What I read in February 2020: Part 1

Hello friends! Even though February was a short month, I managed to read a lot, so I am splitting my book round-up into two again. As you can tell, this is part 1. I will publish part 2 next week, on Show Us Your Books day and link both up with Steph and Jana. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

The Toymakers

Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver. Liesl lives all alone in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother, with only the shadows and mice for company. But then a ghost named Po and his pet, Bundle, appear from the darkness. That same evening, an alchemist’s apprentice named Will, accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable. That innocent mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey. I found this book randomly on Scribd and thought it sounded cute. I ended up really liking it. It’s a story about grief but it’s magical and adorable. I loved the characters – Bundle is my favourite ♡. There are some cliché elements and the good and bad characters are very much black and white, but nonetheless it’s an enjoyable and fast read. 3.5 stars.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else. Then one day, after a silly argument, Jack stops talking to Hazel. Then he disappeared into the forest with a mysterious woman in white. Now it’s up to Hazel to go into the woods too and rescue him, because that’s what friends do – even if Jack doesn’t want to be friends any more. This is a retelling of The Snow Queen, but because of the title I kept thinking it should be Hansel and Gretel! Anyway, this is such a sad book. I felt really bad for Hazel, not fitting in and not being able to understand why (it’s because the rest of them are sheep and you are awesome!). Once Hazel entered the woods/other world, I loved all the references to other fairytales and stories, and how the author turned them on their heads and nothing was as it seemed. 4 stars.

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter… It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment. The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into the midst of this family business comes young Cathy Wray, a girl with a secret, running away from a shameful past. But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own… My friend gave me this book for Christmas 2018 and it took me way too long to get around to reading it. When I finally did, I was expecting something magical and wonderful and escapist. And the first half truly is . I felt so nostalgic for my own childhood. Then it gets darker… war comes and some people end up changed forever. The second half of the book absolutely devastated me. There is also a theme of sibling jealously running throughout, and I honestly may never forgive one character for what he did. Nonetheless, I 100% recommend. 5 stars.

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson. When daydreamer Clementine discovers a mysterious house standing in the middle of town that was never there before, she is pulled towards it by a powerful sense that it has something to do with the mother who left when she was very young. Inside, she finds the house full snowglobes, each containing a trapped magician, watched over by Gan, the bitter keeper of the house. Inside one of the globes is Dylan, a boy who teases her at school but now needs her help. So Clem ventures into the snowglobes, rescuing Dylan and discovering her own powerful connection to the magic of these thousand worlds. This is very magical and I loved the parts where Clem and Dylan were journeying through all the different snowglobes. Clementine’s relationship with her father is lovely. But Dylan’s story felt somewhat lacking, like it had been tacked on to provide a reason for Clem to enter the snowglobes in the first place. It’s still an enjoyable read, I just feel like more could have been made of it. 3.5 stars

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his Christmas holidays relaxing. But on that first icy night, the guest bell rings. Then rings again, and again. Soon Milo’s home is full of mysterious guests each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and his new friend Meddy must untangle the clues and investigate the mystery to discover the truth about Greenglass House. I absolutely adored this book. It’s so fun! Milo is a fantastic character and it was great to see his confidence develop throughout the book. I also loved that his (adopted) parents are there throughout the story, albeit busy trying to run an inn. There’s no conveniently getting the parents out of the way so the kids can investigate like in so many children’s books – Milo has to sneak around a lot and he does end up getting in trouble a couple of times! This would have been a perfect Christmas read. If I wasn’t on a book buying ban I would definitely have devoured the sequel by now. 5 stars.

Nevertell by Katherine Orton. Twelve-year-old Lina was born in a Soviet labour camp, a place of hunger, cruelty, and deprivation, and has never known the world outside. Then one night she escapes with her best friend Bogden, into the frigid Siberian winter, vowing to find her way to Moscow and her long-lost grandmother who she hopes will help her rescue her mother. But out in the snowy wilderness, the pair are soon pursued by a vengeful sorceress and her pack of shadow wolves. The children will need every ounce of courage – and a whisper of magic – if they are to survive. This is a fast-paced and magical adventure. I felt like some of the characters could have been developed a bit more but I loved Lina. The atmospheric writing is excellent – I could really picture the snowy conditions. I wasn’t sure about the ending though. 3.5 stars.

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. Fiftenn-year-old Zoe has a secret. A dark, terrible secret that she can’t tell to anyone she knows. Then one day she hears about a criminal, Stuart Harris, who is on death row in Texas. Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder. So Zoe starts writing him letters, telling her story and confessing the secrets that keep her awake at night. I enjoyed reading this book. There is an issue with consent at the beginning that is never actually resolved and Zoe makes a lot of stupid decisions. So many things could have been resolved if she had just communicated with people. Lots of typical teenage drama that could have been avoided. But despite that something about it kept me reading. And honestly the drama is very realistic – I know my friends and I had a lot of drama as teens that could easily have been resolved if we weren’t all so ridiculous. I absolutely LOVED the glimpses into Zoe’s family and her sibling relationships. I don’t think this book would be for everybody, but despite the few issues I had with it, I’m giving this 4 stars.

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens. It’s the school holidays and Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a trip on the famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that everyone in the first-class carriages has something to hide. Then there is a scream from one of the cabins, and a wealthy heiress is found dead, But the killer has vanished – as if into thin air. Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked room mystery – and with several other sleuths on the case, they are determined to be the ones that solve it! I’m really enjoying this series. This is book 3, and I think it’s my favourite in the series so far. It’s great fun and a wonderful tribute to Agatha Christie. I enjoyed seeing Hazel’s father in this one and I liked how it incorporated some of the background issues of the political situation in Europe at the time without getting bogged down in too much detail. I also like how this book addressed xenophobia and the way people who are different are treated – it was a bit of a theme in the first two books, but it really comes into play here. I’m looking forward to continuing the series. 4.5 stars.

Nooks and Crannies by Jessica lawson. She, sweet Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, although her horrible parents think the only thing she’s good at is being a nuisance. Her only friend is her pet mouse, Pemberley, with whom she shares her dingy attic bedroom. Then one day Tabitha and five other children receive a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere. None of them sure why they’ve been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed. When the children start disappearing, all Tabitha’s investigative skills are put to the test as she attempts to solve the case and rescue what just might be her first ever real friends. This is such a fun mystery! I loved the descriptions of the house – especially the library. I want it! Tabitha is a fantastic character (with truly horrible parents – think Roald Dahl style). Her pet mouse is awesome and I really enjoyed all her detecting. There was at least one Americanism that threw me out of the story briefly (I don’t think “trash” was British English even hundreds of years ago) but that’s a minor detail. I also guessed part of the reveal and I thought the ending was a bit too happily-ever-after but I had so much fun reading it. A fully deserved 4 stars.

The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. It doesn’t matter that Megan would rather be at the mall, Cassidy is late for hockey practice, Emma’s already read every book in existence, and Jess is missing her mother too much to care – the new book club is scheduled to meet every month and the girls will attend. But what begins as a mom-imposed ritual of reading Little Women soon helps four unlikely friends navigate all the drama of middle school – from stolen diaries to fashion-fiascos. This is a cute read. I enjoyed the facts about Little Women and Louisa May Alcott interspersed throughout the books. There were a couple of things I wasn’t happy about – remarks are made about one character based on her weight, including by adults. This particular person isn’t very nice but I feel like making fun of her size instead of calling out her meanness is a bad message. There’s also a totally cliché environmentalist character. Even as a non-vegan I know it is actually possible to make food that is both healthy/vegan and tasty! However, it is a fun and fast read. If you want to give it a go, I recommend reading Little Women first otherwise you will be spoiled. 3 stars.

So, that is 10 books and somehow 8 of them are children’s/middle grade books (Ketchup Clouds is young adult). Not intentional, I promise! For those who couldn’t be bothered to read all of the above:

TL;DR. I highly, highly recommend The Toymakers. It is magical and wonderful and devastating all at once and I loved it. I also highly recommend Greenglass House for fan’s of children’s books (and actual children, of course). And if you haven’t discovered the Murder Most Unladylike series yet and you’re into mysteries check that out. None of the books I read this month were really bad though, so if any of them sound like your thing then do check them out.

I shall return next week with reviews of the other ten books I read in February.

Favourite books for each year of the decade

Yes, I am aware that I said I was going to stop dwelling on the past now, but Gavin made a video like this and I was inspired. So today I am bringing to you my favourite books of the last decade, by publication year (I can’t do my favourite book I read in each year because I honestly couldn’t tell you which books I read in 2010!).

books of the decade

I have decided to do two books for each year because in some years it was just too hard to choose just one… others were easier because for some reason I apparently haven’t read many books that were published in 2010 or 2012?

Anyway… let’s do this. I’m not going to give a description of the books, but the title will link to Goodreads if you want to read the synopsis and if I’ve reviewed them on my blog I’ll include a link to where you can find the review.

Here goes…

2010

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. I had previously read a lot of murder mysteries and detective novels, but this was one of my first thrillers and I just thought the entire concept and way of telling the story were so unique! I still remember being shocked by the twist. I think I may have actually read this one the year it came out, or if not in 2011. No review because I rarely reviewed books on my blog back then.

Faithful Place by Tana French. I think I may have actually read this in the year it came out – or at least as soon as it came to German bookshops (which is sometimes later) – which, is rare for me. I buy most of my books second hand and when I actually do enter a bookshop I tend to pick up back list titles that I was excited about when I first heard of them. But I really enjoyed the first two books in this series and was actually waiting for this one to come out so I could buy it. There is only one book in this series that I’m not a particular fan of, but of the rest this is probably my favourite. Again, no review, but I am planning to reread the whole series so maybe there will be one on my blog eventually.

2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I knew this book was going to be included in this list no matter what, but when I looked it up I was shocked to discover it came out in 2011! I didn’t read it until 2015, having been given it for Christmas, and before that I hadn’t even heard of it. Where had it been hiding all those years! I actually wrote a review of this one on my blog, which you can read here.

Among Others by Jo Walton. I owned this for a few years before I actually read it and I actually think I remember picking it up once and not being able to get into it. But then in 2016 I picked it up again and was absolutely entranced. It’s a book about loss, and about growing up. It’s a fairytale, a boarding school book, a book about family. But most of all it’s a book about books. I loved it!

2012

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Although this was published in 2012, I somehow didn’t get round to reading it until 2017! It’s both heart warming and heartbreaking and I wish I had found it sooner. I reviewed it briefly here.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Blunt. I can’t believe I didn’t discover this book until 2018! It’s a beautiful, emotional read all about grief. Here’s a review.

2013

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell. A lot of people think of Lisa Jewell as a thriller writer, but I first knew her as a writer of what would probably be labelled “chick lit” (my first Lisa Jewell book, many years ago, was 31 Dream Street). This one is a contemporary book centring around a family tragedy and it absolutely broke me.

Waiting for Wednesday by Nicci French. I love this series so I had to get at least one of the books in! I actually only gave book 1 in the series 4 stars, but they got better and better as they went along, and this one definitely beats all the other books I’ve read that I found out were published in 2013.

2014

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. This book has one of the most unexpected twists of any thriller I’ve ever read. It totally shocked me and I honestly still think about it although I read it in 2015! I reviewed it briefly here.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. I couldn’t write this entire list without including a Flavia de Luce book! This is book 6 in the series and in some ways felt like a filler book between Flavia at home and book 7 where she goes away, but I still loved it and we found out more about Flavia’s mother in this one, which was nice. I wrote a review of it here.

2015

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne. This is the first book in the Spinster Club series and is also my favourite (of the main trilogy – there is also a special book 3.5 that I haven’t read). Such a great teen book. You can find my review here.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. I adored this book – it’s dark and twisted and Faith is such a fantastic main character! I read this in 2018 and have been meaning to pick up another Frances Hardinge book ever since. There’s a review in this post.

2016

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. I know a lot of people aren’t fans of this book, either because they don’t think it’s believable or they hate the romance, but I really liked it. I loved the characters and the writing style. Very brief review here.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This is a strong contender for my overall favourite book of the decade (but seriously… do not ask me to make that choice!). It’s just wonderful! I read it in November 2019 and reviewed it here.

2017

Interestingly, the two books I’ve chosen for 2017 are ones where I would say if you liked one you will probably like the other. I loved them both and could not choose between them to include a less similar second book, so here they both are.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Most people know this book. I lot of people loved it, some people hated it. Obviously I belong to the former category. Review here.

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard. A friend gave me this book, I think for my birthday, and I feel like it hasn’t got enough overall attention. I adored Elvira and honestly just wanted to give her a hug. You can see my review here.

2018

In the Dark by Cara Hunter. I recently mentioned this (in this post) as being one of my favourite books of 2019. I read it in December so I haven’t actually published my review yet – you’ll have to wait for Tuesday for that. But suffice to say it’s one of the best detective-based crime thrillers I’ve ever read.

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. Another one that was mentioned in my favourite books of 2019, this is the sequel to Nevermoor, which I also adored. See my review here.

2019

As I’ve mentioned, I very rarely read books in the year they come out, so I was surprised to find that I had about 12 books to choose from that had been published in 2019. That was still a lot easier to narrow down than other years though! But if you’re thinking there were much better books published in 2019 than my choices, you may be right… there were many amazing sounding books published in 2019, but most likely I haven’t actually read them. Anyway, my choices:

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus. I really liked One of Us is Lying, so when I found myself in a bookshop earlier this year in need of something to read straight away, I couldn’t resist picking this one up, and I ended up enjoying it even more than her first book. You can find my review here.

The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf. This book is hard hitting and heart breaking, but it also manages to be beautiful and heart warming and fun, with a wonderful sense of friendship. I loved it! Read my review here.

Let me know what some of your favourite books of the decade were in the comments, or if you decide to also do a post like this leave me a link and I’ll come and take a look.

What I read in November 2019: Part 2

Hello friends and happy book day! I already posted the first half of my November reading recap, but this post will still be pretty long so I’m just going to get on with it. All my reading in the second half of the month was for Believathon, a month-long middle grade readathon, so all the books mentioned here are children’s books. If those don’t interest you feel free to skip this post and come back next month.

Linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

show-us-your-books-2016-300by300

After finishing my final Believathon book on 14th November, I decided I was going to try and complete every prompt a second time. These are the books I read from 15th-30th November. I will also say the prompt I read each book for.

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. Read for the prompt “a book featuring an animal character”. When the Hunter children have to go away for the summer, they reluctantly leave their pets in the care of a friend. But the Labrador, the old bull terrier and the dainty Siamese cat know they need to get home again, so the three faithful companions set off on a perilous journey across the Canadian wilderness, facing starvation, exposure, and wild forest animals to make their way home to the family they love. This book has been adapted to film a few times, but the one I know is the 90s version that has the title “Homeward Bound”. I found the book a little slow at times and I missed the dialogue/connection between the animals from the film, but overall I quite liked it. 3.5 stars.

The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher. I didn’t read this for any prompt, but for the Believathon Christamas day. This is a story about a boy named William Trundle, and a dinosaur, the Christmasaurus (I always want to say Christmasasaurus for some reason!). It’s about how they meet one Christmas Eve and have a magical adventure. I will not say more – you need to discover it for yourselves. This book is an absolute delight. Whimsical, magical, heart-warming. And the illustrations are perfect – the Christmasaurus looks so cute. One particular picture of his happy face absolutely melted my heart. 100% recommend. 5 stars.

Doll Bones by Holly Black. I read this for the prompt to “read a creepy or atmospheric book”. Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And  for years they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the bone-china doll they call the Great Queen. But now they’re in middle school, Zach’s father insists it’s time he gave up childish things and forces him to give up the game. Then Poppy claims she’s been having dreams about the Queen – and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave. And so the three set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is there really a ghost and if there is can the three of them escape her clutches? An imaginary game that feels just a shade too real, a creepy doll, a quest, and three pre-teens who are just discovering how it feels to grow up. All the right ingredients for a cute, fun, slightly creepy children’s book. I read this in a couple of hours and thoroughly enjoyed myself. 4 stars.

A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder. Read for the prompt “a book featuring a myth or legend” (dragons are legendary creatures and the Loch Ness Monster also features in this book). This is book two in a series. In the first book, Winnie inherits a house from her great aunt and then discovers that she’s inherited a dragon – Miss Drake – along with it. In this second book, Miss Drake has arranged for WInnie to go to a special school for humans and magicals alike. Winnie is particularly excited about magic class and having Sir Isaac Newton for science. She’s also finally making friends. When a plot to snatch Winnie from her San Francisco home is uncovered, Miss Drake is ready to use all her cunning and magic to thwart it. Not that Winnie needs much help. This is a fairly cute book but I didn’t love it quite as much as the first one. I liked Winnie’s school friends and the trips she went on  but there were a couple of parts that didn’t interest me quite as much. I loved the character of Small Doll. 3.5 stars

Malamander by Thomas Taylor. Read for the prompt to “read a seasonal book”. Herbert Lemon is the Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel in Eerie-on-Sea – known as Cheerie-on Sea in the summer, but every winter, when all the visitors have gone, the first two letters fall off the sign and darkness creeps in. One day, a girl named Violet Parma shows up in Herbert’s office claiming to be a lost thing. No one knows what happened to Violet’s parents twelve years ago, and when she engages Herbie to help her find them, the pair discover that their disappearance might have something to do with the legendary sea-monster, the Malamander. I had no idea this was the first in a series, so I was annoyed when I got to the end and so many mysteries were left unsolved! However, this is an adventurous read, and quite creepy at times. It was nice to see Violet being the one that wanted adventures while Herbie preferred to be safe and warm at the hotel. Not that I think it’s necessarily a good thing to encourage children to go looking for danger 😉 but it’s always nice to see girls being the adventurous one. It’s missing that slight spark that would make it 5 stars but it’s a solid 4 star read. I’ll definitely continue the series. Also, Violet Parma? That name has to have been chosen on purpose to make Brits laugh, right? (For those who don’t know, Parma Violets are weird sweets (candy) that are literally violet flavoured).

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens. Read fir the prompt “a book set in the past”. Book two in the Murder Most Unladylike series. Schoolgirl detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are at Daisy’s home, Fallingford, for the holidays where Daisy’s glamorous mother is throwing a tea party for Daisy’s birthday. The whole family is invited, from eccentric Aunt Saskia to dashing Uncle Felix. But it soon becomes clear that this party isn’t really about Daisy at all. Then one of the guests falls seriously, mysteriously ill – and everything points to poison. With wild storms preventing anyone from leaving, or the police from arriving, Fallingford suddenly feels like a very dangerous place to be. It’s up to the Detective Society to reveal the truth. It always seems wrong to say a book involving a murder is “fun”, but that’s the best description I have. I love Daisy and Hazel’s friendship – they work so well together. This book was just as good as the first one and I’m looking forward to seeing who gets murdered next (again, that sounds so wrong!). 4 stars.

SpellbreatherThe Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike. Read for the prompt “a book featuring a hint of magic”. I saw that someone else had read this book for Believathon and I have to confess, I picked it up mostly for the cover. What can I say – I’m a sucker for a fox? Spell Breathing does not come naturally to Rayne – she loathes the hours of practice, the stacks of scrolls, and the snapping mud devils that cover her mothers precious spell book. But spell breathing is the one thing that keeps her village safe from the dreaded monster curse that plagues their world. When Rayne’s mother has to go away, Rayne is left to take over her role of protecting the village. But with one clumsy move, the magic that keeps them safe is broken, her village is plunged into danger, and an incredible adventure begins. This is an adorable, magical adventure. I’ve never come across a magic system quite like this – where spells are literally about words (and spelling). 4.5 stars.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I read this one for the prompt “a book with a strong sense of friendship”, having been assured there was a strong sense of friendship (and I agree, there was). Sophie is the eldest of three daughters, which in her world means she is destined to fail miserably should she ever leave to seek her fortune. So when her father dies and her step-mother sends her two sisters out to be apprentices, Sophie is happy to stay behind in the family hat shop. Then she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste and finds herself transformed into an old lady. Sophie’s only chance at breaking the spell lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. I’ve owned this book for at least six years and I have no idea why I never picked it up until now. It’s magical and wonderful! I love the characters (Howl is whiny baby but he grew on me). Sophie is awesome and I adored Calcifer the fire demon. 4.5 stars – minus half a star because the end got a bit confusing, too much going on in too short a time.

The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf. I read this for the prompt “a book that deals with real-life issues”. Aniyah has always wanted to be a Star-Hunter (that’s an astronomer in boring adult speak!). She loves watching the night sky and imagining who the stars were before they were stars – as her mum once told her, the people with the biggest hearts go on to become stars in the sky watching over everyone. So when a physics-defying new star shows up in the sky the same week Aniyah’s mum has to leave, Aniyah just knows it’s her mum trying to find her and her brother Noah. After all, her mum had the biggest heart of anyone, ever. But when a world-wide competition with millions of entrants is started to decide on a name for the star, Aniyah has to find a way to tell the world the truth before it’s too late and her mum ends up with the wrong name. This book is just as hard hitting and heart breaking as I thought it would be, but it also manages to be beautiful and heart warming and fun. I adored the characters, there’s such a wonderful sense of friendship between Aniyah and her foster brothers, and I also love how caring Aniyah was towards Noah even when she was frustrated with him. I highly recommend this book! But be aware that it deals with domestic violence. 5 stars.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. Read for the prompt to read a classic book. I saw that someone else was reading this as their classic and then found it in a free bookcase a few weeks later. Fate! Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home to persuade her way she has to keep their secret. But complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune. This wasn’t what I was expecting (which begs the question what was I expecting? Answer: I have no idea). It’s quite slow to begin with but the writing is excellent. It’s very philosophical and certainly makes you think. Well worth a read. 3.5 stars.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Read for the prompt to re-read a personal childhood favourite. I used to read this book a lot between the ages of about 7 and 10 – I adored it! But it must have been about 25 years since I last read it. I’m pleased to say I still enjoyed it – child me had good taste. Parts of it are heartbreaking (poor Ginger). And as always I cried at the end. 5 stars.

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner. With one day of the readathon left, I decided to sneak in one final book not for any category. Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens and she discovers that she’s descended from a long line of powerful witches. I bought this not realising it was a graphic novel. It’s very cute though. Graphic novels still aren’t my favourite – I need more words! But I quite liked this one. The cat character is awesome! 3.5 stars.

So, that makes twelve books. Add the sixteen I reviewed in part 1 of my recap, and that makes a total of 28 books for November (27 for Believathon). That’s my best reading month ever. I am so grateful to Gavin for making this possible.

TL;DR. I enjoyed all of these books (some more than others), but the ones I recommend the most are The Christmasaurus, The Last Spellbreather, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Star Outside My Window. I also really enjoyed Malamander but it is the first in a series so it’s up to you whether you want to make that commitment.

That’s all for today. Don’t forget to check out the link up to see what everyone else has been reading… maybe get some recommendations for adult books to add to all this middle grade 😉

Have you read any of these books? Let me know what you thought. And tell me if you’ve read anything good lately.

What I read in November 2019: part 1

Please note: all but one of the books here are children’s books (middle grade). If you have no interest in those types of books then there’s no need to continue reading.

Hello lovely readers. I hope you are all well? Everything here is a mess – and I mean that in the most literal sense. I would be ashamed to let anyone inside my flat right now! Must sort that out this weekend. But that isn’t want I want to talk about today.

This month I’m doing something I don’t usually do and splitting my reading recap into two parts. There are just sooo many books to talk about! This post is part 1 and then I will post part 2 on Show Us Your Books day, which is 10th December. I will, of course, be linking both posts up with Jana and Steph when the time comes. This post will feature the books I read from 1-14 November (you’ll see why later) and then the next one will be all the books I read in the second half of the month.

So, let’s get on with it shall we? Most of the books I read in November were for Believathon, or the Believe in the Impossible Readathon – a readathon dedicated to children’s books… or what’s called “middle grade” these days (there was no such category when I was growing up! My library had a picture books/beginning readers section, an 11+ section, then all the other children’s books were just on shelves in the middle. And bookshops went by age, with a “teens” section after the “8-12” category. But I digress). I read one book that wasn’t a children’s book, so I’ll talk about that one first and then go through all the Believathon books in the order I read them.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I found this in a café in Karlsruhe and decided to read it since it was only 46 pages long. This is essentially an essay, based on a Tedx Talk. It talks about blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious behaviours that are ingrained in society and that marginalise women around the world, often without people even realising or noticing what’s happening. Honestly, there wasn’t really anything in there I hadn’t thought of before but she articulated her thoughts very well. I read most of the book out loud to Jan and it led to an interesting discussion, so that was cool. It’s possibly a little simplistic for me personally but sadly there are many people out there who need this issue to be spelled out to them in simple terms. 4 stars. I do think everyone should read it but, like I said, it was a little simplistic for me.

Okay, now the “serious” stuff is out of the way, let’s get on to the children’s books!

Believathon

The Trouble with Perfect by Helena Duggan. This is the sequel to a Place Called Perfect. For Believathon, I read this book for the prompt “a book with a strong sense of friendship”. In book 1, Violet and her friend Boy uncovered the secrets of the scarily perfect town and saved its residents – I won’t say from what, you’ll have to read it for yourself. Now Violet and the townsfolk are enjoying their new freedom, but have they really seen the last of the bad guy from the first book? Why is Boy acting strangely? And who is masterminding a scary zombie army? Another creepy, quirky adventure in the “Perfect” universe. I didn’t love this quite as much as the first one. It started off pretty slowly and I wasn’t immediately sucked in. The “twist” of whodunnit was obvious to me – although in fairness I’m an adult and have read a lot, so it may be different for the actual intended age group. Once the proper action started things picked up and by the end I didn’t want it to be over. I now NEED book three. 3.5 stars

Ella on the Outside by Cath Howe. I read this one for the prompt “a book with real-life issues”. Ella is new in town, and in school. She doesn’t know anyone or have any friends, and she’s keeping a terrible secret. When Lydia, the most popular girl in school, befriends Ella she can’t believe her luck. But what does Lydia really want? And what does it all have to do with Molly, the quiet, shy girl who won’t talk to anyone? This is a lovely story about friendship, trying to fit in and the struggle to do the right thing. The author captured the struggles of wanting to be liked at school really well. I really felt for Ella, and for Molly as well. 4 stars.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. I read this one for the prompt “a book set in the past”. Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she becomes fascinated with the world of science. But it’s 1899, and Callie is soon faced with the realities of life as a girl at the turn of the century, at a time when women’s place is most definitely in the home. This is a great introduction to historical fiction for children. I loved the character of Callie – her determination and constant questioning of the world around her. It’s quite a slow book and there isn’t much of a plot as such. Honestly I was slightly bored in the middle. But it’s still a good book and the right kind of child (with an interest in history, science and feminism) would surely find it fascinating. 3 stars.

Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood. I read this for the prompt “a book with an animal character”. It’s the first in the “Five Realms” series. Three young siblings (anthropomorphic rabbits) are on the run from the villainous Gorm tribe – former rabbits gone bad – who have killed and enslaved their clan. Podkin, once destined to be clan leader, has always been spoiled and sheltered, but now he must act bravely as he, his older sister, and baby brother flee for their lives. Along the way, they meet allies and at last they are ready to face the Gorm and attempt to rid the land of their evil presence. This is cute. It reminded me of the Redwall series mixed with Watership Down, but less dark than the latter – there are a few dark/creepy parts but tame compared with what I remember of Watership Down! 4 stars.

The Owl Service by Alan Garner. I read this for the prompt “reread a personal childhood favourite”. Alison hears scratching in the attic above her room, but all that’s up there is a stack of dusty old plates. Alison then discovers that if she traces the pattern of flowers from the plates, she can make the resulting drawings into a paper owls – owls that disappear when nobody is watching. With every vanished owl, more and more strange things happen around around Alison, her step-brother Roger, and the caretaker’s son, Gwyn. It all seems to be wrapped up in a local Welsh legend involving a tragic love story that has repeated itself for generations. I loved this book as a child and read it several times. Reading it now as an adult parts of it are pretty confusing and I’m wondering how much of it I really understood back then. That doesn’t seem to have ruined my experience in any way though. I didn’t find it quite as creepy now – parts of it terrified me when I was 9! It’s still an excellent book but I don’t think everyone would appreciate it. 4 stars

6th November was the first of Gav’s Believathon special events, and was designated as Roald Dahl day. So the next three books I read were extras and not for any prompts (although they could have fulfilled some).

Esio Trot by Roald Dahl. Mr. Hoppy is in love with his downstairs neighbour, Mrs. Silver; but she only has eyes for Alfie, her pet tortoise. Then one day Mr. Hoppy comes up with a brilliant idea to get Mrs. Silver’s attention. Will his plan work, and what’s going to happen to Alfie? It used to be one of my favourite Roald Dahl books but reading it as an adult it’s not one of his best. It’s a cute, fast read but Mrs Silver is silly enough to actually be kind of annoying. It’s still a fun read though so I’m giving it 3.5 stars

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. When James’s parents were eaten by a rhinoceros, he was sent to live with his nasty aunts.Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker call him names, beat and starve him and make his life a misery. Then James meets a man who gives him some magic crystals. Instead of consuming them, he accidentally drops them magic crystals by the old peach tree, and strange things start to happen. The peach at the top of the tree grows and grows until it’s as big as a house. When James discovers a secret entranceway into the fruit and crawls inside, he meets wonderful new friends – including a ladybird, a spider and a centipede – and begins the adventure of a lifetime. I am pleased to say this book still holds up rereading it as an adult. I love the mixture of magic, imagination and actual, real facts about the various insects. It gives an important message about looking after nature, even the tiniest insect, while still being a cute and fun book. Sometimes that kind of message can get a bit preachy, but not in this case. It’s maybe not quite as polished as some of his later books but I still really enjoyed it. 4.5 stars.

The BFG by Roald Dahl. One silvery, moonlit night, Sophie is natched from her bed by a giant. Luckily for her, the BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly – not like the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher. If any of those had caught her. she would have been eaten for breakfast. When Sophie hears that the other giants are off to England to guzzle dozens of children, Sophie is determined that she’s going to stop them – and the BFG has to help! Will they manage it? Roald Dahl’s books can be pretty brutal, but I do love the way the BFG mixes up his words in this one. And Sophie is such a clever little girl. For childhood nostalgia reasons, I’m sticking with a 5-star rating. This one was always my favourite Roald Dahl book (and I loved the old animated film).

Back to the official categories 🙂

A Tail of Camelot (mice of the Round Table #1) by Julie Leung. As you can see, this one is another first in a series. I read this one for the prompt “a book featuring a myth or legend”. Do I really need to tell you what legend it features? Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of the day he will become a Knight of the Round Table like his father and grandfather before him. For generations, his family has led the mice that dwell beneath the human Knights of the Round Table, defending the castle they all call home. When his grandfather Yvers is assassinated, the whole of Camelot is at risk. The other mice suspect the animals who live outside the castle, in Darking Wood, but Calib isn’t convinced. Can Calib convince the Mice of the Round Table and the Darklings to put aside their differences and fight together against a threat that’s bigger than either of them? I loved this! It’s Knights of the round table meets Redwall! The book started off a little slow but it soon picked up and the second half was a real page turner. Calib is a fantastic character. Highly recommend to fans of Arthurian legends looking for something a little different. 4.5 stars.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I read this for the prompt “read children’s classic”. DO I really need to give you a synopsis? Alice is getting bored of sitting beside her sister on the bank, so when she sees a white rabbit with a watch, she follows it, falls down a rabbit hole and a whole adventure with strange characters ensures. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It’s just as whimsical and fun as I remember it being when I was young. There’s a reason this one’s a classic. 5 stars.

More About Paddington by Michael Bond. I then decided to read a second classic book, since it was Gav’s classics weekend. This is book two in the Paddington series, and consists of a series of short stories following events in the little bear from Darket Peru’s life. In this one Paddington experiences his first Bonfire Night and buys Christmas gifts for the Browns, among other things. I absolutely adored this. I love Paddington! Even a shopping trip becomes an adventure with him around. 5 stars.

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky. I read this book for the prompt “read a creepy or atmospheric book”. Young Juniper Berry knows her mother and father aren’t the same people they used to be – and not just because the formerly struggling actors are now world famous. She can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right with them. Then, one rainy night, she finds out she’s right. It’s up to her and her new friend Giles to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t. This book gets very creepy in parts. Not for children who are easily scared! I love Jupiter. She’s brave and selfless and remains true to herself until the end. Giles annoyed me. He is very unfair to Juniper at some points. But other than that I liked this book a lot. It’s a little Coraline-esque but not quite as scary. 4 stars.

Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson. I read this for the prompt “read a seasonal book”. It’s the final book in the Moomins series. Various familiar characters from the previous books – including Snufkin, the Hemulen and Fillyjonk – come to visit the Moomins to escape from various problems in their lives. When they arrive, the find the Moomin family not at home, but decide to stay anyway. This book is strange – a Moomins book with no moomins in it! It’s a slightly bleak but a weirdly compelling read. 3.5 stars.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. I read this for the prompt “a book with a magical element”. Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But Xan, is actually a good witch and has no idea why all these babies are being abandoned. Each year, she rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight along the way. Then one year she accidentally gives a baby girl moonlight, causing her to become enmagicked. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own, so she takes her to her home in the forest where she lives with a swamp monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge – with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch… This book is so beautifully written and the story is utterly charming. I adored how it turns concepts of good and evil on their heads. Fyrian, the tiny dragon has my whole heart ♡ It’s a very fairytale-esque book and fairly dark in places (just like the original fairytales) but nonetheless a gorgeous book. Highly recommended to anyone aged 10+ 5 stars.

Frostheart by Jamie Littler. This was the group book for Believathon. Way out in the furthest part of the known world, in a tiny stronghold cut off from the rest of human-kind by monsters that lurk beneath the snow, a young boy named Ash awaits the return of the parents who disappeared many years ago. Ostracised for singing a forbidden lullaby to remind him of them, Ash spends most of his time trying to avoid his grumpy Yet guardian, Tobin. When a brave rescue attempt reveals he has amazing magical powers – and causes him to be banished from the only home he’s ever known – he’s whisked aboard the Frostheart, a ship-like sleigh packed full of daring explorers whose mission is to explore faraway lands. Can they help Ash find his parents? This book starts with a bang (or rather a monster attack) and the action just doesn’t stop. Parts of the plot were a little predictable but I loved the characters. Especially Lunah. The one annoying thing was that I didn’t realise this was the first in a series so now I have to wait to find out whether Ash ever does find his parents. But overall Jamie Littler has created a fantastic world, and his illustrations are also stunning. 4 stars.

Frostheart was the final book from my original Believathon list, but with the month only half over I decided I would try to complete every prompt twice. I finished reading it on the 14th, so I am stopping this post here and part 2 will be all the books from my second go at the various prompts. And if you haven’t been counting along and were wondering, there are 16 books in this post, 15 of which were for Believathon.

TL;DR. Oh man, I don’t know what to tell you here. Honestly, I recommend all of them so if you couldn’t be bothered to read the post it’s your loss. If you insist then I particularly recommend The Girl Who Drank the Moon, A Tail of Camelot, Juniper Berry and Frostheart. And if you haven’t read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland then you really should be questioning whether you even had a childhood. (I’m kidding… but you really should read it).

Okay, that’s it for now. Look out for part two in a week and a bit.

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!

My reading list for Believathon 2019

Throughout the month of November, a very special readathon is taking place, hosted by Gavin. You can find him on YouTube here and on Twitter here. Believathon, short for Believe in the Impossible Readathon, is an entire month of reading children’s books… or “middle grade” as they seem to be called these days. There are a total of ten prompts, but you can definitely use one book for multiple prompts. All Gavin is asking is that people try to read four books – one for each week in November. I, of course, am going to try for all ten prompts plus the group book (a total of 11 books) because I am nothing if not an overachiever. Here are the prompts and my choices.

Believathon

Read a book featuring magic. A few of the books on my list could count for this, but my choice for the prompt is The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnham. It features a girl who is accidently fed moonlight be a good witch. That certainly sounds magical to me!

Read a book featuring a myth of legend. A Tail of Camelot (Mice of the Round Table book 1) by Julie Leung. I don’t think I need to tell you which legend is featured ;-). This one sounds so much fun.

Read a book with real life issues. It took me some time to narrow this one down, but I finally decided on Ella on the Outside by Cath Howe. Ella is the new girl at school and she doesn’t know anyone, plus she is keeping a terrible secret. Then a popular girlbefriends her, but Ella is unsure of her real motivations. There’s something about a quiet girl called Molly, so I’m thinking bullying may be involved, plus whatever Ella’s secret is and the whole coping with being the new girl thing. Lots of real life issues going on.

Read a book set in the past. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is set in 1899. That seems past enough 😉

Read a book with a strong sense of friendship. It’s always hard to tell whether there will be a strong friendship before you read the book, but I have been assured that The Trouble With Perfect by Helena Duggan fits for this prompt. This is a sequel and based on the friendship in the first book I was pretty sure it would work. I loved A Place Called Perfect so I’m excited to continue the series. (I was going to link to my review of the first book, but apparently I forgot to review it? I read it last year!).

Read an atmospheric or creepy book. I had about four potential books for this prompt, but I finally after much deliberation narrowed it down to Juniper Berry by M. P. Kozlowsky, mainly because I marked it as to-read on Goodreads in 2017! The front says “a tale of terror and temptation” and the blurb says Juniper knows something is weird about her parents and “one rainy night, in the shadowy and sinister woods behind their mansion, she discovers she’s right“. Shadowy and sinister? That sounds perfect for this prompt!

Read a seasonal book. The readathon is taking place in November so I went for the extremely literal with this prompt and chose Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson. Based on the number on the side, this appears to be the 8th book in the Moomins series! I’ve only ever read one, but I plan to read another one before November starts.

Read a book with an animal character. Again, I had a few options for this category, but I went with Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood, which was a gift from my good friend Naomi a while ago (link to her blog, but I actually know her in real life). Podkin is an anthropomorphic rabbit and the synopsis says “Middle-earth for middle graders“. The cover makes me think of the Redwall books, which I loved when I was young.

Read a classic children’s story. These final two prompts were the hardest for me to narrow down, but for this one I finally  chose Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll because it’s been years since I read it. I read my sister’s copy when we were kids but I never actually owned it until my grandma bought it for Jan a couple of years ago (in the Collin’s Classics edition).

Re-read your personal childhood favourite. Of course, I didn’t have one single childhood favourite. I had various favourites at various ages, and whatever age I was I could never have named just one favourite book. So first I piled up all the childhood favourite books I actually have here (Charlotte Sometimes is missing otherwise I would definitely have chosen that!), then I had to narrow those ones down. I finally chose The Owl Service by Alan Garner. I loved this book and must have read it about 15 times between the ages of 10 and 13. Also, I had no idea it was originally published in 1967 – my copy is the 1992 reprint.

Finally, on top of all those prompts, I will be reading the group book: Frostheart by Jamie Littler. Of course, this book could itself fit some of the prompts – certainly the magic one, and missing parents is a real-life issue even if the setting is more fantasy.

Are you taking part in Believathon? I really think you should! Even if you just read one middle grade book in November, it will still count. For more information, follow @Believathon on Twitter or Gav’s YouTube channel (link in the first paragraph of this post).

 

What I read in December 2018

Somehow it is the second Tuesday of the month, which can only mean one thing: book day! December was a fairly busy month, but that did not stop me from cramming in as much reading as I could. In the end, I managed 12 books. Admittedly the majority were children’s books, but reading is reading, so yeah…

Linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books, of course.

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Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry. I mentioned this book in my round-up of the year as having my favourite cover of 2019. Calliope June has Tourette syndrome, so she sometimes makes faces or noises that she doesn’t mean to make. When she moves yet again, she tries to hide her Tourettes at school on the advice of her mother and a previous doctor. But it isn’t long before the kids at her new school notice she’s different, labelling her a freak. Only Calliope’s neighbour, Jinsong who is also the popular student body president, sees her as she truly is – an interesting person and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public? This is a simple book, but somehow beautiful. Calli’s parts are written in verse, which can be annoying but the format is perfect for Calli’s voice. I wanted to give her a hug every time someone was mean to her, and I was so glad she decided to ignore the bad advice at the end and finally got to be herself. 4 stars.

Forget Me Not

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler. Okay, first of all when I read this book I had no idea Daniel Handler was Lemony Snicket! I mean, I’ve never read a Lemony Snicket book so it’s probably irrelevant but I just thought I’d get that out there. Anyway, this book is written in the form of letters from sixteen-year-old Min to her ex, Ed. The letters document their relationship and explain the random items she’s returning to him in the same box as the letters. I don’t know about “why we broke up”…. I feel like the title should have been “why we should never have got together in the first place”. Min is an artist and the entire book goes on about how “different” she is. Ed is a typical jock and so not her type. There seemed to be so many things Min was unsure of about Ed, but then just kind of brushed aside. Anyway, I don’t know how to review this book. The main character was kind of annoying at times but I really liked the concept and a few of the anecdotes from her relationship. I gave it 3 stars because I did kind of like it, but probably wouldn’t read it again.

The Imagination Box by Martyn Ford. Timothy is an orphan who has been adopted by a couple who own a hotel. His mum and dad are always busy and he’s on his own a lot, which is how he meets Professor Eisenstone, a guest at the hotel. The professor introduces Tim to his invention… a box that can produce anything you can imagine (with some restrictions, e.g. you can’t imagine “hot ice” – you would just end up with water). When the professor goes missing, Tim knows he has to investigate, so he sets off with a talking finger monkey named Phil to find the professor. I enjoyed this book. It’s great fun and I LOVED Phil the monkey. A lot seems to happen at the end and I could barely keep up, and some of the characters weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked, but generally I really enjoyed it and I think the target audience would too. It’s the first in a series so hopefully some of the gaps will be filled in later. 3.5 stars.

The Snow Sister by Emma Carroll. The holidays aren’t very joyous in Pearl’s family ever since her sister Agnes died. It’s nearly Christmas and Pearl has a tradition – every time it snows, she makes a snow sister. When Pearl’s father receives a letter about an inheritance, Pearl’s mother sends her to the shop to buy ingredients for a real Christmas dinner, but things don’t go quite as planned and she ends up having to stay the night at Flintfield Manor. Will she make it home for Christmas? This is a cute, heart-warming tale with a lovely message. The old-fashioned setting is perfect for the story and Pearl is a great character. A lovely children’s book. 4 stars.

Dead Scared (Haunt #1) by Curtis Jobling. After being hit by a car, Will finds himself in hospital where nobody can see or hear him and realise he didn’t survive the accident. At his funeral, he discovers that somehow his best friend, Dougie, can still see him and, in an attempt to figure out why Will didn’t move on, the two of them decide to investigate a school rumour – is there really a ghost haunting an abandoned building on the school grounds and if so why? What they discover is a long-buried mystery, which stretches its fingers right into the present. This is a surprisingly good book. I loved Will’ s sense of humour and his friendship with Dougie. This seems to be part of a series so I’m hoping we’ll find out more about how being a ghost works and some of the other characters – and possible eventually who was actually driving the car that hit Will. 4 stars.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. Yes, I read an actual adult book! I started this one in November, then continued when I went to work in December. Apparently four 2-hour train journeys weren’t enough to finish so I forced myself to read the rest in the bath. Ha. Anyway, I suppose most people know what this is about? I had never seen the film (well, I once saw the very beginning) but I had a vague idea. The book is more a series of semi-related short stories than a novel, really, and all told from different perspectives. Half the time I had no idea who was currently narrating or how much time was supposed to have passed… while I can read Scots dialect it made all the voices blend into one so I had no idea who was currently supposed to be talking, and it almost felt like it was only written that way to prove a point. I liked it better than I expected to though. 3 stars and finally another BBC Big Read book crossed off the list.

Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie. Lauren has always known she was adopted, but she knowns nothing about her birth family. While researching for a school project, Lauren comes across a website for missing children, where she discovers a girl who looks a lot like her; a girl who was taken from her parents over 12 years ago. Could her parents really be kidnappers? With the help of her best friend, Jam, Lauren makes it her mission to find out where she came from. was a very quick read. The concept was interesting (although it’s at least partly been done before… obviously Sophie McKenzie never read The Face on the Milk Carton) but the writing seemed almost too simple… yes, it’s for teens but I read plenty of teen books with much more complicated writing styles (even those obviously aimed at younger teens like this one is). The main character seemed quite childish for a 14 year old, and she’s also very whiny and self-centred. I also would have preferred it if Lauren and Jam really had stayed “just friends” as they insisted they were from the start. The relationship aspect was predictable and seemed unnecessary. Not a terrible book but not one I would necessarily recommend. 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 on Goodreads.

Plain Jane by Kim Hood. At nearly 16, Jane has lived in the shadow of her little sister Emma’s cancer diagnosis for over three years. But even before that, she always thought of herself as “Plain Jane”, the boring, ordinary counterpart to her talented dancer sister. Now though, with her parents struggling to cope financially and emotionally, Jane’s life in her rural mining village seems to be a never ending monotony of skipping school, long bus rides to the hospital and hanging out with a boyfriend she doesn’t even know why she is with. Nobody seems to notice or care what’s going on with Jane, and in fact even she is finding it increasingly difficult to care. I really liked this book. Some people have said it seemed a bit dull at the start, but that was clearly related to Jane’s state of mind and it was clear (to me) that something would have to give – she obviously wasn’t happy and it felt like something was bubbling beneath the surface. I was really concerned for Jane and kept wishing she would stop pretending everything was fine and give her parents a chance to notice that she needed help.
I always find it interesting to me to read a “child cancer book” that doesn’t focus on the child with cancer but on their sibling, who is obviously also affected by what’s happening within the family. It gives a different perspective to the one that feels like it’s been done a million times. Four stars.

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. Despite being part-way through way too many books, I couldn’t resist starting this one on Christmas Day! After working in the field for the maximum allowable time, NGO doctor Olivia Birch is returning home for Christmas. The only problem is, she’s been in Liberia treating the deadly Haag virus (seemingly a fictional version of Ebola) and she and her entire family need to be quarantined for 7 days. While Olivia struggles to come to terms with what she thinks of as first-world problems, her frivolous younger sister can think of nothing else but her upcoming wedding. Meanwhile every member of the family seems to be hiding a secret… what will happen when they all come out? This is a quick and quirky read all about how just being related doesn’t necessarily mean you actually know each other. It has its flaws but I really enjoyed reading it. Perfect escapist Christmas fodder. 4 stars.

100 Cupboards by N.D.Wilson. Somehow I didn’t realise this was the first book in a series. Like I have time to commit to another one! Anyway, 12-year-old Henry has been sent to the small town of Henry to stay with his aunt, uncle and three cousins. One night, he hears a bang on the attic wall above his head and wakes up to find plaster dust in his hair and two knobs in the wall, which turn out to be doors. Gradually, a total of 99 cupboards are revealed, and Henry and his cousin Henrietta (yes, really!) soon discover that they are not just cupboards, but portals to other worlds. This is a creepy children’s fantasy book. Parts of it are a little slow and confusing, other parts are really good. There are some Arthurian-seeming elements, which I enjoyed and the whole going through cupboards thing made it seem a little Narnia-esque. If I had realised from the start it was a series I might have given it a higher rating, but as it was I gave it 3.5 stars. Hopefully some of the confusion will be cleared up in book 2!

In the Night Room by Peter Straub. This book started off well but then just got really weird. It seems to be some sort of sequel to Straub’s previous book, lost boy lost girl. Or at least that book is mentioned in this one as having being written by a main character in this book? Anyway, the plot:  Willy Patrick, the respected author of the award-winning young-adult novel, thinks she is losing her mind again. The first time was after her husband and daughter were murdered. Now she is haunted by the knowledge that her daughter, Holly, is being held captive in a fruit warehouse. Except she can’t be, because of the aforementioned being murdered thing. Meanwhile, author Timothy Underhill, who has been struggling with a new book about a troubled young woman, is confronted with the ghost of his nine-year-old sister, April (also murdered, many years ago) and starts receiving strange, fragmented emails from dead classmates and acquaintances. There are books within books within books, characters who were dead or maybe not, or possibly were never even real at all. It all just felt unnecessarily confusing. I loved Ghost Story but this one just wasn’t for me. 2 stars.

The Fairy Doll by Rumer Godden. Did I quickly read a 96-page children’s book at the very end of December just so I could add one more book to my total count for the year? As a matter of fact, I did! Nobody is sure where Fairy Doll came from, but she has always been at the top of the Christmas tree. Elizabeth is the smallest in the family. She is always getting into trouble and her brother and sisters are forever laughing at her and bossing her around. She’s convinced she’s useless. Then Great-Grandma gives Fairy Doll to Elizabeth and suddenly she finds she can do things. Is Fairy Doll magical or was it Elizabeth herself all along? Slightly old-fashioned but very sweet and charming. I loved the glimpses into a child’s imagination – sawdust as fairy sand and a shell for a bed. I also like how it’s left to the reader to decide whether the Fairy Doll is actually magical. 4 stars.

And that concludes the round-up of books I read in December. In case you’re interested, the total number of books I ended up reading in 2018 was 168 (plus some I started but never finished and one started in 2017 that I read more of but still haven’t finished).

What have you been reading recently? Anything you would like to recommend?

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