What I Read in May 2020: Part 2

Hello friends! As promised, here is the second part of my May reading round up. The first part was all children’s books, and this one is mainly children’s and young adult books, so if that’s not what you’re into sorry. Come back next month. For the rest of you, let me tell you what I read that wasn’t for Believathon. I’m linking this up with Jana and Steph for Show Us Your Books.

In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker. Three years ago, Alice’s identical twin sister took a gun to school and killed seven innocent kids; now Alice wears the same face as a monster. She’s struggling with her identity, and with life in the small Australian town where everyone was touched by the tragedy, and many have now turned against Alice. Just as she thinks things can’t get much worse, she encounters her sister on a deserted highway – except it can’t be her, because after killing the other kids, she turned the gun on herself. Soon Alice discovers that she has stepped into a different reality, a dream world, where she’s trapped with the nightmares of everyone in the community. Here Alice is forced to confront the true impact of everything that happened the day her twin sister took a gun to school … and to reveal her own secret to the boy who hates her most. I read this entire book in one sitting, and I cried. Imagine not only being related to a school shooter, but actually having to share her face? It’s bizarre and I can see how some people might find it confusing but I absolutely loved it. 4.5 stars.

Fire Girl by Tony Abbott. From the moment Jessica arrives, life is never quite the same for Tom and his seventh-grade classmates. They call her “fire girl” because she was in a fire and was badly burned, and is now attending St. Catherine’s will receiving medical treatments. Despite her appearance and the fear she evokes in him and most of the class, Tom slowly develops a tentative friendship with Jessica that changes his life. This is a quick read about kindness and what it means to be different. I felt like it could have gone a bit deeper – probably it was a little too short – but it wasn’t bad and didn’t seem preachy, which can happen with this kind of topic. 3 stars.

Indigo’s Star by Hilary McKay (Casson Family #2). This is the sequel to Saffy’s Angel. It takes place a few years later and focuses on Indigo, the only boy in the family. After missing a whole term of school with an illness, Indigo is about to go back, but only younger sister Rose knows that he was being bullied before he was off. When Saffy finds out, she’s determined that nobody will be allowed to mess with her family. And with new boy Tom joining Indigo’s class, things might just be different this term. It was nice to read more about this family, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as the first one. Rose’s letters made me laugh. The parents annoyed me though! I’m not sure who was worse – distracted Eve who found going shopping so her children could, you know, actually eat such a chore or Bill who knows his wife is like that but still doesn’t come home or even try to check up on the things in Rose’s letters with anyone who isn’t eight years old! 3.5 stars. (If you’re wondering, I gave Saffy’s Angel 4 stars.)

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton. Neena’s always been a good girl – great grades, parent-approved friends and absolutely no boyfriends. The perfect Pakistani daughter. But ever since her brother Akash left her, she’s been slowly falling apart, partying, drinking – and uncovering a new version of herself who is freer, but altogether more dangerous. As her wild behaviour spirals more and more out of control, Neena’s grip on her sanity begins to weaken too. And when her parents announce not one but two life-changing bombshells, she finally reaches breaking point. enjoyed this and it was a very fast read for me. It’s confusing and disjointed in parts, but that makes it feel like an even more realistic portrayal of what’s going on in Neena’s head. She’s very much an unreliable narrator but it was still clear that something was very wrong and what she was telling us couldn’t be right. I found myself genuinely worrying about her and spent half the book thinking noooo Neena please don’t do it! Emma Smith-Barton is British-Pakistani and has suffered from mental health problems so this is own voices for both of those things. 4 stars.

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park. Nate Jae-Woo Kim wants to be rich. When one of his classmates offers Nate a ridiculous amount of money to commit grade fraud, he knows that taking the windfall would help support his prideful Korean family, but is compromising his integrity worth it? Then Kate Anderson, Nate’s colleague at the zombie-themed escape room where he works, approaches Nate with a plan: a local tech company is hosting a weekend-long survivalist competition with a huge cash prize, and she needs someone to team up with. It could solve all of Nate’s problems, and Kate needs the money too, to escape from her controlling father. If the two of them team up, Nate has a true shot at winning the grand prize. But the real challenge? Making through the weekend with his heart intact. This is cute and fun. I loved Jeeves the slightly inept robot. I expected more from the romance – they were both apparently immediately attracted to each other but never actually communicated about it until they shared one kiss and then ended the book as… I’m not sure what. Sort of friends who might maybe be something more? It was fine though. 3.5 stars.

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens (Murder Most Unladylike #4). Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong have returned to Deepdean for a new school term, but nothing is the same. There’s a new Head Girl, Elizabeth Hurst, and she and her team of Prefects are nothing but bullies. Then, after the fireworks display on Bonfire Night, Elizabeth is found – murdered. Most people at Deepdean had a reason to hate Elizabeth, but who would have stooped so low? Could the murder be linked to the secrets and scandals, scribbled on scraps of paper, that are suddenly appearing around the school? And with their own friendship falling to pieces, how will Daisy and Hazel solve this mystery? I enjoyed this book but it seemed to have a different tone to the previous three – far too much bickering. Even Hazel and Daisy spent a large chunk of the time not speaking to each other. They’ve always had their disagreements, but this seemed excessive! It’s still a good read, but after the sheer genius that was book 3 it was a bit of a let down. 3.5 stars

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson. The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered, and everyone knows it was her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who did it. The police know it. Everyone in town knows it. But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth? I LOVED this book! It was everything I wanted from Truly Devious but didn’t get. I loved Pippa and Ravi (Sal’s brother, who she teams up with), Pippa’s friendship with Cara, her awesome (step-)dad. It was a little unbelievable that a school girl could get away with so much but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment at all. Highly, highly recommend! 5 stars.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place. Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. A tale that increasingly seems to intertwine with her own story. Could this be the key to unlocking the secrets of her past? This is a wonderful, imaginative and adventurous book. I loved January – even if she made a few stupid decisions. I found a few parts of the story a bit slow, which lost it a star, but it picked up again and overalls ended up being a really good book that I definitely recommend. A quick note: January is mixed race (black father, white mother) and experiences racism. I know there has been some controversy about whether a white author has the right to a) write about black/mixed race people at all and b) write about racism from the perspective of those characters. It’s not my place to comment on that or on whether the representation was well done (or, indeed, can be well done by an author who has never experienced not being white) but I wanted you to know that I am aware of the issues. Nevertheless, I gave it 4 stars.

The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary. Tiffy Moore has just been dumped by her cheating husband and needs a place to stay, fast. But earning minimum wage at a quirky publishing house means that her choices are limited in London. Enter Leon Twomey. A palliative care nurse working night shift, he has a flat that he only uses 9 to 5, and he needs money to fight his brother’s unfair imprisonment. Tiffy works 9 to 5 and needs a place to sleep. The solution to their problems? To share a bed of course! As Leon and Tiffy’s unusual arrangement becomes a reality, they start to connect through Post-It notes left for each other around the flat. Can true love blossom even in the unlikeliest of situations? Can true love blossom even if you never see one another? Or does true love blossom when you are least expecting it? I was a bit sceptical about the premise of this book. Sharing a bed with a stranger? Really? Eew! But I had heard good things so I decided to give it a go, and I’m glad I did. This book is actually adorable! I loved Tiffy and her friends, and I really enjoyed the way Tiffy and Leon initially built up a relationship through notes and the author managed to make the sharing a flat at different times thing sound plausible. I had to take a star off because I found Leon’s chapters annoying at first – I know he’s supposed to be a man of few words but I just kept thinking “full sentences are allowed you know!”. It was very distracting. But eventually it either got better or I just stopped noticing. And I looooved the epilogue/ending. 4 stars.

I’m not going to do a TL;DR because 1) there are only 9 books here and I’m sure you can all read that much and 2) while I enjoyed some of these more than others, there are none here that I wouldn’t recommend (Fire Girl and Indigo’s Star perhaps a little less than the others) so you’ll have to see for yourself which ones fit into your preferred genre.

Have you read anything good recently? Don’t forget to check out the link up for more recommendations! And also read my last post for more of mine.

What I read in May 2020: Part 1

Hello friends! My reading was back on track this month and I managed 21 books so I’ve decided to split my recap into two again. Usually I just review them in order from the first book I read during the month to the last, but this time I’m doing things a little differently. This post is all the books I read for Believathon and my second post will be all the rest. If you don’t know, Believathon is a middle grade readathon so if you’re not interested in children’s books you can close this post now and wait for my next one (although there are a few children’s books there too). I will be linking this post up to Show Us Your Books with Steph and Jana on Tuesday.

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The Shadows by Jacqueline West (The Books of Elsewhere #1). When eleven-year-old Olive and her parents move into the crumbling mansion on Linden Street and find it filled with mysterious paintings, Olive knows the place is creepy but it’s only when she encounters three talking cats that she realises there’s something darkly magical afoot. Then Olive finds a pair of antique spectacles in a dusty drawer and discovers the most peculiar thing yet: She can travel inside the house’s spooky paintings to another world. But in entering Elsewhere, Olive has become involved in a mystery darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. With only the cats and an unusual boy she meets in Elsewhere on her side, it’s up to Olive to save the house from the shadows, before the lights go out for good. This is a fun little read, a bit creepy in parts. I like Olive and the cats. A few bits could have been explained better but overall I enjoyed it and want to know how the series will continue. With the bad guy defeated at the end of this one I’m wondering where things can possibly go from here.

In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll. When Alice’s little brother finally gets the news that a new heart has become available, Alice is packed off to stay with Nell, the grandmother she’s never met. There’s nothing good about staying with Nell, except the beautiful Darkling Wood at the end of the garden. But for some reason, Nell wants to have it cut down. Alice liked the woods. It’s the only pace she feels at peace when she thinks about her brother, and she even finds a friend there – Flo. But Flo doesn’t go to the local school, and no one in town has heard of her. After Flo shows Alice the surprising secrets of Darkling Wood, Alice wonders: What is real? Will saving the wood help her brother recover? And can one little girl defend something so despised and feared? This was so cute. Fairies and family secrets combine to give a magical and touching read. I adored it! 5 stars.

High-rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson. Summer in London is hot, the hottest on record, and there’s been a murder in THE TRI: the high-rise home to resident know-it-alls, sisters Nik and Norva. Who better to solve the case? Armed with curiosity, home-turf knowledge and unlimited time – until the end of the summer holidays anyway. Can they figure out whodunnit? This is an enjoyable mystery. Some of the teen speak (or possibly it’s specifically London teen speak?) confused or occasionally annoyed me, but really I’m not the target audience. I am old and I’ve been out of the UK for too long. I’m sure it will appeal to children reading it.  The two sisters are very different and disagreed occasionally but you could tell they genuinely care for and look out for each other. A solid 4 star read.

Platform 13

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. Under Platform 13 at King’s Cross Station there is a secret door that leads to a magical island …It appears only once every nine years. The last time it opened, the island’s baby prince was kidnapped, snatched right from under the noses of his nursemaids. Now a wizard, an ogre, a fey and a young hag have come to find their prince and bring him home. But the prince has become a horrible, spoiled rich boy called Raymond Trottle, who doesn’t understand magic and is determined not to be rescued. This is cute and fun, but also a little simple and predictable. I can definitely see where Rowling took some inspiration for the Harry Potter books – a King’s Cross platform that isn’t all it seens, two boys – one spoiled and horrible, one mistreated but still managing to come out the other end pretty nice. Hmm. My favourite character is Odge the hag! 3.5 stars.

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm. After a catastrophic Unknown Event leaves the colony ship Orion stranded deep in space, and Ship is unable to wake any of the adults, it’s up to thirteen-year-old Beth and her friends to navigate through treacherous and uncharted territory and reach safety. But with the ship heavily damaged, a mysterious alien species out there, space pirates, and a number of discrepancies in Ship’s accounts, getting home may not be so easy. I haven’t read much middle grade sci-fi and this was certainly my first one that was set in space, and let me tell you it set the bar HIGH! It was amazing! I had so many theories about what was happening but they were all wrong. A thoroughly deserved 5 stars. It’s categorised as middle grade/children’s but I would say it crosses over to the younger YA age range as well. I could certainly are 13/14 year olds still enjoying it.

The Pirate’s Eye (Stitch Head #2) by Guy Bass. Since this is the second book in a series I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but I’m brief Stitch Head discovers he might be part pirate then has to tap into his inner adventurer when he realises his master has been kidnapped. This was such a quick, fun read. These books are clearly for younger readers (around age 8-10 I would say) but I love them too. Stitch Head is so cute and his pessimism is nicely balanced out by Creature’s excess optimism. The adventure is short but great fun to read about. I will definitely continue the series. 4 stars.

Tilly and the Book Wanderers by Anna James (Pages & Co #1). Eleven year-old Tilly has lived above her grandparents’ bookshop ever since her mother disappeared shortly after she was born. Like the rest of her family, Tilly loves nothing more than to escape into the pages of her favourite stories. One day Tilly realises that classic children’s characters are appearing in the shop, and that she fab even enter into the books herself through a magic known as “bookwandering”. Could all this somehow be related to her mother’s disappearance? With the help of her new friend Oskar, Tilly is determined to find out. This book is absolutely delightful. If only bookwandering was real! I absolutely adore the idea of getting to meet your favourite characters. I slightly guessed one aspect of the story but not the details, but that wasn’t a problem. Oskar and Tilly have such a wonderful friendship. I will definitely be continuing this series. 5 stars.

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti. Ten-year-old Mafalda keeps a list of all the things she cares about. Like, counting the stars in the night sky, playing soccer, and climbing the cherry tree outside her school. But soon she won’t be able to do them anymore – because she’s going blind. Every morning on the way to school, she counts the number of steps from when she first sees the cherry tree to when she reaches it. Even as the distance gets shorter,she can already see that people are already treating her differently – and that’s the last thing she wants. So, she hides the fact that her vision is deteriorating faster than anyone predicted, and she makes a plan: When the time is right, she’ll go live in the cherry tree, just like her favourite book character. This is a sweet but also kind of heart-breaking little book with a message about finding what’s really important to you. I could definitely feel Mafalda’s frustration about being treated differently and people talking about her instead of to her. 3 stars.

Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. As you can probably guess, this is three books in one. The first is the story if Elmer who goes in an adventure to rescue a baby dragon. In the  second the dragon flies Elmer home and they have more adventures along the way, and in the third the dragon needs Elmer’s help to save his family. I liked the first story best but I also enjoyed the third one. The middle story wasn’t quite as interesting I gave it 3.5 stars overall. 4 stars for My Father’s Dragon, 3 for Elmer and the Dragon and 3.5 for The Dragons of Blueland.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. This book us a classic in Germany and the film at least is well known in the English-speaking world but I had neither read nor seen it. When 10-year-old Bastian happens upon an old book called The Neverending Story while trying to escape his bullies, he’s swept into the magical world of Fantastica – so much that he finds he has actually become a character in the story! And when he realizes that this mysteriously enchanted world is in great danger, he also discovers that he is the one chosen to save it. Can Bastian overcome the barrier between reality and his imagination in order to save Fantastica? The first half of this book is a straight up magical fantasy adventure and I mostly enjoyed it. The second half seems to be more moralistic – all about letting power go to your head and forgetting who you really are. I still mostly enjoyed it but parts of it dragged – at times it truly seemed like a never-ending story. I can see why it’s a classic but I feel like it could have been around 100 pages shorter. And I didn’t like how Bastian I’d described as fat and weak and everything a hero is not then becomes strong, handsome, etc. once he’s in Fantastica as if his real self is unworthy of being a hero. But despite the issues I gave it 4 stars.

The Battle for Perfect by Helena Duggan (A Place Called Perfect #3). Since this is the third and final book in a series I can’t say much about the plot, but in this one an old nemesis returns and Violet and Boy find themselves working to solve the mystery of some missing scientists. I loved this book! I was wondering where the author could possibly take things after the last one and this certainly didn’t disappoint. The stakes were much higher and I was actually scared for some of the characters at times. A worthy ending to the trilogy. 5 stars.

The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix by Kate Saunders (Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop #2). Another continuation of a series meaning I can’t say much. Twins Lily and Oz are the descendants of chocolate makers who just happen to also be magic. In this book Lily and Oz and their friends have to help the magical authorities Shaun when one of their evil uncle’s inventions falls into the wrong hands.  This is a fantastic book. I liked it better than the first one. I really enjoyed the adventure in this one and Silver is a great new character. I need there to be a third book with even more character development for the twins and Cayden

That’s all I’ve got for you today. The second part of my round up will be online soon.

Have you read anything good recently? .

May 2020 recap

whats new with you

So another month is over. I can’t say another month of (semi-)lockdown because at this point we’re barely even in lockdown any more. The government still keeps asking us to stay home and for those who can work from home to continue doing so but kindergartens and primary schools, all shops, restaurants, museums and galleries (but not zoos or botanical gardens) opened again on 11 May. The shops have to limit the numbers of people allowed in at one time and restaurants are only allowed four people to a table (exception: parents with 3+ children) so it’s not entirely back to normal but not really any sort of lockdown either. Masks are “recommended” if you can’t keep 2 metres apart but are only mandatory at hairdressers, massage parlours, physiotherapists, etc. Not on public transport. For me, not much has changed though. I don’t feel the need to go in any shops even if the government says it’s okay. So I am continuing to only enter supermarkets and pharmacies – I don’t need new clothes or electronics! And I can’t go into the office (yet) since the border hasn’t reopened. A few of my colleagues have been going in occasionally though, only ever a few at a time so there’s never more than one person working in a room.

One place I did go was the dentist  – for an appointment that was originally supposed to be in March! I had to get a filling and also have my teeth cleaned. It was my first visit to the dentist since moving to Switzerland and the dental assistant (hygienist? technician? What are the ones who clean your teeth called?) wasn’t satisfied so she made me come back 2 weeks later for her to finish the cleaning. Yes, it’s shameful. Consider this me outing myself publicly. The filling wasn’t my fault though – I have two teeth that overlap and even the dentist said it’s really difficult to properly get in there and make sure the surfaces are properly clean.

I finally managed to buy yeast – after trying for 3 weeks! I originally wanted to make hot cross buns for Easter, but figured that ship had sailed, so we made Zopf – a kind of Swiss bread that’s plaited/braided.

We also made Capuns, which are a speciality of Graubünden and involve wrapping a dough/meat mixture in chard leaves then cooking them in a creamy/cheesy sauce. The first time we only had spinach, which worked out well but was so fiddly and took forever. We then tried again actually using chard and it was much easier (but still took a while). The end result was worth the wait though! Two Swiss things… am I integrated now? 😉

Speaking of being integrated, I received my new residence permit – slightly belatedly. I am officially allowed to stay for another 5 years, no matter what happens with Brexit. Hurrah! (I still don’t know whether I’ll be allowed to continue working in Germany after the transition period, but details…).

Apart from that we are continuing to go for walks. We decided to walk into town once (the Saturday before the shops/restaurants were allowed to reopen) to see what it was like and decided we won’t be doing that again any time soon. There were so many people walking by the Rhine without even considering social distancing! Plus joggers, cyclists. Nope… I’ll stick with my walks here in the “countryside”. We also got a car a couple of times and went for a drive, once to a village that’s famous for its stork colony (we saw baby storks!) And once to where some friends (a couple) are staying with his family. We met up and went for a walk in the woods, staying 2 metres apart at all times. This has been allowed in Switzerland from the beginning by the way – the rule was you could meet up outside in a group of up to 5 people, but at the same time they asked us to please stay home whenever possible. We hadn’t met up with anyone until now but with the relaxing of regulations and new cases in Switzerland having stayed consistently under 100 per day for a while now (actually mostly under 40) we decided it would be okay, especially since we know they’ve been isolating and we stayed further away from them than a lot of people bother to do in supermarkets!

We also had an electrician come by last week to look at a light in our corridor that hasn’t worked since the renovation last year. Something had changed and we couldn’t figure out how to make both lights work again. We all wore masks and we even provided hand disinfectant for him to use. And now we have two working lights in the corridor again and the useless dimmer switch that somebody installed in probably the 90s has gone so we can actually use both switches! Also, we supported a local tradesman so yay.

I attempted to dye my hair, but as I mentioned in my latest Style Imitating Art post, it didn’t work out as planned.

On Saturday we walked to the zero-waste/refill supermarket close to the train station and bought some bits  – mainly washing powder, shower gel, shampoo, washing up liquid. Not much food since we still have loads of rice and couscous from a previous trip. We took the tram back since the bags were heavy and the first one was totally full. It’s like lockdown/social distancing never happened! The tram we changed onto was fairly empty, but that’s normal. Not as many people come out to where we live.

I took part in the second Believathon and had lots of fun following the map and reading children’s books for two weeks. I finally read The Neverending Story! You’ll have to wait for Show Us Your Books day to find out my thoughts.

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That’s all I’ve got for you. We’re continuing to stay home as much as possible so there isn’t really anything exciting to report. But we’re plodding along and managing not to get on each other’s nerves so far 😉 I hope you’re all doing well and staying happy and healthy!

Don’t forget to go on over the Kristen‘s blog to say hi and check out the link up.

p.s. I’m aware I haven’t addressed everything that’s going on in the world, and particularly the US. I am horrified by the images I see on TV. I have shared things on Twitter and signed various petitions, but beyond that I don’t know what to say. While not racist, I am far from perfect, and I know I have a lot of learning/reading to do. I am also very aware of my own privilege – especially as someone living abroad who has always been accepted without question because I am white and British. Even to the extent of being asked why I wanted to live in a certain part of town in Germany when “that’s where all the foreigners live”. Please don’t think I’m ignorant for continuing to post as normal.

The Make Your Mythtaker readathon

What can I say, another month, another readathon? This month, I took part in Believathon II, and for June I plan to participate in something just as cool.

The Make Your Mythtaker readathon was designed by Ashleigh and Charlotte, the hosts of Myth-Take Reads – an online book club focusing on myth, folklore & fairy tale retellings in fantasy books. I’ve never actually participated in the book club, but I follow Ashleigh’s YouTube channel, A Frolic Through Fiction, and when she announced this readathon I knew I just had to take part. The idea is to pick a type of character you want to be from one of four groups – Warriors, the Royal Court, Rogues and Sorcerers. Within each group are four common characters from fantasy such as a knight, a monarch, a pirate or a faerie. For each character, there are four prompts to choose a book for. Once you’ve read those books in the specified order you will have “made” your myth-taker character. But each character also has a cross-over prompt, so you can for instance start as a jester at court then cross over the the oracle path with your third book and finish your journey by completing the final oracle prompt. Or, if you’re an overachiever like me, you can create a backstory for your character that mashes up three different paths and end up with a plan to read books for all four prompts in all three paths…

… which brings me to…

My Character

Eloria
Image made using https://www.dolldivine.com/historical-witch-creator.php

Eloria Celest Teluma is the daughter of a powerful witch and a minor noble. At the age of five, she had a prophetic dream in which she foretold the death of the queen’s eldest son in a fall from a cliff. She and her mother immediately set out for the castle, but arrived too late to prevent the prince from leaving for his trip. The dream came true, and Eloria thus came to the attention of the royal family, who promptly installed her and her mother in a tower on the castle grounds. Now 21, Eloria spends most of her days making potions for the ladies of court and assisting with births. She has had two more prophetic dreams.

So, my Mythtaker has elements of three different fantasy characters: witch, courtier and oracle. Since Eloria is mainly a witch, that will be primary path and the one I shall be following first. Here are the prompts and my choices:

Read a book featuring an animal: The Bad Luck Lighthouse by Nikki Thorne. This is the Sequel to The Last Chance Hotel and features a talking cat named Nightshade.

Read a book with a foiled cover: A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer. Another sequel, I’ve wanted to read this since I finished A Curse So Dark and Lonely. The writing on the cover is foiled.

Read a book featuring a magic battle: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews. Someone on Twitter told me this features a magic battle so I hope it does!

Read a book featuring occult themes: The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams. Coven.. witches. Occult. This is described as ” Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and I am excited for it!

Next up is courtier, since our Eloria is descended from a family of minor nobles and lives at court.

Read a book with a big cast of characters: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb. Another sequel. The first book had loads of characters so I’m assuming this one does too. It’s also 675 pages, because apparently having a 12 book to-read list isn’t enough for me… I have to have long books in there as well?!

Read a book with one (or more) of the royal colours on the cover – red, purple or gold: The Land of Neverendings by Kate Saunders is mostly purple with some red.

Continue a series: I appear to be continuing several series, but for this prompt specifically I will be reading Everfound by Neal Shusterman and finally finishing the Skinjacker series. This one has 528 pages. Why do I do this to myself?!

Read a host favourite: Each of the hosts picked six favourites and I picked one from Charlotte’s list that I already had on my want-to-read list, The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge.

Finally, I shall be fulfilling the prompts for the oracle path:

Go into a book blind: The River King by Alice Hoffman. I picked this book up from a free public bookcase for no other reason than I’ve heard of the author (but never read anything by her). I know literally nothing about it!

Read a book with a foiled cover: Twister by Juliette Forrest has foiling on its cover (which, by the way, is stunning!).

Read a book about books. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. I’ve had this book for ages and I’m not 100% sure on what it’s about, but there’s a library… and library implies books, yes?

Read a 5-star prediction: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’ve seen this praised a lot and I am hoping it will be a five-star read for me.

And that’s it. Here’s a picture of all my books together. It’s a big stack!

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To find out more information about this readathon and see the prompts for the other characters, watch Ashleigh’s announcement video where she explains things so much better than me! You can also find loads of information on the Myth-Take Reads Twitter profile. And now I’m off to attempt to finish my current read so I can launch straight into #MakeYourMythtaker tomorrow!

What I read in April 2020

Show Us Your Books day was Tuesday, but for some reason I thought it was next Tuesday so I’m late to the party! Oh well, better late than never, right? As in March, I didn’t read particularly much in April. I’m not really sure why. May is already looking much more promising! I read 11 books in April, which is not that little but isn’t many by my usual standards. But you didn’t come here to read my ramblings… let’s talk books!

I’m linking up with Jana and Steph, obviously.

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The Whisper Man by Alex North. Still devastated after the loss of his wife, Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to the sleepy village of Featherbank, looking for a fresh start. But Featherbank has a dark past. Fifteen years ago a twisted serial killer abducted and murdered five young boys. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed “The Whisper Man,” for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night. As Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter’s crimes, reigniting old rumours that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man. And then Jake begins acting strangely. He says he hears whispering outside his window… This was creepy. There’s a little rhyme Jake says and I can just imagine kids freaking themselves out with it! There was a part in the middle that was a bit slow but overall this was a great police procedural/thriller with a hint of the possible supernatural. 4.5 stars.

Girl Friday by Jane Green. A year on from her divorce, Kit Hargrove feels she has got her life back on track. She has the perfect job – working for Robert McClore, the famous novelist – two wonderful children, a good relationship with her ex-husband and time to enjoy yoga with her friends. When her good friend and yoga instructor, Tracy, introduces her to Steve, Kit wonders if he could be the final piece of the jigsaw. But Kit doesn’t know that Tracy is hiding a secret, one that could destroy their friendship, her happiness with Steve, even her new life. I wanted something a bit fluffy after reading two thrillers in row but this was just… too much. Long-lost siblings, conspiracies, neglectful and dramatic mothers. It was a bit like reading the script for a soap opera. I also found the dialogue annoyingly simple. It’s not a terrible book by any means and I did finish it but it was just okay and honestly quite forgettable. Also, this book is supposed to be set in Connecticut didn’t believe for a minute that any of the characters were American! 2.5 stars.

When Mocking Birds Sing by Bill Coffey. Nine-year-old Leah’s invisible friend, who she calls “the Rainbow Man” seems harmless enough at first.  But then she paints a picture she paints for a failed toymaker, and hidden within it are numbers that help him win millions. Suddenly, townspeople are divided between those who see Leah as a prophet and those who are afraid of the danger she represents. Caught in the middle is Leah’s agnostic father, who clashes with a powerful town pastor over Leah’s prophecies and what to do about them. This is labelled as Christian fiction – definitely not my usual sort of read! But it doesn’t feel overly preachy. I found this to be an interesting and well written story. I wanted to know what I’m Earth was happening. I chose to interpret “the Rainbow Man” as neither an imaginary friend nor God but something else – possibly supernatural? Leah in my mind was something like Danny in The Shining. I hated the way most of the characters treated Leah – whatever they thought was or wasn’t happening she’s still just a little girl! I loved her friend Allie though. 4 stars.

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell. Xar is a Wizard boy and Wish is a Warrior princess,in a world where wizards and warriors are mortal enemies. But Xar can’t seem to find his magic and Wish is in possession of a banned Magical Object that she must conceal at all costs. This is the tale of what happens when their two worlds collide. And while the two sides have been fighting could it be that Witches, the most terrifying being to ever walk the Earth, have returned? Wish and Xar are going to have to work together to figure out what’s going on and try to defeat their common enemy. This is a fun book and a quick read. I loved Wish and the sprites and Caliburn but honestly wanted to slap Xar. He’s so arrogant and annoying and just Did. Not. Learn. For supposedly being 13 he acted more like a petulant 8 year old. I also found some parts a little simple – something to do with the writing style maybe. I know it’s meant for children but children really don’t need to be talked down to – they understand quite a lot. It’s still an enjoyable adventure but I’ve read far better children#s books. 3.5 stars.

Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott. Stella Grant likes nothing more than to be in control, despite the fact that her out-of-control lungs have had her in and out of hospital for most of her life. what Stella needs to control most is keeping herself away from anyone or anything that might pass along an infection and jeopardize the possibility of a lung transplant. Six feet apart. No exceptions. The only thing Will Newman wants to be in control of is getting out of this hospital. He couldn’t care less about his treatments, or a fancy new clinical drug trial. Soon, he’ll turn eighteen and then he’ll be able to unplug all these machines and actually go see the world, not just its hospitals. Will’s exactly what Stella needs to stay away from. If he so much as breathes on Stella she could lose her spot on the transplant list. Either one of them could die. The only way to stay alive is to stay apart. But suddenly six feet doesn’t feel like safety. It feels like punishment. Can they find a way to steal back a tiny bit of what cystic fibrosis has stolen from both of them? Just one little foot can’t hurt that much, right? I listened to the audiobook of this on Scribd and quite enjoyed it. I did find some parts of it unrealistic though – Stella went from thinking Will is arrogant and wanting nothing to do with him to being head over heels in love with him within a matter of maybe three weeks! I’m also not sure they’d be able to run around the hospital all the time however sneaky they thought they were being. But I did mostly enjoy it and it made me cry a couple of times so I gave it 4 stars.

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. This is the sequel to Seraphina so I don’t want to say too much about it. Following on from the events of the previous book, war has broken out between the dragons and humans. Now Seraphina must travel the lands to find those like herself (if you’ve read the first one you’ll know what that means). As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another of her own kind, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. With the fate of Goredd and the other human countries hanging in the balance, now she has to make a choice. I didn’t get into this book as quickly as I thought I would. I don’t remember Seraphina being quite so whiny and self-absorbed in the first book (I loved it in this one when Abdo told her not everything is about her!). The result was that it took me a week to read. But I ended up really enjoying it. The world building is spectacular! 4 stars, despite the slow start.

Once by Morris Gleitzman. Felix, a Jewish boy in Poland in 1942, is hiding from the Nazis in a Catholic orphanage. The only thing is, he thinks he’s there because his parents are travelling the world trying to get books for their bookselling business. When Fekix discovers that the Nazis are burning books, he runs away, intent on saving the bookshop – and his parents. Along the way he rescues a girl from a burning building, makes a Nazi with toothache laugh, and refuses to ever give up hope. This book is not enjoyable. Enjoyable is the wrong word. It’s compelling and sad, even horrifying. But strangely uplifting as well. It’s also an extremely fast read (for an adult). I want to continue the series and find out what happens to Felix and Zelda. 5 stars.

The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts by Annie Darling. Ever since her parents were killed, Posy Morland has spent her life lost in the pages of her favourite romantic novels in a crumbling London bookshop. But when Bookend’s eccentric owner, Lavinia, dies and leaves the shop to Posy, she must put down her books and join the real world. Because Posy hasn’t just inherited an ailing business, but also the unwelcome attentions of Lavinia’s grandson, Sebastian, AKA The Rudest Man In London™. Posy has a deadline of six months to get the bookshop back on its feet, and for once she’s pulled her head down out of the clouds and come up with a plan – if only Sebastian would leave her alone to get on with putting it in to practice. As Posy and her friends fight to save their beloved bookshop, Posy’s drawn into a battle of wills with Sebastian, about whom she’s started to have some rather feverish fantasies… I was in the mood got something heartwarming and fluffy and this book certainly delivered. It’s so cute and fun. Obviously it’s predictable – it’s a romance so as soon as a man is described as “annoying and rude” you know the girl is going to end up with him. I really enjoyed their interactions though and it’s set in a bookshop so obviously I was going to love it! It’s definitely not high literature and if I wanted to I could pick many holes in it, but I’m not going to. It was exactly what I needed at the time, and I gave it 5 stars based on sheer enjoyment.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. It is July 1962 and Edward and Florence, young innocents, are spending wedding night at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come – and unbeknownst to them both, the decisions they make this night will resonate throughout their lives. I liked this book. I found it intriguing and, in parts, awkward and disturbing. The cover describes it as “Wonderful, exquisite… devastating” but I wasn’t devastated  – more frustrated at the total inability to communicate and Edward’s seeming callousness. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting little read. 4 stars.

Odd Child Out by Gillian McMillan. Best friends Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad have been inseparable since the day they met.  But when Noah is found floating unconscious in Bristol’s Feeder Canal, Abdi can’t – or won’t – tell anyone what happened. Just back from a mandatory leave following his last case, Detective Jim Clemo is now assigned to look into this unfortunate accident.  But tragedy strikes and what looked like the simple case of a prank gone wrong soon ignites into a public battle.  Noah is British. Abdi is a Somali refugee.  And social tensions have been rising rapidly in Bristol. Against this background of fear and fury, two families fight for their sons and for the truth. This is a kind of thriller, but you shouldn’t go into it expecting a traditional, fast-paced thriller. Nonetheless, I was hooked from the first page. It’s a story about friendship and being different, and partly also about prejudice. I felt so bad for Abdi. I wasn’t expecting the ending. I hadn’t realised this was book two in a series, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment. 4 stars.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop also offers its customers a unique experience – the chance to travel back in time. There are several catches though – customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold. In this book, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know. I’m torn on this one. I really liked the individual stories of the time travellers, but found I was left wanting more. Why can you go back in time if you sit on “the” chair? What was all the emphasis on how cool the café stayed even in winter all about? It felt like there were hints dropped throughout that there was going to be more to the overall framing story but the book never actually delivered on that – it was more like a series of vaguely connected short stories. I did genuinely enjoy reading the book though. It’s weird and wonderful and I would have been perfectly happy to read another story. And another. 4 stars.

OK, that’s all I’ve got for you today.

TL;DR: If you enjoy thrillers I recommend The Whisper Man. Those who like Children’s books should definitely read Once. Odd Child Out is a great book but be prepared for something slower than your usual thriller. And Five Feet Apart is good if you like YA and are willing to suspend you belief. Read the others if you think they sound like your kind of thing. Except Girl Friday. I do not recommend that one!

And now get thee to the link up for more book reviews.

Believathon II: Journey to the Stronghold

I’ve been looking forward to this readathon for ages,and now I’ve finally finished deciding what I’m  (potentially) going to read.

This readathon takes the form of a “choose-your-own-adventure” story based on a map… this one here:

Believathon II Map

You can find the map in the amazing compendium, which you can download for free here or even buy in book form from Amazon. The compendium features the quest that we’ll be going on as well as recommendations from various bloggers and book-lovers for each of the categories.

This is a two-week readathon that is taking place from 11-24 May and is hosted by Gavin from the YouTube channel How to Train Your Gavin. You can find the Believathon Twitter here.

To allow me to actually follow the choose your own adventure aspect I’ve decided to pick a book for every location then decide spontaneously where to go next after completing each prompt.

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Our journey begins at the Poacher’s Pocket Inn where the prompt is to read the first book in a series. In the tale, you also receive a magic lamp that gives you the chance to skip a location or even go directly to the end so you could potentially read two books for this readathon. Anyway… my choice for this prompt: The Shadows by Jacqueline West, which is the first in the Books of Elsewhere series.

After that, you have a choice of two locations to continue with, then from there another two, etc. Here are the remaining locations and prompts:

The Yellow Brick Road – Read a book you were supposed to read years ago. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. Somehow this never crossed my path when I was a child! I had planned to read if for my Master’s dissertation (which I wrote on the translation of children’s literature) but I decided it was too long so it’s been sitting on my bookcase ever since. It’s definitely about time I read it! (Confession: I actually have the original German as well since for my dissertation I would have had to read both, but since it’s long I’m cheating and reading the English translation for Believathon.)

Baba Yaga’s House – Read a book featuring a family relationship. In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll is about a girl being sent to stay with her grandmother while her little brother has a heart transplant so I’m assuming her relationship with her grandma comes into it somewhere.

The Wonderfalls – Read a book featuring a disability. The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti. This features a girl who is losing her sight and it comes highly recommended by Gavin himself.

100 Acre Wood – Read a book with yellow on the cover. High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson. There’s not much yellow but it’s definitely there!

High-Rise Mystery

The Deepwoods – Read a book that was published before 2000. Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett combines three books published in 1948, 1950 and 1951. Slightly before 2000!

Mermaids’ Lagoon – Read a book featuring a female bond. Tilly and the Book Wanderers by Anna James. Tsam recommended this book for this prompt in the compendium so clearly it must fit.

The Brolly Rail – Read a book featuring transportation or with transportation on the cover. The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. There’s a train on the cover! (And possibly in the book?)

Platform 13

Orion Found – Read a sci-fi book or a book related to space. I’m actually reading the book that inspired the location for this one, Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm. This is also the middle grade monthly book for May.

Black Ice Bridge – Read a book featuring an expedition or adventure. The Pirates Eye by Guy Bass. The second Stitch Head book. In this one our tiny hero sets sail on a big adventure on the high seas!

Finally, we end up at The Book-Keeper’s Stronghold with the prompt to read the next book in a series. I will finally be reading The Battle of Perfect by Helena Duggan, the third and last book in the Perfect series. I can’t wait to see how it ends!

So I will definitely be reading the first and last books on this list, and in between those… We shall see where my quest takes me. I’m really excited for all of these books so I may just end up reading the ones I don’t get to after Believathon is over.

Have I inspired you to take part in Believathon? Let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought!

A couple’s day in lockdown, April 2020

I saw a few people doing “my day in quarantine” on their Instagram stories and I thought it would be fun to do something like that here, but a couple’s version. Also, I don’t call mine “quarantine” because people in quarantine don’t get to leave the house. My uncle was in quarantine for potential exposure because he had been in Tirol and he had to stay in his flat for 14 days and his daughter wasn’t allowed to come home from her mum’s for that entire time. If you can do your own shopping and see family members you’re not in quarantine! Anyway… rant about semantics over. This was Easter Saturday – I’ve just been too lazy to sort out the photos until now.

10 a.m.

Jan: Sleeping. (I took a photo of our bed the night before specifically for this purpose!)

Me: Making a cuppa, because that’s how I always start my day.

11 a.m.

Jan: Still sleeping.

Me: Getting some reading in before Jan emerges and the TV goes on.

12 noon.

Jan: In bed. Where else?

Me: Thought it was about time I actually ate something!

1 p.m.

Jan: No change 😂

Me: Time for a shower.

2 p.m.

Jan: Apparently got up while I was in the shower. No watching TV and eating breakfast.

Me: Reading is out, so now I’m colouring.

3 p.m.

Jan: Watching the news while playing a game on his phone.

Me: Watching the news and continuing to colour.

4 p.m.

Jan: Even when all live sport is cancelled, my boyfriend manages to find football!

Me: Finished my picture.

(Immediately after I took those photos Jan went for a shower and I hoovered the flat, but at photo time the above is what we were doing)

5 p.m.

Both: Our for a walk. Hello ducks!

6 p.m.

Both: Still walking. Said hi to some goats.

At 7 p.m. we were still out, walking towards home, but I forgot to take photos. It wouldn’t have been very interesting anyway since we came back along a busier road.

8 p.m.

Jan: Ordering food for us (and then he went and emptied the dishwasher).

Me: Getting started on my blog post for April’s Show Us Your Books.

9 p.m.

Both: Food came – and we also ordered some Italian soft drink things (that is actually not Coke!)

10 p.m.

Both: Watching Indiana Jones, apparently?! I had never seen it before. It was terrible! (He made me watch the next film the following night. It was even more terrible!)

I stopped taking photos after that. I took my book to bed and read until it was finished. Jan stayed up watching TV until I don’t know when.

And that is a snapshot of how each of us coped on one specific day in lockdown (or semi-lockdown really, since we’re still allowed out to buy food and go for long walks).

I also have an “official” photo an hour post still to come. That one will just be what I was doing. This couple’s was just something I thought would be fun.

I hope everyone is doing okay out there. Keep staying home. It will be worth it in the end!

What I read in March 2020

Hello friends! It’s book day again. I only have one post for you this month because I read way fewer books in March then in January or February. Ironic considering I had an entire week off work when I couldn’t actually leave the house so would theoretically have had lots of time to read. But I actually spent most of that week making Easter cards to send out to Post Pals children so I didn’t read as much as I would have liked. I did manage 12 books though, so let’s get into them.

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The Wise and the Wicked by Rebecca Podos. The women in Ruby Chernyavsky’s family,once had great magical abilities to remake lives and stave off death itself, until they were forced to flee their Russian home for America in order to escape the fearful men who sought to destroy them. Now all that remains of their former power is one thing: when each woman comes of age, she will have a vision of who she will be when she dies – a destiny as inescapable as it is inevitable. Ruby is no exception, and neither is her mother, although she ran from her fate years ago, abandoning Ruby and her sisters. It’s a fool’s errand, because they all know the truth: there is no escaping one’s Time -or so they think. Then Ruby’s great-aunt Polina passes away, and, for the first time, a Chernyavsky’s death does not match her vision. Suddenly, things Ruby never thought she’d be allowed to hope for—life, love, time—seem possible. But as she and her cousin Cece begin to dig into the family’s history to find out whether they, too, can change their fates, they learn that nothing comes without a cost. Especially not hope. I enjoyed the beginning of this book, then the middle kind of lost my attention and I was honestly bored. Towards the end it started to pick up again and I was racing through it, then it was just kind of over and nothing was resolved. An open ending is one thing but this just felt unfinished. So 2.5 stars, an absolutely middle of the road rating

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She’s charming and accommodating and prides herself on being loved by everyone at Bexley & Gamin. Everyone except for coldly efficient, impeccably attired, physically intimidating Joshua Templeman. And the feeling is mutual. Trapped in a shared office together 40 (okay, 50 or 60) hours a week, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, ridiculous never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game. The Mirror Game. The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything – especially when the chance of a huge promotion comes up. If Lucy wins this game, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she suddenly having steamy dreams about Joshua, and dressing for work like she’s got a hot date? After a perfectly innocent elevator ride ends with an earth-shattering kiss, Lucy starts to wonder whether she’s got Joshua Templeman all wrong. Maybe Lucy doesn’t hate Joshua after all. And maybe the feeling is mutual. Or is this all just yet another game? I really enjoyed this book. It’s so fun. I stayed up too late to finish it and I regret nothing. There are a fair few clichés and Lucy is Just. So. Dramatic. about everything, but I enjoyed the ride. 4 stars.

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox. When Katherine Bateson’s father goes off to join the war, and her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, she tries her best to remember her father’s words: Keep calm and carry on. But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear? Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harbouring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbours – and who Lady Eleanor really is – before it’s too late. This is a a creepy book and I found the magic really interesting. Some of the characters were a bit inconsistent – Kat’s little sister Amelie in particular acted like a 5 year old half the time but then had moments of seeming not much younger than Kat. Having two storylines at the same time felt like a bit much at times some parts felt rushed and not properly explained. It was a quick read and I would probably have loved it as a child and not notice the parts that were lacking, but reading it now I gave it 3 stars.

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson. On the eve of his college graduation, Harry is called home by his step-mother Alice, to their house on the Maine coast, following the unexpected death of his father in what the police believe to be suicide. Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way. Who really is his father’s much younger second wife and what does her past have to do with Harry’s present? This book is fast-paced and unsettling but ultimately predictable. There’s a lot of taboo sex and some characters who seem to be not so much evil as just entirely lacking normal human emotions but beyond all that not much of an underlying plot. I didn’t even particularly care about the main character who was supposed to be the good guy! However, the writing was good and I did kind of enjoy the ride. It’s just not a particularly great book in my opinion. 3 stars.

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison.  Betty Widdershins’ greatest ambition is to leave Crowstone, the gloomy island where she’s always lived and find adventure out in the wide world. But instead of an adventure, Betty and her sisters, Fliss and Charlie, are given of a set of magical objects, each with its own powers: a scruffy carpet bag, a set of wooden nesting dolls, and a gilt-framed mirror. And these magical objects come with their own terrible secret: the sisters’ family is haunted by a generations-long curse that prevents them from ever leaving their island—at the cost of death. The sisters are determined to break the curse and free their family. But after stumbling upon a mysterious prisoner who claims to be able to help them, they find themselves in great danger. And in order to break the curse – and stay alive – they must unravel a mystery that goes back centuries. A magical and atmospheric book with a fantastic sibling relationship at its core. I loved Betty, the main character, but I think my favourite sister is actually Charlie, the youngest. Fliss sadly felt less developed than the other two and came across as being boy crazy and not much else, which let the book down for me. But overall I really enjoyed it. 4 stars.

Born a Crime: Stores from a South-African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was illegal, and punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle. My friend bought me this book to aid with my goal to read more non-fiction. It’s an absolutely fascinating insight into a world that I know nothing about. I had no idea who Trevor Noah even was before reading this but it doesn’t even matter. I was drawn in to his story from the very first line and I cried at the end. Even if you don’t normally read non-fiction I highly recommend this book. 5 stars.

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman, Fitz grows up a lonely outcast. Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as With brings him solace and companionship. Until the day King Shrewd is reminded of Fitz’s existence and adopts him into the royal family. Now he must give up his old ways and learn a new life: weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly. Meanwhile, raiders ravage the coasts, leaving the people Forged and soulless. As Fitz grows towards manhood, he will have to face his first terrifying mission, a task that poses as much a risk to himself as it does to his target: Fitz is a threat to the throne… but he may also be the key to the future of the kingdom. This is a pretty slow book. There’s very little action for being literally about the training of an assassin! It also took ages to finally explain what the magic known as “Skill” is supposed to be and I was so confused! But the writing is really good and I loved the characters. Especially the Fool. I hope there’s more of him in the next book because I’m so intrigued to find out what’s going on with him. He’s such a mystery and seems to know so much. 4 stars.

The Radleys by Matt Haig. Just about everyone knows a family like the Radleys. Many of us grew up next door to one. They are a modern family, averagely content, averagely dysfunctional, living in a staid and quiet suburban English town. Peter is an overworked doctor whose wife, Helen, has become increasingly remote and uncommunicative. Rowan, their teenage son, is being bullied at school, and their anaemic daughter, Clara, has recently become a vegan. But as their children have yet to find out, the Radleys have a devastating secret. When Clara is attacked one night and finds herself driven to commit a bloodthirsty act, her parents are forced to explain a few things. This book was fine. I can’t really point to anything specific that was wrong with it. But when I put it down I wasn’t excited to pick it up again – which is a large part of the reason I read so few books in March. I didn’t particularly feel anything for the characters. It’s not a bad book, just not for me I guess. 2.5 stars.

A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison. The sequel to A Pinch of Magic. The family curse has been lifted and the Widdershins sisters: Betty, Fliss and Charlie are finally free to leave the prison island of Crowstone. But when a mysterious girl arrives at the Poacher’s Pocket with a pocketful of hagstones and accompanied by a will-o’-the-wisp, it seems another adventure has landed on their doorstep. And when Charlie goes missing, it’s up to Betty and Fliss to save their little sister. And this begins a journey through misty marches, past wisp catchers and on to a secret island that doesn’t exist on any map. I enjoyed this book even more than the first one. It’s an action-packed adventure full of magic and mystery, pirates and witches. Fliss felt like more of a real person and less of a cliché in this one – but I still like Charlie best. 4.5 stars

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer. It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell in love with him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope. Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world. I saw so many people reading and loving this Beauty and the Beast retelling last year and at the beginning of this year. And for me at least it was worth the hype. I LOVED it! Harper is fantastic – nothing gets in her way. I loved Rhen and Grey as well. I will definitely read the sequel. I would love to see more of Noah – he seems awesome! I have the sequel now and I will be reading it very soon. 5 stars.

This is Now by Ciara Geraghty. It was just an ordinary Monday at an ordinary bank, in an ordinary town. There was no way of knowing what was about to happen. Then a group of masked robbers rushed in. Afterwards …The first thing Martha thinks about is having a drink. There are six reasons why she shouldn’t; she wrote them down over a year ago. Two of the reasons are the same. A name. She didn’t think she’d ever see him again. Roman, a fourteen year old Polish immigrant, is on the run. From the police. From Jimmy and his gang. He understands now, what it means to be caught between a rock and a hard place. Tobias, old and alone, lies in a hospital bed in Dublin where the memories of Dresden are insistent visitors. And for Cillian, the detective investigating the robbery, the past is like a current, pulling him back, reminding him of all he’d had. All he’d lost. Each of the four is running from the moments that brought them here. To a place where the past cannot be undone and the future cannot be known. A place called now. I really liked the characters and the writing style of this book, although it felt like there were maybe a few too many characters and storylines. There were a lot of hard-hitting issues and it felt like some of them were glossed over a bit and not dealt with in enough depth. Particularly Roman’s story seemed to be resolved very simply, it was almost a side-issue that was slotted in alongside what seemed to be the main plot – a will they/won’t they romance. I did enjoy reading the book though. 3.5 stars – no masterpiece but passed the time just fine.

The Scent of Death by Simon Becket. It has been a good summer for forensics expert Dr David Hunter. His relationship is going well and he’s in demand again as a police consultant. His life seems to be on an even keel. Then a call comes from an old associate: a body has been found, and she’d like Hunter to take a look. Empty and abandoned, St Jude’s Hospital has been slowly rotting for years, silently awaiting demolition. The vast, oppressive building’s only visitors have been society’s outcasts, addicts and dealers. And it’s here that the partially mummified corpse has been discovered. Hunter is not sure how long the body has been hidden in the hospital’s cavernous loft, but he’s seen enough to know it’s a young woman. And that she was pregnant. As the remains are removed for closer examination, a floor collapses revealing a previously sealed off part of a ward. Bricked up inside this hidden chamber are three beds. Two of them are occupied. What other grisly secrets will St Jude’s reveal? The local community is alarmed and the police need answers. For David Hunter, what began as a challenging if straightforward case is about to become a twisted nightmare threatening him and those around him. This is book six in a series, but as with most series of this kind, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the previous books. I guessed some of what was happening but not everything. I’m not sure I will go out of my way to pick up the earlier books in the series (I already have a long to-read list!) but if I came across one I would read it. It’s a decent crime/procedural novel. 4 stars.

TL;DR. If you’re into romance – or rom coms – read The Hating Game. And read A Curse So Dark and Lonely if fantasy romance is your thing. Children and fans of middle grade should definitely read the two Michelle Harrison books – A Pinch of Magic and A Sprinkle of Sorcery. I also highly recommend Born A Crime even if you don’t usually read non-fiction. Assassin’s Apprentice is good if you don’t mind slow fantasy with lots of world building and little action, and The Scent of Death is a decent crime novel in the police procedural genre (although the main character is not actually a police officer so there isn’t too much detecting going on). The rest are fine… none are terrible. If they sound interesting to you read them, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend any of them.

That’s it from me. Let me know if you’ve read any of these.

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course. You should go and check out the link up and what everyone else has been reading recently.

A Photo An Hour: 21 March 2020

Hello friends! Saturday was the day of the Photo an Hour linkup and, thanks to social distancing, for once I wasn’t the only one spending the entire day inside 😉

Here’s what I got up to:

10 a.m. Kettle is boiling for the first cuppa of the day.

11 a.m. Tooooast! (Just noticed the state of my toaster. Yikes!)

12 noon. Finally starting this book that everyone has been raving about.

1 p.m. About time I got in the shower.

2 p.m. More tea! Jan is up now so I’m making two.

3 p.m. Can’t concentrate on my book while Jan has crap TV on so I’ve escaped to my craft room (otherwise known as the office). Making Easter cards for Post Pals.

4 p.m. Putting on some laundry.

5 p.m. Getting some reading in while Jan’s in the shower.

6 p.m. Cooking. Soup seemed like a good idea.

7 p.m. Drinking beer, watching the news.

8 p.m. Getting some exercise with a virtual reality game. (Please ignore the mess!)

9 p.m. Back in my PJs.

10 p.m. Watching some YouTube.

11 p.m. Time for bed.

How did you spend your weekend at home? (I hope you were at home – unless you work for a health service, supermarket or similar, in which case THANK YOU!).

Photo an Hour is hosted by Louisa and Jane. The next link-up is on 18th April. Will we be allowed out by then? Only time will tell.

What I read in February 2020: part 2

Hello hello! I promised you the second half of my February reading re-cap today so here it is. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books of course.

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Malice by Keigo Higashino. Best-selling author is found brutally murdered in his home the night before he’s planning on leaving Japan for Canada. His body is found in a locked room in a locked house by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have seemingly rock solid alibis. Police Detective Kyochiro Haga immediately recognises the dead man’s best friend Osamu Nonoguchi as a colleague from years ago when they were both teachers. As Kaga investigates, he discovers that Nonoguchi’s relationship with the deceased was far from being as amiable as he claims. But in this tale of cat and mouse, the question Kaga has to answer isn’t necessarily who or how, but why? This is interesting. I don’t think I’ve read a mystery quite like it before. We find out relatively early on who the culprit was, with the rest of the book being dedicated to why. It ends up being almost a puzzle within a puzzle. The writing style is fairly simple and straightforward, almost irritatingly so at first although once I got into the story it didn’t bother me do much and I can’t say how much of that was down to the translator. 3.5 stars.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. This book is exactly what it says it is – a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Princess Bride by the actor who played Westley. I found it fascinating and loved every page of it. 5 stars.

If There’s No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Lena Wise is always looking forward to tomorrow, especially now her senior year is about to start. She’s looking forward to spending lots of time with her friends and finishing off her college applications. And maybe she’ll even finally tell her best friend Sebastian that she’s been in love with him for years. But then one night she makes a simple mistake that has devastating consequences. Now Lena isn’t looking forward to tomorrow any more. Not when nothing is ever going to be the same again. Not when nobody, including Sebastian will ever be able to forgive her for what happened. For what she let happen. I found this kind of boring and cliché. As soon as I heard the prologue, I knew what the “decision” was going to be (and by the way, I hate it when prologues are literally just an extract from later in the book). The message is important and I loved the character of Sebastian, but Lena really annoyed me. The whole first half of the book is about how she’s “different” because she reads books and the fact that she reads must have been mentioned about 80 times… including descriptions of the book she’s reading (that makes her oh so quirky and different because even if other people do read, they’re reading other things). There were some parts I really enjoyed but ultimately this felt like something that’s been done before and done better. I don’t expect it to stick in my memory for long. I should add that I listened to this on Scribd and the person reading really annoyed me. She made Lena sound like this breathy, annoying teen which surely is the opposite of what was supposed to be implied? Regardless, 2.5 stars.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. Born in a Soweto shack in 1961, Nombeko Mayeki was destined for a short, hard life,. until she was run over by a drunken engineer and her luck changed. Alive, but blamed for the accident, she was made to work for the engineer – who happened to be in charge of a project vital to South Africa’s security. Nombeko was good at cleaning, but brilliant at understanding numbers. The drunken engineer wasn’t good at anything, except drinking, and so he made a mistake. A big one. And Nombeko is the only one who knows. Now she finds herself on the run from the world’s most ruthless secret service – with three Chinese sisters, twins who are officially one person and an elderly potato farmer. Oh, and the fate of the King of Sweden – and the world – rests on her shoulders. I don’t even know what to say about this book. It’s utterly bizarre. I enjoyed roughly the first half, but then it just got more and more ridiculous until I found myself wishing the author would get to the point already. The writing style is strangely reminiscent of a children’s book, which I actually didn’t mind. Three stars because I did like quite a bit of it, but I felt like it went on for far too long. Even when it seemed to be coming to a conclusion the author just had to keep adding more and more random details!

The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald. When Abi receives a phone call in the middle of the night, she knows it can’t be good news. But she isn’t expecting to hear that her teenage daughter has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain dead, she’s also pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. Then Abi sees the bruises around Olivia’s wrist. When the police unexpectedly rule Olivia’s fall an accident, it’s up to Abi to try and find out what happened to her daughter. Was it really an accident? Or something more sinister? enjoyed this book. It’s very suspenseful and full of twists. More mystery/family drama than thriller but that’s okay. It’s marketed as an adult book but honestly it read like YA to me. But again, I’m okay with that. I did not guess what happened although in retrospect I probably should have. If you often guess the outcome of thrillers you may find this one too predictable. 3.5 stars.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she doesn’t mind. She’s happy to go to school and work towards her dream of becoming a teacher one day. A spanner is thrown in the works when Amal’s mother falls ill after giving birth and Amal has to stay home to look after her siblings. But she still finds a way to learn anyway. Until she accidentally annoys the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, and is forced to work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt. Life at the opulent Khan estate ishard  for Amal – especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams. This is a powerful and thought-provoking book. Some of the characters felt a little flat but Amal and her sister are awesome (I loved the part where her sister brought lessons home and wanted to teach Amal so she didn’t have to miss out). Amal is so brave. I think this is an important topic for children to read about but parents or teachers should be ready to discuss it and answer any questions. I wouldn’t just leave them on their own with it. 4 stars.

The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan. When twins Arthur and Rose were little, they were heroes in the Land of Roar – an imaginary world that they found by climbing through the folding bed in their granddad’s attic, filled with dragons and mermaids, ninja wizards and adventure. As well as things that scared them… especially a very creepy scarecrow names Crowky. Now the twins are eleven, Roar is just a memory – especially for Rose who considers herself too old for games. But when they help Grandad clean out the attic, Arthur is horrified as Granddad is pulled into the folding bed and vanishes. Is he playing a joke? Or could Roar actually be real? It’s up to the twins to return to Roar one last time to save their granddad. I flew through this book in two hours so I must have liked it! The world is fantastic – so magical. It reminded me of Narnia crossed with Peter Pan. The pictures are also amazing. Crowky, the evil scarecrow/bird mixture looks genuinely creepy! I would *not* want to bump into him! However, I really did not like Rose. She was supposed to have turned into this horrid girl who just wanted to grow up and worried about what people thought of her, but it didn’t sound like she was a nice person when she still played with Arthur either. It is definitely enjoyable and I do want to read the sequel when it comes put but it’s just a little weaker than some of the excellent children’s books I’ve read over the past few months. 4 stars,

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks it will be an easy way to make some money – show up, answer a few questions and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking… and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly. For some reason I was under the impression that Jess and Dr. Shields knew who each other was from the start and were manipulating each other, but that’s actually not the case at all, so I’m not sure where I got that from. Anyway, the beginning of this was quite slow but from about the halfway mark I was hooked. Parts of it are genuinely creepy and I found myself actually afraid for Jess’s safety. Some parts are unrealistic and I wasn’t sure about the ending, but overall I enjoyed the ride. 3.5 stars.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell. Fifteen-year-old Ellie was her mother’s golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone. Now it’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter. And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet, making her think that maybe she can actually move on – at least until she spends the night at Floyd’s house and meets his nine-year-old-daughter. Poppy is precocious and pretty – and the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age. And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back. What happened to Ellie? Where did she go? This is very suspenseful and full of twists and turns. I guessed some of the twists but there were a few things I wasn’t expecting, and it didn’t matter anyway because the writing alone made me want to keep reading. The ending made me really emotional – poor Ellie (and Poppy too). 4 stars.

Poppy Mayberry, The Monday by Jennie K. Brown. Imagine if your teacher could read your mind just because she was born on a Thursday? Or the kid next to you in class could turn back the clock just because he was a ‘Wednesday’? In the town of Nova, all of this is normal. Poppy Mayberry is a Monday, which means she should be able to move things with her mind… but her Monday telekinesis still has some kinks, and that plate of spaghetti she’s passing may just end up on someone’s head. And if that wasn’t bad enough, practically perfect Ellie Preston is out to get her, and Principal Wible wants to send both of them to summer school – Poppy to work on her powers and Ellie to learn when not to use hers. It’s enough to make a girl want to disappear…if only she were a Friday! This book is so cute and fun! I love the idea of having powers based on the day of the week you were born on (although I was born on a Saturday so I wouldn’t get any powers in Nova. Boo!) I did guess where some of the story was going – there were enough hints throughout! – and it was obvious that Poppy and Ellie would end up being friends, but it was a really enjoyable read. I definitely want to read book 2 and see how things continue to develop. 4 stars.

And that’s it. Ten books here plus ten from part 1 makes 20 books read in February. Not bad for a short month. I also decided to give up on a book I started two years ago (!). Bad Unicorn by Platte F. Clark is a book I started reading with the intention of seeing whether it was something my brother might like, but said brother is 13 now, I put this book down in April 2018 after 120 pages and I have no desire to pick it back up. I felt like it was trying too hard to be quirky and funny and nerdy and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters. So off to the free bookcase it goes.

TL;DR. If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride definitely read As You Wish! Then She Was Gone is really well written but don’t go in expecting a traditional thriller. And I recommend all three middle grades: Amal Unbound, The Land of Roar and Poppy Mayberry, although none was a five star read for me. The rest are mostly fine – read them if you like the sound of them – except If There’s No Tomorrow. I don’t recommend that one.

Tell me what books you’ve been enjoying recently, and don’t forget to check out the link up if you haven’t already.