What i read in October 2021

Hello everyone! Quick updated: I spent a week in hospital then was able to come home last Wednesday after successfully switching from IV meds back to tablets for preventing contractions. I have an appointment this afternoon so we’ll see what that brings – hopefully I can stay home until my planned readmission to hospital on 25th November.

Anyway, today I am here to talk books. I actually read surprisingly little in October considering I spent most of it in hospital, where you would think I wouldn’t be able to do much else. But for the first week I couldn’t manage to concentrate enough to read and then I struggled to get through The Name of the Rose until Jan brought me something else. I then finished The Name of the Rose once back home but progress was slooow. But enough rambling – I should get on with the reviews. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana as always.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Reclusive novelist Vida Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself – all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission, and is gradually sucked in as Vida Winter reveals dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden from her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home Remaining suspicious of Miss Winters’ sincerity, Margaret carries out her own investigations as well, and gradually two parallel tales unfold. This was a re-read but I remembered basically nothing from the first time. It’s enjoyable and the writing is truly beautiful at times but parts of it are quite long-winded and it occasionally feels repetitive. I enjoyed the gothic atmosphere though. I had completely forgotten the final twist and didn’t manage to piece the clues together this time either so that speaks for it. I liked Margaret but I did find myself occasionally rolling my eyes at her “obsession” – it sometimes felt like she wanted to be the main character in her own personal gothic tragedy. 3.5 stars.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. The year is 1327. Benedictines in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville has come to investigate. On arrival, he learns of the bizarre death of one of the abbey’s residents and turns detective, only for more monks to turn up dead. What is going on at the abbey and can Brother William solve the mystery while also completing his original mission? I thought I was never going to finish this book and you’re probably wondering why I bothered. The short answer is it’s part of the BBC big read. Anyway, somewhere in this book there’s a murder mystery, caught between the pages of… I don’t know what. A history of the church? A philosophical work? Parts of it are fascinating but others go on forever. Overall it’s very slow and at times I had to force myself to go on reading. I loved the idea of the library and its secrets – the parts where Adso and William were discovering how things worked were fantastic. But all the random breaking into Latin with no translation just made me feel like I was too stupid for the book. 3 stars.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #2). It’s winter in Three Pines and the residents of the picturesque Quebec village are preparing for Christmas… but somebody is preparing for murder! No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter – and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. She managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death. When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder – or brilliant enough to succeed? With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. This is an entertaining mystery. I enjoyed being back in Three Pines and I love the villagers – especially Ruth. She amuses me. However I was put off by the way the author talked about CC de Poitiers daughter, aka “the fat girl”. At one point she describes her as “grotesque” – a literal child! And it’s a general description of a scene, not one of the characters speaking. I enjoyed the story though and will likely continue the series. 4 stars.

Perfectly Preventable Deaths by Deidre Sullivan (Perfectly Preventable Deaths #1). After their mother remarried, fifteen-year-old twins Madeline and Catlin move to a new life in Ballyfran, a strange isolated town, a place where, for the last sixty years, teenage girls have gone missing in the surrounding mountains. Normally close, a distance begins to grow between the twins – as Catlin falls in love, and Madeline discovers… powers? When Catlin falls into the gravest danger of all, Madeline must ask herself who she really is, and who she wants to be – or rather, who she might have to become to save her sister. First of all I have to confess that this was a total cover buy. Look at it though – can you blame me? The story itself starts off pretty slow. There’s a lot of build up and subtle hints about what’s going on. I didn’t mind but I can imagine a lot of people would find it frustrating. Towards the end it gets dark very quickly. Things seem to escalate all at once.
There’s also a scene with animal abuse/mutilation that’s described in some detail. While I understand why the character did what she did it would definitely be disturbing for a lot of people. 3.5 stars.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. In this book, we follow the lives – and problems – of an elderly Midwestern couple and their three adult children. After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is slowly losing his sanity to Parkinson’s disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of thier own lives. Desperate for something to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on bringing the family together for one last Christmas at home. This book is quite honestly tedious and I wouldn’t have finished it if I wasn’t stuck in hospital without anything else. All of the characters are unlikable and most of them aren’t even particularly interesting. I did feel some sympathy for Enid but still didn’t like her. The only member of the family who seemed vaguely tolerable was the daughter, Denise. At least her section didn’t bore me to tears! 2 stars.

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell. When Saffyre Maddox was ten something terrible happened and she’s carried the pain of it around with her ever since. The man who she thought was going to heal her didn’t, and now she hides from him, invisible in the shadows, learning his secrets; secrets she could use to blow his safe, cosy world apart. Meanwhile, Owen Pick’s life is falling apart. In his thirties, a virgin, and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a geography teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct, which he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel forums, where he meets the charismatic, mysterious, and sinister Bryn. When Saffyre disappears from opposite Owen’s house on Valentine’s night, suddenly the whole world is looking at him. Accusing him. Holding him responsible. After all, he’s just the type, isn’t he?… I found this book little slow in the beginning and I wasn’t too sure where it was going to go but from around the mud-point I was hooked. I think I partially guessed who the bad guy was (or at least what’s implied at the end) but it definitely also took a direction I wasn’t expecting. Not Lisa Jewell’s best but a solid read. 3.5 stars.

So, that’s it for October. Not the best reading month – none of the books I read really stand out as being excellent. I do recommend Invisible Girl and A Fatal Grace though (but you should read book 1 in the series first!).

Unfortunately none of the six books I read in October were by BAME/BIPOC authors.

Check out the Show Us Your Books link up for more book reviews and recommendations.

What I read in May 2021

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.

What I read in February 2021

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.

I also read The Crowns of Croswald by D. E. Knight. Since it was from Netgalley, I’ve reviewed it separately here.

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.

That’s all from me. Visit the Show Us Your Books link up for more book reviews!

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.

What I read in March 2019

Happy Show Us Your Books day! March was another good reading month. I read 17 books – not quite as many as last month, but still a lot. There are a lot of reviews to get through, so I’ll just get on with it. Oh, obviously I’m linking up with Jana and Steph.

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This will be another long one, so I’ll add a TL;DR after the reviews for those who don’t have time to read my rambling thoughts.

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine. Sixteen year old Iris is obsessed with fire. When she accidentally sets a cupboard at her school alight, she’s whisked off to London before she can get arrested – or so her mother claims. The real reason they left L.A. was because of her mum and step-dad’s increasing debt. Back in England, Iris’s millionaire father – who she has no memory of – is dying and her mother is determined to claim his life fortune, including his priceless art collection. Forced to live with him as part of an exploitative scheme, Iris soon realises that her father is far different from the man her mother has brought her up to hate. This book was good, but it felt like something was missing. The pacing was really off. Most of the real story seems to be packed in at the end, which makes it feel rushed. It could have done with being longer. The twist at the end was clever though. 3.5 stars.

The Accident Season  by Moïra Fowley-Doyle. Every year, towards the end of October, seventeen-year-old Cara’s family become inexplicably accident prone. They lock away the knives, cover table edges with padding and avoid risks, but still injury follows wherever they go. Why are they so cursed, and what can they do to break free? This book is bizarre but (in my opinion) in a good way. Between the writing style and Cara’s friend Bea’s stories it almost feels like a dream. There are some mysteries that weren’t cleared up – I’m still not sure whether a couple of things really happened – but overall I loved it. 4 stars.

Tell Me Three Things by Julia Buxbaum. It’s been barely two years since Jessie’s mother died, and now her father has eloped with a woman he met at his bereavement support group and is forcing Jessie to move from Chicago to live with her new step-mother and step-brother in Los Angeles. At her new prep school, Jessie feels like everything about her is wrong and she’ll never fit in. But then she starts receiving emails from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (or SN) offering to help her navigate life at Wood Valley High School. Genuine or an elaborate hoax? Gradually, SN becomes her closest ally and Jessie can’t help wanting them to meet up in person…
The “I’ve been forced to move across the country and now hot, mean girls are making my life miserable” stuff is cliché. The stranger friendship turning to possibly, maybe romance is cute. If that had been the entire thing, it would have been a three-star read. But Jessie’s grief made the book for me. The parts where she was remembering her mum and trying to come to terms with not only her loss but the loss of their entire future future together really got to me and made it worthy of an extra star, in my opinion. So 4 stars.

Ink by Alice Broadway. Every event in your life, every action, every special occasion is tattooed on your skin forever. Then, when you die, your skin is removed and turned into a book to serve as a record of your life. As long as your book exists, you will never be forgotten. When Leora’s father dies, she knows he deserves to have his life preserved through this ritual. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all. The concept of this book is really interesting but it doesn’t live up to its promise. Leora is a really bland character – she doesn’t really seem to have much a personality. There are various stories (supposedly about that world’s history) woven throughout the book, mainly obviously re-tellings of our fairytales, and I really liked the Sleeping Beauty one. It’s a quick read and it wasn’t bad but it’s not really anything special. This is book 1 in a series but I have no plans to read the other two. 3 stars.

The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe. (I have a number of books that I’ve had for years and either have read and want to read again before deciding whether to keep them or can’t actually remember whether I’ve even read them. This was the first of those books.) A divorced father of two teenagers accidentally mixes two antidepressants, goes into a coma and then has a stroke, leaving him with brain damage. His teenage children inherit some money and son, Chris, decides to bring him home and try to rehabilitate him on his own. Without an adequate father around, Chris and his sister Cathy try various ways to bring meaning to their lives – Cathy turns to Catholicism (although the family are secular Jews) while Chris just seems to meander around, has a few sexual encounters and being cynical about everything. This is a really hard book to review. It’s pretty much as bizarre as the description makes it sound. Parts of it are good but overall it feels like it’s trying too hard to be clever/funny. I couldn’t connect to Chris at all – practically everything he said annoyed me. I didn’t dislike it as such, it was just okay. 2.5 stars.

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal. Desdemona, known as Mona, is turning 60. After tragedy struck in her youth, she now lives alone and earns a living selling beautiful, unique dolls, each with a name. But there are also other dolls – ones that she gets a local carpenter (who she has an odd relationship with) to make for her based on a weight that her clients give her. At the start of the book, Mona happens to meet a German gentleman living close to her and the two begin a friendship, which somehow grows awkward as it gradually seems like it could potentially become more than friendship. Meanwhile, Mona reflects on her early life, the death of her mother and her whirlwind relationship with the charming William. This is a beautiful book, but sad. I did guess the twist, but I’m okay with that. The journey was more important than the surprise. A gorgeous story about love and loss, but to me ultimately it felt hopeful. 4 stars.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr. Seventeen-year-old Ella Black seems to be living the perfect life, but unknown to everyone she also has a dark side. Her evil alter-ego Bella is always there, waiting, ready to take control and force Ella to do bad things. When Ella’s parents drag her out of school one day, telling her nothing, and whisk her off to Rio de Janeiro, Bella is desperate to break free – and so is Ella. Determined to find out what her parents are hiding from her, Ella takes her chance and searches through their things. And realises her life has been a lie. Unable to deal with this, Ella runs away to the one place no-one will ever think to look for her. This nowhere near as good as The One Memory of Flora Banks. Ella is supposed to be 17, but she seems to fluctuate between being relatively intelligent and acting like a spoiled child who overreacts to everything. I understand that her parents lied to her, but running away in a foreign country is slightly extreme! There’s also some animal abuse at the start of the book that’s just horrible – there was no need to go into so much detail. 2 stars.

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Zu. When Li Jing, a happily married businessman, is caught up in a gas explosion and a shard of glass pierces his forehead, he loses the ability to speak Chinese. Instead all that will come to him is the broken English of his childhood in Virginia, leaving him unable to communicate with his wife, Meiling, or their young son. In desperation, the family turns to an American neurologist, Rosalyn Neal, who finds herself as lost as Jing (who she calls James) in this bewildering city. Gradually, the two of them form a bond that Meiling doesn’t need a translator to understand. I’m not sure what to think of this book. Parts of it were good, the idea was intriguing, but I just didn’t like any of the characters. Rosalyn is like the worst kind of “expat” – loud, obtrusive, not making any sort of effort to fit in. Even when she goes out with her Chinese employers instead of having them show her around their city, she takes them to an Irish pub.  Also, she has this whole back story where coming to China was a chance to “escape” her problems – she and her husband waited to finish grad school before having kids, then discovered Rosalyn was infertile. After (I think) one failed round of IVF and a miscarriage, Rosalyn didn’t want to continue and in response her husband divorced her. So that was fun to read about when I’m about to start the IVF process. Anyway, given all that Rosalyn should be at least in her 30s but acted more like a 20-year-old who had just escaped her parents’ home for the first time. Meiling came across as cold and stubborn. The situation is obviously difficult and frustrating, but it almost seemed like she was annoyed at her husband for not recovering quickly enough. At no point was there any suggestion that she felt any compassion for him, being unable to communicate in his own country – instead it was all spending money to get him better, staying with him because he has stayed with her/looked after her when she was ill previously, etc. Honestly, the entire family could have used some counselling. I found the idea that we have different personalities in different languages and how not being able to communicate with loved ones might change our perception of them interesting and would have liked to read more of that. Overall it isn’t really a bad book, it just wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. 3 stars. (Sorry this is so long, apparently I had a lot to say about it?).

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough. Natasha is the most popular girl in school, so why was she pulled out of a freezing cold river in the early hours of the morning after being dead for thirteen minutes? She doesn’t remember what happened, but she does know it wasn’t an accident and she wasn’t suicidal. Now Tasha’s two closest friends are acted strangely. Determined to solve the mystery, she turns to her childhood best friend who she dumped years ago. At first Becca isn’t even sure she wants to Help Tasha, but gradually she gets drawn in to the mystery. As an outsider, Becca believes she may be the only one who can uncover the truth… but it turns out to be far more twisted than she could ever have imagined. This book is an intense ride. There’s a lot of drug-taking. Is this normal for British secondary schools these days? Either things have changed a lot since I was a teen or the people I knew were very boring. I knew people who occasionally smoked a bit of weed, but snorting stuff in the school toilets? Maybe it did happen and I just wasn’t cool enough to be aware of it. There’s also a sex scene, not described in graphic detail exactly, but not skipped over either. Definitely one for the older teen. I didn’t actually like most of the characters (except Biscuit the dog, obviously and maybe Hannah) but that didn’t matter. The bitchiness felt incredibly real to me (that I do remember from school – we may not have had hard core drugs but there was plenty of bullying!). The story kept me guessing. At one point I thought I knew what had happened, but when the storyline reached that outcome it continued and turned into something else. The final twist is something I have kind of seen before but I still wasn’t expecting it here. 4.5 stars.

Abandoned by Cody McFadyen. This was another re-read of a book I had no memory of. I first read it pre-Goodreads, so at least five years ago. FBI Special Agent Smoky Barrett, is at her colleague’s wedding when  a car pulls up, a woman is pushed out wearing only a white nightgown, and the car then speeds up. The woman is incoherent and a fingerprint check determines that she’s been missing for nearly eight years with no ransom demand, no witnesses and no suspects. As Smoky fits together the pieces, a chilling picture emerges of a cold, calculating and professional killer, who doesn’t take murder personally and never makes a mistake. This is decent detective style thriller. There was a bit in the middle with a computer expert that annoyed me – did you seriously just explain the concept of “lurking” in a chat room?! But apart from that it’s a well-written, fast-paced book. While reading I realised I had forgotten almost the entire plot – I only remembered the “twist” shortly before it was revealed. 4 stars.

The Little Grey Men by ‘B.B’. (Denys James Watkins-Pitchford). The last three gnomes in Britian live in Wrwickshire by a brook. There used to be four, but their brother Cloudberry went upstream to find the source and never returned. So Baldmoney, Sneezewort and Dodder decide to build a boat and go and look for him. This is the story of all their adventures. This is such a beautifully written book. It reminds me of such classics as The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers. Some of the nature elements also reminded me of Enid Blyton’s Cherry Tree Farm books. Parts of it were a bit slow, but you do find yourself rooting for the gnomes and worrying for their safety as they go through their adventures. There is some difficult vocabulary (some things even I didn’t understand) so for children it would probably be best as a book to be read aloud to them, or perhaps for a patient older child with a dictionary. I know I would have loved it as a child (and indeed did now as a grown-up lover of children’s stories). 5 stars. There is a sequel, Down the Bright Stream, which I would love to get my hands on.

This Secret We’re Keeping by Rebecca Done. Jessica Hart has never forgotten Matthew Landley. He was her first love when she was fifteen… and also her maths teacher. Their forbidden affair ended in scandal with him being arrested and imprisoned. Seventeen years later, Matthew is back in Norfolk, with a new identity and a long-term girlfriend and a young daughter who know nothing of his past. Yet when he runs into Jessica, neither of them can ignore the emotional ties that bind them. With so many secrets to keep hidden, how long can Jessica and Matthew avoid the dark mistakes of their past imploding in the present? Based on the cover and description, I expected this to be a thriller – either Matthew/Will getting revenge for being sent to prison or his girlfriend finding out and doing something evil. Instead, I think it’s meant to be a romance? It alternates between the present day, where Jess has a turbulent relationship with boyfriend Zac but still finds “Will” irresistible, and Matthew’s story from the past. I was probably supposed to feel some sympathy/understanding for past-Matthew, but every time he talked about having sex with Jessica all I could think was “SHE’S FIFTEEN!”. And if you truly loved her you would wait for her to grow up before taking things to the sexual level. None of his “she was just sooo sexy… I couldn’t possibly resist” stuff convinced me in any way. And yes, he’s only 10 years older than her, but 25 really isn’t that young. I mean, I obviously made bad decisions at that age but none of them were actually illegal. Anyway, this is a really well-written book but definitely makes for some uncomfortable reading. While I didn’t want Jess and Will to get back together, I HATED the current boyfriend, Zac. He was definitely not good for her, or in any way a good person. There’s also an infertility side story involving Jessica’s best friend, Anna, who it seems will basically try anything to get pregnant – mainly cutting out any kind of enjoyable food/drink, forcing her husband to do the same and constantly obsessing about what she’s doing wrong. That was hard for me to read… I hate it when infertile people are portrayed as crazy/selfish/unable to think about anything else, ever. I was also annoyed by the resolution to that story, but oh well. 4 stars for this one.

Going Down South by Bonnie Glover. When fifteen-year-old Olivia Jean finds herself in the “family way,” her mother, Daisy, decides that Olivia Jean can’t stay in New York and whisks her away to her grandmother’s farm in Alabama to have the baby – even though Daisy and her mother, Birdie, have been estranged for years. When they arrive, Birdie says that Olivia Jean can stay, but only if Daisy stays too. Furious, she complies. Now, three generations of spirited, proud women are forced to live together under one roof in the 1960s Deep South. Gradually secrets are revealed and the three begin to form something like a real family. This is a heart-warming book about three strong women from the same family. Even though it deals with many issues – racism, the treatment of unwed mothers, etc. – it somehow feels light rather than hard-hitting. It’s a well-written piece of historical fiction and I was entertained while reading it, but overall I just liked it rather than loving it. 3 stars.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. If Naomi had picked tails, she wouldn’t have had to go back for the yearbook camera, and she wouldn’t have fallen and hit her head on the steps. She wouldn’t have woken up in an ambulance with no memory of the last four years of her life. She would have remembered her boyfriend, Ace, and best friend, Will. She would know about her parents’ divorce and her mom’s new family. But she would also have never met James, the mysterious new boy at school who tells her he once wanted to kiss her. And she wouldn’t have wanted to kiss him back. But Naomi picked heads. I enjoyed this. Naomi isn’t always very nice but she IS a believable character and I did feel like she grew and changed by the end. I was genuinely interested to find out what would happen between all the characters and whether Naomi would end up forgiving her mum. 3.5 stars.

Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson. At the doors of a charming country church,  a wedding party are mown down by a gunman. A huge manhunt ensues. The culprit is captured. The story is over. Or is it? For Alan Banks, still struggling with a tragic loss of his own, there’s something wrong about this case — something doesn’t fit. Working with profiler Jenny Fuller, Banks delves deeper into the crime, unearthing long-buried secrets, until the truth is revealed. This is book 24 in a series apparently! I had never read any DI Banks books before, but a friend offered to lend me this one and it sounded good. It’s solid detective mystery. I didn’t guess who the killer was until the police pretty much knew as well. As with most series of this kind, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the previous books. Of course it is nice to have some background on the police characters but it’s really the current crime that’s important. Some people have taken a star off saying it’s not as good as other books in the series but luckily I didn’t have that problem 😉 I may read some other books in the series at some point but 23 is a bit of a commitment! 4.5 stars for this one.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. What goes up must come down, right? Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim get on board the London Eye, but when his pod comes down half an hour later, there is no Salim. He can’t have vanished into thin air, so where is he? Since the police are having no luck, it’s down to Ted and his older sister Kat to find out what happened. Despite their sometimes difficult relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London as they try to find their cousin. In the end it’s down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way (in his own words: it runs on a different operating system), to find the key to the mystery. is an interesting mystery. I did guess where Salim was about half way through (but then again, I’m not 10) and just hoped the book characters would in time. I really liked Ted and was so pleased at the end when everyone acknowledged that his different way of thinking saved the day. Kat and Ted’s sibling relationship felt very realistic. Ted is clearly on the autism spectrum and I can’t comment on how realistically that’s portrayed. 4.5 stars.

The Ice Garden by Guy Jones. Jess is allergic to the sun. She lives in a world of shadows and hospitals, having to cover every bit of her body whenever she leaves the house in daylight. One night she sneaks out to explore and discovers a beautiful impossibility: a magical garden made entirely of ice. Meanwhile, at the hospital, she “befriends” a boy in a coma to whom she reads her made-up stories. This is a beautiful book full of magic that’s all about friendship. Jess is a fantastic character even if she’s not always nice – I really felt for her mum even though I understood Jess’s frustration. I absolutely loved the idea of stories saving lives. The stories within the story were all excellent – if the author were to publish Jess’s “book of tales” as a companion to this I would definitely read it! 5 stars.

And that’s it for March. I was hoping to have another book to add here, but alas I didn’t manage to finish The Innocence of Father Brown. It will definitely feature next month though.

TL;DR: If you like YA read The Accident Season and Thirteen Minutes (but be aware that the latter contains drug-taking, sex and bad language), The Little Grey Men and The Ice Garden are excellent children’s books (or middle grade, if that’s what we’re calling them these days). I also enjoyed The London Eye Mystery but the portrayal of autism/Asperger’s Syndrome may or may not be accurate so proceed with caution. Read Abandoned and Sleeping in the Ground if you enjoy detective-led crime thrillers. The Trick to Time is beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful and well worth a read.

Check out the link up for more book recommendations!

Ghost Girl by Lesley Thomson

I am on a roll now with my summer challenge reading – six books down already! I bought this one on a whim from Amazon – even though it’s a sequel and I haven’t read the first book – because it was actually quite difficult to find a book with an alliterative title, especially since Megan had specified that all words had to start with the same letter, so Pride and Prejudice, for example, wouldn’t count. I discovered a few books that would fit – Rob Roy, Everything’s Eventual, Ella Enchanted and Nicholas Nickleby being a few – but could find none of them in my local bookshop, and while Amazon obviously had all four, Ghost Girl won simply because it was available ridiculously cheaply from somebody who was willing to deliver to Switzerland. This category is worth 30 points.

Ghost GirlThe plot: Terry Darnell was a detective with the Hammersmith police. Now, one year after his death, his daughter Stella is clearing out his house when she finds a folder of photographs hidden in his cellar. Why did he take so many pictures of deserted London streets? Stella is determined to find out, and enlists her friend/employee Jack to help her.

One particular photo dates from 1966, to a day when a little girl, just ten years old, witnessed something that would haunt her forever. The two stories, of the present-day investigation and the events surrounding the little girl back in the 60s, are told in parallel.

My review: I had a hard time relating to the main characters in this book at first, possible because I hadn’t read the previous book. Because of that, at first I enjoyed the parts that took part in the past more at first. Thomson did a good job of getting inside the mind of a lonely child and at times my heart ached for her. Gradually, I was drawn into the present-day story as well and found myself eager to know just what was going on. And unlike some of the reviews I’ve read, I definitely didn’t guess whodunnit (well, maybe who did one thing, but not who Stella and Jack were looking for) and was very surprised to find out who one of the characters was. This is an enjoyable crime novel, but I’ve taken one star off because I didn’t really like the main character (Stella) very much until near the end and also some parts seemed a bit boring and unnecessary. I liked it overall though, so 4 stars. I would probably recommend reading The Detective’s Daughter first though to get a bit of background! (Note: I have not read it so I can’t tell you whether it’s any good.)

So with this and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, that’s 55 points so far from books I’ve reviewed. Add to that the 45 points from the books I haven’t written up here yet and you get a total of 100 points. Halfway there!