What I read in June & July 2022

The ending of the Show Us Your Books link up meant I completely forgot to review the books I read in June. Luckily there were only two – followed by five in July – so I can just shove two months into one post.

The Hidden Cottage by Erica James. Mia Channing seems to have the perfect life. A beautiful home, a happy marriage, a job she loves and three grown-up children to whom she’s devoted. But appearances can be deceptive. When the family gathers for her son’s 30th birthday, he brings with him his latest girlfriend who, they are surprised to learn, has a nine-year-old daughter. Then, before the birthday cake has even been cut, Mia’s youngest daughter Daisy seizes the opportunity to drop a bombshell. It’s an evening that marks a turning point in all their lives, when old resentments and regrets surface and the carefully ordered world Mia has created begins to unravel. This was fine. Kind of predictable and the writing style annoyed me at times but it was a fairly easy read for its length. I loved nine-year-old Madison but found some of the other characters a bit underdeveloped. I think there were too many of them. 2.5 stars. Also, is it just me or does The Hidden Cottage sound like the title of a Famous Five book?

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood. For Susan Green, messy emotions simply don’t fit into the equation of her perfectly ordered life. She is in complete control at all times, with a flat that is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and an “interpersonal arrangement” that provides cultural and other, more intimate, benefits. But suddenly confronted with the loss of her mother and the news that she is about to become a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is realised. She is losing control. When she learns that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her immature and irresponsible brother, Edward, Susan is determined that she must do something about it. But as her due date draws near and her family problems become increasingly difficult to ignore, Susan finds help and self-discovery in the most unlikely of places. I actually kind of liked the story in this book and wanted to know what happened at the end, but the main character completely ruined it for me. I assume she’s supposed to be a damaged person who struggles to connect with “normal” people a la Eleanor Oliphant but actually she’s insufferable and honestly just plain mean. Unlike Eleanor it felt like she knew perfectly well she was being mean no matter how much she tried to pass it off as being direct/honest. The romance is ridiculous – it goes from barely even friends to “I’m totally in love with you and want to help you raise your baby” in about 2 pages. I actually liked Rob as a character, just the romance made no sense! 2.5 stars.

So, that was June. A slightly disappointing month… And zero out of two books were by BIPOC/BAME authors. On to July…

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins. When the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford College Master vanishes in the middle of the night, police turn to the Scottish nanny, Dee, for answers. As Dee looks back over her time in the Master’s Lodging – an eerie and ancient house – a picture of a high achieving but dysfunctional family emerges: Nick, the fiercely intelligent and powerful father; his beautiful Danish wife Mariah, pregnant with their child; and the lost little girl, Felicity, almost mute, seeing ghosts, still grieving her dead mother. But is Dee telling the whole story? Is her growing friendship with the eccentric house historian, Linklater, any cause for concern? And most of all, why was Felicity silent? Some things didn’t make sense and I found the ending predictable but overall I really enjoyed this book. It’s very suspenseful. I especially liked the character of Linklater and the descriptions of Oxford’s old cemeteries. 4 stars.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. Do I really need to write a synopsis for this one? Does anyone not know what it is? Allie Brosh’s second graphic novel in which she again tells stores from her own life including tales from her childhood, the adventures of her very bad animals and merciless dissection of her own character flaws. She also talks about the awful experiences that resulted in this book being delayed for so long. I found parts of the book hilarious – especially the stories about her childhood – while others were heart breaking. It seems so unfair that so many bad things have happened to one person while others seem to live a completely charmed life. Not all the stories resonated with me and I didn’t love it as much as Hyperbole and a Half but I still really, really liked it. 4 stars.

City of the Lost by Kelly Armstong (Rockton #1). Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday her crime will catch up to her. Casey’s best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana’s husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it’s time for the two of them to disappear again. Diana has heard of a town especially for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton, and if you’re accepted it means walking away from your old life entirely, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada. No cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. As a murderer, Casey isn’t a good candidate, but she has something they want: She’s a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realises that the identity of a murderer isn’t the only secret Rockton is hiding… and she starts to wonder if she and Diana might actually be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives. This is a very different kind of police procedural – the setting alone changes things and makes for a very suspenseful atmosphere. And there were at least two twists that I was not expecting. I will definitely be continuing this series. 4 stars.

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa. Rintaro Natsuki loves Natsuki Books, his grandfather’s tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. It’s the perfect refuge for a teenage boy who tends to be somewhat of a recluse. When his grandfather dies suddenly, Rintaro is left devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to embark on three magical adventures to save books from people have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone… This is definitely one for book lovers! It’s very quotable and reads almost like a love letter to the power of books/reading. It’s utterly bizarre in the way only Japanese fiction can be and I feel like I didn’t understand all of it but I did enjoy it. It’s also a very quick read – I finished the entire thing in one day, during two of my daughter’s naps. 4 stars,

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross (The Laundry Files #1). Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. His world was dull and safe – but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob is up to his neck in spycraft, parallel universes, dimension-hopping terrorists, monstrous elder gods and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than a full system reboot to sort this mess out… This book is based on the premise that “magic” and parallel universes, demons, etc. exist in our world, but it’s not actually magic… it’s all based on maths and computing. I did actually mostly enjoy the storyk, but the unfortunately the maths parts went completely over my head, which meant it took me ages to finish and spoiled it a bit for me. I would never have bought this book (it was a gift years ago) and don’t intend to continue the series, but it’s not actually bad. Just really not right for me! 3 stars.

In July I read 5 books, one of which was by a BAME/BIPOC author.

We’re now over a week into August and I’ve yet to finish a single book, so we’ll see whether it’s even necessary for me to try and remember to post next month! In the meantime let me know if you’ve read anything good recently.

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What I read in October 2019

Hello my lovelies. It’s book review day again, and can you believe it’s the tenth one of the year? Crazy! Also, last month’s link up was the fifth anniversary of Show Us Your Books and I totally forgot to congratulate Jana and Steph. I am a terrible person, but I hope they know I think they rock. Anyway… on to what I read in October. It wasn’t as much as in other months. I actually only have nine books for you this time round, which I know is still quite a lot, but for me it’s not many at all. Too much crafting and Buffy the Vampire Slayer taking up my time! But you’re hear to read about books, so I’ll get on with it shall I…

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Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson. Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have been inseparable ever since Mila moved to Cross Creek. There’s not much to do in their small town, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favourite activity: amateur witchcraft. When Riley and two mean girls from their high school die in suspicious circumstances within a short time of each other, Mila refuses to believe her friend was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient spell book, Mila decides to bring Riley back from the dead and uncover the truth. Unfortunately, she also ends up bringing back the other two girls, and none of them can remember what happened before they died. With only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again. This was such a fun read and the perfect start to October. There’s lots of wit and sarcasm, and I loved the friendship the girls built up. The cast is also extremely diverse. The mystery kept me guessing and I was surprised by who the culprit was – lots of people found it predictable though, so maybe I’m just dumb 😉 It definitely requires a LOT of suspension of belief, lots of absurd things happening. But I kind if liked the silliness of it. It’s not quite a 4 star read, but I rounded it up to 4 on Goodreads.

Friend Request by Laura Marshall. When Louise receives a message saying Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook, she’s confused to say the least. Maria Weston has been dead for 27 years… hasn’t she? The message brings back long-buried memories of Louise’s school days, when she almost became friends with new girl Maria, until one decision made everything go horribly wrong. Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. But as she is forced to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with and piece together what happened, Louise discovers that there’s more to the story than she ever knew. I really liked this. It does take it’s time to finally tell you what Louise did but I felt like it mostly built up the tension well. I did not guess what was happening at all and the ending totally shocked me. My theory was way off base – although I suspected most people at one point or another! 3.5 stars.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Volume 1: The Crucible by Robert Aguirre. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, high school student and young sorceress Sabrina Spellman must choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. This is a graphic novel comprising the first five issues of the ongoing comic book series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which I believe are related to the Netflix series. It’s hard for me to rate this because I don’t really read graphic novels. I feel like it was over too fast and I didn’t have a chance to get to know the characters. Sabrina is supposed to be the main character but the story spent so much time in the past or with other random people that it didn’t really feel like it. I liked Madame Satan – she’s wonderfully creepy and just plain bad. I want to keep reading because this one ended on a cliffhanger and I won’t to know what happens, but in general I don’t think graphic novels are going to be something I start picking up regularly. 3 stars.

The Au Pair by Emma Rous. Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs. Now an adult, Seraphine is mourning the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph taken on the day the twins were born. It shows their mother, together with her husband and her young son – the twins’ brother – smiling serenely, and holding just one baby. Her brother has a vague memory that his au pair, Laura, took the photo – right before she fled back to London. Seraphine is determined to find her and learn exactly what happened that day and who the baby in the photograph is. This is a fast-paced read and I liked it fine, but I didn’t love it. I really didn’t like Seraphine. She jumped to conclusions constantly and was just generally really annoying. There’s one point where her brothers say they didn’t tell her something when she was younger because they knew how she’d react and I found myself agreeing with them – she definitely would have overreacted, lashed out and generally been a pain. I much preferred the chapters from Laura’s point of view, although the “twist” in her tale was fairly obvious to me, I just wasn’t sure precisely how it came out. The ending is so elaborate that it all seems incredibly far-fetched. This is billed as a “thriller” but it’s really not that thrilling. And the tag-line “Would you let a complete stranger into your home?” is incredibly misleading – there’s no “evil” au pair in this one! 3 stars.

Vox by Christina Dalcher. Like every other woman in the United States, Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins. A new government is in power and almost overnight, bank accounts have been frozen, passports taken away and seventy million women have lost their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write. Then suddenly Jean’s skills are needed, giving her a temporary reprieve. She is determined to regain her voice – for herself, for her daughter and for every woman silenced. I’m not sure how to review this book. I thought I was going to love it, and I did love certain aspects. The beginning was terrifying and felt like something that could really happen, but other parts were just confusing and most of the characters lacked depth. Even though the book is told from Jean’s perspective, I feel as though I don’t really know her, and I know even less about her husband. The storyline with Steven, her teenage son, are scary and show exactly how teenagers/children are indoctrinated in dictatorships – those parts were really well done. However, the ending felt rushed and incomplete. Possibly setting up for a sequel? I did like it and parts of it will stick with me but overall it just wasn’t what I was expecting. 3.25 stars.

The Drowning Pool by Syd Moore. After relocating to a coastal town, widowed teacher Sarah Grey is slowly rebuilding her life, along with her young son Alfie. After she and her friends accidentally hold a séance one drunken night, strange things start to happen and Sarah is convinced she is being haunted by her namesake, a 19th Century local witch. Delving into local folklore, she learns that the witch was thought to have been evil incarnate. When a series of old letters surface, Sarah discovers that nothing and no-one is as it seems, maybe not even the ghost of Sarah Grey… This is billed as a “modern ghost story” but it’s more of a whodunnit/mystery surrounding a crime that happened in the past with a bit of haunting thrown in. There are a few creepy scenes, but the way it’s written is more chicklit than horror (not that there’s anything wrong with chicklit, it just wasn’t what I was expecting!). There’s also an awful lot of the protagonist getting drunk – at one point she wasn’t sure whether she’d drank 2 or 3 bottles of wine while home alone, and she also talks about being on antidepressants… was she really being haunted or hallucinating from the effects of mixing alcohol with medication every single night? Overall it was an interesting story, but not all that gripping. I especially enjoyed the parts about the original Sarah Grey – modern-day Sarah Grey was slightly too annoying! 3.5 stars

The Taking of Annie Thorne by C.J. Tudor. One night, Joe’s sister Annie went missing. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. But then after 48 hours she came back. But when she did, she wasn’t the same. In fact, sometimes Joe found himself scared to death of his little sister. Now a grown man, Joe receives a message: “It’s starting again”. Needing to get out of town anyway, he returns to the small town of Arnhill in Nottinghamshire where he grew up to start a job teaching English at the school. But not everybody is happy to see him back. I am torn on how to rate this book. The writing is good. It’s very dark, a bit creepy. The author captures the atmosphere of a former mining town very well (I spent my teen years in one, and in fact the house my dad lives in was originally miners’ flats). The main character is not likeable, but I don’t think he’s supposed to be. Actually, nobody in that town seemed to be likeable. Anyway, I was enjoying it and then it go to the twist/reveal/explanation and… it’s a blatant rip-off of a very popular book, which I will not name because even if you haven’t read it as soon as I mention the title you’ll know what the explanation is as well. I get that most things have been done before, new takes on old stories, new twists, etc. But this was a little *too* close to that other book. I quite liked The Chalk Man and I really think this author could write an amazing book in the future, she just needs to make it a little less obvious where she gets her inspiration from! 3 stars.

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. When Moomintroll learns that a comet is coming, het sets off with his friend Sniff to consult the professors at the top of the Lonely Mountains. They have many adventures and meet new friends along the way, but the greatest adventure of all awaits them when they learn that the comet is headed straight for their beloved Moominvalley. Surely Momminmama will know what to do, if only they can get back in time to warn her. This is charming and delightful. I had only read Finn Family Moomintroll before, so it was nice to learn how the Moomins met some of the other characters in this one. I think we can all learn a lot from the Moomins about how to treat each other and the important things in life. It gets confusing sometimes with the weird names of the creatures and lack of explanations (you’re just expected to know what Hemulens are for example – maybe it was explained in the first book?), but overall I liked it. It reminds me of simpler times. 4 stars.

They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire. Every year, the lives of ten junior girls at Vienna High are transformed. All because of “the list”. All Kenzie wants is to get through high school and earn a scholarship to her dream college so she can get away from her overprotective mother, who has been smothering her ever since Kenzie’s older brother died the year before.  But when she’s voted number five on a list of the prettiest girls in school, her average life becomes dazzling. She’s invited to parties, makes new friends, and the cutest jock in school is after her. This is the power of the list. If you’re on it, your life changes. But this year, the girls on the list are dying one by one. Kenzie is determined to find out what’s going on before it’s too late… This is entertaining and fast paced. I mostly enjoyed reading it (even while rolling my eyes at most of the characters). I didn’t guess the reveal mostly because it’s so absurd that nobody’s mind would go there. There’s suspension of belief and then there’s just entirely implausible. I wouldn’t necessarily say don’t read it, but be prepared to roll your eyes a lot – at the plot and at the sheer sexism of it all. Hottie list? Really? 3.25 stars.

And that was all I read in October. A couple of decent ones, nothing turly terrible, but nothing absolutely outstanding either, sadly.

TL;DR. This is usually where I give a brief overview of which books I recommend, but I’m not sure what to tell you this month. Everyone should read Vox for certain aspects – particularly for a chilling look at home indoctrination happens in schools – but don’t go in expecting an outstanding new addition to the dystopian genre. If you like witchy YA and  aren’t likely to roll your eyes out of your head when things get absurd then I recommend Undead Girl Gang as a fun, silly read. Graphic novels aren’t my favourite, but if you’re a big fan and like creepy things you should definitely read Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.Finally, the Moomins books are very cute and nostalgic, but I would recommend starting with book 1.

Don’t forget to check out the link up for more book reviews. (And admire Jana’s new puppy while you’re there!)