What I Read in May 2018

Hello! Can you believe Show Us Your Books day has rolled around again? Didn’t I just write about what I read in April? Anyway, I have a whole 18 books to review this month so I’d best get on with it. As always, the books are simply listed as I read them, not in order of preference.

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The Godfather by Mario Puzo. I started this one in April and finished it in May. Honestly, I would never even have picked it up if it wasn’t on the BBC Big Read list but I ended up liking it way more than I expected to. I have never even seen a Godfather film (yeah, I know) but I was still familiar with a lot of the plot… I got to the bit with the horse’s head and thought “oh yeah, this is where that’s from”. I can’t really describe my thoughts on this book but I gave it 4 stars. Obviously there is a lot of violence so if you’re not into that avoid it.

What Comes After by Steve Watkins. When sixteen-year-old Iris Wight’s dad days and the family friends who promised to take her in decide they can’t after all, she is forced to go and live with her aunt and cousin on a farm in North Carolina. The aunt is horrible and mistreats her to the extent that she ends up being taken into foster care. This book is horrible. Utterly heartbreaking. But, in the end, also hopeful. Read it for the goats but be aware that there is abuse/violence. 4 stars.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell. I loved this – it’s so cute and fun! Ada Goth Ghastly-Gorm Hall with her father, Lord Goth, lots of servants and at least half a dozen ghosts. One night, she meets the ghost of a mouse then makes some new friends, and together they set out to investigate the strange goings on in the old mansion. There are many literary and historical references in this book (the first thing the mouse says is “call me Ishmael”, Mary Shellfish comes to stay…). I think a lot of them would go over children’s heads (the actual target audience) but I loved them. Chris Riddell also illustrated the book and the drawings are fabulous. Plus, in my copy the pages have purple edges. So pretty! Another 4 star read.

Cold Feet by Brenda Novak. This book was not what I was expecting. I thought it was a thriller so I was really confused by the Mills and Boon-esque sex scenes (between people who had known each other all of a day). Turns out it’s a romance. So that may have affected my rating – if you go into it knowing it’s a romance you may like it more. The police suspect Madison Lieberman’s father is a serial killer, but now he’s dead and another woman has died in a similar way. Ex-cop turned crime writer Caleb Trovato is obsessed with the case and now wonders whether there’s a copycat killer or they had their sights on the wrong man all along. He’s sure Madison knows more than she’s telling and he’s determined to get it out of her. The synopsis says “But he doesn’t expect to fall in love – or to lead Madison and her child into danger”. I suppose that should have tipped me off on the romance thing… but just because a book contains romance doesn’t mean it’s a “romance novel”. Anyway, I didn’t expect who the killer turned out to be, so that’s something, but overall this book was nothing special. A kind of mystery/thriller as a frame for some explicit sex scenes. 3 stars.

Saving June by Hannah Harrington. Sixteen-year-old Harper’s older sister June recently committed suicide and Harper doesn’t know what to think or feel. She decides to steal June’s ashes and drive across the country to the one place her sister always wanted to go: California. This book was so sad, which could obviously be expected from the subject matter, but I honestly cried like a baby. It has its flaws, but I read through it all in one sitting and could not give it any less than four stars.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. Another sad book, because apparently I like to do that to myself? When Theodore and Violet meet on the ledge of a a bell tower, it’s unclear who saved whom. Violet is still traumatised by the death of her older sister and Theodore, who is labelled a “freak” and has hardly any friends, is constantly thinking up new ways to die. When Violet and Theodore pair up for a project to discover more about their state, what they actually learn is far more important. This is a book about mental health, grief, first love and much more. Parts of it are happy, quirky, hopeful, but the ending is so sad. 4 stars.

Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer. For some reason I was expecting this to be a book about political rivals. No idea why! Maybe I vaguely knew that Jeffrey Archer was a politician in the 90s? There is a rivalry, but neither man is a politician. It’s basically the life stories of two men born on the same day – one the son of a Boston banker/millionaire and one a penniless and illegitimate Pole – and how their stories eventually merge with the two of them becoming rivals. I liked this more than I thought I would but it was long and parts of it dragged. 3 stars.

Into the Water by Paul Hawkins. I needed a new book for the train home from work since I was almost finished with Kane and Abel, and this was the only one in the bookshop that interested me. When Jules’ sister Nel dies – having apparently jumped to her death in the place that’s known as the “drowning pool” – Jules reluctantly returns to the village to care for her teenage niece. I’ve seen a few negative reviews of this book, but I really enjoyed it. There were a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t expect. However, I feel like I should admit that part of my enjoyment stemmed from the setting. Why did nobody tell me it’s set in North-East England? Craster kippers and even the tiny Durham village of Pity Me get a mention. Love it! 5 stars.

The Tornado Chasers by Ross Montgomery. This is like an introduction to dystopia for young children. Owen’s family have moved to Barrow because it’s the safest place in the valleys. Children there have to wear bright yellow at all times, walk home from school in pairs, and have a curfew. So Owen and his friends form the Tornado Chasers and set off to get as close to a Grade 5 tornado as possible. I really liked most of this book. It was a fun adventure with an interesting, diverse friendship group. The “twist” was good too. But then I really didn’t like the ending. I think I know what was supposed to have happened but I don’t understand why. Trying not to spoil anything, but it felt like it was saying the dystopia was a good thing/the adults had it right all along. Until the end it would have been 4 stars, but I ended up giving it 3.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. The cover of this book totally reminded me of When Dimple Met Rishi (which I haven’t actually read yet) and the main character in this one is even called Dimple! I don’t really know if the stories are similar though (and this one was published first FYI). Dimple Lala, who is about to turn 17, has spent her whole life resisting her parents’ traditions. She wants to be an all-American girl, like her best friend, Gwen. So when her parents meet up with an old friend and decide they want to set her Dimple up with her son, a “suitable boy”, Dimple is, of course totally against it. Then she realises the suitable boy may not be as goody-goody as she first thought, all things Indian suddenly turn out to be cool, and she no longer knows what to think. I really enjoyed this story. Parts of it were a bit long.winded and complicated, but I liked the characters (except Gwen, who I thought was a total cow. Yes, she has a hard life/neglectful parents but that was no excuse to abandon her friend for boys, refuse to listen, talk to Dimple like she was an idiot, etc.). I especially loved Dimple’s cousin. Every time the food Dimple’s mum cooked was mentioned it made me want to eat Indian food immediately! There’s also a lesbian relationship and a drag queen in this book, which was cool. 4 stars.

Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton. Megan hasn’t spoken in months, ever since something bad happened (trying not to spoil anything here). There are things she cannot – must not – say, so it’s best not to speak at all. Then Jasmine starts at her school. Bright, bubbly, talkative Jasmine. And for some reason she wants Megan to be her friend. I really liked this book. It deals with some serious topics but it’s surprisingly easy to read – I got through it really quickly. I wanted to hug Megan – she was clearly traumatised and I wanted to find out who was responsible for her silence and shake them (it wasn’t what I thought though). The relationship between Megan and Jasmine was so cute. It just made me incredibly happy! 4 stars.

As Sure As the Sun by Anna McPartlin. When bride-to-be Harri Ryan ends up at the ER with a panic attack on her wedding day for the second time, her twin brother, George, is sure there’s more to it than a reluctance to commit. His parents are clearly hiding something and he resolves to confront them. Meanwhile Harri and George’s friends are all having troubles of their own, and George is also having issues with his boyfriend Aidan. This is a bit of a weird book. It’s light and easy to read, even though there’s a tragedy at the heart of the story. I found the premise a bit odd/far-fetched though. What Harri and George’s parents reveal is certainly life-changing but I’m not sure what it has to do with Harri having panic attacks on her wedding day. It felt like the author needed some trigger for the reveal and also had the idea of someone unintentionally failing to show at her own wedding so she stuck the two stories together. Some parts of the book were funny, some sad, and others honestly just dragged. I doubt it will be one that sticks with me. 3 stars.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens. I was given this for my birthday last year and I’ve only just got around to reading it. The shame! When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their own secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they struggle to find any exciting mysteries to investigate. When Hazel finds the dead body of their science mistress, Miss Bell, she assumes there’s been an accident, until the body disappears! Now not only do Hazel and Daisy actually have a murder to solve – they have to prove one happened in the first place. This book is so fun – which seems an odd thing to say about something involving a murder, but it really is. A combination of a mystery and boarding school book, which were two of my favourite things as a child. It’s like Enid Blyton’s mystery books (Secret Seven, etc.) and her school books rolled into one… but with an actual murder. 4 stars and I definitely want to read book 2.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. This is essentially a year in the life of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, who spends most of his time trying to hide his stammer from his classmates lest they ostracise him and writing poems that he can never, ever tell anyone about because writing poems is “for girls”. It’s set in Britain, specifically a village in the English Midlands, the year is 1982, Thatcher reigns supreme, the Falklands War happens, there are references to things I remember and things I don’t (I was born in 1983). This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Being female, my experience was entirely different, but it felt like an accurate representation of life as a teenage boy in the days before mobile phones, etc. The bullying in the book seemed realistic (some of it was awful, but pretty much exactly what went down at my high school) and I found it really interesting to read about the Falklands War in a novel. Some parts of the story seemed to drag and take forever to get to, but I liked other parts and for the last few chapters I didn’t want to put it down. I didn’t love it enough to give it for stars, so I gave it 3… but it’s a high 3 (better than Kane and Abel, for instance). 3.75 maybe.

Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman. You may know Malorie Blackman as the author of the Noughts and Crosses series (which I still need to read the rest of). This is a totally different book. Dante is waiting for his A Level results, but when the door bell rings it’s not the postman but his ex-girlfriend, who nobody has heard from since she dropped out of school months ago. She has a baby with her, who she claims is hers and Dante’s. Then she goes to the shop, leaving the baby with Dante, and never comes back. This is such a good book. It was so refreshing to see something about teenage pregnancy from the male perspective that actually shows the father in a good light. After some initial reluctance (and anybody would panic suddenly having a small child dumped on them!) he actually steps up and becomes a really good dad to his daughter. A parallel story about Dante’s brother, Adam, is heartbreaking, but again Dante steps up and shows that he’s actually a really good big brother. 4 stars.

Everwild by Neal Shusterman. This is book 2 in the Skinjacker series. Everlost is an in-between world where children go when they have died but didn’t reach where they were going (the end of the proverbial “tunnel”). In book 1 (which I read in February – review here) Allie and Nick were involved in an accident and came to Everlost together, where they gradually learned the secrets of this world that is in the real world, but not quite. In book 2, Allie and Nick have gone their separate ways – Allie wants to go home and see what became of her parents and I can’t say what Nick is doing without giving spoilers for book 1. I enjoyed the first book I’m this series, thought it had interesting themes and a decent story. This one was even better. I was gripped and really wanted to know what would happen with each of the main characters. I am especially desperate to find out how Allie’s story concludes. 4 stars (I gave the first book 3 stars).

The Broken by Tamar Cohen. There is so much drama in this book. Essentially it’s the story of a couple, Dan and Sasha, who split up and another couple who are best friends with them and don’t want to choose sides, but end up being drawn in anyway. It’s a good portrayal of how the breakdown of a marriage affects more people than just the couple involved – children, shared friends, etc. But then it also tries to be a thriller, adding in another mysterious character and having weird things happen – is Sasha going mad? Doing these things to herself to make Dan look bad? Or is somebody really out to get her? In the end there was no proper conclusion – the apparent “plot twist” ended up feeling like a minor sub-plot even though it was the trigger for almost everything, and there was a really abrupt ending that made me feel like someone had got away with things. I gave it three stars because the marriage breakdown part was done well, it’s just the plot twist/thriller aspect that was unnecessary. Not everything has to be a thriller!

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carolo Rovelli. The final book I read in May was actually non-fiction. Shock, horror! Brief is right – I wasn’t expecting the book to be this short. It packs a surprising amount of information into so few pages though. It might be a bit simple for anyone who has more than a basic understanding of physics. Personally, having barely come into contact with physics since school (where I got as far as GCSE level), it was just detailed enough without either being overwhelming or making me feel stupid/patronised. A good starting point for further reading. The last section is a bit odd though. It’s about how people and science interact, not really a “lesson” on physics at all, and it seemed very philosophical and out of place. 4 stars.

And finally I’m done. I won’t write too much more here since this post is already long, just say you can find the link up here.

Have you read anything good recently? And if you’ve read any of the books mentioned here do you agree with my assessment?

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Ten books that intimidate me

Hello! This is (obviously) a bookish post, so if that’s not your cup of tea feel free to ignore it and come back another day. Those of you that are still around can pull up a pew and we’ll talk books…

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All of the following books area actually sitting on the bookshelves in my living room right now – some of them actually moved to Switzerland with me – but, for whatever reason, I haven’t yet got round to reading any of them. Some I bought just because, a few are on the BBC Big Read and at least one was a gift. What they all have in common is that they intimidate me… which you of course knew because you read the title. *Sigh* I’ll just get on with the list shall I?

1 It by Stephen King

I absolutely love Stephen King. Whenever I rattle off my favourite authors, he’s always right there on the list. I even wrote an essay about Needful Things back in school, and if forced to list my favourite books (an almost impossible task) I would definitely include The Green Mile. So I actually really want to read It. But every time I see it sitting on my shelf with it’s more than 1,300 pages I freak out and grab something else.

2 Ulysses by James Joyce

A BBC Big Read one. Technically so is It, but I would have put that on my list anyway whereas I bought Ulysses purely for the sake of the list. I’m not actually 100% sure what it’s about, other than somehow being somehow related to The Odyssey? At just over 900 pages it’s slightly shorter than It but somehow even more terrifying! What if I don’t understand it and end up feeling like an idiot?  Aaah!

3 The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

My grandparents gave me The Man in the Iron Mask, also by Dumas, for my birthday when I was something like 14 and I really enjoyed it, so you would think I’d be excited about this one. At over 1,000 pages, once again it’s the length that scares me. I actually like big books though, so I have no idea what my problem is…

4 The Godfather by Mario Puzo

This one is also on the BBC Big Read list – I doubt I would ever have picked it up otherwise. I like thrillers and I like crime, so this one should be right up my street. And it’s not even that long in relation to the three I’ve mentioned so far. But something about the Mafia just doesn’t really appeal. (I’ve never seen the films either by the way, in case anyone was wondering.)

5 H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction

Jan and I picked this up from the John Rylands Library gift shop in Manchester a few years ago. It’s leather bound with shiny page edges and it’s just gorgeous. This one is novellas and short stories, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to at least start it, but something keeps putting me off.

6 Map of a Nation by Rachel Hewitt

Ah, the first non-fiction book on my list. This is essentially the story of how the Ordnance Survey map came to be. I bought it for Jan as a Christmas gift years ago because he’s really interested in maps and then later also bought it for my dad, who reported that it was fascinating (Jan still hasn’t read it!). I’m always useless with non-fiction though, and where 400 and odd pages would be nothing in a novel, every time I think I might read this book I put it back because it seems really long.

7 Tintenherz by Cornelia Funke

A German one now – you will know it as Inkheart, book one of the Inkworld series. This was a Christmas gift from Jan’s mum way too many years ago… I remember lending it to our very first English intern at work when I’d only been there a couple of years myself! This is a book about books, and about characters in books coming to life. It really couldn’t be any more perfect for me. And I’ve read enough adult books in German for a children’s book not to be an issue… so why do I back off immediately when I happen to spot this one on my shelf?

8 The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

I bought this a few years ago intending to read it for a book challenge, but I ended up switching to something else instead. Since then, I’ve had this one in my hand a few times, but always put it back thinking I would prefer to read something shorter. Ironically, this one is only 560 pages – certainly not long enough to be scared of!

9 Ukraine’s Orange Revolution by Andrew Wilson

More non-fiction. At only 256 pages, this one should be a quick enough read and I genuinely do want to read more about my granddad’s country (even if the events of the book happened long after he left, and in fact many years after his death). Alas,  choose fiction over politics and history almost every time!

10 Blasmusikpop by Vea Kaiser

Finally, another German one. I actually went to a reading of this book, and enjoyed the extract so much that I bought a book at the event and had the author sign it. I’m pretty sure I will love this book when I finally actually get round to reading it, but every time I see it staring accusingly at me from the shelf I hastily choose something else to read. Maybe my reluctance to read this one is precisely because I’ve left it so long?

I have more intimidating books on my shelves, but ten is quite enough for one post! So, have you read any of these? Care to reassure me that they’re not as scary as I’ve built them up to be? (Or alternatively tell me that they’re really hard to read my reluctance is justified!) Do you own any books that you find intimidating but actually really want to give a chance? Answers in the comments! Or, you know, just write your own post and I’ll come and have a nosy.

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.