Book suggestions for Believathon

Following on from my previous post in which I told you what I’m reading for Believathon, I thought I would give you some suggestions for books you could read just in case you’re thinking “Wow, I would love to join in but some of those prompts are hard!” (Well, it’s possible). Or maybe you’re just looking for children’s book recommendations in general, either for you or a child in your life.
Instead of listing the prompts again and providing a suggestion for each, I thought I would give you a list of fifteen books (because I couldn’t stick with just ten!) and then say which Believathon prompts they would fit. Some work for several, some only for one or two. I’ve tried to include a few that might not be on your radar, and I’ve underlined the prompts in case you just want to skip straight to that without reading my ramblings. Enjoy!

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. I loved this book as a child! It would definitely have been a contender for my childhood favourite pick if my copy wasn’t in England. It’s about three sisters who are adopted by an eccentric explorer, who then disappeared leaving them in the care of his niece, Sylvia. They end up taking ballet lessons and, as the money Great Uncle Matthew left begins to run out, take to the stage to help their family. This one would work for the real life issues prompt (being orphaned, poverty), a book that’s set in the past and a children’s classic.

The Final Journey by Gudrun Pauswang. Goodreads lists this as Young Adult, but I read it years ago (in the original German) for a course on National Socialism in children’s literature so I’m saying it’s a children’s book. Alice is eleven years old, and it is wartime. She is taken from her home and forced onto a train with no seats and no windows. Her parents and grandmother have disappeared and she doesn’t know where she’s going. Alice is Jewish and it transpires that the train is headed to Auschwitz. This book made me cry and cry! It works for real life issues (umm, Auschwitz, war, deportation… do I really need to go on?) and a book set in the past.

The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann. Another one I loved as a child. When bulldozers enter Farthing Wood, the animals must escape before their homes are destroyed. They promise to stick together and protect each other—but then they get caught in a fire and nearly drown crossing a river. Will their pact hold? This one would count for a book with an animal character, a book with a strong sense of friendship (okay, they’re animals but the author does give a sense of “friendship” between certain groups) and a book with real life issues (environment/destruction of animal habitats). I’m also pretty sure it counts as a classic.

Frogkisser by Garth Nix. When her evil step-step-father (a magician) decides to take over the kingdom, Princess Anya is forced to Anya go on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land. This one works for a book with magic, an animal character (talking dogs, among others), strong sense of friendship (Anya makes friends on her quest and is also has a loyal friend in the palace dog who accompanies her) and a book featuring a myth or legend (there are several, the Princess and the Frog being the most obvious, but there is also an allusion to Robin Hood plus there are seven dwarves and a “Snow White” who is not what you think).

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. I mentioned in my previous post that I would definitely have chosen this as my childhood favourite re-read if I could, but my copy is missing. I adored this book as a child. It features a girl named Charlotte who starts boarding school, where the kind girl who is showing her around suggests she take the nicest bed since she was the first to arrive. The next day, Charlotte wakes up next to a girl called Emily who claims she’s her sister and insists on calling Charlotte “Claire”. It’s also wartime. Obviously she thinks it’s a dream until she wakes up the next day, back with her original dorm mates, and discovers she’s missed an entire day. This carries on with her switching times each night until she ends up stuck in the past. Will she ever make it back to her own time? This would work for a book set in the past (both when Charlotte travels back and also Gavin said books set at the time they were written would count for this, so Charlotte’s “present” is 1969!). I think a bed that makes you time travel would also count for a hint of magic 😉 And Charlotte and Emily eventually build up a friendship while pretending to be sisters so I would count it for that too. There are also real life issues: war, rationing, starting boarding school for the first time and missing your family. The picture above is of the “Vintage Children’s Classics” edition, so based on that I think it’s okay to consider it a classic, too.

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. Twelve-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother, Michael, have never liked their seven-year-old stepsister, Heather. Now their parents have moved them all to the country to live in a converted church, with a cemetery in the backyard. If that’s not bad enough, Heather starts talking to a ghost named Helen and warning Molly and Michael that Helen is coming for them. Molly is convinced Heather is in danger. Obvious this book would be perfect for the spooky or atmospheric prompt. It’s also set in the past (published 1986 and presumably set then too) and has real life issues – parents remarrying and blended families not getting along.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. This is based on the true story of Ivan. a gorilla who was kept in a shopping mall for 27 years, before eventually being transferred to a zoo. Told from the perspective of Ivan, it tells of how a new baby elephant, taken from the wild, comes to the mall, forcing Ivan to see his life through new eyes. This obviously works for a book with an animal character, but also real life issues (animal rights) and a strong friendship (Ivan is good friends with an elephant named Stella). The real Ivan was given to a zoo in 1994 so presumably that’s also when this book is set, meaning it works for the past prompt as well.

The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster. Eleven-year-old Joe lives in a hospital – his condition makes it impossible for him to go out and even the few visitors he’s allowed risk bringing in life-threatening germs. If you liked Wonder, I would recommend giving this one a go. This obviously works for real life issues (in addition to being ill, Joe is an orphan with his older sister his only relative) and Joe is also friends with a boy who has a similar condition, so the strong sense of friendship is there, too.

The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo. Another book I considered for my childhood favourite. Gwyn’s birthdays have always been sad occasions since his older sister Bethan disappeared five years ago. But this year was different. Time to find out if you are a magician!, said his grandmother, as she gave him five strange birthday gifts. A piece of seaweed, a yellow scarf, a tin whistle, a twisted metal brooch and a small broken horse. Gwyn gave the brooch to the wind and, in return, there came a tiny silver spider, Arianwen. The snow spider. This is set in winter, so it’s a seasonal book. It also features magic and real-life issues (missing sister/grief and Gwyn has a strained relationship with his dad).

Scarlet and Ivy: The Lost Twin by Sophie Cleverly. When troublesome Scarlet mysteriously disappears from Rookwood School, terrifying Miss Fox invites her quiet twin sister Ivy to “take her place”. When she arrives, she discovers the school actually want her to pretend to be Scarlet. But where is her twin and what secret things are going on at Rockwood? I would count this one as a spooky or atmospheric book (the boarding school is creepy). It’s also set in the past (1911, I think) and there is a great friendship between Ivy and a girl named Ariadne. I also recommend the rest of the series.

A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson. When Owl starts seeing strange frost patterns on her skin she wonders whether her strange new powers are related to the mysterious father she has never known and who her mother refuses to talk about. This is a seasonal book (it’s set in winter), has magic, features a strong friendship and also deals with real life issues (absent father and Owl’s best friend, Mallory, is also going through some family problems). There’s also a legend in there (but I won’t tell you which one) so that’s 5 out of 10 prompts covered!

The Dragon With the Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. This book is about a dragon named Aventurine who encounters a magician and is given chocolate, which transforms her into a human girl. It’s a fun tale and features a wonderful friendship – first prompt for you right there. The others it covers are magic and, since Gavin said legendary creatures count for the myth/legend prompt also that one –  dragons are legendary, no?

Carbonel: The King of Cats by Barbara Sleigh. This is an older book (published in 1974) but I think it’s worth reading. Despite being slightly old-fashioned, it’s surprisingly modern with a heroine who is actually allowed to do things, even after her boy sidekick comes along. Rosemary plans to spend her summer holidays cleaning houses to earn some money, but then an old lady at the market talks her into buying a second-rate broom and a cat she can’t even afford to keep. The old lady turns out to be a witch and the cat, Carbonel, a prince. Soon Rosemary and her new friend John end up in an adventure to free Carbonel from a hideous spell. This book features friendship, magic, an animal character, is set in the past and there’s also a bit of real life in there – Rosemary wanted to earn money to help her mother because the family is struggling financially.

Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams. Another cat book. This one was written in 1942, but I read it in the 80s and loved it. Gobbolino is born a witch’s cat, but he would much rather be a kitchen cat and sit by the fire, catch mice and watch the baby. So while his sister, Sootica, is learning how to ride a broomstick, Gobbolino sets off in search of a kind family who isn’t too superstitious to take him in. This one has an animal character and magic. It’s been too long since I’ve read it for me to say whether it fits any other prompts.

Stitch Head by Guy Bass. In spooky Castle Grotteskew, the frightfully insane Professor Erasmus conducts his bizarre experiments on living things. His very first invention was a small, almost human-like creature named Stitch Head. But the professor has forgotten all about him now, so Stitch Head spends his days trying to stop the other creations from going wild in the nearby town. Then a travelling freak show comes to town and it’s up to Stitch Head and his new friends to stop the bad guy from taking his professor. This would work perfectly for the atmospheric/spooky prompt if you have a child who doesn’t really like scary stories – all the monsters in this one are actually quite nice. It also has friendship, is set in the past (or “yesteryear, according to the book)  and if you consider the Frankenstein/mad professor trope a myth or legend it could be used for that, too.

And that’s it. Even if you’re not planning to participate in Believathon, I hope you found something interesting here – whether for yourself or a child in your life. Have you read any of these and if so did you like them? Let’s chat in the comments!

What I read in April 2019

Hello! It’s the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s SHow Us Your Books time again with lovely hosts Jana and Steph. I read 14 books in April and it’s a real mixed bag – everything from classics to children’s mysteries and even a a spy novel, which is normally so not my thing. Let’s get to the reviews, shall we?

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The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton. Seth is a kitchen boy at the remote Last Chance Hotel. His dad used to be head chef there, until he left apparently under a cloud of suspicion, leaving Seth trapped until he’s old enough to set out on his own. His only chance of escape is to become a famous chef as well. One night a group of special guests turn up at the hotel, who turn out to be magicians participating in a selection procedure to determine the most magical people in the world. Seth finally has the chance to prove himself by making Dr. Thallonius the best-tasting dessert of his life. But then the professor dies and the dessert is blamed – how can Seth prove he’s innocent? This is a wonderful book! Spooky and magical with a murder mystery for good measure. And there’s a fantastic talking cat. I was a little annoyed by Seth’s inability to stand up for himself, but there are some revelations at the end that I hope will make things better in that respect in book two. 4.5 stars.

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. When the four Stanley children meet Amanda, their new stepsister, they’re amazed to find she dresses in strange costumes, carries a crow in a cage and claims to be a witch. Before long, she decides to make the children her “neophytes” and introduce them to the world of witchcraft. Then strange things start happening in their old farmhouse and it’s not long before they discover that the house was supposed to have been haunted long ago. Is the poltergeist back or is there another explanation for all the strange goings on? This a fun mystery with just the right amount of spookiness for a children’s book. Even though it was written in 1971, it doesn’t seem to outdated – other than the kids being left home alone while their parents go into town, etc. But maybe that actually still happens in areas as isolated as the setting for this book. I would have loved this book as a child! 4 stars.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. When Tess Durbeyfield’s father finds out by chance that they’re descendants of the old aristocratic  D’Urberville family, he encourages her to make use of the connection and try to claim a share of the wealth for the rest of the family. But Alec d’Urberville turns out to be a rich scoundrel who seduces her and makes her life miserable. When Tess meets Angel Clare, she is finally offered a chance at true love and happiness, but her past catches up with her and she faces an agonizing moral choice. I really enjoyed this – although “enjoyed” seems a bit mean for such a tragedy. Poor Tess is surrounded by good-for-nothing idiot men. And I include her father in that. She just could not seem to catch a break. As classics go, the language in this one is actually very readable and Hardy managed not to spend pages and pages on pointless descriptions (as in Far From the Madding Crowd were her spent three pages describing a barn!). Victorian double standards make me angry, but the book is good. 5 stars.

The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton. First of all, thank you to Steph (yes, as in the host of this very link-up) for reminding me of the existence of The Gutenberg Project, which is where I found this book and was thus able to read it for free. I love the TV series so the book had been on my wish list for a while. This is basically a series of short stories all featuring the priest, Father Brown solving various mysteries. Chesterton was a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; interestingly, if I hadn’t known this book was published in 1911 (and there weren’t references to 18–) I would have put it more in the era of Agatha Christie in terms of language. It’s still quite readable over 100 years after it was published. I like the TV series better but the book was still a fun read. 3.5 stars.

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard. Alice has acquired brain injury after an assault four years ago. Since then, to put it in her own words, “her electrics have been broken”. Her speech is slow and slurred and she has fits. She writes poems to express all the things she cannot say. She lives with her grandmother, who is sick, and her brother Joey, who looks after her but is also growing up and, just maybe, away from Alice. Manny is from Sierra Leone. He seems to be adapting to life in his new country, but at night he runs to try and escape the demons of his past. One night, he sees Alice sitting on the roof of her home and finds one of her poems. This book is beautiful and heart-breaking. The narrative style is disconcerting at first, but once you get into it you stop noticing (or at least I did) and it really does represent the problems with Alice’s brain perfectly. Joey is a wonderful brother. Despite all the awful things that have happened to both Alice and Manny, I’m really glad I read this book. Plus, it has a pretty cover. 4 stars.

Oktober Bend

 

Avalanche Express by Colin Forbes. A a high level Soviet official has been feeding the West intelligence for a number of years. Now he’s been found out and needs to be extricated to the US. With most of the airports in Europe closed due to snow storms, the only option is to take the Atlantic Express from Zurich all the way to Amsterdam. An armed team of British and Americans are on board to protect him, but there may be a double agent on board the train, and the Soviets will stop at literally nothing to kill the defector. Will anyone make it out alive? I acquired this ages ago when I needed a book set where I live for a challenge, but ended up reading a different one. Now I decided it was time to read it so it could leave my bookcase. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it – spy stories aren’t really my thing – but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s action-packed and thrilling right from the first page. It also helped that I am at least a little familiar with most of the places mentioned so it felt more “real”. 3.5 stars.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain. After her father’s death, Riley MacPherson is returning to her childhood home to clean it out. In the process she discovers a shocking family secret – after a life time spent believing that her older sister Lisa died tragically as a teenager, she now finds that she may not be dead after all. What made her go on the run all those years ago and which other secrets have been kept from Riley? This is a surprisingly quick read considering it’s over 300 pages – I started reading it in the bath and was shocked to find I’d read over half when I came out. It started off really well then it became kind of predictable – as soon as I read the words “she told her everything, even the things daddy didn’t know” I knew what the final outcome was going to be, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to read to the end and find out what happened to all the characters. Riley is annoying at times and the final few chapters read a bit like a soap opera with some really cheesy/dramatic dialogue. Along the lines of “one day you will get your comeuppance, but it won’t be me that causes it”. Nonetheless, I mostly enjoyed the ride. 3.5 stars.

A Singing Grave by Tim Wilson. Twelve years ago a little boy was taken from the camp site where he was staying with his parents and killed. Howard Gandy, a man from the village was convicted of the crime. Philip Springthorpe was one of the witnesses who helped secure this conviction, but to the shock of his daughter, Rebecca, he now reveals he lied. Investigative journalist Adam Dowling is running a campaign to have Gandy released and Philip’s new testimony could be the missing piece that will allow the case to go to appeal. But if Howard Gandy didn’t do it, then who did? I picked this up from a free public bookcase on a whim – I had never heard of the author but the description sounded good. It’s an interesting and suspenseful mystery. Parts are really creepy. At one point I thought I knew who the murderer was, but I was wrong. I’m not really sure what I think of the ending though. 3.5 stars for this one as well.

How Hard Can Love Be by Holly Bourne. Book two in the “Spinster Club” series. Amber’s off to America to spend the summer with her mother, who she hasn’t seen in two years. Even before her mum remarried and had a complete change of personality, she was never the caring type, but Amber is hoping an entire summer together will help them make up for lost time – especially since her step-mum and step-brother make her life a misery at home. In California she meets prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Could he really be interested in feminist, anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie advising and encouraging her from back home, Amber can’t escape the fact that love is hard! I really enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the first one. If I had read this first I’m sure I would have adored it, but I just loved Evie so much in the first book and Amber’s boy troubles seemed so insignificant compared with Evie’s mental health struggles. Sorry Amber! This isn’t just some shallow love story though – there are some deep issues with Amber’s mum being a recovering alcoholic and Amber’s feelings of abandonment. Her family situation really isn’t easy and I felt so sorry for her. And of course the girls still discuss feminism a lot. 4.5 stars. Lottie’s story next. I can’t wait!

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse. Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life with her family in her beautiful, expensive house. But then her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she knew unravels. Left alone with her two sons and eight million pounds worth of debt, Nina is forced to move back to a tiny flat on the estate where she grew up and begins to wonder whether she ever really knew Finn at all. This is an enjoyable enough read but it didn’t blow me away. At times the dialogue seemed somehow… I don’t know… off. Stilted maybe? Also, a few lucky coincidences lead to Nina’s struggles being over relatively quickly – the flat they end up in belongs to a relative and the previous tenants just happen to have moved out just in time, then after applying for job after job that she has no qualifications for, somebody decides to create a job especially for her after meeting her briefly, once, when she turned up asking for a job she obviously could not do. And apparently if she hadn’t pawned her belongings and found a job she and her boys would have immediately been out on the streets starving to death because child benefit and job centres are not things that exist? It’s not a terrible book by any means, but definitely not my favourite. 3 stars.

The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell. After their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to the hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her big brother Seb return home to find it’s been ransacked. Before long, a very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. The two manage to escape, with a little help, but find themselves in an “uncommon” world, a secret underground city called Lundinor where ordinary objects can do extraordinary things – like belts that let you fly. They quickly discover that their family is connected to this amazing world. But evil forces are at large, and they’re convinced Ivy and Seb have something they want. The two need to uncover the family secret before it’s too late. I really liked this book. It’s charming and quirky. Parts of it reminded me of Un Lun Dun – the underground city that’s like the real world, but also not and the ordinary objects that aren’t so ordinary after all. My favourite character is actually a talking bicycle bell names Scratch! One thing that bothered me is Ivy is supposed to be 11 but she often seems much older – and not in a “mature for her age” way, but like there’s absolutely no way she can possibly be only 11. I did really like her but in my head she was much older than the book stated her to be. 4 stars.

Darkhouse by Alex Barclay. This book had been on my shelf for ages but I couldn’t remember whether I’d read it or not. Turns out I had – it just wasn’t very memorable. When a routine investigation ends in tragedy, Detective Joe Lucchesi takes leave from the NYPD  and moved with his wife and son to a quiet village in Ireland. When a young girl goes missing and the village closes ranks , Detective Lucchesi is determined to discover the truth and uncovers a sinister trail that leads right back to the other side of the Atlantic. This was an okay book. There are pretty much two storylines,  one of which is predictable while the other was confusing with too many characters. I don’t regret finishing it but I most likely won’t be continuing the series. 2.5 stars.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. In rural South Africa in the late 1930s, Peekay liveslived with Nanny (his wet nurse), his grandpa and his mother. When his mother has a break down he is sent to boarding school where he suffers horrific bullying by people who hate him for his heritage. After a while his family move home and he’s sent on a long train journey to reunite with them. Along the way he meets train conductor Hoppie Groenewald who introduces him to boxing and teaches him that little can best big,  resulting in Peekay resolving to become the Welterweight champion of the world. The story then follows Peekay for the rest of his childhood until early adulthood. I only read this because it’s on the BBC big read and had no expectations of it at all. In fact,  I put it off for ages. I ended up falling in love with little Peekay immediately and loving the book. A very unexpected 5 stars.

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford. Twelve-year-old Ethel Leatherhead only wanted to get rid of her acne, not turn herself invisible. But that’s exactly what happened when she combined some dodgy Chinese medicine from the Internet with an old sun bed. At first being invisible is terrifying, but then she discovers it’s not so bad at all, as she tries to keep her new power a secret with the help of her friend Boydy. Meanwhile, Ethel’s Gran is acting strangely and Ethel herself (whose mum died when she was very young) is starting to question who she really is. Then one day the invisibility effect doesn’t wear off and Ethel finds herself in the middle of an adventure. This book is good but a little confusing. There are two stories – one with Ethel turning invisible and all the chaos that causes then a second one involving her family and secrets that have been kept from her – and the two things don’t really seem to relate to each other It felt like there was a disconnect between a fun, whimsical story on one hand and a more serious coming of age/self-discovery story on the other. It’s really well written, it just felt like I was reading two different stories that were both not quite satisfactory – the author would have done better to have stuck with one story, I think. It’s set in the North-East of England though so yay for that. 3.5 stars.

That is all for today. Check out the link up for more book talk. And let me know in the comments if you’ve read anything good lately or what you thought of any of the books I read in April if you’ve read them.

February 2019: The month with all the books

Hello friends! It’s Show Us Your Books day again with Jana and Steph, and I feel like I should warn you in advance that this one is going to be long. February may have been a short month, but I managed to read a whopping 21 books, which I think might be the most ever in a month. Six of those were read in a single weekend, when I took part in the first ever Show Us Your Books readathon (and also my own very first readathon). So I’d better stop chatting and get on with the books. I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. Some of these books were read for the bonus round of Erin’s challenge, so I will put the category in brackets after the author. For the bonus round you get extra points for reading books that somebody else chose in the first round, so I read a few I may not have otherwise.

If you can’t be bothered to read all 21 synopses/reviews, skip to the end for a TL;DR.

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Apartment 16 by Adam Neville. I started this on the flight back from England and finished the last few pages the next day. In Barrington House, an upmarket block in London, there is an empty apartment. No one has gone in or out for 50 years – until Seth, the night watchman, hears noises and decides to investigate. What he finds will change his life forever. Meanwhile, a young American woman, Apryl, has inherited an apartment in Barrington House from her mysterious Great Aunt Lillian who died in strange circumstances. Rumour has it Lillian was mad, but her diary suggests she was implicated in a horrific and inexplicable event decades ago. Apryl starts to investigate and discovers that an evil force still haunts the building, and it all centres around apartment 16. This book started off well. It’s very atmospheric and creepy. But it almost felt like too much was going on. Apryl’s story (and Lillian’s) would have been enough without adding in Seth’s as well. Also, this is slightly petty, but the spelling “Apryl” really irritated me. It held my attention through 2 flights though, so 3.5 stars.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Samuel W. Westing is dead and sixteen people have been gathered for the reading of his will. And thus begins a bizarre game. The will turns out to be a contest – working in pairs, the group has to figure out who among them murdered Samuel Westing. Whoever gets the right answer wins his fortune. This book is an absolute delight. I would have given it 5 stars as a child. As a an adult I wished it had been longer and some of the characters had been fleshed out more. 4 stars. Maybe 4.5.

Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor. Seventeen-year-old Kettle has not had it easier. An an orphaned Japanese American, he is struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to — the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”. Now things are finally looking up – he has a hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys. Naive 18-year old Nora is desperate to run away from her violent father, a civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie. When Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window. This book is utterly heart breaking. The awful things humans do to each other, fathers to their children and powerful groups to minorities. Nora and Kettle are both such strong characters and the way Nora cared for her sister was both beautiful and devastating. There is a follow-up to this and I truly hope things work out well for all the characters in book 2. (Except Nora’s dad. I hope nothing goes well for him ever again). 5 stars.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (challenge category: read a book with a six-word title). Every day at 11 p.m., Eveyln Hardcastle will die at a party thrown by her parents. Unless, that is, Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. The only problem is that Aiden wakes up in the body of a different party guest every day. Some of his hosts are more helpful than others. Evelyn has already been murdered hundreds of times – can Aiden prevent it this time around? I got this book for Christmas and was dying to read it, so I pleased to see it had previously been chosen for this challenge. It’s Clue meets Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie, which sounds bizarre but is actually really fun. I loved it! 5 stars.

Whizziwig and Whizziwig Returns by Malorie Blackman. This was published as two separate books, but I read the omnibus edition. Whizziwig, a small, furry alien, was on her way to visit her aunt when she crash-landed on Ben’s wardrobe. Once Ben recovers from the shock, he’s delighted to learn that Whizziwig is a “wish giver” and she needs to grant wishes in order to repair her ship. Unfortunately Whizziwig can only grant accidental wishes, and they have to be made for someone else. Naturally chaos then ensues! I remembered seeing a TV series of this in the 90s, but had no idea it was a book, so when I discovered it I obviously had to read it. This is very much a children’s book so the wishes are pretty harmless – things like wishing someone was a little lighter only for them to float up to the ceiling. Whizziwig causes a lot of chaos but she’s also a lot of fun (as long as you’re not on the receiving end of a wish!). It’s possible that the nostalgia factor played a part in my 4-star rating, but I’m sticking with it.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (challenge category: freebie). It’s the 1920s and childless couple Jack and Mabel have recently moved to Alaska to start a new life. But things are tough out there, and they are drifting apart – he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. Gradually, Jack and Mabel come to know and love the little girl – Faina – who seems to be a child of the woods. The writing in this book is magical and poetic and I was captivated throughout most of the book. But I feel like I just didn’t get the ending. I can’t tell you what happened though or I will spoil it! Also, Mabel lost a child to stillbirth many years before and the sections where she was grieving her baby were hard for me to read. I gave it 4 stars in the end.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay (challenge category: set in Europe). Anotoine Rey thought he had the perfect 40th birthday surprise for his sister, Mélanie a weekend on Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach. A place they hadn’t returned to since their mother died 30 years before. But along with the happy memories, the island reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and disturbing about their last island summer. When she tries to tell Antoine what she’s remembered on the drive home, she loses control of the car and crashes. Now Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children. How well does he really know his mother, his children, or even himself? I chose this from the list of previously chosen books because I recognised the author’s name – Sarah’s Key has been on my to-read list for ages. This one started off well but in the end it was somehow lacking. The writing is a little clunky and I couldn’t connect with the main character. At the beginning he seemed whiny and sorry for himself. Then he meets a love interest starts to read like a horny old man – even though he’s only supposed to be in his 40s. At one point something bad happens and he literally thinks to himself “I’m glad I’m a man and can lose myself in imagining how it would feel to touch this beautiful woman I just met’s breasts instead of thinking of the bad thing”. And the secret isn’t at all shocking for today’s standards. 3 stars. I still want to read Sarah’s Key though.

Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayer’s. Mary is an eight-year-old orphan who lives with her granpa, but after he is mixed up in a robbery at the bookies where he works, they flee to the Isle of Skye. Gradually, Mary realises that her granpa is involved. And the robbers are coming after him–and their money. I absolutely loved this. Mary’s a fantastic character and I loved seeing the world through her eyes. Mary and her Granpa’s relationship is so adorable – reading about him from her perspective means you can’t help but like him even though, as a reader, it’s obvious that not everything he does is right. This book is both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and I gave it 5 stars. A wonderful debut – I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author.

Consumed by Abbie Rushton. Myla used to love long, hot summer days at the beach. Until her sister was taken and murdered two years ago. Since then, cripping agoraphobia and panic attacks have kept Myla confined to the house. Jamie is new in town and also struggles with things most people find easy – nobody understands why it’s so hard for him to eat. When their respective guardians bring them together, the two gradually begin to trust each other. Are they willing to reveal their secrets and start facing up to things, or will they allow the past to consume them? This is a quick read – I finished it in two hours – and I was totally engrossed throughout, but it does have some weaknesses. The two characters’ struggles felt realistic and were well written but it felt like things were resolved too easily. Even without having ever experienced agoraphobia it felt like Myla made it out too easily. On the other hand she needed to leave the house for the resolution to happen. Maybe if the book had been longer and built her outings up more gradually it would have been more believable. On the other hand the mystery sucked me and I didn’t guess the killer. I also enjoyed Myla and Jamie’s relationship and appreciated that it went relatively slowly. Despite its flaws, I did like it so I’m giving it 4 stars.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (challenge category: read a book that’s been turned into a film). Believe it or not, I had literally no idea what this was about before I read it – and my copy was a 10-year anniversary of the film edition, so instead of a synopsis the back cover just had a letter from Nicholas Sparks. An old man reads to a woman from a faded notebook, a morning ritual that she doesn’t understand. The story he tells is of thirty-one, Noah Calhoun, back home in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. Unable to find her, yet unwilling to forget the summer they spent together, Noah is content to live with only memories. . . until she unexpectedly returns to his town to see him one last time. Twenty-nine year old socialite Allie Nelson is now engaged to a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. With her impending marriage only weeks away, Allie needs to make a choice about her future. For the first half of this book I was sure it was going to be a three-star read. The writing feels very simple and the story of young lovers was cute enough but felt generic. Then the second part was beautiful. I mean, it’s incredibly cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is okay. Not sure I’ll read it again but I rounded by 3.5 stars up to 4.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). I started this book, read about 20 pages, then put it down and read three other books before picking it up again and almost finishing it on the train to and from work. This is a classic and you may already know the plot, so I’ll be brief. Two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, each fall in love only to find that the man the admire is engaged to another. Marianne immediately goes into deep mourning while Elinor tries to hide her pain from those she loves to avoid making them unhappy too. This was hard to read at times just because of the old-fashioned language and I felt like it took me forever, but it’s a really good book. Jane Austen could certainly write. I love the sisterly relationship between Elinor and Marianne. There are a few funny lines in there as well. 4 stars.

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a different language). The boy has spent his whole life underground, in a basement with his mother, father, grandmother, sister and brother. His family were disfigured in a fire before he was born. His sister wears a surgical mask to cover her burns. He spends his days with his cactus, tracking the beam of sunlight that comes in through a crack in the ceiling, or reading his book on insects. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before he was born and why they can’t leave the basement. This book is so disturbing! It book started really well. I was sucked in and needed to know what was happening. Why was everyone in the basement? Then there’s a major reveal/twist the writing changes to third person POV, which makes sense because the boy can’t tell the story of before he was born, but it also felt like the tone of the book changed at that point and it almost felt like an intrusion, although it was good to finally get some answers. Then came the ending and I HATED it. I can’t say why though because spoilers. I was genuinely sucked in by the rest of the story though and the writing/translation are excellent so 4 stars. Read this if you are intrigued, but be warned there are lots of disturbing things that I can’t tell you about without spoiling it.

The next six books are the ones I read for the readathon (minus about 20 pages of the first one since I started it the night before).

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Terra Cooper is tall, blonde and has an amazing body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her “flawed” face with its large birthmark. Terra secretly plans to leave her small town in the Northwest and escape to a college on the East Coast, but her controlling father puts an end to that. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in the path of Jacob, a quirky goth, he immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, forcing her in yet another direction. Will Terra ever find her true path? This was okay. It’s cute and there’s a map theme running through it, which is interesting but the “beauty is skin deep” and “be true to yourself” message is kind of obvious. Generic YA that passes the time fine. 3 stars.

 

I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson. Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy ad is confined to a wheelchair, unable to move or communicate. Her family and carer have to do everything for her. She has a sharp brain and knows all sorts of things, she just can’t express them. When somebody tells Jemma a terrible secret, then someone close to her goes missing too, she is utterly powerless to do anything about it. But that may be about to change… I thoroughly enjoyed this. Jemma is a well-written character. I found myself getting frustrated along with her. The mystery aspect was good but I actually found that I was more interested in reading about Jemma’s everyday life with her carer and foster siblings. 5 stars.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she begins to reflect on past events – both recent weeks and from her younger years, and particularly her friendship with her best friend Elsie. Recently, a charming new resident has arrived and Florence thinks she recognises him. The only problem, is the person she thinks he is died sixty years ago. Is a horrifying secret from her past about to be revealed? This is an adorable book, so heart-warming. I enjoyed seeing the characters try to solve the mystery of the new resident. Poor Florence just wanted to be taken seriously, but since she obviously has Alzheimers people mostly just assumed she was confused, even when she wasn’t. There were a few parts that quite didn’t hold my attention so that I wasn’t 100% wowed by it but overall it’s a wonderful story and beautifully written. 4 stars.

The Last Secret (Scarlet and Ivy book 6) by Sophie Cleverly. Scarlet and Ivy are back at Rookwood school for what could be their final term. The school is in danger of closure, and they will have to confront old enemies and uncover more secrets if they are to have a chance of saving it. I think the fact that I have already read this book is a testament to how much I’ve enjoyed this series – it’s rare that I read books in the year they came out, even rarer for me to have read a book from the current year when it’s still only February! This was a wonderful end to the story. It was good to have a resolution to the story of Scarlet and Ivy’s home life as well. I’m a little sad to be leaving Rockwood School behind but can’t wait to see what Sophie Cleverly does next. 4 stars.

Day of the Dead by Nicci French. Another final book in a series – this is number 7 of the Freida Klein books. On a north London high street, a runaway vehicle crashes into a shop window. The man in the driving seat turns out to have been murdered a week earlier. On Hampstead Heath, a bonfire blazes; in the flames the next victim. A serial killer runs amok in the capital, playing games with the police. But this is no ordinary criminal. He has a message for one specific person – psychologist Frieda Klein, who has gone into hiding. An old adversary wants her to know he’s coming for her. A worthy ending to this series. New character Lola is flipping annoying and I wanted to shake her. Josef  is wonderful, as ever. It was good to see things resolved. Maybe not everything was tied up with a neat little bow but that’s okay. I am satisfied with how it ended. 4 stars.

Instructions for a Second-hand Heart by Tamsyn Murray. Jonny has spent every day in hospital. He has a faulty heart and his time is running out. But for him to get a new heart, someone else has to die. That someone turns out to be Niamh’s twin brother, who lost his life in a tragic accident. When Leo was alive, all Niamh wanted was for him and his perfection to go away. Now he actually has gone she has no idea how to cope. When Jonny walks into her life, he initially just wants to find out about Leo, the first owner of his heart. He doesn’t plan on falling in love. is such a sad book. I really felt for Niamh, trying to deal with grief while at the same time feeling guilty about not liking her brother more. The family relationships and different ways they all deal with Leo’s death are really well written. Johnny’s story was also good although I found his relationship with Niamh a little creepy – I could understand why he tracked her down but he should have told the truth sooner. I would also have preferred them to stay friends. The romance felt forced and unnecessary. It’s a really well written book though, and genuinely moving at times. Also, I recently learned that this genre is apparently known as “sick lit”, so that’s weird. 4 stars.

How It All Began by Penelope Lively. When Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, she has to move in with her daughter, Rose for a while. As a result Rose can’t accompany her employer, Lord Peters, to Manchester so his niece, Marion goes instead, leading her to send a text message to her lover Jeremy. Unfortunately, said message is intercepted by Jeremy’s wife, Stella. And thus begins a life-altering chain of events for all our characterss. This is an interesting concept, how one incident has a ripple effect on many people’s lives. I enjoyed some stories more than others. I couldn’t have cared less about Jeremy and Stella or Marion. Charlotte’s story was interesting, and I liked her student, Anton. 3.5 stars. Good but not great.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid (challenge category: read a book that is another participant’s friend or family member’s favourite book). Finally my last book for Erin’s challenge arrived! At age twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in various cities and had countless pointless jobs since graduating college. Now, after breaking up with her married lover, she’s moving back to her home city of Los Angeles to live in her best friend Gabby’s guest room. One night, Gabby arranges a get-together with old friends, where Hannah runs into her high-school boyfriend, Ethan. At midnight Gabby wants to leave and Hannah has to decide whether to go too or stay with Ethan. From that point on, two concurrent storylines tell the tale of what happens to Hannah if she makes each decision, quickly diverging into two very different lives. This book is cute and fun. It’s interesting to think about how one decision can affect the way your life turns out. This is billed as a romance but I actually thought it was more about friendship. Hannah does end up with a love interest in each story, but the really central relationship for me was Hannah and Gabby’s friendship. There is a dog in one of the time lines who I looooved. She was honestly my favourite character in the book. 4 stars.

The World According to Garp by John Irving. Jenny Fields is a nurse who isn’t a particular fan of men. However, she does want a child, so she goes about getting herself pregnant by… let’s say unconventional means. As a result, T.S. Garp, known to all as just Garp, is born. And this book is his life story, from conception through to adulthood. This is a weird book. It’s mostly about sex. And lust. Parts of it are very dark, parts are amusing and others are just plain bizarre, but somehow it’s always captivating. I wasn’t expecting to love it but I actually did. 5 stars. Definitely not one for everyone though.

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you will be very pleased to know that, although I started one other book in February, I didn’t finish it. That one will hopefully be included in my March roundup – although I keep having to put it down because it includes a secondary storyline about infertility and that’s not something I constantly need reminding of.

And as promised, here’s a TL;DR: I highly recommend Nora and Kettle, I Have No Secrets and Three Things about Elsie. Read Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart if stories about sick teens are your thing. The Light of the Fireflies is well-written but be aware that there are lots of disturbing elements. I don’t want to spoil it, so basically if you can think of a thing that would put you off a book (along the lines of violence, sexual stuff, etc.) you should probably stay clear.

And that, finally, is that. Check out the link up for even more book talk!

What I read in January 2019

Hello lovely people. It’s the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s time for another round-up of what I’ve been reading. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

Most of the books I read were for Book Challenge by Erin 10.0, which I realise I never actually posted about on here, so I’ll add the categories after the book title/author. I read 11 books, which is a decent number but not as many as in other months. I blame the fact that I read two classics, which both seemed to take me forever to read! Anyway, I should get on with the reviews…

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Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (challenge category: read a friend or family member’s favourite book – this is my grandma’s favourite book, apparently). The book starts with farmer Gabriel Oak meeting a woman named Bathsheba Everdene who has come to stay with her aunt. After roughly two conversations with her, he falls in love and asks her to marry him, which he refuses. A short time later, she disappears from the village to take up her position as farmer of a large estate near Weatherbury on the death of her uncle. Farmer Oak then loses all his sheep, meaning he can no longer be a farmer, and through a series of coincidences ends up working as a shepherd on Bathsheba’s farm. Another farmer falls in love with Bathsheba and then a third person comes into the mix, but I don’t want to say too much about what happens with all these suitors in case I spoil things.
First of all, I have to say Hardy doesn’t half go on! At one point there was literally a three-page description of a barn and the positions of the people within it. More than once I found myself thinking “get to the point will you!”. It is an interesting story and towards the end especially it picks up a bit as Hardy finally leaves off describing and starts getting to the action. Bathsheba is a strong and independent woman for her time (insisting on running the farm herself, for instance) but is remarkably silly at times. 3.5 stars.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (challenge category: read a book that has won a Newberry Award). Mrs Frisby, a widowed mouse and mother to four small children, has a problem. She needs to move her family to their summer quarters immediately before the farmer ploughs the land it’s on, but her youngest son Timothy is gravely ill with pneumonia and if he moves he will certainly die. Fortunately, she meets the rats of NIMH, an extremely intelligent group of animals who have the perfect solution to her dilemma and the means to help her.
Where has this book been all my life? I mean, given it was published in 1971 it definitely existed before I did so why did nobody ever tell me about it? It’s adorable! I loved the rats’ story and Jeremy the crow. The start is a bit slow, but I actually don’t mind that… I kind of liked the contrast between everyday mouse life at the beginning and the extraordinary story of the rats later on. I could see some children getting bored before it reaches the “exciting” part, but it’s 5 stars from me.

The Dinner by Hermann Koch (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a language that isn’t your native language). This is the story of two couples who meet at a fancy restaurant for dinner. Things start off harmlessly enough, with talk of work, films, and holidays, but all is not as it seems. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son, and together their sons have committed a horrific act that has triggered a police investigation. Just how far is each couple willing to go to protect those they love?
This book is so odd… not so much a roller coaster as a spiral into madness. Which isn’t too say I didn’t enjoy it… although “enjoy” seems like the wrong word given the subject matter. It’s strangely compelling… like a train wreck that you just can’t look away from. I don’t want to say too much – I went into it with little idea of what it was about, and I honestly feel like that’s the best way. I would say if you’re at all intrigued read it (but if you don’t like violence steer clear). Also, it goes off on tangents a lot. 4 stars.

The Never List by Koethi Zan (challenge category: read a book that starts with the letter N). For years, Sarah and Jennifer kept the Never List: a list of things to be avoided at all costs. Never go out alone. Never get in the car. But one night they broke their own rules, with horrifying consequences. Ten years later, Sarah is trying to forget her horrible ordeal and get on with her life, but it seems the killer hasn’t forgotten her! This book is so disturbing, and filled with twists and turns. I was not expecting the final reveal at the end at all! (Some reviewers have said it was obvious, so maybe I’m just not clever enough?). My only issue is that the writing style occasionally seemed slightly juvenile, which briefly threw me out of the story. But generally it sucked me in and had me up way past my bedtime reading just one more chapter. 4 stars.

The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan (challenge category: read a book with exactly six words in the title). Until I started this book I had forgotten I’ve actually read one by this author before (The Long Weekend is a scary middle-grade thriller, this one is YA). After Jay’s father died, life was hard for her and her mother, but they managed to get by. Now they’re moving in with relatives, including an aunt who has super strict rules on how Indian girls and boys should act. Jay will be expected to have only Indian friends, if she has any at all. How can she see her school friends, Chloe and Matt? But forcing her to conform to Indian customs and traditions is only the beginning of a nightmare for Jay. When her life implodes, how can she hide the shame and how will she find a way to keep going?
I don’t want to spoil anything but I do feel like this needs to be said… this book involves a sexual assault. If that’s not something you can read about then avoid this one. This is a really hard book to review partly because of the subject. It’s raw and seems realistic. Not what I would call an “enjoyable” book but it’s well-written and compelling. I really felt for Jay and was her mother’s response to what happened was perfect. 5 stars.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Astri is a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After her aunt sells her to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America with the “goatman” in pursuit. This book reads like a mixture of historical fiction and a fairytale, with the main character drawing constant comparisons between folk tales and her own situation. It’s a really well-told story and I enjoyed it but it’s quite dark with death, violence and subtle references to sex. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone under about 12 or 13. 4 stars.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Another one of those supposed classics that I somehow missed as a child. This is the only book I read in January that wasn’t for Erin’s challenge. Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He’s been practising all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, the new kid – a girl no less – outruns everybody. Not the most promising start for a friendship, but Jess and Lesley quickly become inseparable. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen. Then tragedy strikes. This starts off as a lovely story about a friendship between two people from totally different backgrounds. Then it gets really sad and the bubble of innocence is burst. I’m not really sure why it’s labelled as “fantasy” though – it’s clear all along that Terabithia only exists in Jess and Lesley’s imaginations. Anyway, 4 stars.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). For some reason I always thought this was a ghost story. It’s not. However, it is among the first mystery novels and may have been the first novel written with multiple narrators. On a moonlit London road, Walter Hartright encounters a mysterious woman dressed all in white who asks him from directions. He then discovers she’s escaped from an asylum. Not long after he travels to Cumberland where he is hired as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe. Of course, he falls in love with Laura but can’t do anything about it because 1) she’s rich and upper class while he’s the opposite and b) she’s already engaged to be married to Sir Percival Glyde, baronet. Gradually Walter and Marian become convinced that Sir all is not as it seems with Sir Percival and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco. This is a fantastic book. For a classic the language is actually quite readable. Wilkie Collins was a great writer. My only complaints are it was about 200 pages too long and I would have liked Marian to play more of a role in the last third. I imagine this book must have been a true sensation in its time. 4 stars.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (challenge category: read a book set in Europe – it’s set in Ukraine). I’ve owned this book for years, having bought it after enjoying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A young American man arrives in the Ukraine searching for the village of Trochenbrod, where his grandparents came from, and  the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis fifty years ago. He is aided in his quest by Alex, a similarly-aged young man who has been hired by his father to act as a translator, Alex’s “blind” grandfather and a “seeing-eye bitch” named Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. This book was a mixed bag. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, then just as I started to get into it there would be a slow/weird part. I liked Alex’s letters and story but couldn’t really get into the Trachimbrod parts until close to the end. Also, the “young American man” is Jonathan Safran Foer… the book is a fictionalised version of his family background and he inserted himself into the story, which was just weird. I gave this 3.5 stars, mainly for the Alex parts and because it’s set in Ukraine.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (challenge category: freebie). My mum lent me this book so I needed to read it before travelling to England so I could return it. I feel like everyone has read this recently so I’m not sure I need to summarise it, but I will anyway. Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, charming and a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew, and is sent to Auschwitz on the first transport. There, he is put to work in the privileged position of Tätowierer– the tattooist – marking his fellow inmates with their prisoner numbers. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance. With a new purpose, Lale is more determined than ever to survive is time in the camp. This story is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It’s hard to know how to rate this book. The actual story is compelling but it feels like something is missing in the execution. The writing is too simplistic for the momentous events and at times it’s feels almost detached. At the same time I could not stop reading. I gave it four stars on Goodreads mostly because I felt bad giving it three.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (challenge category: a book that has been made into a film). I just sneaked this one into January – I read it on the way to England on 31 January, finishing about 10 minutes before we landed in Newcastle. Substance D, or Death, is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way on to the black market. It destroys the link between the brain’s two hemispheres, leading to disorientation and ultimately brain damage. Bob Arctor is an undercover narcotics agent trying to find a lead to the source of supply, but to avoid blowing his cover he has to become a user, not realising that he’s becoming just as addicted as the people he surrounds himself with. This is billed as science fiction, but really I think it’s more dystopian. Apart from a special suit Bob wears when reporting to his superiors there’s not much in it that points to science fiction (although it was written in the 70s but set in 1994, so maybe the future setting is what made it science fiction at the time?). Anyway, this was not what I was expecting. The writing style is easy to read and the story is strangely compelling considering it’s basically the ramblings of a drug addicts who is slowly losing his mind. 4 stars.

And that’s it for January. Have you read any of these? If so, do you agree with my review? Check out the link up to see what the rest of the SUYB community has been reading recently. You know you want to add more books to your list 😉

What I read in March 2018

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

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

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

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

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

And with that I finished Book Challenge by Erin 8.0!

Now for the non-challenge books I read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten books that intimidate me

Hello! This is (obviously) a bookish post, so if that’s not your cup of tea feel free to ignore it and come back another day. Those of you that are still around can pull up a pew and we’ll talk books…

bookcases

 

All of the following books area actually sitting on the bookshelves in my living room right now – some of them actually moved to Switzerland with me – but, for whatever reason, I haven’t yet got round to reading any of them. Some I bought just because, a few are on the BBC Big Read and at least one was a gift. What they all have in common is that they intimidate me… which you of course knew because you read the title. *Sigh* I’ll just get on with the list shall I?

1 It by Stephen King

I absolutely love Stephen King. Whenever I rattle off my favourite authors, he’s always right there on the list. I even wrote an essay about Needful Things back in school, and if forced to list my favourite books (an almost impossible task) I would definitely include The Green Mile. So I actually really want to read It. But every time I see it sitting on my shelf with it’s more than 1,300 pages I freak out and grab something else.

2 Ulysses by James Joyce

A BBC Big Read one. Technically so is It, but I would have put that on my list anyway whereas I bought Ulysses purely for the sake of the list. I’m not actually 100% sure what it’s about, other than somehow being somehow related to The Odyssey? At just over 900 pages it’s slightly shorter than It but somehow even more terrifying! What if I don’t understand it and end up feeling like an idiot?  Aaah!

3 The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

My grandparents gave me The Man in the Iron Mask, also by Dumas, for my birthday when I was something like 14 and I really enjoyed it, so you would think I’d be excited about this one. At over 1,000 pages, once again it’s the length that scares me. I actually like big books though, so I have no idea what my problem is…

4 The Godfather by Mario Puzo

This one is also on the BBC Big Read list – I doubt I would ever have picked it up otherwise. I like thrillers and I like crime, so this one should be right up my street. And it’s not even that long in relation to the three I’ve mentioned so far. But something about the Mafia just doesn’t really appeal. (I’ve never seen the films either by the way, in case anyone was wondering.)

5 H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction

Jan and I picked this up from the John Rylands Library gift shop in Manchester a few years ago. It’s leather bound with shiny page edges and it’s just gorgeous. This one is novellas and short stories, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to at least start it, but something keeps putting me off.

6 Map of a Nation by Rachel Hewitt

Ah, the first non-fiction book on my list. This is essentially the story of how the Ordnance Survey map came to be. I bought it for Jan as a Christmas gift years ago because he’s really interested in maps and then later also bought it for my dad, who reported that it was fascinating (Jan still hasn’t read it!). I’m always useless with non-fiction though, and where 400 and odd pages would be nothing in a novel, every time I think I might read this book I put it back because it seems really long.

7 Tintenherz by Cornelia Funke

A German one now – you will know it as Inkheart, book one of the Inkworld series. This was a Christmas gift from Jan’s mum way too many years ago… I remember lending it to our very first English intern at work when I’d only been there a couple of years myself! This is a book about books, and about characters in books coming to life. It really couldn’t be any more perfect for me. And I’ve read enough adult books in German for a children’s book not to be an issue… so why do I back off immediately when I happen to spot this one on my shelf?

8 The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

I bought this a few years ago intending to read it for a book challenge, but I ended up switching to something else instead. Since then, I’ve had this one in my hand a few times, but always put it back thinking I would prefer to read something shorter. Ironically, this one is only 560 pages – certainly not long enough to be scared of!

9 Ukraine’s Orange Revolution by Andrew Wilson

More non-fiction. At only 256 pages, this one should be a quick enough read and I genuinely do want to read more about my granddad’s country (even if the events of the book happened long after he left, and in fact many years after his death). Alas,  choose fiction over politics and history almost every time!

10 Blasmusikpop by Vea Kaiser

Finally, another German one. I actually went to a reading of this book, and enjoyed the extract so much that I bought a book at the event and had the author sign it. I’m pretty sure I will love this book when I finally actually get round to reading it, but every time I see it staring accusingly at me from the shelf I hastily choose something else to read. Maybe my reluctance to read this one is precisely because I’ve left it so long?

I have more intimidating books on my shelves, but ten is quite enough for one post! So, have you read any of these? Care to reassure me that they’re not as scary as I’ve built them up to be? (Or alternatively tell me that they’re really hard to read my reluctance is justified!) Do you own any books that you find intimidating but actually really want to give a chance? Answers in the comments! Or, you know, just write your own post and I’ll come and have a nosy.

Book challenge by Erin: bonus round complete

Yes, believe it or not I have actually finished my reading for the bonus round of Erin‘s book challenge! I thought I was going to finish sooner, but I had overlooked the rule that 5 of the bonus round picks have to have previously been chosen by somebody else doing the challenge, so I had to go back and change some categories that I had already finished (and then read the replacement books, of course). But last night I really, truly did read my final book! So here goes my final check in:

bonus books

10 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages.

I am changing this from American Psycho (see my review of that in last month’s check in post) to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (306 pages; previously chosen). I absolutely adored this book! First, it’s about books and people who love books. It made me want to live above a book shop! It made me want to go and say hello to my books. But more than that, it is so heart-warming! There are sad moments, but overall it’s just a lovely, lovely book. I finished it with a huge smile on my face, which sounds cheesy, but it’s true! 5 stars. Recommended for everyone who considers books friends.

15 points: Read a book that starts with the letter “W”.

I am changing this one from Where She Went (again, my review is in last month’s post) to Wonder by R. J. Palacio (315 pages; previously chosen). Another heart-warming book that I absolutely loved! I’ve owned it since some time last year and now I’m wondering why I didn’t get round to it sooner (I suspect I prioritised reading for a previous challenge and then forgot I had this one). I loved Auggie and Summer and Via, and the book made me wish more people would “choose kindness” in real life. 5 stars.

15 points: Read a book with six words in the title.

All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry (274 pages, 4 stars; previously chosen). This is a really hard book to review! I was confused by the setting – was it about a cult or was it set in an older time when extreme obedience to religion was just “normal”? There was no hint of anyone outside the community having more advanced technology, so maybe it wasn’t a cult but just set in the 16th century or something? Anyway, I enjoyed it a lot more than The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by the same author. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Goodreads.

25 points: Read a book with a homonym in the title.

Another change! I’m dropping The Handmaid’s Tale (review in last check in post) and moving Where She Went to this category (homonym = where/wear. Previously chosen, etc.). I reviewed it last time, so moving on…

30 points: (Submitted by Christina) Read a book set in the city/town/state/territory/county/province where you live.

Please nobody ever pick this category again! There are no books set in Basel! I ended up reading Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman (288 pages), which is set in a fictional Swiss village but mentions real places as well. It is incredibly cheesy, constantly going on about “destiny” and how climbing was “in (main character’s) blood”. He is compelled to leave work and go climb a mountain, nothing to do with him! However, it does get suspenseful towards the end and I think 11-12 year old boys who are into realistic adventure stories would like it. Personally I gave it 2 stars.

35 points: (Submitted by Peggy) Read a “Rory Gilmore” book.

In my preliminary list, I gave myself two choices, but I ended up reading neither of those. When The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgarov arrived and I read the synopsis I just had to read it straight away! Previously all I knew about it was that it somehow satirised the Soviet Union and was set in Russia and Jerusalem. Oh, and it was surprising that it made it through the sensors to be published. I wish somebody had told me sooner that it was about witches and vampires and the devil running amok in Moscow! It was completely and utterly bizarre and way more readable than I was expecting. I loved most of the Moscow parts and was bored by some of the Jerusalem parts. And I didn’t recognise most of the subtext until I read the notes at the end (clearly they were too subtle for me!). 4 stars.

35 points: (Submitted by Stef) Read a book from a genre that you’ve never read (or rarely read).

Since Erin is the most accommodating host ever, I was allowed to count plays as a genre and read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for this (343 pages; previously chosen). Considering the last time I read a play was for my German Culture course at university it’s safe to say I rarely read this genre! And now I remember why… I don’t see the point in reading plays, unless you’re planning to act in them. Most plays work better on stage – the thing they’re intended for! And this one was no exception. While it was kind of nice to revisit the Harry Potter world and see how the author imagined their lives to have turned out, I honestly thought this addition was unnecessary. It was really a book about family issues, and the rest of the plot felt kind of contrived. That said, I bet it would be amazing to watch on stage if only for the scenery and special effects! As a book, I gave it 2 stars. Now can we please let Harry Potter rest and move on to other books?

40 points: (Submitted by Ferne) Read a book with time travel.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (405 pages; previously chosen). This book took me longer to read than I was expecting. It was good, but not so gripping that I couldn’t put it down and go to sleep. Parts of it were slow, but towards the end it picked up and then I did want to finish it in one sitting. Overall I thought it was an interesting take on the idea of “time travel” (of a sort) and reincarnation. Thought-provoking. 4 stars.

And that, as they say, is that! Phew. I read a few good books this time. None that I wouldn’t have picked up anyway at some point (if only because they’re on the BBC Big Read list!), but I did get round to a couple that have been on my list for a while. And now I have two months to read whatever I want before the next challenge starts in June.

Have I inspired you to read any of these books? Or, if you already have, did you agree with my opinions?