I had a slightly slower reading month in August, mainly because of a couple of books that seemed to take me forever to get through (more on that when I get to them). I managed thirteen books, which I am aware is still a lot by most people’s standards, but it’s a definite drop from last month’s 20! The majority of my reading was, again, dominated by Erin’s book challenge 11.0 – I was on to the bonus round, which meant reading books that had previously been chosen. There was also an extra rule for the bonus round this time: you could change as many books books from your preliminary list as you wanted, but for each one you exchanged you would incur a 5 point penalty… which is the reason I slogged on with a certain book that wasn’t really doing much for me. But anyway, let’s get on with it. As always, I’m linking up with Jana and Steph.
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Somer’s is newly married and has started her career as a physician in San Francisco – everything is going perfectly, until she makes the devastating discovery she never will be able to have children. That same year, a poor mother in India makes the heartbreaking choice to save her newborn daughter’s life by giving her away. It is a decision that will haunt Kavita for the rest of her life. Asha, adopted out of a Mumbai orphanage, is the child that binds the destinies of these two women. We follow the lives of the two families, connected by an invisible thread, until Asha’s journey of self-discovery leads her back to India. I liked this, but it almost felt like it didn’t go deep enough. I think the author was trying to pack too much in with Kavita and Jasu’s story, Somer and Kris’s story and then Asha’s individual story on top of all that. The beginning when Somer was struggling with infertility really resonated with me. There’s a part where she’s wondering whether her inability to conceive is a sign that she’s not supposed to be a mother and honestly if you can find someone who’s struggling to conceive who has never thought that then please bring them to me so I can learn their secret! However, I was really annoyed when during arguments Somer would tell Asha “At least I wanted you, I chose you!” despite having admitted she had no idea who Asha’s real mother was or why she had given her away. Way to give your child a complex! And Kavita did want her daughter. Anyway, 3.5 stars.
Frogkisser by Garth Nix. Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her disinterested stepmother, evil stepstepfather Duke Rickard (what happens when your father dies, leaving you with your stepmother who then remarries), and annoying older sister Morven, who is supposed to be crowned queen when she turns sixteen in three months, but is far more interested in handsome princes than in ruling. When Morven’s latest suitor is turned into a frog, she asks Anya to do the dirty work of changing him back. Meanwhile, Duke Rickard has decided to send Anya on a perilous journey. Tanitha, the senior royal dog, tells Anya that she must leave the palace and seek help from others to defeat the Duke. And so, our princess embarks on a Quest with a capital Q, accompanied by Arden, a young and excitable royal dog. The two soon pick up other allies, including Shrub, a junior thief who’s also been shape-changed by a sorcerer into a huge, bright orange talking newt. And thus adventure ensues. This book is so adorable and fun. I love Anya – a princess who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, saves herself and, once made aware of her privilege isn’t afraid to do something about. Ardent is also a wonderful character. Puppy! I also enjoyed the nods to other stories… the Frog Prince is the obvious one, Robin Hood is in there, and Snow White is not at all what you expect. It felt like it was setting up for a potential sequel and I really hope there is one! 5 stars.
The Girl in the Green Dress by Cath Staincliffe. Teenager Allie Kennaway heads off with for prom night, cheered on by her dad Steve and little sister Teagan. But Allie and her friends get separated, and Allie never comes home, instead being found later that night beaten to death in an apparent hate crime because of her transgender identity. As police investigate the brutal murder, a crime that has appalled the country, one mother is at becoming increasingly concerned about her son’s behaviour. Is what’s going on with him more than just adolescent mood swings? And if her suspicions are correct, then what does she do? Meanwhile, another parent will do anything to save his boy from the full force of the law. But if he succeeds then Allie and her family will never get the justice they deserve. This is a compelling crime thriller with the added “twist” that the victim is transgender. It’s kind of a police procedural in that we get to follow the investigation, it’s also more than that because we also get the perspectives of the victim’s family among others. Some characters are better developed and more believable than others, and I was wavering between a 3 and a 4 star, but decided on 4 rather than 3.5 because the end made me cry.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Cassie Logan is an eleven-year-old girl black growing up in the Deep South of the 1930s. Through Cassie’s eyes, we see the events of one turbulent year in the life of the family – a year in which the Logans (and their neighbours) face racism and social injustice. A year in which Cassie learns just why having their own land has always been so important to her father. I don’t want to say I “enjoyed” this book – given the subject matter that seems like the wrong word. But it was very compelling and I read it a lot faster than I expected to. Cassie is independent and feisty, but she’s also quite naïve and at times I wanted to slap her, but overall I found it fascinating to see things through her eyes. This is technically middle grade but I think it’s an important book for teens and adults as well. 4 stars.
The Good House by Ann Leary. Middle-aged and divorced, Hildy Good is an oddity in her close-knit, coastal town. But Hildy isn’t one for self-pity and instead meets the world with a wry smile, a dark wit and a glass or two of Pinot Noir – but only when she’s alone. Ever since her daughters staged an intervention and packed her off to rehab, Hildy hasn’t had a drink in public. But honestly, she thinks all this fuss is ridiculous. After all, why shouldn’t she enjoy a drink now and then? But gradually we start to see another side to Hildy Good and learn just how deep her denial goes. Soon, a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, with devastating consequences… It’s difficult to describe my thoughts on this one. It was kind of slow in parts and a lot of the time I was wondering where the story was actually going. Things picked up towards the end though and I did end up liking it, but wouldn’t read it again. 3 stars.
Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. This is the sequel to Nevermoor. Having passed the trials in the first book, Morrigan is now a member of the mystical Wundrous Society. She can’t wait to start her studies with best friend Hawthorne and the other successful applicants. But while everyone else gets to take cool subjects, all the Society wants to teach Morrigan is how evil Wundersmiths. Meanwhile, someone is blackmailing Morrigan’s unit, turning her last few loyal friends against her. Has Morrigan escaped from being the cursed child of Wintersea only to become the most hated figure in Nevermoor? To make matters worse, people have started to go missing. Can Morrigan solve the mystery before she ends up losing her new home altogether? As I expected, I absolutely adored this book. Loved the story, loved the characters. I read it in one go – staying up past my bedtime to do so. And I didn’t regret it for one second. I cannot wait for book 3 – I need to know more about Morrigan’s powers. 5 stars. Also, this book is so pretty – both the dust jacket and the actual book itself. Once again, massive thanks to Kristen for sending it to me ❤
Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang. On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road. What made Meridian High’s most popular junior girl decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Mass, acceleration, momentum, force: Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she still doesn’t understand it. How do we impact one another? What does it mean to be a daughter, a friend, a mother? Is life truly more just than cause and effect? I had read this book before, but I had forgotten that until after I read the first few pages. But the challenge bonus round had a new rule this time – a five-point penalty for changing any of your chosen titles. So I read it again. My opinion is the same as the first time. I didn’t find it to be the best written, and in my copy (hardcover) there were a lot of typos. I never really warmed up to the main character she was a complete bitch and I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for her at all. It’s a story that’s been done before, although I liked the slightly unusual narrator in this one. 3 stars.
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett. Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. Eva is cycling when I dog runs out in front of her, causing her to swerve. Jim is walking down the same path. There are three possible outcomes to their encounter, three small decisions that could determine the rest of their life. And then there is David, Eva’s then-lover, an ambitious actor. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses all their lives could take following this first meeting. I loved the beginning of this book, but then once it got to the point where Eva and Jim actually have their encounter it just felt sooo slow. It actually took me an entire week to read this book because I kept putting it down and not really caring about picking it back up. There were parts I really enjoyed, but just as I was getting into them it would suddenly switch to another “version” and by the time it got back to the one I had been enjoying we’d skipped several years into the future. I also kept getting confused about which version I was in now, especially when random new characters I’d never heard of appeared and I found myself wondering whether I’d forgotten somebody. I feel like three different versions was a bit much, or maybe the whole thing spanned too many years. However, it’s well written and I would definitely give the author another chance. This one just wasn’t entirely for me. 2.5 stars.
The Long-Lost Home by Mary-Rose Wood. This is the sixth and final book in the Incorrigible Children series. Governess Penelope Lumley is trapped in Plinkst, an awful village in Russia where everyone is miserable and even the beets it’s famous for refuse to grow. How will she ever get back to her beloved pupils and break the curse on the Ashton family? Meanwhile, the three brave Incorrigibles, are worriedly preparing for the arrival of Lady Constance’s baby with no idea of the danger they’re in! I took a break from Erin’s challenge to read this as soon as it arrived – I had been waiting forever for it to come out in paperback. I felt like this one started slowly compared with the other books in the series (or maybe I just don’t remember?) and parts of it fell a bit flat for me. I still loved the children (Cassiopeia is my favourite) and I was happy to finally get some answers. The ending is so sweet. I’m glad I read it and finished the series, but this one just can’t compete with books 4 and 5. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, but it’s between 3 and 4 really. I definitely recommend the series though.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens – on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles – the narrator of The Sellout was raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, spending his childhood as the subject in various racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral. Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his home town, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map and he is determined to bring it back. With the help of the town’s most famous resident – the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins – he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court. This book is hard work! It’s totally absurd and I kind of get what it’s trying to do but it just went on and on. Half if it reads as pretentious – like it’s trying too hard to be clever and the other half is really repetitive. I did like some bits but it took me way too long to read and I don’t really feel like it was worth the effort. If this wasn’t part of the challenge I wouldn’t have finished it. 2.5 stars.
Just Before I Died by S. K. Tremayne. Kath lives with her husband Adam and daughter Lyla in a desolate stone longhouse deep in Dartmoor National Park. She loves her life, considers herself happy, despite their struggles with money, work and their daughter’s quirks and extreme shyness. But ever since Kath awoke from a coma after a near-fatal car accident, her family have been acting strangely. Adam seems furious with her and Lyla keeps making cryptic comments about a man on the moor. Then Kath learns that the car crash wasn’t what she thinks and her whole world collapses into panic. What really happened that day and why does she feel like someone is out there, watching her? This book was intense! I bought it to read on the train home from work since I had finished my other book and I literally read the whole thing over the course of the 2-hour journey. I’m not usually a fan of twists that rely on withholding information from the user then suddenly revealing that aha… here’s something you did not know that will turn all your suspicions on their heads, but in this case I could live with it because the characters didn’t have that information either. There writing is excellent – very atmospheric and creepy. I wasn’t keen on some aspects of the ending so only 4 stars instead of 5 but I recommend it to fans of slightly spooky thrillers involving isolated settings.
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. I could have used the previous book for the “author uses initials in their name” category of Erin’s challenge, but this was the one I had listed and, again, I didn’t want to lose points for switching books, so I still read this one. Anna Fox lives as recluse in her New York City home, her agoraphobia leaving her unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies . . . and spying on her neighbours. Then a new family, the Russells, move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family, a painful reminder of how her own life was not too long ago. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble – and its shocking secrets are laid bare. What is real and what is imagined? Who’s in danger and who is in control? Is anyone really what they seem? I guessed part of what was going on in this book, but I had no idea about the final twist. It’s a really quick read but honestly I didn’t particularly care about Anna as a character and I was all set to give it three stars until close to the end, but then the last little bit really picked up and changed my mind. 3.5 stars.
Counting Stars by Keris Stainton. Eighteen-year-old Anna is moving out! Not to go to university, like her parents wanted, but to Liverpool where she’s landed her dream job at a theatre. Finally, in the exciting (if slightly run-down) house with her fun and welcoming house mates, she can be the person she’s always wanted to be… the confident, happy Anna she is when she vlogs for her YouTube channel. She soon realises that although her new friends are great, they’re also a little mixed-up… and it’s not long before she starts using her vlog to talk about her experiences. But when Anna spills a bigger secret than she can handle, suddenly the consequences are all too real. This is a cute little novel. It was a bit confusing at first with all the characters, but once I’d got them all straight I liked reading about them and enjoyed the dynamic between all the friends. One character is gay and I liked that it’s just accepted, nobody makes a big deal about it – just as it should be. Everything wrapped up a little too conveniently for me, with everyone forgiving Anna for her “mistake” surprisingly quickly. I thought there was going to be more drama/adventure with Anna’s move to the city, but it all felt very normal. It was nice to read a book about younger adults leaving home for the first time and finding their feet. I don’t think there are too many of those around – it’s either teens in school or people in their 30s. Overall it was a nice read, very quick to get through, but I’m not sure how much of it will stick with me. I liked the writing style and would try something else from Keris Stanton if I came across it. 3.5 stars
TL;DR. For those who couldn’t be bothered to read it all even though there were fewer books this month ;-). August was a bit of a mixed bag. I very highly recommend Frogkisser for those who like children’s books, fairytales and talking animals. Wundersmith is amazing, but obviously read Nevermoor first. The Girl in the Green Dress is compelling, although some characters are less believable than others and I didn’t love everything about it. Everybody should read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – I think it’s technically either middle grade or YA but I truly believe everyone needs to read it. Thriller fans should definitely read Just Before I Died.
That’s about it for this month. Tell me what you’ve been reading. And if you want more book recommendations, check out the link up.