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?

Come join the link up for even more book talk!

What I read in December 2017

Yes, it’s another link-up post. Sorry! I will write something real soon. But it’s Show Us Your Books day and I feel compelled to show you my books.

This will be a relatively short one since I didn’t finish that many books in December.

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The Naming of the Shrew: A Curious History of Latin Names by John Wright. I gave my dad this book for Christmas 2016 and he lent it to me when I saw him in the summer, so I wanted to finish it so I could return it when I went over for my sister’s wedding. I started it in November and finished it in December, but technically read it in two train rides – I took it with me when I had to go into the office. Some sections are a bit long winded but overall it’s interesting. You can certainly tell the author is enthusiastic about the subject – his love for his field shines through. A solid four stars.

Missing Rose by Linda Newbery. This one started off strong but ultimately I was disappointed. When I finally found out what happened to Rose it all seemed a bit rushed and anticlimactic. There seemed to be too many subplots all coming together at the end with none really being satisfactorily explained or resolved. It is well written and intriguing for the most part though, just the final chapters let it down. Three stars.

Magician by Raymond E. Feist. At 841 pages this wasn’t even the longest book I read last year but it seemed so long. It was good though… I just couldn’t read loads of it in one sitting. It is fantasy and some of the races seem a little clichéd… elves who hate associating with other races unless they have to because, say, there’s a war on. Sound in any way familiar? I didn’t mind that too much though. I liked most of the characters and mostly enjoyed reading about them. One thing that really annoyed me was the use of “ages ago” to describe basically anything that happened in the past – whether in someone’s use or at the actual start of the world! I assume he was trying to show that although the characters refer to themselves as “humans”, this book is not really set on Earth, but every time I read about something happening “ages ago” I was jolted out of the story by the sheer strangeness of it. Why would anybody use “ages ago” there?! It’s a minor point but it drove me craaaazy! Luckily there wasn’t so much talk of the past towards the end and I finished the last 2 or 3 chapters in one night. It’s the first in a series but if the others are this long I don’t think I’ll bother. I gave it 4 stars though.

Game Changer by Tim Bowler. In essence this is the story of a teen with agoraphobia and anxiety issues who is persuaded to face his fears and actually go out one night by his sister. Unfortunately something happens while they are out and now a gang is out to get him. The book is so action packed that you can’t help but read it in one sitting (it helps that it’s a short book) and Mikey’s agoraphobia and panic attacks seem authentic from what I can tell as a non-sufferer. I found the story really confusing though and once I finally found out what Mikey had actually witnessed the rest of the book felt rushed. Also the brother/ sister relationship was somehow… off. I get that’s she was worried about him but no teenager is that close to their sibling! They seemed almost creepily close. The danger/violence is not the tamest so I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under the age of about 13/14. If you’re looking for something quick it’s enjoyable enough. Three stars.

And that was it… a mere four books finished. Just after Christmas, I started reading The Pillars of the Earth, which I obviously won’t be finishing any time soon considering it’s over 1,000 pages and I’m occupied with Erin’s challenge! And then I started another book on the train to Geneva because Pillars of the Earth was too big to fit in my handbag… so I’m also currently reading On The Road. I may finish that one in January, depending on how I get on with Erin’s challenge.

Did you read anything good in December? Linking up with Jana and Steph, as always. Hit one of the links to see what other people have been reading recently.

The books I read in October 2017

It’s that time of month again where I link up with Jana and Steph to tell you all about what I read in the previous month, in this case October 2017. I completed Erin’s book challenge 7.0 and also read three other books. As in previous months, challenge books are listed first.

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman (592 pages, read for the category “A book with a non-human main character”). I found this book hard to get into at first, and lots of times I actually managed to put it down after finishing a chapter, just like I had promised myself, but by the end I was invested. The storytelling is amazing! I was rooting for Shadow all the way and it was really interesting finding out where he came from along with him. Wednesday was a difficult character to like, but I think maybe that was the point? Honestly, I preferred Neverwhere, but I couldn’t bring myself to give this one less than 5 Goodreads stars. Probably I would give it 5 and a half, but they won’t let me!

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (495 pages, read for the category “A book with a cardinal/compass direction in the title”). Lots of Goodreads reviewers seem to have hated this book. Maybe I’m too easily pleased, but I really enjoyed it. I liked Elphaba and thought it was interesting to read about her childhood and get an explanation for why she was green. It was nice to see her treated as a human being and not just some caricature of evil. I also liked that, in this book at least, she wasn’t really wicked. Towards the end she started to go crazy, but most of the time she was trying to do the right thing, in her own way. It’s not a perfect book and there are things that I would have liked more explanation of, but for the most part I enjoyed reading it and in my world that counts for a lot. 4 stars.

And, with that, I completed the bonus round of Erin’s challenge. Woo!
I probably would never have actually read the Wicked book if it hadn’t been for needing a new previously chosen book for my final category (I changed it from East of Eden because there was just no way I was going to be reading that in the final weeks of the challenge!),  so that was nice. Of all the books I read for the challenge this time, I think my favourite was Alfie Bloom and the Talisman Thief. And now I’m looking forward to the next challenge… categories to be announced in December. I’m so excited!

Now for the other books I read in October.

Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo. This book had been sitting on my bookcase for over a year and I have no idea why I hadn’t read it before! I absolutely loved the Snow Spider trilogy by this author when I was a child (I must have read it at least 20 times), which is part of the reason I bought this one, but somehow I never got round to reading it? I finally picked it up when I needed something nice and quick that wouldn’t task my brain too much. And I LOVED it! The one thing that slightly annoyed me is that, despite being the main character, Charlie didn’t seem to do anything much. His name is in the title, yet it seemed like other people were constantly making all the decisions, doing all the dangerous things and generally saving his backside. And two of those people didn’t even have any special powers/gifts! His friends are awesome though, so I can’t really complain too much about them having a large role. I just hope Charlie gets more proactive in book 2! Oh, and lots of the reviews called these books a rip-off of Harry Potter… just because it’s set in England, involves children with special powers and involves a school doesn’t automatically make it a Harry Potter rip-off! The school isn’t even for magic as such – it’s a school for the gifted (musicians, artists, etc.) that also takes people with “magical” gifts. Anyway, I gave it 4 stars.

The Wrong Train by Jeremy de Quidt. I really liked this, probably because the stories reminded me of the type of ghost stories we used to tell each other as children (the babysitter and the heavy-breathing phone calls anyone?). I liked that it’s short stories, but with an overarching storyline tying them all together (basically a boy gets on the wrong train and while he’s waiting for the right one, on a dark, creepy platform, an old man starts telling him scary stories). Most of the stories were the perfect blend of “is this all in the protagonist’s head or could it, just maybe, be real?”, but the final one was a bit weird and silly and, in my opinion, let the whole collection down. This would be a great book for teens who like to creep themselves out… way better than the Point Horror books I adored at that age! 4 stars (without the final story it would have been 5).

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This is a weird little book. It’s well written and very clever, but I didn’t find it particularly spooky – more confusing. Was any of it really happening or was the narrator just mad? Maybe that was the whole point? Maybe I’m just too stupid to understand? 3 stars.

And those were all the books I finished in October. I then started reading Magician, which has eleventy billion pages (okay, 841). Maybe I’ll finish it it time to include it in my reviews for November… or maybe it will have to appear in the January’s “Show Us Your Books”. We’ll see. I’m enjoying it so far anyway, but I can only read it at bedtime because it’s too big to take on the train!

That’s it from me. Read anything good recently? Check out the link up if you want to fill your to-read list with even more lovely, lovely books.

Inside the Theme: Woodland Fantasy

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I’m going to do something a bit different today…

A while ago I mentioned that I had signed up for a geeky pen pals site. But the IGGPPC is so much more than just a place to find pen pals. There are forums where you can chat and a blog that discusses the latest happenings in the geeky world (new computer games, books, films, TV shows…). Each month, there is also a different theme including various activities to go along with it, such as a watch-along of a film (everyone watches a film at the same time and tweets about it). There is also a set of questions to go along with the theme. This month, the theme is Woodland Fantasy and I liked the questions so much that I’ve decided to answer them on my blog.

 

  • What is your favourite fantasy story, and what’s so great about it?That’s a difficult one to answer, but I think I’d have to go with Discworld. Pratchett was such an excellent writer. I love his humour, the way he incorporates elements of our world into his Discworld, managing to look at society critically while still being funny. The way he brings his characters to life. His descriptions. Just… everything about the series. Please don’t ask me to pick a specific book though!
  • What was your first experience with fantasy?It depends what you consider fantasy, I suppose. If animals that talk and dress in human clothing are fantasy then it was probably Beatrix Potter’s books. Otherwise it would have been something by Enid Blyton – maybe The Wishing Chair? Or it could have been Disney’s Alice in Wonderland – my favourite film as a child! Then again, there was also Bananaman and Superted. Which came first, books or cartoons? Hmm.
  • Modern technology allows fantasy stories to be told in a variety of different mediums now; do you prefer diving into a good old fashioned book, reading a colorful comic, yelling at your videogames while bathing in the blood of your virtual enemies, or snacking on all the popcorns in front of your TV or at the movies? (Listening to troubadours performing the ballad of Beowulf is also a totally valid choice.)Regular readers probably won’t need to be told this, but for me it’s definitely books! Real ones… no Kindles here, thank you. I do like a good fantasy film occasionally though.
  • Pets are a very popular choice in fantasy. Because pets are awesome. Which magical pet would you most like to adopt? (You can either go with a kind of creature, or a specific pet from a specific story you wouldn’t mind moving in with you – because let’s face it, we all want Toothless as a bestie.)Dragon Eastside GalleryA dragon! Party because of the relationship between the dragons and their riders in the Dragonlance series, and partly because of Toothless. I mean… who doesn’t want a Toothless of their very own? Obviously I’m assuming I would have somewhere to keep said dragon and that it would either be harmless (no fire-breathing!) or very, very tame!
  • Your RPG play style: alignment, faction, race, and class. Do you play tabletop style or in a digital medium?I play a wizard in Warhammer Quest. Never anything else. I’ve also played the original Warhammer (the one with the huge table filled with different armies) where I was dwarves. I prefer Warhammer Quest though. I’ve never actually played Dungeons and Dragons, the original roleplaying game! And neither have I played on of the various computer-based versions (World of Warcraft or whatever).

So there you have it. Feel free to answer the questions yourself if you want – there’s no need to sign up to the website to do so!

Ten fictional characters I would like to meet

Terry Pratchett booksAs a kind of follow up to last week’s list of ten fictional places I wish I could go, I thought it would be fun to also list some of the fictional characters I would love to meet. Notice that I didn’t say top ten! That would be an impossible challenge. Also, this list is in no order other than the order that they came into my head.

  1. Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
    Actually, there are many Discworld characters I would like to meet, but Death is definitely right up at the top! I would like to go to his realm (a place that I sadly didn’t have room for on the other list), pat Binkie then sit down and have a long conversation with Death himself. Hopefully he would also bring Death of Rats with him.
  2. Raistlin and Caramon Majere from the Dragonlance series
    Okay, I’m cheating a little here, but the twins really are two halves of a whole and to understand either of them you would have to meet both. And I still believe deep in my heart that Raistlin was never really evil. He just had to go to the darkside for the sake of balance.
  3. Aslan from the Narnia series
    Well, obviously I would like to meet all the talking animals, but Asland tops the list! I would bury my hands in his fur and give him a massive hug. And maybe I would even be lucky enough to get to ride him.
  4. Lucy from the Narnia series
    Sticking with a theme for the moment, of all the children who featured in the Narnia series, Lucy was always my favourite. Despite being the youngest, she was always brave and she was open-minded from the start (unlike her brothers and sister who didn’t believe her at first!)
  5. Katy from What Katy Did
    I think I would like to meet her before she had her accident and became so sickingly good 😉 But seriously, throughout the entire book (and the two follow ups) she always means well, even before she learns to control her temper. I would like to sit and plan a Christmas celebration with her and help her write poems for all the members of the family.
  6. The BFG from the book of the same name
    He would take me dream catching and we would drink Frobscottle together, then go whizzpopping around. I don’t think I would like to try Snozzcumer though. Bleurgh!
  7. Marina from So Much To Tell You by John Marsden
    I would just want to hug her and tell her everything is going to be okay, except I know she wold hate that, so I would be like Cathy and just be kind to her in subtle ways while trying not to scare her away.
  8. Ellie from the Tomorrow series by John Marsden
    Actually, I want to meet all of ellie’s group of friends, but as the narrator Ellie is the one I feel like I know best. I want to tell her how absolutely amazing she is – and also maybe learn some survival skills from her.
  9. Sherlock Holmes
    I want him to do his deduction thing on me! I wonder what he would come up with? Then, once he had told me everything I never knew about myself, we would settle down and he would tell me about some of his cases that Watson never got round to writing up.
  10. Paddington Bear
    He’s my favourite fictional bear – I love him even more than Winnie the Pooh! We would get up to all sorts of mischief together and I would provide him with all the marmelade sandwiches he wanted.

And, of course, a million and one other characters who I didn’t have room for. I didn’t even manage to include any from films, TV series or or anything! So I feel compelled to give honorary mention shout-outs to Cecil Gershwin Palmer from Welcome to Night Vale (could we maybe transport him here so I don’t end up being killed off along with the interns in Night Vale?) doctors Mark Greene and Abbey Lockheart from E.R. and The Metatron from Dogma.

Which fictional characters would you like to meet? Let me know in the comments, or write your own blog post!