lowly admin job and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t actually hers. But one day her dreams are bound to come true, right. Fake it til you make it and all that. But then her not-so-perfect life comes crashing down when her boss, the mega-successful Demeter who she has been desperately trying to emulate, gives her the sack and Katie is forced to move home to Somerset. When Demeter books in for a glamping holiday on Katie’s family’s farm, she can’t resist the opportunity to get revenge. But does Demeter – the woman who seemingly has everything – really have such an idyllic life. Maybe the two women have more in common than it seems? This is a quick read for how long it is (431 pages) and there’s quite a bit of humour in it. Katie is a little annoying at times, but it’s less fluffy than I was expecting and has a good message underneath. The love interest (because obviously there is one) is fairly forgettable and honestly I would have been fine with this being a book about someone finding themselves without any added romance, but it was fine. Ultimately, this will probably be a fairly forgettable book but it was the perfect not-too-taxing read for baby nap times. 3.5 stars.
For my final Show Us Your Books post it would have been nice to say all the books I read were by BIPOC/BAME authors, but alas none of them were. Even Deon Meyer is a white South African – although I feel like the fact that the book was originally written in Afrikaans makes it somewhat diverse? No? Okay. Anyway, I am linking up with Steph and Jana forthe very last time and you really should click on one of those two names and go and check out what the rest of this amazing book community has been reading since the last link up.
Good morning! It’s book day again with Steph and Jana. Before I get on to my reviews can I just say I have no idea how other parents of young children manage to read! Currently baby still takes caffeine citrate in the morning and she gets that together with a bottle that her dad gives her meanwhile I am pumping the milk for the next day’s bottle and I generally use that time to read. Other than that any time I’m not breastfeeding, winding, changing, comforting or just holding the baby is used for things that need to get done – like organising my COVID booster jab (this Thursday if you’re interested). Anyway, by reading while pumping I managed to get through two books.
Holy Island by L. J. Ross. Forced to take sabbatical leave from his duties as a homicide detective, Detective Chief Inspector Ryan retreats to Holy Island off the Northumbrian coast. A few days before Christmas, his peace is shattered and he is thrust back into the murky world of murder when a young woman is found dead amongst the ancient ruins of the nearby Priory. When former local girl Dr Anna Taylor arrives back on the island as a police consultant, old memories swim to the surface making her confront her difficult past. She and Ryan struggle to work together to hunt a killer who hides in plain sight, while pagan rituals and small-town politics muddy the waters of their investigation. I was excited for this book because it’s set in Northumberland (I’ve been to Lindesfarne or “Holy Island” many times, although not for years) and I definitely enjoyed the setting.The detective main character is a total cliché. Of course he has a tragic backstory! And I found myself rolling my eyes every time yet another woman on the island talked about how gorgeous he was. The blurb describes this as a detective novel but there’s a romance aspect that reads like it’s trying to be a Mills and Boon. Not that I have a problem with romance as a genre but here it feels it feels out of place and like the author should have stuck to one or the other. Plus the main character is pretty sexist and should not have been sleeping with that person in the first place. The actual crime/detective story is somewhat predictable but not bad – I was intrigued enough to read to the end. The epilogue ending is pretty far-fetched though. 2.5 stars.
Rise of the World Eater by Jamie Littler (Frostheart book 3). Ash faces his greatest challenge yet as the evil Wraith leader Shaard unleashes the dreaded Devourer from its centuries-long imprisonment. Only by uniting can the peoples of the Snow Sea hope to stand against the monster’s wrath, but as the Devourer targets the stronghold of Aurora, the tribes remain as divided as ever. In a last desperate move, Ash and the crew of the Frostheart journey to the yeti lands, where humans are forbidden, in search for the truth about the Devourer’s origins, and the one weakness that may prove its undoing. This is the third and final book in this series and it was definitely a worthy ending. It was great to learn more about Tobu’s past and I really enjoyed seeing Ash coming out of Tobu’s and Lunah’s shadows and learning to take action by himself. The Frostheart’s crew were as awesome as ever and really showed that they are there for each other no matter what. I was a little frustrated at times at just how many things had to go wrong along the way but overall I thought this was another fantastic book. 4 stars.
Neither of the books I read in January was by a BAME/BIPOC author so I haven’t got off to a great start on that front but oh well. The year is still young. Check out the link up for more book reviews from people who have more time than I do!
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.
Linking up with Steph and Jana. Go check out their blogs for more book reviews.
Hello! Happy Show Us Your Books day! Like every month, I’m linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I’ve been reading. There are a few to get through so I’ll just launch straight in.
Anxious People by Frederik Backman When a failed bank robbery turns into a hostage situation at an open-house apartment viewing, eight anxious people find themselves trapped in a room together. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers gradually begin opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths. As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book at first. It’s all a bit too weird and quirky. But somehow it was also fascinating in a way that wouldn’t let me stop reading. Even though it all felt a bit far-fetched (and I couldn’t believe anyone would act the way these characters did while being interviewed by the police!) I also felt like I just had to know how it all came together. It ends up being a very clever puzzle and the author did a good job of putting it all together, but the overwhelming feeling I came out with was melancholy. I feel like nobody actually knows what they’re doing and we’re all just wandering through life making a whole series of bad or sometimes slightly less bad decisions. There are some nice touching moments and I think the ending and the overall message was supposed to be hopeful but personally I came out of it just feeling kind of down – which I suppose is the sign of a good author, being able to manipulate my emotions to that extent. 4 stars.
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne. For Farah and Dougan the only thing that makes life at Applecross Orphanage bearable is their friendship, which deepens into love as the years pass. Shortly after they seal their love in a “handfasting” ceremony at the ages of 10 and 13, the two are torn apart. Seventeen years later. Farah, now a clerk at Scotland Yard, where she is known as the widowed Mrs Mackenzie meets Dorian Blackwell. Known as the Blackheart of Ben More, Dorian is a ruthless villain – one of London’s wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him… and will fight to the death to seize what he wants – including Farah. But Farah is no one’s puppet. She possesses a powerful secret—one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he’d long thought dead? I enjoyed this. It was a fun read. It’s kind of predictable but honestly what romance isn’t? I really liked Farah – she doesn’t take anyone’s crap. I will most likely continue the series. 4 stars.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. There are no monsters any more – or so Jam and the other children growing up in Lucille have always been told. But one night, Jam meets Pet, Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood. Pet has come to hunt a monster – a monster it claims is lurking in Jam’s best friend Redemption’s house. Jam isn’t sure what to think, but if there’s even a chance that Redemption could be in danger she has to find out the truth. And so she must fight not only to protect her best friend but to find the answer to the question: How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist? It seems weird to describe a book as both charming and dark but that’s exactly how it felt to me. Jam’s family and friends are so loving and accepting of her. It’s mentioned early on that she’s trans and not a single person batted an eyelid when she told them she was a girl (at age 3). She rarely speaks out loud and it seemed like most of the town learned sign language to communicate with her – not just family friends but even the town librarian. And her relationship with best friend Redemption is the most lovely, heart-warming thing I’ve read in a while. Even when he tells her something unbelievable he believes her immediately without question. Then there’s the other side. They’ve always been told that monsters don’t exist any more, but now a creature named Pet is telling them that not only are there still monsters but one of them has been right under their noses the whole time. The moment when Redemption realised who he thought might be the victim of the monster was heartbreaking. And the end took a very dark turn – I would definitely not let anyone under about 12 it 13 read this book. The whole discussion of monsters and how assuming/claiming there aren’t any could cloud people’s judgement so that they missed all the signs is thought provoking and very relevant to our times. How do you know how the monsters are if they look like everybody else? My one complaint about this book – and it’s relatively minor – is I would have liked to know more about the world. What happened to the monsters? Is it just Lucille that’s monster free or the entire world – and if there are monsters elsewhere now do they keep them out? Are young people’s monitored for signs that they might grow up as “monsters”? Maybe I’m just expecting too much of a children’s book. 4 stars anyway.
Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicholl. Cora has no interest in being dragged along to her brother’s work do. She certainly doesn’t expect to make a friend there. Then she meets Adrien, son of the intimidating CEO of Pomegranate Technologies, and the first person ever to understand how Cora feels being neurodiverse in a world that isn’t made for people like her (Cora is autistic and Adrien has ADHD). As she becomes part of Adrien’s life, she is also drawn into the mysterious projects at Pomegranate. At first, she’s intrigued by them – Pomegranate is using AI to recreate real people in hologram form, with the aim of eventually allowing people to speak with relatives who have passed away. Having lost her mother a year ago, Cora can understand exactly why people would want another chance to talk to a loved one. But as she digs deeper, she uncovers darker secrets… Cora knows she must unravel their plans, but can she fight to make her voice heard, whilst never losing sight of herself? This book is a roller-coaster! There were so many ups and downs. What Pomegranate Industries was doing is genuinely disturbing. I totally got Cora’s dad’s concerns even before Cora uncovered the truth. It was an absolutely fascinating plot though. I loved the characters – even the villain in a love-to-hate kind of way. Cora’s friendship with Adrien is just the best, and of course I LOVE the dog. I cannot recommend this book enough.It’s slightly lacking in world building/some explanations (e.g. it’s never explained why people aren’t allowed to fly any more – I’m guessing climate change but it’s never actually addressed) but I gave it 5 stars anyway because I genuinely enjoyed it that much.
Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. Becky Bloomwood has a fabulous flat in London’s trendiest neighbourhood, a troupe of glamorous socialite friends, and a closet brimming with the season’s must-haves. The only trouble is, she can’t actually afford any of it. Her job writing for finance magazine Successful Savings not only bores her to tears, it doesn’t pay much at all. And lately the bank has been chasing her, sending letters with huge red numbers that Becky can’t bear to even look at. She tries cutting back. But none of her efforts succeeds. Becky’s only consolation is to buy herself something … just a little something… Finally she stumbles on a story that she actually cares about, and her front-page article catalyses a chain of events that will transform her life – and the lives of those around her – forever. I remember when this came out (my first year of uni) and it was absolutely everywhere. Somehow I never actually got round to reading it though, so when I spotted it in a free public bookcase I decided to grab it and see what all the fuss was about. It’s a fast, fun read but kind of ridiculous. Becky really annoyed me at times. The ending is kind of ridiculous but it’s exactly what I expect from this kind of book. If I had actually read it back in the day I would have adored it. At nearly 38 I just liked it. I did have fun remembering early 2000s life though – not many mobile phones, no Facebook, etc. – but I won’t bother tracking down the rest of the series. 3 stars.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed Midwestern town. But it’s okay – Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend Pennington College on a music scholarship, become a doctor, find a cure for the sickle cell disease that took her mother from her. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down… until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants less than to endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams… or make them come true? This is cute and fun even while dealing with some serious issues. I loved the characters – mostly. Liz’s friend Gabi kind of annoyed me at times and “mean girl” Rachel was sooo stereotypical. The ending was a little predictable and almost too perfect but that’s par for the course with this kind of book. My absolute favourite thing was the relationship between Leah and her brother – everything about their interactions was so heart warming. 4 stars.
Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis. At sixteen, Emmie Blue released a red balloon with her name, email address and a secret she desperately wanted to be rid of. Against the odds, Lucas Moreau found her balloon and emailed her, sparking an intense friendship between the two teens. Now, on the eve of their shared 30th birthday, Emmie is desperately hoping that Lucas is finally about to ask her to become his girlfriend – but instead he announces he is marrying someone else. Suddenly all Emmie’s dreams are shattered and she feels like she’s losing the only person on her life she can rely on. But what if Lucas isn’t her forever after all? What if her love story is only just beginning… This book is cute with some great characters – Emmie’s co-workers Rosie and Fox are hilarious. I loved every scene they appeared in. Certain aspects of the plot were very predictable – not just in the way that romance is always predictable but as in the second the person Emmie was “truly” meant to be with appeared I knew it was him and I also totally guessed something else that was integral to their eventual relationship. So one star off for that but overall I did really enjoy it. 4 stars.
Naomi’s Room by Jonathan Aycliffe. Charles and Laura are a young, happily married couple inhabiting the privileged world of Cambridge academia. One Christmas Eve, Charles sets off with their four-year-old daughter Naomi on a shopping trip to London. But, by the end of the day, all Charles and his wife have left are cups of tea and police sympathy. For Naomi, their beautiful, angelic only child, has disappeared. Days later her murdered body is discovered. But is Naomi really gone? This book started off well – very creepy and atmospheric, but the second half was almost too convoluted. I would have preferred more of a pure haunting than the “twist” with a certain person taking a more active role (trying to avoid spoilers there!). 2.5 stars.
The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde (The Last Dragonslayer #2). A long time ago magic faded away, leaving behind only yo-yos, the extremely useful compass-pointing-to-North enchantment and the spell that keep bicycles from falling over. Things are about to change. Magical power is on the rise and King Snodd IV of Hereford has realised that he who controls magic controls almost anything. One person stands between Snodd and his plans for power and riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. Meet Jennifer Strange, sixteen-year-old acting manager of Kazam, the employment agency for sorcerers and soothsayers. With only one functioning wizard and her faithful assistant ‘Tiger’ Prawns, Jennifer must use every ounce of ingenuity to derail King Snodd’s plans. It may involve a trip on a magic carpet at the speed of sound to the Troll Wall, the mysterious Transient Moose, and a powerless sorceress named Once Magnificent Boo. But one thing is certain: Jennifer Strange will not relinquish the noble powers of magic to big business and commerce without a fight. If you think that synopsis sounds bizarre you would be right! I remember really liking the first book in the series. Admittedly it’s been a while but this one just wasn’t as enjoyable. It’s very silly but to me somehow lacked in imagination. I liked the characters but the actual plot just isn’t that interesting. It’s quick and fun though and I don’t regret reading it. 3 stars.
Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen. Leelu, her mum and her older brother have moved from her warm, bright home country to cold, grey London. The neighbours are noisy, there’s concrete everywhere and Leelu struggles to fit in. Worst of all, they had to leave their father behind at home. But Leelu is not alone; someone is leaving her gifts outside her house – wonders which give her curious magical powers. Powers that could help her find a way home. In my opinion Leelu’s struggles with being in a new country and missing her dad was the best part of this book. Particularly the scenes in school where she felt out of place and scared were incredibly well written. And I loved her friendship with the refugee girl from next door. It provided a lovely spark of joy in an otherwise fairly dark book. The touch of magical realism was fun but I felt a little uncomfortable about her friendship with Bo – the old man neighbour. Obviously he ultimately turned out to be fine but I would have preferred if maybe her mum had met him first and he had become established as a trusted adult before Leelu went into his house. Maybe that’s me looking at it’s from too much of an adult perspective but I would not want my child thinking it’s okay to go off with random adults! 3.5 stars.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston. Amari Peters’ big brother Quniton has gone missing and she’s convinced it has to do with his mysterious job. So when she gets an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain this is her chance to find Quinton. But first she has to get her head around the idea that mermaids, aliens and magicians are real, and her roommate is a weredragon. Amari must compete against kids who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives, and when each trainee is awarded a special supernatural talent, Amari is given an illegal talent – one that the Bureau views as dangerous. With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is the enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three try-outs, she may never find out what happened to her brother. magical book! It’s very much character and plot-driven – the actual writing is nothing special. But the world is fantastic. It reminded me of Nevermoor in many ways, but this one is closer to our world (in a similar way to Harry Potter as in all this magical stuff is right there but normal people can’t see it) and also has a Men in Black vibe. It could have used a bit more editing – within the space of a few pages there were a few mistakes (one was just they’re instead of their, but the other was missing word and it threw me right out of the story). Amari is bullied for being different and the main instigator was such a spoiled mean girl cliché that I had trouble taking her seriously. I definitely recommend this book though and will read the next in the series when it comes out. 4 stars.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream – a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength. Most people probably already know this book. A lot would have read it in school. I didn’t. Objectively, this is a good book. It’s well written. There’s a good message. Everyone loves it. Personally I liked it okay but I didn’t love and adore it like most reviweres seem to. It’s a quick enough read that I would say read it and make up your own mind. 3 stars.
Waking Gods by Sylvain Nuevel (Themis Files #2). As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day. Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers – and even more perplexing questions. Now human-kind faces a deadly nightmare – can Dr Franklin and her team unlock the final secrets behind Themis before it’s too late? I’ve tried to make that synopsis as vague as possible to avoid spoiling the first in the series for those that haven’t read it! I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first one. It answered some of the questions from the first book but a lot of the answers were kind of underwhelming. The format again made it a relatively quick read but I felt like I couldn’t fully connect with the characters. The addition of some personal diary entries helped a bit bit for the most part I still felt like I didn’t fully understand their motivations. I will finish the series though because I want to know where it’s going with the way it ended. 3 stars.
Tell No One by Harlan Coben. Eight years ago David Beck was knocked unconscious and left for dead,and his wife Elizabeth was kidnapped and murdered. Everyone tells him it’s time to move on, to forget the past once and for all. Then an image of Elizabeth appears on David’s computer screen, and suddenly he is taunted with the impossible – that somehow, somewhere Elizabeth is still alive. The messages come with a warning: tell no one. And he doesn’t. But soon Beck himself is being hunted down… This book is certainly action-packed. It pulls you in at the beginning and just doesn’t let up. It ended up being a little too convoluted for me though and a few things were a little too convenient. Plus the final twist at the end just didn’t make sense. I also got so tired of hearing about what an angel Elizabeth was. Nobody is that perfect! A good way to pass the time but far from being a new favourite thriller. 3 stars.
For the third month in a row, I read 14 books and four of them were by BAME/BIPOC authors. I really need to up my game, but it’s difficult when I’m trying not to spend and most of my owned books are by white people. I should make more use of Scribd!
TL;DR: I ended up enjoying Anxious People but it’s a strange book and definitely not for everyone. I LOVED Show Us Who You Are. Pet is thought-provoking and interesting. You Should See Me in a Crown and Dear Emmie Blue are both cute with great characters (the first is YA, the second adult contemporary). Amari and the Night Brothers is reminiscent of Nevermoor and Men in Black. I recommend it if you enjoy books for their plot and characters and don’t mind so much about amazing writing.
That’s it for this month. Tell me what you’ve been reading recently. And don’t forget to visit the link up for more book reviews.
Hello! It’s somehow book day again… time is going fast! I forgot to write a draft of this post to add to throughout the month so now I’m having to type the whole entire thing during my lunch break (and partly after work because I didn’t get finished at lunch time). As you can see from the title, I am linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I read in February.
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Sequel to Greenglass House. It’s the Christmas holidays again and Milo is looking forward to spending his school-free time with his family, but once again they end up with a whole house full of guests, both familiar faces and new ones. There are fresh clues to uncover as Milo and his friends search for a mysterious map and a famous smuggler’s lost haul. I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the first one. It’s just as charming and there are some fantastic characters (I would love to see Milo and Marzana’s friendship continue to develop) but it did feel a bit too similar to the first book at times. i really enjoyed the aspects of Nagspeake folklore and getting to know something about the world outside the inn. 4 stars.
The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Mila and her sisters live with their brother Oskar in a small forest cabin. It’s been winter in their village for 5 years – so long that Mila’s youngest sister doesn’t remember anything else. Their mother is dead and their father is gone. One night, a fur-clad stranger arrives seeking shelter for himself and his men. But by the next morning, they’ve gone – taking Oskar with them and, as they later find out, all the other boys in the village. Mila is determined to find her brother and bring him back, so with the help of Rune, the Mage, she sets out to do just that. This is well-written, and the beginning in particular is very atmospheric, but the story felt a bit vague. It’s based on folklore and very reminiscent of a fairy-tale but it lacks detail. It’s all a bit simple and most of the characters felt a bit flat – particularly Mila’s older sister Senna and Rune, the Mage. I would have liked to find out more of his back story and motivations. I did really love Mila’s little sister Pipa though. 3 stars.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson. 12-year-old Yanka has always felt out of place in her small village. She was found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby and has always felt drawn towards the forest. When she wakes up one morning to find that her legs have become bear legs, she sets off on an adventure with her house weasel Mousetrap to discover who she really is. Along the way she is joined by a motley crew of animals, all of whom have a lot to teach her about friendship and belonging. This is a wonderful adventure about family, friendship and discovering who you really are. I loved the stories interwoven throughout and the characters Yanka met along the way. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The House With Chicken Legs though. Yanka is a great character but I somehow didn’t feel as attached to her as I did to Marinka. One thing I did like better in this one was the Yaga house – I want it to be my friend! 3.5 stars.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Vasilisa – known as Vasya – the youngest child of Petyor Petrovich, is wild like her mother was. The family lives on the edge of the Russian wilderness (although at that point it’s not Russia yet, but Rus‘), where winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. Vasya spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. But then her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honouring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. In a village caught between a pagan past and the Christian church, Vasya is perhaps the only one who can save her people from what’s coming. This is really well written and I found the Slavic folk tale elements absolutely fascinating. I love Vasya and the various creatures/guardians. However it felt pretty slow at times – it seemed to take forever for the “real” story to get going. I will read the next book because I want to know where Vasya ends up going. 3.5 stars.
Boy, Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. When Boy Novak turns 20, she flees the home of her abusive, rat-catcher father – ending up in Flax Hill, Massachusetts, simply because it’s the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. There she meets Arturo Whitman – craftsman, widower, and father of Snow – a beautiful, cherished child who Boy is instantly smitten by. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird. When Bird is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart. There are a lot of themes in this book. Identity… what it means to be white/black, male/female. Appearances versus reality. There is a LOT to discuss and I feel like it would be a perfect book club book. It’s also really well written. But the plot kind of lost me. I felt like I was missing the whole point of the book. Then a few serious issues came up at the end that weren’t really explored at all and made me feel like I was missing something. The final twist at the end was handled fairly badly (to say how would be a spoiler though) and the book then ended abruptly without the reveal either being tied in to the rest of the plot or the author explaining what she was trying to do by putting that twist in there and having Boy react so badly. I’m not sure what the comparison with Snow White is about either. Sure there’s an obsession with mirrors and beauty but comparing the plot to Snow White seemed very far-fetched to me. 3 stars – maybe more 2.5 now I think about it.
The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club (various authors including Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers). In 1931 Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and 10 other crime writers from the newly formed Detection Club collaborated in publishing a unique crime novel. In a literary game of consequences, each author would write one chapter, leaving G.K. Chesterton to write a typically paradoxical prologue and Anthony Berkeley to tie up all the loose ends. The result was this book. Inspector Rudge does not encounter many cases of murder in the sleepy seaside town of Whynmouth. But when an old sailor lands a rowing boat containing a fresh corpse with a stab wound to the chest, the Inspector’s investigation immediately comes up against several obstacles. The vicar, whose boat the body was found in, is clearly withholding information, and the victim’s niece has disappeared. There is clearly more to this case than meets the eye – even the identity of the victim is called into doubt. Inspector Rudge begins to wonder just how many people have contributed to this extraordinary crime and whether he will ever unravel it… I love the concept of this book and it was interesting to see where each author took the story and what they added to it. Inevitably some chapters were better than others (or possibly more to my taste than others). I found the prologue by G.K. Chesterton surprisingly dull considering I like the Father Brown stories. Agatha Christie’s chapter was good, as could be expected. There were a few other chapters I enjoyed as well, some by authors I didn’t know, and I was impressed with how the last person managed to tie everything together. I had read this before but I was maybe 13 at the time so I obviously didn’t remember the solution! I do recommend it if you’re a fan of classic crime/mysteries – it’s definitely not the greatest detective mystery I’ve read but I still found it fun to see what people managed to do with someone else’s plot. 3 stars.
Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens. A collection of short stories from the world of the Murder Most Unladylike series – including the Detective Society’s first ever mystery, the Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie. There are also tips from Daisy and Hazel on how to found your own Detective Society, a story from “rival” teen detectives (but actually friends) The Junior Pinkertons, and some discussion of real-life unsolved mysteries. It’s cute but ultimately unnecessary. The tips for setting up your own detective agency and writing in code are fun and there are a couple of new stories in there – I enjoyed reading about the Junior Pinkertons case. But ultimately I didn’t think it needed to be a whole separate book. One of the stories is actually included as a bonus at the end of Mistletoe and Murder and I felt like the same could have been done with the rest of the content. Also, I had felt that Daisy was getting better in Mistletoe and Murder, but reading from her perspective in this book she came across as an awful person and horrible friend to Hazel. She’s so possessive of their friendship while at the same time constantly putting Hazel down and treating her like an idiot. And when she’s giving her tips for setting up your own club she also talks directly to the readers as if they couldn’t possibly be anywhere near as clever as the amazing Daisy. Ugh! 2.5 stars.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. When Sydney Green takes part in a walking tour of the Brooklyn neighbourhood she’s lived in for almost her whole life, she is frustrated to find that the tour guide prefers to tell stories of the white people who lived there hundreds of years ago rather than the amazing African Americans – some of whom are actually still living there. Challenged to create her own walking tour if it means that much to her, Sydney decides to do just that, finding assistance from an unlikely – and unwanted – corner, one of the many new arrivals to the block – her neighbour Theo. As more and more FOR SALE signs pop up and the people Sydney has known her whole life gradually disappear – even while Sydney herself is literally battling to hold on to her own house – Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbours may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised. When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other – or themselves – long enough to find out before they too disappear? From reading the synopsis I could not figure out what the actual plot of this book was, I just knew it sounded interesting (and I had seen some high praise for it – I think actually through SUYB). It starts off fairly slow but by the end I was hooked – staying up until the early hours of the morning to finish it. I still have a few questions but overall it was a great read. Not a thriller in the traditional sense but certainly chilling and eye-opening. 4 stars.
Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson. When rookie policeman Ari Thór Arason is given his first posting in Siglufjörður – an idyllic (and remote) fishing village in the very north of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel – far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik, he isn’t expecting much beyond routine small incidents. But then a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, and Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. This is very atmospheric – you can really feel the claustrophobia of the small town, basically cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice. The story itself is verrrry slow, which isn’t always necessarily a bad thing but unfortunately something about the writing style just didn’t jibe well with me. It felt choppy. In fairness to the author it’s possible that something was lost in translation, although I would think the translator would have tried to accurately represent the original style. I also didn’t like Ari Thor very much – he needs to learn to communicate and stop assuming he knows how other people (his girlfriend) feel. Towards the end things started to pick up and there was a bit of action, which bumped this book up from a 2.5 to a 3 star. I probably won’t bother reading book 2 though.
Cinderella is Dead by Kaylynn Bayron. It’s been 200 years since Cinderella found her prince but the fairy tale is over. Siyteen-year-old Sophia knows the story off by heart though. She has to. Just like she and every other teen girl has to attend the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are “forfeit”, leaving the kingdom never to be heard from again. Sophia doesn’t want to go to the ball though. She doesn’t even want to get married – or not to a man anyway. She would rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend. When Sophia’s night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s tomb, where she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all – and in the process, learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew. I enjoyed this book. I do agree with the reviewers who said they would have liked more world-building, but if you view it through the lens of a fairytale of sorts it makes sense in a way for there to just be a kingdom and a forest. I liked Sophia but I would have liked to see her reasons for wanting to change the system developed a bit more. Obviously wanting to defeat the evil and get equal rights for everyone is a good thing – I’m not questioning that. But why does Sophia in particular choose to fight back while others prefer to follow the rules and try to conform no matter how much it hurts them? We are told it has something to do with Sophia’s grandmother, who also rebelled and was taken away, but I would have liked to be shown how her grandmother shaped her thinking. Maybe a scene with Sophia reminiscing about something specific that happened with her grandmother instead of her just constantly telling everybody “my grandmother told me the king is bad and must be stopped!”. The king himself is almost a caricature of evil – towards the end there was a point where I actually had to laugh because it was just getting so ridiculous! (It reminded me of a scene from Death Becomes Her). The twist on the fairy godmother was awesome and she was probably one of the best developed characters in the book to be honest. The romance felt very rushed – I felt like Sophia got over Erin very quickly. I did enjoy the experience of reading the book though and despite its flaws I flew through it, so I’m giving it 3.5 stars.
We Are Giants by Amber Lee Dodds. Sydney thinks her mother Amy is the best mum in the world – even if she is a bit different from other kids’ parents. As Amy explains it, when she was a girl she got to 48 inches tall and then stopped growing right there. It’s the perfect height, in Sydney’s opinion: big enough to reach the ice cream at the supermarket, but small enough to be special. And though Sydney’s dad died when she was only five, her memories of him, her mum’s love and the company of her brave big sister Jade means she never feels alone. When Sydney’s mum is forced to sell her furniture shop and the family moves away from London, things get tricky. Sydney and Jade have to fit in at a new school, make friends, and deal with growing up in a strange town. And the last thing Sydney wants to do is grow up! For such a short book this manages to pack a lot in – family, grief, growing up, dealing with changes and fitting in/making friends – but somehow it doesn’t seem crowded. Sydney’s voice felt authentic (to me – who has no children and clearly hasn’t been a child for a long time!) and I even teared up at one point. Jade’s teenage rebellion felt a bit cliché but still realistic. It’s a great little book for children who are worried about growing up or are struggling to cope with changes. 4 stars.
Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed. Zeba Khan is like any other sixteen-year-old British girl: enjoying herself, waiting for exam results and hanging around with friends. When her parents decide on a family trip to their home country of Pakistan Zeba isn’t exactly thrilled, but she goes along with it. Although she finds it a bit weird that her parents seem very stressed in the run-up to the holiday, she doesn’t really think much of it. It’s been a long time since they went home after all. Then they arrive, and her future is threatened by an unthinkable – and forced – duty to protect her father’s honour. This is a thought-provoking read. I liked that the author made it very clear that arranged marriage and forced marriage are two totally different things, and that forced marriage is actually frowned on in Islam as well (although it still happens). Zebra frustrated me at times – I wish she had just communicated when she had the chance. There is a surprisingly sad part in the middle. Most of the characters were well developed apart from Zeba’s mum, who just follows her husband in everything. I know that was the point – she’s supposed to be traditional and think men know best – but I didn’t understand how she could show literally zero emotion about her own daughter, even when the husband she was supposedly obeying was very obviously upset about what he felt he “had” to do. Zeba’s grandmother was fantastic and I loved how the author showed that the people you would expect to be most traditional in their thinking (the older generation) are perfectly capable of having minds of their own. The ending is a little too predictable and straightforward, but I can’t see how else it should have ended either so I suppose it makes sense. 3.5 stars.
A Wolf for a Spell by Karrah Sutton. Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans – especially witches – but when her family is threatened, she finds herself with no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing, and before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut – and Baba Yaga’s body! Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all. This is an absolutely magical book. The beginning gave me Red Riding Hood vibes, then it changed into something else. It has a definite fairytale feel, which isn’t surprising given it’s based on Slavic folk tales, but it also goes deeper than your traditional fairytale, which I liked. I loved all the characters, but my favourite was actually one of the supporting characters – I loved the raven with all his snark! One thing that didn’t quite work for me was the villain – he felt a bit flat and evil just for the sake of being evil. I guess he wanted power but that didn’t really come through. That’s a relatively minor complaint though – I definitely recommend this book. 4 stars.
Total books read: 14. Books by BIPOC/BAME authors: 4 (not good enough!).
TL;DR: All the children’s books mentioned here are great – I particularly recommend The Girl Who Speaks Bear and A Wolf for a Spell if you like middle grade fantasy. If you (or your children) prefer more realistic stories then We Are Giants is also great. When No One is Watching is fantastic but don’t go into it expecting your typical thriller. I really enjoyed the experience of reading Cinderella is Dead but for me it lacked depth. None of the rest are terrible but they aren’t my new favourites either. Read them if they sound good to you.
Hello! Ages ago, the publisher of this book (Stories Untold) contacted me on Instagram to ask whether I would be willing to read and review this book – which I thought meant they would give me, it turned out I had to sign up Netgalley and request it with the guarantee of approval. Then I had to download an app to my tablet so I could actually read it, the first one I tried kept asking for authentication but wouldn’t actually let me set a password. And once I found one that worked it took me far too long to actually read the book because I discovered I hate reading on my tablet. Basically I’m saying my days as a Netgalley reviewer are probably over before they’ve really started because who will ever approve me again? (Plus the whole reading on my tablet thing…).
Anyway, since this is a Netgalley review, I thought I’d better give it its own post instead of just adding it to me February round-up. So here we are.
Plot: Ivy Lovely was found as a baby and has spent 16 years working as a Scaldry Maid (I may have spelled that wrong) looking after the scaldron – a special type of dragon that is used in the castle to produce heat for cooking. Ivy is blessed with the ability to remember her dreams, a photographic memory and the ability to perfectly sketch whatever she sees – all traits of a type of magic-wielder known as Scrivenists, which is everything Ivy dreams of being. But her castle is hidden among the slurry fields – a substance that suppresses magic. After a series of unfortunate events leads to Ivy and a scaldron (who she names Humboldt) leaving the slurry fields, she is whisked away to the Halls of Ivy, a school where those with magic learn how to use it. When Ivy’s magic – and her life – is threatened by the Dark Queen, she quickly has to uncover the mysteries of her past and save her friends and all of Croswald before the truth is swept away forever. This is book one in a series of currently 3 (I don’t know if any more are planned).
My review: This is a fun book but I found parts of it confusing and other parts obvious(view spoiler). The pacing is all over the place. Sometimes a lot happens very fast and then at other times you turn a page and it’s somehow the end of year ball when I swear the year had only just started? Parts of it definitely reminded me of Harry Potter – mistreated young person (girl in this case) who has no idea who she really is gets an invitation to attend magic school and discovers powers they never knew they had. Even the shop where Ivy bought her school supplies wouldn’t have been out of place in Diagon Alley! But the magic system and powers are different enough for her to have managed to make it her own. I feel like the characters could have been fleshed out more – I never fully felt connected to Ivy while she was running around doing whatever and as for the other students, all I know is one is mean and snobbish, one likes to eat butter, and Fyn is mysterious and constantly shows up wherever Ivy is but I can’t work out whether it’s just because he fancies her or there’s more to it. Rebecca, Ivy’s room mate/supposedly best friend seemed like a fun character but all I can really tell you about her is she apparently doesn’t want to be royal and can’t control her magic. I assume some things will be cleared up in book 2 but it’s a little disappointing to reach the end of a book and realise that 90% of the characters are entirely forgettable. There were aspects of the book I really enjoyed though and overall I liked it but it’s far from being a new favourite.
Another book read for the Semi-Charmed Winter Reading Challenge! I read this one for the category “Read the first book in a series that is new to you“, which is worth 15 points. The Various is the first book in the Touchstone Trilogy.
This is the story of 12-year-old Midge, who is sent to stay with her eccentric uncle over the summer while her mother tours with her orchestra, and her adventures with “The Various” – a band of fairies, or little people, or whatever you want to call them. For many years, The Various have lived in the woods bordering on Uncle Brian’s farm, hidden away from human eyes. When the two world’s begin to clash, The Various are threatened with extinction. This is a tale of friendship, loyalty and adventure.
This was one of those books that made me wish my commute was longer so I could carry on reading. I LOVED it! It has all the ingredients of my favourite childhood books – perfectly ordinary girl stumbles on something extraordinary and has an adventure. Midge (whose real name is Margaret) is a believable character and I liked her a lot. I especially liked that, when she was in danger, she actually thought about the best thing to do (for example, realising that hiding in something would mean being trapped once she was found) instead of panicking and doing the exact opposite of the sensible thing – think horror films where people realise the killer is in the house and run up the stairs rather than out the front door! None of that here. She seems quite mature for her age, but as the only child of a single parent, I thought it made sense for her to have grown up fairly fast. I also liked Midge’s cousins, Katie and George. Katie is a fairly typical 13-year-old girl, more interested in clothes and boys than hanging around with her younger brother and cousin, but she comes good in the end (after stopping to change her clothes on the way, of course!). The language of the Various is quite old-fashioned with some made up words, which makes them difficult to understand at times, but I got used to that over the course of the book and I actually thought that was a nice touch. 5 stars for this one. Now to get hold of the other two books in the series…
Another book review for the Summer 2014 Reading Challenge with Megan from Semi-Charmed Kinda Life. I read this one for the category “Read a book from the children’s section of a library or bookstore”, which is worth 10 points. Depending on the source, the age range is given as 8-10 or 9-12. Either way, it fits into the category.
Eleven-year-old Carly Bitter Bean is an orphan. Since birth, she has only ever been able to sleep during the day. No matter how hard she tries, once the sun sets she just cannot sleep. Understandably, this has led to having a rather lonely life – it’s difficult to make friends when you’re only awake when everyone else is sleeping. All that changes when she meets Lewis, a talking rat who appears at her window one night asking her to join his band, and is then befriended by a mysterious boy at school, Green. Together, they set out to find out why the owls – who had previously enjoyed listening to the rats’ music – have suddenly started killing them instead…
I wish this book had been around when I was a child! I would have devoured it right around the time I was in my Faraway Tree/Wishing Chair/Narnia phase. But that’s not to say I couldn’t enjoy it as an adult. I really liked how the characters were drawn, and that the aspects that weren’t obviously fantasy (like talking rats) were realistic. In so many children’s fantasy books, the protagonists don’t seem to have any connection to real-life activities, or they manage to miss school for days on end and nobody even asks why. I liked that Carly still had to go to school (where she was constantly in trouble for falling asleep and also teased by her classmates for being “weird”. Not that I’m advocating bullying, but a girl who was constantly falling asleep in school and never came out to play (because after school she had to use the remaining daylight hours to sleep) would be teased). Also, when Green missed a few days of school, he returned with a note for the teacher explaining his absence… just like in real life! I also like the fact that, although Carly’s aunt (who she lives with) wasn’t a particularly likeable character, she wasn’t portrayed as some charicature of wicked with no redeeming qualities. Yes, she neglected Carly and made no effort to stay awake with her, but she did leave food out and make sure she went to school. The plotline was interesting, fun and adventurous. It wasn’t exactly a challenging story, but that’s hardly surprising considering the age range it’s actually meant for! Many adults would probably find it a bit childish, but personally I would see that as a good thing in a children’s book! I would recommend this one for fans of The Faraway Tree series, Narnia and any other stories that involve talking animals or fairytale folk come to life.