What I read in December 2019

Good morning friends! It’s the first Show Us Your Books link up of the year, and I’m here to tell you about the books I read in December. In terms of actual books, it isn’t as many as usual but I read most of It by Stephen King in December, which is a lot of pages! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning…

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

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What She Saw by Wendy Clarke. First of all, the actual synopsis of this book is totally misleading so I’m going to try to write my own. Leona and her daughter Beth have always been close. But their closeness has meant Beth struggled to make friends. Her mother’s over-protectiveness has led her to be sheltered and totally reliant on her parents. Meanwhile, Leona has a secret that she can’t tell anybody – not even Beth. Something in her past has caused her to be wary of strangers and meant she’s had to lie to Beth ever since she was a child. Could that past now be catching up with them? This is a reasonable enough thriller but rather predictable. I guessed most of the twists, apart from being misled on one thing I expected to happen that didn’t. 2.5 stars. I think the author has potential but this particular book was average.

The Real Katie Lavender by Erica James. 30-year-old Katie Lavender thinks she is better than most when it comes to dealing with life’s surprises. But when she loses her job and receives a request to visit a solicitor all on the same day, she has no idea of the dramatic turn her life is about to take. The solicitor gives her a letter from her deceased mother that will change everything Katie thought she knew about herself. So. Much. Drama. This is more soap opera than book. Everyone is having affairs, half the characters are adopted. Suspension of belief is one thing but so much happening in one family eventually just became ridiculous. And most of the characters didn’t feel authentic – either cliché or too perfect. It’s an easy read and goes by quickly (with so much going on it has too!) but honestly it’s not that great. 2 stars.

The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf. When you’re a hypochondriac, there are a million different things that could be wrong with you, but for Izzy, focusing on what could be wrong might be keeping her from dealing with what’s really wrong. With her mother suffering from a rare disease, a best friend who seems to have suffered a personality transplant, and a way-out-of-her league maybe boyfriend who keeps blowing hot and cold, Izzy’s life feels out of control. But when the worst-case scenario actually happens Izzy realises there’s no handy list of symptoms to help her through. This book is a little predictable and there were almost too many issues, but I actually quite liked reading it. Parts of it are actually pretty funny. I felt bad for Izzy even if she caused some of her own problems. 3.5 stars.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland, but the similarities end there. They couldn’t be more different. Connell is one of the most popular boys at their high school, handsome,star of the football team and an excellent student. The only thing he lacks is money. Marianne is from a fairly well-off family,  but she’s plain-looking, odd, stubborn and completely ostracised at school. However, there is a deep and undeniable connection between the two teenagers, one that develops into a secret relationship. When both are accepted into Trinity College in Dublin, their roles end up being reversed. This book follows the two of them throughout their university years, as they fall in and out of romance. And as Marianne experiments with an increasingly dangerous string of boyfriends, Connell must decide how far he is willing to go to save his oldest friend. I bought this on a whim at the train station because I needed something for the journey home and I’m so glad I did. I read the entire thing on the train and enjoyed every minute. It’s emotional, hard hitting, thought provoking. I can imagine a lot of people hating it but I loved it. It reminded me a lot of One Day. The characters’ failure to communicate drove me crazy at times but the author perfectly captured the feeling of not fitting in. Not quite a 5 star read, but almost… I’m giving it 4.5.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. Now, newly married, newly widowed, and pregnant, Elsie is sent to her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge. With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Behind a locked door inside her home, she finds a painted wooden figure – a silent companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition until other strange things start to happen. This is a great read. Very creepy and gothic. And I was not expecting the ending at all. 4.5 stars.

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen. This is the story of various people who all end up wearing the same little black dress for one reason or another, for example a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl who would love a way to get back at her lawyer ex-boyfriend who’s engaged to someone else after just two months, a woman has been quietly in love with her happily married boss for twenty years and, now he’s a widower, just needs the right situation to make him see how perfect she is for him, and a private detective specialising in finding evidence on cheating husbands. For all of them, everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season. This is a cute, quick read. It’s kind of fluffy and with so many characters it doesn’t truly go into depth with any story but it’s perfect escapism and I really enjoyed it. Definitely nothing earth shattering but a nice palate cleanser. 4 stars.

In the Dark by Cara Hunter. The second in the DI Adam Fawley seires. A woman and young child are found locked in a basement room, barely alive. Nobody knows who they are and the woman can’t – or won’t – speak. The elderly man who owns the house, and seems to be suffering from dementia, claims he has never seen them before.The inhabitants of the quiet Oxford street are in shock – how could this happen right under their noses? But DI Adam Fawley knows that nothing is impossible, and nobody is as innocent as they seem. I loved the first book in this series, but found the ending a little hard to swallow. This second book was even better. It’s a great thriller with many twists and turns – by the end you’re not sure whether anyone can be trusted! And I really didn’t expect the final twist. I am very excited to continue with this series. 5 stars.

The Clocks by Agatha Christie. Sheila Webb, typist-for-hire, arrives at 19 Wilbraham Crescent in the seaside town of Crowdean to accept a new job. Instead, she finds a well-dressed corpse surrounded by five clocks. Mrs. Pebmarsh, the blind owner of No. 19, denies all knowledge of ringing Sheila’s secretarial agency and asking for her by name, and neither does she own all those clocks. And neither woman seems to know the victim. Colin Lamb, a young intelligence specialist working a case of his own – and a friend of the police detective who ends up taking on the case – happens to be on the scene at the time of Sheila Webb’s ghastly discovery. Lamb knows of only one man who can properly investigate a crime as bizarre and baffling as this – his friend and mentor Hercule Poirot. This was the first ever Agatha Christie book I read, back when I was 10! I read it again for the first time in over 20 years on the plane home from England. It’s pretty typical Christie fare full of intrigue and mysterious relationships. I was certainly kept entertained, and after all this time I couldn’t remember who the culprit was. It’s a slightly bizarre addition to the Poirot series given that Poirot only turns up at the very end and doesn’t actually do any investigating, but following Colin Lamb is just as interesting. Maybe not Christie’s best work, but this was a fun bit of nostalgia for me. 4 stars.

It by Stephen King. Finally we come to the behemoth that is this book. I started it in October and read 212 pages then abandoned it for Believathon, which meant I read 1164 pages of it December! Most people know what this book is about, so just quickly: Only the children of Derry could see and feel what made their home town so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, It lurked, taking on the shape of every person’s deepest dread. Sometimes it reared up, going on a killing spree, before falling back into a sleep. Until one group of children figured out a way to stop the cycle for that year. Time passed, the children grew up, moved away, forgot. But now it’s starting again and the grown-up children have been called back again to confront It once more and this time, hopefully, put a stop to it for good. Stephen King certainly can write! It takes talent to hold my attention throughout most of a book this long. There were parts I didn’t like as much and I did think there were a few tangents that could have been left out. Also one particular scene was just horrible and entirely unnecessary! I’m sure he could have found a better way to renew the children’s bond (if you’ve read it, you’ll know). It definitely did not need to be over 1,300 pages long, but overall I really liked it. A solid 4 star read.

And that’s it. Nine books is relatively few for me, but as I said, in terms of page count I still read a lot!

TL;DR. If you really need this for a post with only 9 books I’m not sure you can be helped! However, I shall give you my recommendations anyway: thriller fans please read the DI Adam Fawley series by Cara Hunter. I promise they’re not your usual police procedural books. I feel like Normal People will be a Marmite type book (you will either love it or hate it) but I really liked it. The Silent Companions is a great gothic book and a fairly quick read. And I expect you will know whether you’re interested in reading It or not.

Check out the link up for more book recommendations, and let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them.

That’s all from me. Hope you have an awesome day/afternoon/night/whatever!

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.

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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.