What I read in March 2019

Happy Show Us Your Books day! March was another good reading month. I read 17 books – not quite as many as last month, but still a lot. There are a lot of reviews to get through, so I’ll just get on with it. Oh, obviously I’m linking up with Jana and Steph.

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This will be another long one, so I’ll add a TL;DR after the reviews for those who don’t have time to read my rambling thoughts.

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine. Sixteen year old Iris is obsessed with fire. When she accidentally sets a cupboard at her school alight, she’s whisked off to London before she can get arrested – or so her mother claims. The real reason they left L.A. was because of her mum and step-dad’s increasing debt. Back in England, Iris’s millionaire father – who she has no memory of – is dying and her mother is determined to claim his life fortune, including his priceless art collection. Forced to live with him as part of an exploitative scheme, Iris soon realises that her father is far different from the man her mother has brought her up to hate. This book was good, but it felt like something was missing. The pacing was really off. Most of the real story seems to be packed in at the end, which makes it feel rushed. It could have done with being longer. The twist at the end was clever though. 3.5 stars.

The Accident Season  by Moïra Fowley-Doyle. Every year, towards the end of October, seventeen-year-old Cara’s family become inexplicably accident prone. They lock away the knives, cover table edges with padding and avoid risks, but still injury follows wherever they go. Why are they so cursed, and what can they do to break free? This book is bizarre but (in my opinion) in a good way. Between the writing style and Cara’s friend Bea’s stories it almost feels like a dream. There are some mysteries that weren’t cleared up – I’m still not sure whether a couple of things really happened – but overall I loved it. 4 stars.

Tell Me Three Things by Julia Buxbaum. It’s been barely two years since Jessie’s mother died, and now her father has eloped with a woman he met at his bereavement support group and is forcing Jessie to move from Chicago to live with her new step-mother and step-brother in Los Angeles. At her new prep school, Jessie feels like everything about her is wrong and she’ll never fit in. But then she starts receiving emails from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (or SN) offering to help her navigate life at Wood Valley High School. Genuine or an elaborate hoax? Gradually, SN becomes her closest ally and Jessie can’t help wanting them to meet up in person…
The “I’ve been forced to move across the country and now hot, mean girls are making my life miserable” stuff is cliché. The stranger friendship turning to possibly, maybe romance is cute. If that had been the entire thing, it would have been a three-star read. But Jessie’s grief made the book for me. The parts where she was remembering her mum and trying to come to terms with not only her loss but the loss of their entire future future together really got to me and made it worthy of an extra star, in my opinion. So 4 stars.

Ink by Alice Broadway. Every event in your life, every action, every special occasion is tattooed on your skin forever. Then, when you die, your skin is removed and turned into a book to serve as a record of your life. As long as your book exists, you will never be forgotten. When Leora’s father dies, she knows he deserves to have his life preserved through this ritual. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all. The concept of this book is really interesting but it doesn’t live up to its promise. Leora is a really bland character – she doesn’t really seem to have much a personality. There are various stories (supposedly about that world’s history) woven throughout the book, mainly obviously re-tellings of our fairytales, and I really liked the Sleeping Beauty one. It’s a quick read and it wasn’t bad but it’s not really anything special. This is book 1 in a series but I have no plans to read the other two. 3 stars.

The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe. (I have a number of books that I’ve had for years and either have read and want to read again before deciding whether to keep them or can’t actually remember whether I’ve even read them. This was the first of those books.) A divorced father of two teenagers accidentally mixes two antidepressants, goes into a coma and then has a stroke, leaving him with brain damage. His teenage children inherit some money and son, Chris, decides to bring him home and try to rehabilitate him on his own. Without an adequate father around, Chris and his sister Cathy try various ways to bring meaning to their lives – Cathy turns to Catholicism (although the family are secular Jews) while Chris just seems to meander around, has a few sexual encounters and being cynical about everything. This is a really hard book to review. It’s pretty much as bizarre as the description makes it sound. Parts of it are good but overall it feels like it’s trying too hard to be clever/funny. I couldn’t connect to Chris at all – practically everything he said annoyed me. I didn’t dislike it as such, it was just okay. 2.5 stars.

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal. Desdemona, known as Mona, is turning 60. After tragedy struck in her youth, she now lives alone and earns a living selling beautiful, unique dolls, each with a name. But there are also other dolls – ones that she gets a local carpenter (who she has an odd relationship with) to make for her based on a weight that her clients give her. At the start of the book, Mona happens to meet a German gentleman living close to her and the two begin a friendship, which somehow grows awkward as it gradually seems like it could potentially become more than friendship. Meanwhile, Mona reflects on her early life, the death of her mother and her whirlwind relationship with the charming William. This is a beautiful book, but sad. I did guess the twist, but I’m okay with that. The journey was more important than the surprise. A gorgeous story about love and loss, but to me ultimately it felt hopeful. 4 stars.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr. Seventeen-year-old Ella Black seems to be living the perfect life, but unknown to everyone she also has a dark side. Her evil alter-ego Bella is always there, waiting, ready to take control and force Ella to do bad things. When Ella’s parents drag her out of school one day, telling her nothing, and whisk her off to Rio de Janeiro, Bella is desperate to break free – and so is Ella. Determined to find out what her parents are hiding from her, Ella takes her chance and searches through their things. And realises her life has been a lie. Unable to deal with this, Ella runs away to the one place no-one will ever think to look for her. This nowhere near as good as The One Memory of Flora Banks. Ella is supposed to be 17, but she seems to fluctuate between being relatively intelligent and acting like a spoiled child who overreacts to everything. I understand that her parents lied to her, but running away in a foreign country is slightly extreme! There’s also some animal abuse at the start of the book that’s just horrible – there was no need to go into so much detail. 2 stars.

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Zu. When Li Jing, a happily married businessman, is caught up in a gas explosion and a shard of glass pierces his forehead, he loses the ability to speak Chinese. Instead all that will come to him is the broken English of his childhood in Virginia, leaving him unable to communicate with his wife, Meiling, or their young son. In desperation, the family turns to an American neurologist, Rosalyn Neal, who finds herself as lost as Jing (who she calls James) in this bewildering city. Gradually, the two of them form a bond that Meiling doesn’t need a translator to understand. I’m not sure what to think of this book. Parts of it were good, the idea was intriguing, but I just didn’t like any of the characters. Rosalyn is like the worst kind of “expat” – loud, obtrusive, not making any sort of effort to fit in. Even when she goes out with her Chinese employers instead of having them show her around their city, she takes them to an Irish pub.  Also, she has this whole back story where coming to China was a chance to “escape” her problems – she and her husband waited to finish grad school before having kids, then discovered Rosalyn was infertile. After (I think) one failed round of IVF and a miscarriage, Rosalyn didn’t want to continue and in response her husband divorced her. So that was fun to read about when I’m about to start the IVF process. Anyway, given all that Rosalyn should be at least in her 30s but acted more like a 20-year-old who had just escaped her parents’ home for the first time. Meiling came across as cold and stubborn. The situation is obviously difficult and frustrating, but it almost seemed like she was annoyed at her husband for not recovering quickly enough. At no point was there any suggestion that she felt any compassion for him, being unable to communicate in his own country – instead it was all spending money to get him better, staying with him because he has stayed with her/looked after her when she was ill previously, etc. Honestly, the entire family could have used some counselling. I found the idea that we have different personalities in different languages and how not being able to communicate with loved ones might change our perception of them interesting and would have liked to read more of that. Overall it isn’t really a bad book, it just wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. 3 stars. (Sorry this is so long, apparently I had a lot to say about it?).

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough. Natasha is the most popular girl in school, so why was she pulled out of a freezing cold river in the early hours of the morning after being dead for thirteen minutes? She doesn’t remember what happened, but she does know it wasn’t an accident and she wasn’t suicidal. Now Tasha’s two closest friends are acted strangely. Determined to solve the mystery, she turns to her childhood best friend who she dumped years ago. At first Becca isn’t even sure she wants to Help Tasha, but gradually she gets drawn in to the mystery. As an outsider, Becca believes she may be the only one who can uncover the truth… but it turns out to be far more twisted than she could ever have imagined. This book is an intense ride. There’s a lot of drug-taking. Is this normal for British secondary schools these days? Either things have changed a lot since I was a teen or the people I knew were very boring. I knew people who occasionally smoked a bit of weed, but snorting stuff in the school toilets? Maybe it did happen and I just wasn’t cool enough to be aware of it. There’s also a sex scene, not described in graphic detail exactly, but not skipped over either. Definitely one for the older teen. I didn’t actually like most of the characters (except Biscuit the dog, obviously and maybe Hannah) but that didn’t matter. The bitchiness felt incredibly real to me (that I do remember from school – we may not have had hard core drugs but there was plenty of bullying!). The story kept me guessing. At one point I thought I knew what had happened, but when the storyline reached that outcome it continued and turned into something else. The final twist is something I have kind of seen before but I still wasn’t expecting it here. 4.5 stars.

Abandoned by Cody McFadyen. This was another re-read of a book I had no memory of. I first read it pre-Goodreads, so at least five years ago. FBI Special Agent Smoky Barrett, is at her colleague’s wedding when  a car pulls up, a woman is pushed out wearing only a white nightgown, and the car then speeds up. The woman is incoherent and a fingerprint check determines that she’s been missing for nearly eight years with no ransom demand, no witnesses and no suspects. As Smoky fits together the pieces, a chilling picture emerges of a cold, calculating and professional killer, who doesn’t take murder personally and never makes a mistake. This is decent detective style thriller. There was a bit in the middle with a computer expert that annoyed me – did you seriously just explain the concept of “lurking” in a chat room?! But apart from that it’s a well-written, fast-paced book. While reading I realised I had forgotten almost the entire plot – I only remembered the “twist” shortly before it was revealed. 4 stars.

The Little Grey Men by ‘B.B’. (Denys James Watkins-Pitchford). The last three gnomes in Britian live in Wrwickshire by a brook. There used to be four, but their brother Cloudberry went upstream to find the source and never returned. So Baldmoney, Sneezewort and Dodder decide to build a boat and go and look for him. This is the story of all their adventures. This is such a beautifully written book. It reminds me of such classics as The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers. Some of the nature elements also reminded me of Enid Blyton’s Cherry Tree Farm books. Parts of it were a bit slow, but you do find yourself rooting for the gnomes and worrying for their safety as they go through their adventures. There is some difficult vocabulary (some things even I didn’t understand) so for children it would probably be best as a book to be read aloud to them, or perhaps for a patient older child with a dictionary. I know I would have loved it as a child (and indeed did now as a grown-up lover of children’s stories). 5 stars. There is a sequel, Down the Bright Stream, which I would love to get my hands on.

This Secret We’re Keeping by Rebecca Done. Jessica Hart has never forgotten Matthew Landley. He was her first love when she was fifteen… and also her maths teacher. Their forbidden affair ended in scandal with him being arrested and imprisoned. Seventeen years later, Matthew is back in Norfolk, with a new identity and a long-term girlfriend and a young daughter who know nothing of his past. Yet when he runs into Jessica, neither of them can ignore the emotional ties that bind them. With so many secrets to keep hidden, how long can Jessica and Matthew avoid the dark mistakes of their past imploding in the present? Based on the cover and description, I expected this to be a thriller – either Matthew/Will getting revenge for being sent to prison or his girlfriend finding out and doing something evil. Instead, I think it’s meant to be a romance? It alternates between the present day, where Jess has a turbulent relationship with boyfriend Zac but still finds “Will” irresistible, and Matthew’s story from the past. I was probably supposed to feel some sympathy/understanding for past-Matthew, but every time he talked about having sex with Jessica all I could think was “SHE’S FIFTEEN!”. And if you truly loved her you would wait for her to grow up before taking things to the sexual level. None of his “she was just sooo sexy… I couldn’t possibly resist” stuff convinced me in any way. And yes, he’s only 10 years older than her, but 25 really isn’t that young. I mean, I obviously made bad decisions at that age but none of them were actually illegal. Anyway, this is a really well-written book but definitely makes for some uncomfortable reading. While I didn’t want Jess and Will to get back together, I HATED the current boyfriend, Zac. He was definitely not good for her, or in any way a good person. There’s also an infertility side story involving Jessica’s best friend, Anna, who it seems will basically try anything to get pregnant – mainly cutting out any kind of enjoyable food/drink, forcing her husband to do the same and constantly obsessing about what she’s doing wrong. That was hard for me to read… I hate it when infertile people are portrayed as crazy/selfish/unable to think about anything else, ever. I was also annoyed by the resolution to that story, but oh well. 4 stars for this one.

Going Down South by Bonnie Glover. When fifteen-year-old Olivia Jean finds herself in the “family way,” her mother, Daisy, decides that Olivia Jean can’t stay in New York and whisks her away to her grandmother’s farm in Alabama to have the baby – even though Daisy and her mother, Birdie, have been estranged for years. When they arrive, Birdie says that Olivia Jean can stay, but only if Daisy stays too. Furious, she complies. Now, three generations of spirited, proud women are forced to live together under one roof in the 1960s Deep South. Gradually secrets are revealed and the three begin to form something like a real family. This is a heart-warming book about three strong women from the same family. Even though it deals with many issues – racism, the treatment of unwed mothers, etc. – it somehow feels light rather than hard-hitting. It’s a well-written piece of historical fiction and I was entertained while reading it, but overall I just liked it rather than loving it. 3 stars.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. If Naomi had picked tails, she wouldn’t have had to go back for the yearbook camera, and she wouldn’t have fallen and hit her head on the steps. She wouldn’t have woken up in an ambulance with no memory of the last four years of her life. She would have remembered her boyfriend, Ace, and best friend, Will. She would know about her parents’ divorce and her mom’s new family. But she would also have never met James, the mysterious new boy at school who tells her he once wanted to kiss her. And she wouldn’t have wanted to kiss him back. But Naomi picked heads. I enjoyed this. Naomi isn’t always very nice but she IS a believable character and I did feel like she grew and changed by the end. I was genuinely interested to find out what would happen between all the characters and whether Naomi would end up forgiving her mum. 3.5 stars.

Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson. At the doors of a charming country church,  a wedding party are mown down by a gunman. A huge manhunt ensues. The culprit is captured. The story is over. Or is it? For Alan Banks, still struggling with a tragic loss of his own, there’s something wrong about this case — something doesn’t fit. Working with profiler Jenny Fuller, Banks delves deeper into the crime, unearthing long-buried secrets, until the truth is revealed. This is book 24 in a series apparently! I had never read any DI Banks books before, but a friend offered to lend me this one and it sounded good. It’s solid detective mystery. I didn’t guess who the killer was until the police pretty much knew as well. As with most series of this kind, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the previous books. Of course it is nice to have some background on the police characters but it’s really the current crime that’s important. Some people have taken a star off saying it’s not as good as other books in the series but luckily I didn’t have that problem 😉 I may read some other books in the series at some point but 23 is a bit of a commitment! 4.5 stars for this one.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. What goes up must come down, right? Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim get on board the London Eye, but when his pod comes down half an hour later, there is no Salim. He can’t have vanished into thin air, so where is he? Since the police are having no luck, it’s down to Ted and his older sister Kat to find out what happened. Despite their sometimes difficult relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London as they try to find their cousin. In the end it’s down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way (in his own words: it runs on a different operating system), to find the key to the mystery. is an interesting mystery. I did guess where Salim was about half way through (but then again, I’m not 10) and just hoped the book characters would in time. I really liked Ted and was so pleased at the end when everyone acknowledged that his different way of thinking saved the day. Kat and Ted’s sibling relationship felt very realistic. Ted is clearly on the autism spectrum and I can’t comment on how realistically that’s portrayed. 4.5 stars.

The Ice Garden by Guy Jones. Jess is allergic to the sun. She lives in a world of shadows and hospitals, having to cover every bit of her body whenever she leaves the house in daylight. One night she sneaks out to explore and discovers a beautiful impossibility: a magical garden made entirely of ice. Meanwhile, at the hospital, she “befriends” a boy in a coma to whom she reads her made-up stories. This is a beautiful book full of magic that’s all about friendship. Jess is a fantastic character even if she’s not always nice – I really felt for her mum even though I understood Jess’s frustration. I absolutely loved the idea of stories saving lives. The stories within the story were all excellent – if the author were to publish Jess’s “book of tales” as a companion to this I would definitely read it! 5 stars.

And that’s it for March. I was hoping to have another book to add here, but alas I didn’t manage to finish The Innocence of Father Brown. It will definitely feature next month though.

TL;DR: If you like YA read The Accident Season and Thirteen Minutes (but be aware that the latter contains drug-taking, sex and bad language), The Little Grey Men and The Ice Garden are excellent children’s books (or middle grade, if that’s what we’re calling them these days). I also enjoyed The London Eye Mystery but the portrayal of autism/Asperger’s Syndrome may or may not be accurate so proceed with caution. Read Abandoned and Sleeping in the Ground if you enjoy detective-led crime thrillers. The Trick to Time is beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful and well worth a read.

Check out the link up for more book recommendations!

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A Photo an Hour: 23 March 2019

Hello friends! I took part in A Photo an Hour with Louise and Jane on Saturday and now I’m finally getting round to writing my blog post. It was one of those rare occasions on which I was actually doing something so 90% of my photos don’t consist of housework and the view from my couch. Hurrah! Let’s take a look at what I did, shall we?

9 a.m. Starting the day with a cuppa, as always.

10 a.m. Showered, now to decide what to wear.

11 a.m. Buying a train ticket while Jan’s in the shower.

12 noon. On a train, about to leave Basel.

1 p.m. Train coffee!

2 p.m. Still on the train, passing Lake Thun.

3 p.m. We changed to a regional train at Interlaken Ost. Photo from somewhere near Brienz.

4 p.m. After three hours on the train we discovered that our detination – the Aare Gorge – was closed. Plan B: cable car up the Hasliberg.

5 p.m. After walking around the village on the mountain for a bit, we’re back in the cable car waiting to head down again.

6 p.m. Reading a book, waiting for the train to leave Meiringen.

7 p.m. On another train, stopped at Thun station.

8 p.m. Still on the train. At least I’ve had plenty of time to read my book!

9 p.m. On the tram home after stopping off to buy a few bits.

10 p.m. Food! There were scrambled eggs as well but I had eaten them all by photo time.

After taking the final photo, I finished my dinner, read the last few pages of the book (in time to return it to the friend who lent it to me the following day) and was in bed before 11.

Next photo an hour is on Saturday, 27th April 2019 if anyone feels like joining in. Simply take one photo every hour and post to Twitter or Instagram using the #photoanhour hash tag or save your photos and write a blog post afterwards.

40 before 40: progress report #1

St Chrischona TV tower

Since it is somehow 13th March already, which makes it exactly 5 months until my birthday and the end of year one of my 40 before 40, I thought I would give you a little progress report. Not that I’ve done much in the seven months since my last birthday, but I do have a few things to report on.

Number 2: Beat Jan at mini golf

Jan always beats me at mini golf and I was determined to beat him at least once. Amazingly, I actually managed this just a couple of weeks after starting the challenge. You can read about it here.

Number 5: Read the rest of the books from the BBC Big Read that I didn’t manage before turning 35

At the start I had 63 left to read and since last August I have finished five of them. Outlander, Trainspotting, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Woman in White and The World According to Garp.

Number 14: Read a book published in each year of my life ( =one book each from 1983 until 2023)

So far I have read books from 20 years, which is almost half (I need 41 in total). You can see them all here. Of course I have read multiple books for some years, but only the first one counts.

Number 16: Try 10 foods or dishes that I haven’t had before

I ate veal kidneys in Yverdon-le- Bains. Admittedly by accident because Jan didn’t know the French word for kidney so I only knew I was getting veal something. But it still counts!

Number 22: Visit a new place in Switzerland for each letter of my first name

So far, I have visited four – Burgdorf, Einsiedeln, Lugano and Yverdon-les-Bains. Not in that order. I actually went to Yverdon-les-Bains first. Nothing like beginning at the end 😉

So only one thing actually crossed off but quite a few in progress. Not a bad start. Obviously I won’t be able to complete number 14 until the year I turn 40 because I can’t read books that haven’t even been published yet 😉 but hopefully I will have a few more things completed the next time I check in… whenever that might be.

February 2019: The month with all the books

Hello friends! It’s Show Us Your Books day again with Jana and Steph, and I feel like I should warn you in advance that this one is going to be long. February may have been a short month, but I managed to read a whopping 21 books, which I think might be the most ever in a month. Six of those were read in a single weekend, when I took part in the first ever Show Us Your Books readathon (and also my own very first readathon). So I’d better stop chatting and get on with the books. I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. Some of these books were read for the bonus round of Erin’s challenge, so I will put the category in brackets after the author. For the bonus round you get extra points for reading books that somebody else chose in the first round, so I read a few I may not have otherwise.

If you can’t be bothered to read all 21 synopses/reviews, skip to the end for a TL;DR.

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Apartment 16 by Adam Neville. I started this on the flight back from England and finished the last few pages the next day. In Barrington House, an upmarket block in London, there is an empty apartment. No one has gone in or out for 50 years – until Seth, the night watchman, hears noises and decides to investigate. What he finds will change his life forever. Meanwhile, a young American woman, Apryl, has inherited an apartment in Barrington House from her mysterious Great Aunt Lillian who died in strange circumstances. Rumour has it Lillian was mad, but her diary suggests she was implicated in a horrific and inexplicable event decades ago. Apryl starts to investigate and discovers that an evil force still haunts the building, and it all centres around apartment 16. This book started off well. It’s very atmospheric and creepy. But it almost felt like too much was going on. Apryl’s story (and Lillian’s) would have been enough without adding in Seth’s as well. Also, this is slightly petty, but the spelling “Apryl” really irritated me. It held my attention through 2 flights though, so 3.5 stars.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Samuel W. Westing is dead and sixteen people have been gathered for the reading of his will. And thus begins a bizarre game. The will turns out to be a contest – working in pairs, the group has to figure out who among them murdered Samuel Westing. Whoever gets the right answer wins his fortune. This book is an absolute delight. I would have given it 5 stars as a child. As a an adult I wished it had been longer and some of the characters had been fleshed out more. 4 stars. Maybe 4.5.

Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor. Seventeen-year-old Kettle has not had it easier. An an orphaned Japanese American, he is struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to — the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”. Now things are finally looking up – he has a hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys. Naive 18-year old Nora is desperate to run away from her violent father, a civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie. When Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window. This book is utterly heart breaking. The awful things humans do to each other, fathers to their children and powerful groups to minorities. Nora and Kettle are both such strong characters and the way Nora cared for her sister was both beautiful and devastating. There is a follow-up to this and I truly hope things work out well for all the characters in book 2. (Except Nora’s dad. I hope nothing goes well for him ever again). 5 stars.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (challenge category: read a book with a six-word title). Every day at 11 p.m., Eveyln Hardcastle will die at a party thrown by her parents. Unless, that is, Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. The only problem is that Aiden wakes up in the body of a different party guest every day. Some of his hosts are more helpful than others. Evelyn has already been murdered hundreds of times – can Aiden prevent it this time around? I got this book for Christmas and was dying to read it, so I pleased to see it had previously been chosen for this challenge. It’s Clue meets Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie, which sounds bizarre but is actually really fun. I loved it! 5 stars.

Whizziwig and Whizziwig Returns by Malorie Blackman. This was published as two separate books, but I read the omnibus edition. Whizziwig, a small, furry alien, was on her way to visit her aunt when she crash-landed on Ben’s wardrobe. Once Ben recovers from the shock, he’s delighted to learn that Whizziwig is a “wish giver” and she needs to grant wishes in order to repair her ship. Unfortunately Whizziwig can only grant accidental wishes, and they have to be made for someone else. Naturally chaos then ensues! I remembered seeing a TV series of this in the 90s, but had no idea it was a book, so when I discovered it I obviously had to read it. This is very much a children’s book so the wishes are pretty harmless – things like wishing someone was a little lighter only for them to float up to the ceiling. Whizziwig causes a lot of chaos but she’s also a lot of fun (as long as you’re not on the receiving end of a wish!). It’s possible that the nostalgia factor played a part in my 4-star rating, but I’m sticking with it.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (challenge category: freebie). It’s the 1920s and childless couple Jack and Mabel have recently moved to Alaska to start a new life. But things are tough out there, and they are drifting apart – he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. Gradually, Jack and Mabel come to know and love the little girl – Faina – who seems to be a child of the woods. The writing in this book is magical and poetic and I was captivated throughout most of the book. But I feel like I just didn’t get the ending. I can’t tell you what happened though or I will spoil it! Also, Mabel lost a child to stillbirth many years before and the sections where she was grieving her baby were hard for me to read. I gave it 4 stars in the end.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay (challenge category: set in Europe). Anotoine Rey thought he had the perfect 40th birthday surprise for his sister, Mélanie a weekend on Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach. A place they hadn’t returned to since their mother died 30 years before. But along with the happy memories, the island reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and disturbing about their last island summer. When she tries to tell Antoine what she’s remembered on the drive home, she loses control of the car and crashes. Now Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children. How well does he really know his mother, his children, or even himself? I chose this from the list of previously chosen books because I recognised the author’s name – Sarah’s Key has been on my to-read list for ages. This one started off well but in the end it was somehow lacking. The writing is a little clunky and I couldn’t connect with the main character. At the beginning he seemed whiny and sorry for himself. Then he meets a love interest starts to read like a horny old man – even though he’s only supposed to be in his 40s. At one point something bad happens and he literally thinks to himself “I’m glad I’m a man and can lose myself in imagining how it would feel to touch this beautiful woman I just met’s breasts instead of thinking of the bad thing”. And the secret isn’t at all shocking for today’s standards. 3 stars. I still want to read Sarah’s Key though.

Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayer’s. Mary is an eight-year-old orphan who lives with her granpa, but after he is mixed up in a robbery at the bookies where he works, they flee to the Isle of Skye. Gradually, Mary realises that her granpa is involved. And the robbers are coming after him–and their money. I absolutely loved this. Mary’s a fantastic character and I loved seeing the world through her eyes. Mary and her Granpa’s relationship is so adorable – reading about him from her perspective means you can’t help but like him even though, as a reader, it’s obvious that not everything he does is right. This book is both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and I gave it 5 stars. A wonderful debut – I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author.

Consumed by Abbie Rushton. Myla used to love long, hot summer days at the beach. Until her sister was taken and murdered two years ago. Since then, cripping agoraphobia and panic attacks have kept Myla confined to the house. Jamie is new in town and also struggles with things most people find easy – nobody understands why it’s so hard for him to eat. When their respective guardians bring them together, the two gradually begin to trust each other. Are they willing to reveal their secrets and start facing up to things, or will they allow the past to consume them? This is a quick read – I finished it in two hours – and I was totally engrossed throughout, but it does have some weaknesses. The two characters’ struggles felt realistic and were well written but it felt like things were resolved too easily. Even without having ever experienced agoraphobia it felt like Myla made it out too easily. On the other hand she needed to leave the house for the resolution to happen. Maybe if the book had been longer and built her outings up more gradually it would have been more believable. On the other hand the mystery sucked me and I didn’t guess the killer. I also enjoyed Myla and Jamie’s relationship and appreciated that it went relatively slowly. Despite its flaws, I did like it so I’m giving it 4 stars.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (challenge category: read a book that’s been turned into a film). Believe it or not, I had literally no idea what this was about before I read it – and my copy was a 10-year anniversary of the film edition, so instead of a synopsis the back cover just had a letter from Nicholas Sparks. An old man reads to a woman from a faded notebook, a morning ritual that she doesn’t understand. The story he tells is of thirty-one, Noah Calhoun, back home in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. Unable to find her, yet unwilling to forget the summer they spent together, Noah is content to live with only memories. . . until she unexpectedly returns to his town to see him one last time. Twenty-nine year old socialite Allie Nelson is now engaged to a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. With her impending marriage only weeks away, Allie needs to make a choice about her future. For the first half of this book I was sure it was going to be a three-star read. The writing feels very simple and the story of young lovers was cute enough but felt generic. Then the second part was beautiful. I mean, it’s incredibly cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is okay. Not sure I’ll read it again but I rounded by 3.5 stars up to 4.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). I started this book, read about 20 pages, then put it down and read three other books before picking it up again and almost finishing it on the train to and from work. This is a classic and you may already know the plot, so I’ll be brief. Two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, each fall in love only to find that the man the admire is engaged to another. Marianne immediately goes into deep mourning while Elinor tries to hide her pain from those she loves to avoid making them unhappy too. This was hard to read at times just because of the old-fashioned language and I felt like it took me forever, but it’s a really good book. Jane Austen could certainly write. I love the sisterly relationship between Elinor and Marianne. There are a few funny lines in there as well. 4 stars.

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a different language). The boy has spent his whole life underground, in a basement with his mother, father, grandmother, sister and brother. His family were disfigured in a fire before he was born. His sister wears a surgical mask to cover her burns. He spends his days with his cactus, tracking the beam of sunlight that comes in through a crack in the ceiling, or reading his book on insects. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before he was born and why they can’t leave the basement. This book is so disturbing! It book started really well. I was sucked in and needed to know what was happening. Why was everyone in the basement? Then there’s a major reveal/twist the writing changes to third person POV, which makes sense because the boy can’t tell the story of before he was born, but it also felt like the tone of the book changed at that point and it almost felt like an intrusion, although it was good to finally get some answers. Then came the ending and I HATED it. I can’t say why though because spoilers. I was genuinely sucked in by the rest of the story though and the writing/translation are excellent so 4 stars. Read this if you are intrigued, but be warned there are lots of disturbing things that I can’t tell you about without spoiling it.

The next six books are the ones I read for the readathon (minus about 20 pages of the first one since I started it the night before).

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Terra Cooper is tall, blonde and has an amazing body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her “flawed” face with its large birthmark. Terra secretly plans to leave her small town in the Northwest and escape to a college on the East Coast, but her controlling father puts an end to that. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in the path of Jacob, a quirky goth, he immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, forcing her in yet another direction. Will Terra ever find her true path? This was okay. It’s cute and there’s a map theme running through it, which is interesting but the “beauty is skin deep” and “be true to yourself” message is kind of obvious. Generic YA that passes the time fine. 3 stars.

 

I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson. Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy ad is confined to a wheelchair, unable to move or communicate. Her family and carer have to do everything for her. She has a sharp brain and knows all sorts of things, she just can’t express them. When somebody tells Jemma a terrible secret, then someone close to her goes missing too, she is utterly powerless to do anything about it. But that may be about to change… I thoroughly enjoyed this. Jemma is a well-written character. I found myself getting frustrated along with her. The mystery aspect was good but I actually found that I was more interested in reading about Jemma’s everyday life with her carer and foster siblings. 5 stars.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she begins to reflect on past events – both recent weeks and from her younger years, and particularly her friendship with her best friend Elsie. Recently, a charming new resident has arrived and Florence thinks she recognises him. The only problem, is the person she thinks he is died sixty years ago. Is a horrifying secret from her past about to be revealed? This is an adorable book, so heart-warming. I enjoyed seeing the characters try to solve the mystery of the new resident. Poor Florence just wanted to be taken seriously, but since she obviously has Alzheimers people mostly just assumed she was confused, even when she wasn’t. There were a few parts that quite didn’t hold my attention so that I wasn’t 100% wowed by it but overall it’s a wonderful story and beautifully written. 4 stars.

The Last Secret (Scarlet and Ivy book 6) by Sophie Cleverly. Scarlet and Ivy are back at Rookwood school for what could be their final term. The school is in danger of closure, and they will have to confront old enemies and uncover more secrets if they are to have a chance of saving it. I think the fact that I have already read this book is a testament to how much I’ve enjoyed this series – it’s rare that I read books in the year they came out, even rarer for me to have read a book from the current year when it’s still only February! This was a wonderful end to the story. It was good to have a resolution to the story of Scarlet and Ivy’s home life as well. I’m a little sad to be leaving Rockwood School behind but can’t wait to see what Sophie Cleverly does next. 4 stars.

Day of the Dead by Nicci French. Another final book in a series – this is number 7 of the Freida Klein books. On a north London high street, a runaway vehicle crashes into a shop window. The man in the driving seat turns out to have been murdered a week earlier. On Hampstead Heath, a bonfire blazes; in the flames the next victim. A serial killer runs amok in the capital, playing games with the police. But this is no ordinary criminal. He has a message for one specific person – psychologist Frieda Klein, who has gone into hiding. An old adversary wants her to know he’s coming for her. A worthy ending to this series. New character Lola is flipping annoying and I wanted to shake her. Josef  is wonderful, as ever. It was good to see things resolved. Maybe not everything was tied up with a neat little bow but that’s okay. I am satisfied with how it ended. 4 stars.

Instructions for a Second-hand Heart by Tamsyn Murray. Jonny has spent every day in hospital. He has a faulty heart and his time is running out. But for him to get a new heart, someone else has to die. That someone turns out to be Niamh’s twin brother, who lost his life in a tragic accident. When Leo was alive, all Niamh wanted was for him and his perfection to go away. Now he actually has gone she has no idea how to cope. When Jonny walks into her life, he initially just wants to find out about Leo, the first owner of his heart. He doesn’t plan on falling in love. is such a sad book. I really felt for Niamh, trying to deal with grief while at the same time feeling guilty about not liking her brother more. The family relationships and different ways they all deal with Leo’s death are really well written. Johnny’s story was also good although I found his relationship with Niamh a little creepy – I could understand why he tracked her down but he should have told the truth sooner. I would also have preferred them to stay friends. The romance felt forced and unnecessary. It’s a really well written book though, and genuinely moving at times. Also, I recently learned that this genre is apparently known as “sick lit”, so that’s weird. 4 stars.

How It All Began by Penelope Lively. When Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, she has to move in with her daughter, Rose for a while. As a result Rose can’t accompany her employer, Lord Peters, to Manchester so his niece, Marion goes instead, leading her to send a text message to her lover Jeremy. Unfortunately, said message is intercepted by Jeremy’s wife, Stella. And thus begins a life-altering chain of events for all our characterss. This is an interesting concept, how one incident has a ripple effect on many people’s lives. I enjoyed some stories more than others. I couldn’t have cared less about Jeremy and Stella or Marion. Charlotte’s story was interesting, and I liked her student, Anton. 3.5 stars. Good but not great.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid (challenge category: read a book that is another participant’s friend or family member’s favourite book). Finally my last book for Erin’s challenge arrived! At age twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in various cities and had countless pointless jobs since graduating college. Now, after breaking up with her married lover, she’s moving back to her home city of Los Angeles to live in her best friend Gabby’s guest room. One night, Gabby arranges a get-together with old friends, where Hannah runs into her high-school boyfriend, Ethan. At midnight Gabby wants to leave and Hannah has to decide whether to go too or stay with Ethan. From that point on, two concurrent storylines tell the tale of what happens to Hannah if she makes each decision, quickly diverging into two very different lives. This book is cute and fun. It’s interesting to think about how one decision can affect the way your life turns out. This is billed as a romance but I actually thought it was more about friendship. Hannah does end up with a love interest in each story, but the really central relationship for me was Hannah and Gabby’s friendship. There is a dog in one of the time lines who I looooved. She was honestly my favourite character in the book. 4 stars.

The World According to Garp by John Irving. Jenny Fields is a nurse who isn’t a particular fan of men. However, she does want a child, so she goes about getting herself pregnant by… let’s say unconventional means. As a result, T.S. Garp, known to all as just Garp, is born. And this book is his life story, from conception through to adulthood. This is a weird book. It’s mostly about sex. And lust. Parts of it are very dark, parts are amusing and others are just plain bizarre, but somehow it’s always captivating. I wasn’t expecting to love it but I actually did. 5 stars. Definitely not one for everyone though.

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you will be very pleased to know that, although I started one other book in February, I didn’t finish it. That one will hopefully be included in my March roundup – although I keep having to put it down because it includes a secondary storyline about infertility and that’s not something I constantly need reminding of.

And as promised, here’s a TL;DR: I highly recommend Nora and Kettle, I Have No Secrets and Three Things about Elsie. Read Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart if stories about sick teens are your thing. The Light of the Fireflies is well-written but be aware that there are lots of disturbing elements. I don’t want to spoil it, so basically if you can think of a thing that would put you off a book (along the lines of violence, sexual stuff, etc.) you should probably stay clear.

And that, finally, is that. Check out the link up for even more book talk!

February 2019 recap

Hello friends! Welcome to my second monthly recap of 2019. February has mostly been the month of boiling the kettle multiple times but never actually making a cup of tea, or making tea but not getting round to taking the teabag out, resulting in a ridiculously strong, lukewarm cuppa that I only managed to drink half of. I need to set a timer on my phone or something so I don’t end up getting so immersed in my work that I forget I actually put the kettle on.

Anyway, it is the first Thursday of the month, which means it’s time to link up with the wonderful Kristen for What’s New With You?

whats new with you

We started February in England. We flew over on 31st January and then spent most of the 1st February in my dad’s house waiting for our suitcase. Our flight to Amsterdam was delayed resulting in a short connection, so while we made it onto the second flight the suitcase didn’t. According to KLM, the courier was supposed to call to arrange a time, but he didn’t and so we waited. I took the opportunity to go through some of my stuff that was still at my dad’s, which he was pleased about. We ended up with about 30 books, a pile of CDs and a few DVDs that I didn’t want any more. Handily, a charity bag then came through the door specifically requesting books, DVDs, CDs and ornaments – usually they’re all for clothes – so that was cool. And I found a CD of photos that I spent ages looking for last year when my cousin wanted photos of our grandma… I knew it existed somewhere! It immediately went in my bag to come back to Switzerland with us. In the evening we had a table booked for a meal to celebrate my grandma’s 80th birthday (which was on 27th January). The suitcase hadn’t arrived by the time we had to leave but luckily I had put clean underwear in my hand luggage and the clothes I wore on the plane weren’t too terrible ;-). Plus my dad had a spare, unused toothbrush and my uncle picked one up for Jan while he was shopping, so we were at least clean and presentable. The suitcase finally showed up at about 8pm – we were at the pub so my dad’s partner signed for it.

The next day, finally wearing clean clothes, we met up with my mum and brother. We had lunch at a Wetherspoons (non-Brits: a cheap-and-cheerful pub chain that does alright food for a reasonable price) then went for a walk along the river – parts of which were frozen totally solid! When my brother had to go to work the rest of us went back to my mum’s, picked up my sister’s dog (who was staying there while my sister and brother-in-law were in Venice) and then had a walk up to the churchyard where my grandparents are buried. It’s also where Emily Wilding Davison is buried… claim to fame! (If you don’t know your history, that’s the suffragette who was killed by the king’s horse.) Tea was an Indian take away, before my mum drove us back to my dad’s house to finish packing. On Sunday morning we ate bacon sandwiches then my dad drove us to the airport. I brought a few books back with me, including my Narnia box set that I want to reread this year. There is still an entire bookcase full of books that I intend to bring to Switzerland at some point… I’m sure you can imagine how thrilled Jan is about that ;-). For some reason my dad also gave me two packets of mini malt loafs to take with me. I mean, I like malt loaf but it’s not something I particularly miss or crave. It did make a good breakfast for a few days though so I’m not complaining.

Emily Wilding Davison

On 5th February, it was 15 years since Jan and I got together. Unfortunately he had to work late so I celebrated by eating alone, finishing a book and almost finishing another. My perfect evening, tbh. He came home with chocolates for me and we ate the heart-shaped dessert I had bought (the perks of having an anniversary close to Valentine’s Day) the next evening. We then celebrated properly by going for a meal on the Saturday. We went to a restaurant called Rubino where the concept is set menus that are a surprise. You can choose meat or vegetarian and two, three, four or five courses. We went for four courses and I vowed to eat everything they gave me (unless it was hard boiled eggs, which make me sick). I did indeed eat everything – including the mushroom course. There were three types of mushrooms and I can’t say I enjoyed any of them. The pepper encrusted cheese and quince pieces that came with them were delicious though. For drinks, we went with the wine accompaniment, which meant a different wine with each course, selected by the restaurant.  I took zero photos because I just wanted to be in the moment and celebrate our anniversary so you’ll just have to believe me when I say everything looked and tasted delicious (except the mushrooms!). Sunday was rainy and windy so we had a lazy day. I stitched a design for my cousin’s wedding card (no photo because it had their names on it) and finished a book. We were planning to go to the quiz but the friend we were meeting didn’t want to venture into the storm so we stayed home and ordered take away instead. Jan watched TV and I started another book (Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayers, if you’re interested).

The following weekend “Show Us Your Books” hosts Jana and Steph organised a readathon. I had never taken part in a readathon before! It was very relaxed – basically start reading at any point on the Friday (in my case it had to wait until after work), finish at any point on the Sunday, post photos on Twitter or Instagram and tag the hosts. Jan had an all-day choir rehearsal on the Sunday so it was the perfect day to do nothing but read. That Saturday was also Photo and Hour day – you can see my hourly photos here.

And then it was the last weekend of the month. Craziness. After January seemed to drag on for a thousand years, February felt like it was over in a flash. I mean, I know it’s the shortest month, but there were still supposedly four whole weeks in there! I actually had the Thursday and Friday off since I needed to use up two days of holiday from last year before they expired, so it was a long weekend for me. Thursday was appointments all day, so I was only really home for lunch then dinner. Friday was my monthly deep-clean day – second month in a row that I’ve cleaned the oven. Go me! Then Jan came home from work on the Friday and suggested we go somewhere the next day. He suggested Lugano and since it’s a bit far to do justice to in a single day we spontaneously decided to book a hotel and have a weekend away. Saturday was cloudy, Sunday less so, and both days were warm. It was honestly just nice to get away and have a relaxing break, just the two of us.

In between weekends I worked. A lot. This is becoming a theme. At least I’m collecting plenty of overtime, which may be useful at some point. And actually this week has been a lot quieter so maybe March will be the month of normal working hours? I managed to drink more water in February, which is something, but I didn’t manage to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day – or even most days. Must try harder with that!

And that was my month. Going forward, I feel like I want to try out a new format for these catch-up posts because this recapping (mainly) weekends feels like a lot of uninteresting text to force you to read. We’ll see. For this month I’m afraid you’re stuck with my ramblings 😉

Why not visit the link up and see what the rest of blog land has been doing recently? And while you’re at it maybe write a post and link up yourself. Or just tell me what’s new with you in the comments.

A Photo an Hour: 16 February 2019

Over a week ago, I took part in February’s photo an hour with Jane and Louisa. I had planned to write up my day over the weekend but instead we spontaneously decided to go to Lugano. So here I am finally posting about it over a week later. Whatever. I was also taking part in my first ever readathon that weekend, organised by Show Us Your Books hosts Jana and Steph, so my day involved quite a lot of reading.

Let’s just get on with it shall we?

9:30 a.m. Morning cuppa… a literary mug seemed appropriate for readathon weekend.

10:30 a.m. Reading in my pyjamas

11:30 a.m. I had breakfast. By the time the hour was up I had finished eating, so my photo was a very uninspiring one of an empty plate. (I had toast with fig jam if you’re wondering).

12:30 p.m. I finally actually had a shower and got dressed. A miracle?

1:30 p.m. Another tea and on to my next book.

2:30 p.m. I had to pop to the supermarket for some bits.

3:30 p.m. Back home and back to reading

4:30 p.m. Reluctantly washing the dishes.

5:30 p.m. Emptying the dishwasher.

6:30 p.m. Time to start cooking.

7:30 p.m. Colourful food!

8:30 p.m. Jan put on The Great British Sewing Bee. It was surprisingly compelling viewing.

9:30 p.m. Changed into clean pyjamas and back to reading.

10:30 p.m. Time for bed. Introducing Cuddles the bear, who I picked up from my dad’s at the beginning of the month.

If you’re interested in taking part in Photo an Hour, the next date is 23rd March. Simply take a photo every hour to show what you’re doing and post it to Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #photoanhour or save your photos and put them into a blog post once the day is over(or you can do both, like me).

What I read in January 2019

Hello lovely people. It’s the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s time for another round-up of what I’ve been reading. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

Most of the books I read were for Book Challenge by Erin 10.0, which I realise I never actually posted about on here, so I’ll add the categories after the book title/author. I read 11 books, which is a decent number but not as many as in other months. I blame the fact that I read two classics, which both seemed to take me forever to read! Anyway, I should get on with the reviews…

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Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (challenge category: read a friend or family member’s favourite book – this is my grandma’s favourite book, apparently). The book starts with farmer Gabriel Oak meeting a woman named Bathsheba Everdene who has come to stay with her aunt. After roughly two conversations with her, he falls in love and asks her to marry him, which he refuses. A short time later, she disappears from the village to take up her position as farmer of a large estate near Weatherbury on the death of her uncle. Farmer Oak then loses all his sheep, meaning he can no longer be a farmer, and through a series of coincidences ends up working as a shepherd on Bathsheba’s farm. Another farmer falls in love with Bathsheba and then a third person comes into the mix, but I don’t want to say too much about what happens with all these suitors in case I spoil things.
First of all, I have to say Hardy doesn’t half go on! At one point there was literally a three-page description of a barn and the positions of the people within it. More than once I found myself thinking “get to the point will you!”. It is an interesting story and towards the end especially it picks up a bit as Hardy finally leaves off describing and starts getting to the action. Bathsheba is a strong and independent woman for her time (insisting on running the farm herself, for instance) but is remarkably silly at times. 3.5 stars.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (challenge category: read a book that has won a Newberry Award). Mrs Frisby, a widowed mouse and mother to four small children, has a problem. She needs to move her family to their summer quarters immediately before the farmer ploughs the land it’s on, but her youngest son Timothy is gravely ill with pneumonia and if he moves he will certainly die. Fortunately, she meets the rats of NIMH, an extremely intelligent group of animals who have the perfect solution to her dilemma and the means to help her.
Where has this book been all my life? I mean, given it was published in 1971 it definitely existed before I did so why did nobody ever tell me about it? It’s adorable! I loved the rats’ story and Jeremy the crow. The start is a bit slow, but I actually don’t mind that… I kind of liked the contrast between everyday mouse life at the beginning and the extraordinary story of the rats later on. I could see some children getting bored before it reaches the “exciting” part, but it’s 5 stars from me.

The Dinner by Hermann Koch (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a language that isn’t your native language). This is the story of two couples who meet at a fancy restaurant for dinner. Things start off harmlessly enough, with talk of work, films, and holidays, but all is not as it seems. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son, and together their sons have committed a horrific act that has triggered a police investigation. Just how far is each couple willing to go to protect those they love?
This book is so odd… not so much a roller coaster as a spiral into madness. Which isn’t too say I didn’t enjoy it… although “enjoy” seems like the wrong word given the subject matter. It’s strangely compelling… like a train wreck that you just can’t look away from. I don’t want to say too much – I went into it with little idea of what it was about, and I honestly feel like that’s the best way. I would say if you’re at all intrigued read it (but if you don’t like violence steer clear). Also, it goes off on tangents a lot. 4 stars.

The Never List by Koethi Zan (challenge category: read a book that starts with the letter N). For years, Sarah and Jennifer kept the Never List: a list of things to be avoided at all costs. Never go out alone. Never get in the car. But one night they broke their own rules, with horrifying consequences. Ten years later, Sarah is trying to forget her horrible ordeal and get on with her life, but it seems the killer hasn’t forgotten her! This book is so disturbing, and filled with twists and turns. I was not expecting the final reveal at the end at all! (Some reviewers have said it was obvious, so maybe I’m just not clever enough?). My only issue is that the writing style occasionally seemed slightly juvenile, which briefly threw me out of the story. But generally it sucked me in and had me up way past my bedtime reading just one more chapter. 4 stars.

The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan (challenge category: read a book with exactly six words in the title). Until I started this book I had forgotten I’ve actually read one by this author before (The Long Weekend is a scary middle-grade thriller, this one is YA). After Jay’s father died, life was hard for her and her mother, but they managed to get by. Now they’re moving in with relatives, including an aunt who has super strict rules on how Indian girls and boys should act. Jay will be expected to have only Indian friends, if she has any at all. How can she see her school friends, Chloe and Matt? But forcing her to conform to Indian customs and traditions is only the beginning of a nightmare for Jay. When her life implodes, how can she hide the shame and how will she find a way to keep going?
I don’t want to spoil anything but I do feel like this needs to be said… this book involves a sexual assault. If that’s not something you can read about then avoid this one. This is a really hard book to review partly because of the subject. It’s raw and seems realistic. Not what I would call an “enjoyable” book but it’s well-written and compelling. I really felt for Jay and was her mother’s response to what happened was perfect. 5 stars.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Astri is a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After her aunt sells her to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America with the “goatman” in pursuit. This book reads like a mixture of historical fiction and a fairytale, with the main character drawing constant comparisons between folk tales and her own situation. It’s a really well-told story and I enjoyed it but it’s quite dark with death, violence and subtle references to sex. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone under about 12 or 13. 4 stars.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Another one of those supposed classics that I somehow missed as a child. This is the only book I read in January that wasn’t for Erin’s challenge. Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He’s been practising all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, the new kid – a girl no less – outruns everybody. Not the most promising start for a friendship, but Jess and Lesley quickly become inseparable. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen. Then tragedy strikes. This starts off as a lovely story about a friendship between two people from totally different backgrounds. Then it gets really sad and the bubble of innocence is burst. I’m not really sure why it’s labelled as “fantasy” though – it’s clear all along that Terabithia only exists in Jess and Lesley’s imaginations. Anyway, 4 stars.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). For some reason I always thought this was a ghost story. It’s not. However, it is among the first mystery novels and may have been the first novel written with multiple narrators. On a moonlit London road, Walter Hartright encounters a mysterious woman dressed all in white who asks him from directions. He then discovers she’s escaped from an asylum. Not long after he travels to Cumberland where he is hired as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe. Of course, he falls in love with Laura but can’t do anything about it because 1) she’s rich and upper class while he’s the opposite and b) she’s already engaged to be married to Sir Percival Glyde, baronet. Gradually Walter and Marian become convinced that Sir all is not as it seems with Sir Percival and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco. This is a fantastic book. For a classic the language is actually quite readable. Wilkie Collins was a great writer. My only complaints are it was about 200 pages too long and I would have liked Marian to play more of a role in the last third. I imagine this book must have been a true sensation in its time. 4 stars.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (challenge category: read a book set in Europe – it’s set in Ukraine). I’ve owned this book for years, having bought it after enjoying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A young American man arrives in the Ukraine searching for the village of Trochenbrod, where his grandparents came from, and  the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis fifty years ago. He is aided in his quest by Alex, a similarly-aged young man who has been hired by his father to act as a translator, Alex’s “blind” grandfather and a “seeing-eye bitch” named Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. This book was a mixed bag. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, then just as I started to get into it there would be a slow/weird part. I liked Alex’s letters and story but couldn’t really get into the Trachimbrod parts until close to the end. Also, the “young American man” is Jonathan Safran Foer… the book is a fictionalised version of his family background and he inserted himself into the story, which was just weird. I gave this 3.5 stars, mainly for the Alex parts and because it’s set in Ukraine.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (challenge category: freebie). My mum lent me this book so I needed to read it before travelling to England so I could return it. I feel like everyone has read this recently so I’m not sure I need to summarise it, but I will anyway. Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, charming and a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew, and is sent to Auschwitz on the first transport. There, he is put to work in the privileged position of Tätowierer– the tattooist – marking his fellow inmates with their prisoner numbers. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance. With a new purpose, Lale is more determined than ever to survive is time in the camp. This story is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It’s hard to know how to rate this book. The actual story is compelling but it feels like something is missing in the execution. The writing is too simplistic for the momentous events and at times it’s feels almost detached. At the same time I could not stop reading. I gave it four stars on Goodreads mostly because I felt bad giving it three.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (challenge category: a book that has been made into a film). I just sneaked this one into January – I read it on the way to England on 31 January, finishing about 10 minutes before we landed in Newcastle. Substance D, or Death, is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way on to the black market. It destroys the link between the brain’s two hemispheres, leading to disorientation and ultimately brain damage. Bob Arctor is an undercover narcotics agent trying to find a lead to the source of supply, but to avoid blowing his cover he has to become a user, not realising that he’s becoming just as addicted as the people he surrounds himself with. This is billed as science fiction, but really I think it’s more dystopian. Apart from a special suit Bob wears when reporting to his superiors there’s not much in it that points to science fiction (although it was written in the 70s but set in 1994, so maybe the future setting is what made it science fiction at the time?). Anyway, this was not what I was expecting. The writing style is easy to read and the story is strangely compelling considering it’s basically the ramblings of a drug addicts who is slowly losing his mind. 4 stars.

And that’s it for January. Have you read any of these? If so, do you agree with my review? Check out the link up to see what the rest of the SUYB community has been reading recently. You know you want to add more books to your list 😉