What I read in January 2021

Hello and happy Show Us Your Books day! I am linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I read in January.

I read 14 books and interestingly 5 of them had people’s names in the title. That was not intentional! Here’s what I thought of them:

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. Chloe Brown is chronically ill and still lives with her family. After almost being hit by a car while out for a walk, she decides she needs to “Get a Life” and comes up with a list of things she feels she “needs” to do, number 1 being get her own place. Other items include riding a motorbike… enter Redford ‘Red’ Morgan, her building’s maintenance guy. There’s just one problem: Chloe and Red hated each other at first sight! Can they get past their initial assumptions and learn to like – or even love – each other? This is sweet and sad and sexy. I really enjoyed it. There were a few strange phrases though – who refers to their nipples as “slutty batteries”? Lol.

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley. Uncle Montague lives alone in a big, creepy house and whenever his nephew comes to visit he tells him the scariest tales he knows. But as the stories unfold, another even more spine-tingling narrative emerges, one that is perhaps the most frightening of all. This was fun to read. The stories are creepy in an old-fashioned, gothic kind of way. Some were better than others. A few ended a bit abruptly and the final, bonus story, was rather underwhelming, but overall it’s enjoyable. I would certainly have been deliciously creeped out and entertained by it as a child – this was exactly the kind of thing young me enjoyed. 3.5 stars

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, a deadly strain of flu sweeps across the world wiping out most of humanity. Kirsten sees Arthur die as a child actor, and fifteen years later she’s part of the Traveling Symphony – a group of actors and musicians that tours the small towns of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Arriving in the town of St. Deborah by the Water, the troupe encounters a young man calling himself “the prophet” who threatens to destroy the life Kirsten has come to love. Moving back and forth in time the book tells the actor’s story from his early days as a film star to his death, and Kirsten’s story in the present, post-apocalyptic world. I thought I would fly through this book but parts of it were really slow. I did enjoy the post-pandemic parts, but I couldn’t have cared less about some actor’s marriages and affairs. I did appreciate how it all tied together in the end. 3 stars.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Michael is a half-Jamaican, half Greek Cypriot boy growing up in London. All his life he knows he’s different, first because he’s mixed race, then because he would rather play with dolls and his female friends than participate in traditionally “male” activities, and because he’s gay. When he gets to university, hethinks he can finally be free but he still feels out of place, until he discovers the drag society and finds his wings as The Black Flamingo. This book is wonderful! I loved Michael and it made me so happy to see him figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Being neither black (/mixed race) nor gay I obviously couldn’t “relate” as such but this book gave me so many insights into how it must feel to be different (I have often felt different/out of place but never because of my race or sexuality.) For some reason I thought this was set in America so it was a nice surprise to find it took place in the UK. 5 stars.

Do Not Disturb by A. R. Torre (Deanna Madden #2). In book 1 we met Deanna Madden, a camgirl who hadn’t left her apartment for 3 years for fear of what she might do. Until she had to leave when she believed one of her clients was responsible for a girl’s abduction. Now Deanna is back in her apartment and back to following the three simple rules she’s set for herself: 1. Don’t leave the apartment. 2. Never let anyone in. 3. Don’t kill anyone. Well, mostly. She does allow herself to leave occasionally with Jeremy, the delivery driver who helped her in the first book and now – dare she say it – her boyfriend. But somebody out there has become obsessed with Deanna’s alter ego, Jessica. If he manages to find her, who knows what might happen. I enjoyed this just as much as the first one! It’s a little repetitive at times – Deanna thinks about killing. Deanna distracts herself with cyber sex. But when the tension picked up I was hooked, even though the “bad guy” is a bit of a cliché. I also loved Deanna’s developing relationship with Jeremy. It’s am looking forward to finding out where things go in book 3. 4 stars.

The Unadoptables by Hanna Tooke. The rules for baby abandonment at Little Tulip Orphanage are simple. The baby should be wrapped in a cotton blanket. The baby should be placed in a wicker basket. The baby should be deposited on the top step. Not once have they been broken, until a few months in 1880 when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack and one in a coffin-shaped basket. Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou. Twelve years later, their cruel matron has dubbed them “the unadoptables”, but they know their individuality is what makes them special. When a sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart, the gang make a daring escape across the frozen canals of Amsterdam. I’m o torn on this book. I loved, loved loved the characters. The story itself is fantastic – the writing, the adventure. But I could not in good conscience give it to a child. Based on the blurb, I thought the evil matron would hate the five children because they were quirky and curious and bright and wonderful (and they are all of those things) when she wanted drab, obedient, conforming orphans. And while it’s true that she hates all orphans, it becomes clear that these particular ones are labelled “unadoptable” because – for want of a better word – they have something “wrong” with them. One is mute, one has extra fingers, one is Asian. And it would be fine if only the matron, who is clearly the bad guy, thought that way, but very close to the beginning a couple come looking for someone to adopt and almost physically recoil when they realise Lotta has six fingers on each hand… and nobody ever explicitly points out how wrong that is. Yes the five orphans are the heroes of the story and yes there is one adult later who is kind about Lotta’s extra fingers, but the subtle message is still there that it’s okay to discriminate against people for being different. As an adult I know it’s wrong, but as a child? I most likely wouldn’t even have noticed (just like it never occurred to me that, in the Narnia books, the only people described as having dark skin are the bad guys!), but subconsciously taken onboard that it was absolutely fine to be racist or ableist or just plain cruel. And as for children who look different themselves, or have a disability, or are clumsy and not traditionally cute… how could reading a book like this NOT make them feel awful? It’s a shame because the story itself really is wonderful and I genuinely enjoyed reading it. *Sigh*
Note: I am aware that it’s historical fiction and that’s exactly how things would have been in those days, but I still feel like there should be something, somewhere that explicitly lets children know that THIS IS NOT OKAY. As an adult I know things weren’t great in the past, I can look past it and simply enjoy the story for what it is, but this is a children’s book and it really should be made clear that just because this kind of thing was common in the 1800s doesn’t make it right!

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying. What to eat, where to go, who to love. But one thing she is sure of is that she wants to spend her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea. Then Lea dies in a car accident, and Rumi is sent away to live with her aunt in Hawaii. Miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, feeling abandoned by her mother, and the aching absence of music. With the help of her aunt’s neighbour, teenage surfer Kai who doesn’t take anything too seriously, and old George Watanabe who succumbed to grief years ago, Rumi seeks her way back to music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish. This is a very emotional book, as you can probably guess from the synopsis. Rumi is a difficult person to like. She’s prickly, sour and prone to childish tantrums. And the way she spoke about her mother is awful – I understand that she’s grieving but even before Lea died, in her flashbacks, she often seemed to be mean to/about her mother, basically accusing her of being neglectful and forcing Rumi to be a substitute mother to her sister. But at the same time I could really relate to Rumi – I have often been guilty of not thinking before I spoke and saying something cynical or sarcastic that came across as mean. And how many times have I wished I was a naturally sweet, cheerful,kind person who everybody loved? Rumi’s love for her sister shines through at all times and I truly felt for her in her grief (even if I wanted to shake her at times), which is a testament to how good the writing is. 4 stars. (Also Rumi is probably asexual and possibly also aromantic – she’s still working things out. I don’t want to comment on how good the rep is since I am neither of those things but it’s something people might want to know is in there.)

Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montogomery (Emily #1). Emily Starr never knew what it was to be lonely–until her beloved father died. Now an orphan, she left in the care of her mother’s relatives at New Moon Farm where she’s sure she won’t be happy. Emily deals with stiff, stern Aunt Elizabeth and her malicious classmates by holding her head high and using her quick wit. Things begin to change when she makes friends, with Teddy, who does marvelous drawings; with Perry, who’s sailed all over the world with his father yet has never been to school; and above all, with Ilse, a tomboy with a blazing temper. Amazingly, Emily finds New Moon beautiful and fascinating. With new friends and adventures, Emily might someday think of herself as Emily of New Moon. There was quite a bit I enjoyed about this book but also a few things I didn’t. It’s definitely darker than Anne of Green Gables – one character’s mother KILLS ANIMALS because she thinks her son is getting too attached to them and she wants him all to herself. Wtf? Dean Priest is creepy and actually so is Mr Kelly (I think that’s his name). Who tells a 12 year old she has “come hither eyes”? I don’t care which century it was! I did really enjoy Emily’s friendships (with people her own age!) and her love of writing – in some ways she reminded me of myself as a child. I actually like Emily better than Anne. She felt more real to me. Other than Anne’s supposed “red-head temper” I always thought she seemed too sweet and perfect. Emily with all her faults is much more human and interesting. My favourite character in this book is cousin Jimmy. I also really liked Great Aunt Nancy – she just didn’t care what people thought of her and it was AWESOME! 3.5 stars

Birthday by Meredith Russo. Eric and Morgan were born on the same day, at the same time, in the same place. They’ve always celebrated their birthday together, but as they grow up they begin to grow apart. Everyone expects Eric to get a football scholarship, but no one knows he’s having second thoughts. Former quarterback Morgan feels utterly alone, as she wrestles with the difficult choice to live as her true self. Both of them are struggling to be the person they know they are. Who better to help than your best friend? I loved this book, but it’s so emotional. It made me cry – more than once. But despite the sadness it’s also heart-warming and I adored the ending. 5 stars.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukaemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate – a life and a role that she has never challenged…until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister – and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves: she hires a lawyer to sue for the rights to her own body. This was a re-read for me. I would have been in my early 20s the last time I read it. This time the ending felt almost emotionally manipulative but it did still make me cry. I’m not sure what the point in the Campbell/Julia side story is (I’d forgotten about that to be honest). I do still think Jodi Picoult is a good writer though. So I’m downgrading my former 5 star rating to 4.

The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig. Meet Ginny. She is 14, autistic, and after years in foster care, Ginny is in her fourth forever family, finally with parents who will love her. Everyone tells her that she should feel happy, but she has never stopped crafting her Big Secret Plan of Escape. Because Ginny has a secret – something happened, a long time ago, something that only Ginny knows, and nothing will stop her going back to put it right… I don’t want to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter is not enjoyable! Poor Ginny has been through so much and she deserves the world. I don’t know how authentic Ginny’s autism was (this is not own voices but the author does have an adopted autistic daughter) but she felt like a real person to me. Most of the adults in this book are despicable though! Well, Brian I guess is at least kind of trying. Obviously the birth mom is supposed to be an unfit parent but the adoptive mom (“Forever Mom” in Ginny’s words) made me so mad. You don’t get to get rid of your adopted daughter because you have your own baby now! She wouldn’t even give poor Ginny a chance. Also I guessed Ginny’s “secret” almost immediately so how NOBODY figured it out – including the therapist she had been seeing for about 5 years is beyond me! 4 stars.

The Winter House by Nicci Gerrard. When Marnie receives a phone call that summons her to the side of a once-beloved friend who is dying, she is wrenched from her orderly London life and sent back into a past from which she has fled but never escaped. Ralph, Marnie and Oliver once knew each other well, and now they meet again in Ralph’s secluded cottage in the Scottish highlands, to spend the precious days that Ralph has left with each other. As they reminisce, Marnie is taken back to the summer years ago when everything changed between them and heartbreak and desire broke up their little group. Will Ralph finally say what needs to be said before it’s too late? I had read this before but I didn’t remember much of it.
The best word I can think of to describe this book is “melancholy”. And not just because somebody is dying. Marnie takes us back through her memories, telling Ralph the story of their lives together, but there always seems to be an undercurrent of sadness even in the supposedly happy times. And I did not like Ralph! While he was obviously troubled and fragile, and honestly could probably have done with some therapy, he came across as really selfish. I wondered how Marnie’s life would have turned out if she hadn’t spent most of her teens trying to protect Ralph and his feelings. Lucy also deserved better (and thankfully seemed to have got it – I think she was the only character in the book who did manage to escape the teen drama!). The ending at least seems hopeful and the writing is beautiful. 3 stars.

Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely. Blanche White is a feisty, middle-aged African-American housekeeper recently returned to South Carolina from NYC. When she is called into court for a bounced check after a client fails to pay, she goes on the lam, hiding out as a maid for a wealthy family at their summer home. Although distracted thinking about how to deal with her own problems, Blanche gradually realises that her employers are acting strangely, even for white people. And when there’s a murder that Blanche fears she could be blamed for, she’s forced to use all her savvy, sharp wit and her old-girl network of domestic workers to discover the truth and save her own skin. wasn’t what I expected. It’s pretty slow until almost the end (the murder that the synopsis refers doesn’t even happen until over halfway through!). I was expecting a bit of actual detecting, but all Blanche seemed to do was gossip with her friend (which did lead to some answers but Blanche herself wasn’t involved and we didn’t see any of the information gathering process), worry about her sister’s kids (who she is guardian for) and then finally sit down and properly listen to someone at the very end, which led to her solving the “mystery”. I really liked Blanche but the story itself was too repetitive and honestly a bit boring. 2.5 stars.

Gargantis by Thomas Taylor (Eerie on Sea #2). There’s a storm brewing over Eerie-on-Sea, and the fisherfolk say a monster is the cause. Someone has woken the ancient Gargantis, who sleeps in the watery caves beneath this spooky seaside town where legends have a habit of coming to life. It seems the Gargantis is looking for something: a treasure stolen from her underwater lair. And it just might be in the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, in the care of one Herbert Lemon, Lost-and-Founder. With the help of the daring Violet Parma, ever-reliable Herbie will do his best to figure out what the Gargantis wants and who stole her treasure in the first place. In a town full of suspicious, secretive characters, it could be anyone! This was another fun adventure. It’s very atmospheric and you get a real sense of danger. I was truly worried for Herbie at some points. I really enjoyed Herbie and Violet’s friendship and it was nice to find out something of where Herbie came from and what happened to his parents, although I definitely have more questions. It doesn’t quite have the spark that would make it 5 stars, but it’s a solid 4-star read. I highly recommend this series.

And here’s something new I’ve decided to do this year… I’m keeping track of how many books I read by BAME/BIPOC authors. This month it was 4 – not good enough.

TL;DR. I highly recommend The Black Flamingo and Birthday, recommend Get a Life, Chloe Brown and the Deanna Madden books (in both cases only if you don’t mind explicit sex scenes). I also really enjoyed The Original Ginny Moon and Summer Bird Blue. The Eerie on Sea series is excellent for children (and adults) who like an adventure. I really enjoyed The Unadoptables but I’m not sure I would let a child read it without adult guidance and I recommend that you look into it yourself before giving it to the children in your life.

What have you been reading lately? Don’t forget to check out the link up for more reviews!

The book review of 2020

This is my fifth year doing this – how time flies! I got it from Kezzie. The original, with slightly different/more categories was from The Perpetual Page Turner – the link is to this year’s version. I am also linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books yearly favourites.

Best book you read in 2020:

As always, this is a really difficult question to answer. I read a lot of good books this year. But I think it has to be The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. The first half is wonderful and magical and I so wanted to visit Papa Jack’s Emporium myself and play with the toys and meet Sirius, the patchwork dog. Then the second half came along and absolutely devastated me. I read this in February and I am still mad at one particular character!

Best children’s fiction:

I have read a lot of really good children’s fiction this year and it’s impossible to choose just one, so have two: A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison (this is the sequel to A Pinch of Magic, which I also read in 2020, but I liked the second book better) and Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby.

Best crime fiction:

The Whisper Man by Alex North. There was a bit in the middle that was a little slow, but it was very creepy and overall a good crime/police procedural novel.

I also want to mention Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone here, although it’s not really crime as such but more thriller/suspense. It is an excellent book though and deserves to be mentioned somewhere.

Best classic:

I wasn’t sure whether I had even read a classic this year, but I went through all my books and found two that I think count – at least as modern classics maybe? Of those, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was my favourite.

Best non-fiction:

It will surprise absolutely nobody to learn that I read a grand total of two non-fiction books this year. I absolutely loved both, but I’m going to go with Born a Crime by Noah Trevor.

Best dystopian fiction:

I didn’t read much dystopian fiction this year… I think real life was dystopian enough! I think Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle counts though – although it’s more apocalyptic. I can only think of one other dystopian book I read and I didn’t love it, so yeah.

Best YA:

This is hard, but I’m going to say With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo.

Most surprising (in a good way) book read in 2020:

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm. I don’t usually read a lot of space books and I wasn’t sure what to expect from a children’s book set in space, but this ended up being one of my favourite books of the year.

Book You Read In 2020 That You Recommended Most To Others:

Umm… the only book I can remember recommending constantly in 2020 is Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend and I didn’t read that this year. I did read the third book in the series, Hollowpox, in November though so maybe I can count that instead?

Best series you discovered in 2020:

There are two series I could choose for this, so I’m going to use one here and the other for the next question. So, the Pages and Co series by Anna James. I read books 1 and 2 this year and gave both 5 stars.

Favourite new to you author you discovered in 2020:

I have enjoyed books by a few new to me authors in 2020, but for this question I like to use an author I’ve read at least two books by. So Holly Jackson. I have read both of her books and loved them both.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love But Didn’t:

This isn’t a book but a series, although I was also disappointed with the first book in its own right. The Truly Devious trilogy. The first book made me mad with the way it ended on a cliff hanger, the second book was actually pretty good, and most of the third book could easily have been condensed into the second book plus the reveal of who was responsible for the present-day deaths and why was underwhelming. There is actually a fourth book now, but it follows a different mystery and I won’t be reading it – unless someone gives it to me or I find it somewhere for free. But I won’t go out of my way to read it.

Best Book That Was Out Of Your Comfort Zone Or Was A New Genre To You

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. A political thriller – not my usual genre at all – it ended up being a three-star read, which is better than I expected. I would never have picked it up if it wasn’t part of the BBC Big Read!

Book You Read In 2020 That You’re Most Likely To Read Again In 2021:

As I say every year, it is highly unlikely that I will re-read a book again so soon. I will hopefully read Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilanwith my kid(s) someday.

Favourite Book You Read in 2020 by an Author You’ve Read Previously:

I feel like I’m choosing too many children’s books, but I think I have to go for Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winter.

Best Book You Read In 2020 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

Umm, I picked up Potkin & Stubbs by Sophie Green because it was the Middle Grade Monthly book club pick for September. I had been meaning to read it anyway, but only because of Jade who is a) one of the hosts of said book club and b) the only reason I had even heard of the book in the first place!

Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2020:

I love the cover of All the Things We Didn’t Say by Sara Shepard! Sadly the book itself was disappointing.

Book That Had The Greatest Impact On You In 2020:

This Lovely City by Louise Hare. The way the Windrush immigrants were treated – after being invited to come and work in Britain – was awful and this book will stick with me for a long time.

Book You Can’t BELIEVE You Waited Until 2020 To Read:

The Shining by Stephen King. It actually came on holiday with me twice – the first time we left the suitcase on the train and the second time I found no time at all to read. But I finally read it this year and it was excellent.

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. The ending was most definitely a “wait… what?!” moment that had my dying to read the sequel and get some answers. Although I have since bought the sequel and not yet read it.

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2020 (be it romantic, friendship, etc):

Ash and Lunah’s relationship in Escape from Aurora (Frostheart book 2). Actually, I love Ash’s relationship with the entire Frostheart crew and with Tobu as well, but he and Lunah are just the best team.

Most Memorable Character In A Book You Read In 2020:

Would it be weird to say the house in The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson? It really did feel like a character in its own right!

Genre You Read The Most From in 2020:

I actually kept a tally this year and my most-read genre was fantasy – primarily because of all the children’s fantasy books I read.

Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2020:

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski. It kind of reminded me of the Faraway Tree books, except the various worlds were inside suitcases instead of at the top of a tree. I really enjoyed reading about the different places and wondering what odd feature the next one would have.

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2020:

In the Skin of a Monster by Kathyrn Barker. It’s a slightly bizarre and confusing book that not everyone would enjoy but I loved it and, yes, it made me cry.

Book You Read in 2020 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out:

I’ve never seen anyone else talk about Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan. It’s a story about friendship and being different, and partly also about prejudice (against immigrants, in particular) and I really think more people should read it.

Total books finished in 2020 (so far): 184 (but I am hoping to finish my current read – Heartbreaker by Tania Carver – and make it 185).

Now some statistics: The longest book I read in 2020 was Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb at 757 pages and the shortest book I read was Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke with 82 pages.
The first book I read in 2020 was Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, and as of right now, the last book I finished was Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt.
Finally, inspired by a post Alexandra made on Instagram earlier this year: I read a shameful 29 books by BIPOC/BAME (pick your acronym) authors in 2020. Next year I plan to keep track throughout the year and do my best to read a lot more.

Now go check out the link up and discover everyone’s favourite books of 2020.

What I read in November 2020

Wow, it’s the final normal Show Us Your Books link-up of the year! (There will be a special one later in the month as usual for people to share their favourite books of 2020, but this is the last one that’s just a “what I’ve been reading lately”). I’m pleased to say I’m ending things on a high note – so many good books this month! I was taking part in Believathon, which is a readathon for children’s books, so most of these are middle grade. Apart from that I read one young adult book, one adult crime novel in German and an adult contemporary, maybe romance but not really, novel. If that doesn’t sound like your thing please feel free to come back next time – I won’t be offended. And now I need to get on with the books because I have a lot to get through!

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens (Murder Most Unladylike #5). Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge, where Daisy’s brother is studying. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms – but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College. Two days before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. At least, it appears to be an accident – until the Detective Society look a little closer, and realise a murder has taken place. Faced with several irritating grown-ups and fierce competition from a rival agency, they must use all their cunning and courage to find the killer (in time for Christmas Day, of course). After being slightly disappointed with the previous book I was pleased to find that I absolutely LOVED this one. No more silly school girl squabbles distracting from everything that makes this series great. I feel like Hazel is really growing into herself and coming out of Daisy’s shadow. This was a really Christmassy read as well (despite the murder) – I could almost taste the mince pies! I can’t wait to see what the next book brings. 5 stars.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Ten-year-old Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home, and Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, boarding a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. This is a quick but powerful and thought-provoking read that’s partially based on the author’s own history. I feel like the verse format made it less detailed than I would have liked but I did enjoy it. 4 stars.

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies #2). When children start to go missing in her home town, suspicion falls on Corinne LaMer (for reasons you will know if you read the first book). To clear her name and save the children, Corinne goes deep into the ocean to find Mama D’Leau, the dangerous jumbie who rules the sea. But Mama D’Leau’s help comes with a price. Corinne and her friends Dru, Bouki, and Malik must travel with mermaids across the ocean to the shores of Ghana to fetch a powerful object for Mama D’Leau. The only thing more perilous than Corinne’s adventures across the sea is the foe that waits for her back home. This is an excellent follow up to the first book. There is definitely more action in this one! I loved the mermaids and it was nice to see some side characters developed a bit more. A couple of times I felt like it was going on for too long – there had already been a whole adventure, they weren’t even home yet and the main problem remained unresolved. But overall I really enjoyed it. I listened to this as an audiobook, which was great because there are songs in it and the narrator sang them. 4 stars.

The Haunting of Peligan City (Potkin and Stubbs #2). Apparently November was the month of continuing series! Three months have passed since Lil and Nedly – Potkin and Stubbs – solved their first case. And now, once again, odd things are happening in peligan City. Strange things are afoot at the doll hospital. But investigation turns up no more than an odd new owner. More important is the mysterious epidemic of deaths at the notorious Fellgate Prison. And when the Klaxon breaks the news that City Hall is hushing up that ghosts are real and are terrorising the city, mass hysteria reigns in Peligan City. Will Lil and Nedly – with the help of private investigator Abe McNair – get to the bottom of the case before any more trouble happens – and will they be the first to the scoop? This is very creepy and atmosphereic with an intriguing mystery. The villains are genuinely scary! I think everyone but Lil probably knew what was going on with her mum but another twist was slightly unexpected. Lil was less annoying in this one – it’s hilarious how seriously she takes herself – and I adored Margaret the dog, especially at the end. I do love that there are actual adults involved in this series when things start to get dangerous, but Lil and Nedly still work out a lot on their own. I’m looking forward to reading the third – and final – book. Not quite 5 stars, but definitely a 4.5.

The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes. Aveline Jones is not looking forward to spending half term with her aunt while her mother visits her grandmother in hospital.But things suddenly get much more exciting when the avid reader of ghost stories discovers a spooky old book. Not only are the stories spine-tingling, but it once belonged to Primrose Penberthy, a young girl who vanished mysteriously, never to be seen again. Intrigued, Aveline decides to investigate Primrose’s disappearance. But now someone… or something, is stirring. And it is looking for Aveline. Another one with a truly spooky atmosphere. I love the writing – so evocative! The small seaside resort in the off-season vibe is spot on. I loved that the adults didn’t dismiss Aveline or treat her like an idiot. I just wish it had been a bit longer with more time for the search for the missing girl. The ghost in this is genuinely scary! I didn’t realise it was the first in a series – I will definitely be reading the sequel. 4 stars

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson (Truly Devious #3). The first book on this list that isn’t middle grade – this one is young adult. I actually don’t know what to say about this one without spoiling the first two. Stevie has discovered the identity of Truly Devious. She’s actually done it – solved the case of the century. Or at least she thinks she has. Then another accident occurs at the school as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm – and a murderer. Okay, first of all there wasn’t as much action in these books as the previous ones. Honestly I think the plot could have been wrapped up just as easily in the book 2, but obviously the author wanted to be able to sell an extra book. There is a twist at the beginning that I didn’t see coming. Since we already found out the solution to the original murder in the second book this one was mainly about where Alice ended up and who was responsible for the deaths in the present, and the answer to that second part was underwhelming to be honest. I don’t regret finishing the trilogy but I have no interest in Stevie’s next mystery. Overall I found this trilogy disappointing. 3 stars for this installment.

Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales (Pages & Co. #2). Back to the children’s books! In the first in this series, Tilly and her friend Oskar discovered they could bookwander – actually go inside books and meet the characters – and also solved the mystery of Tilly’s mother’s disappearance when she was just a baby. extreme group of Librarians have taken over the British Underlibrary and they want to restrict bookwandering. Tilly and Oskar believe that The Archivists are the key to restoring balance – but nobody has seen them for thousands of years, and most people think they never really existed anyway. Is a journey to the French Underlibrary and a peculiar book of fairytales, the key to discovering their whereabouts? But wandering into fairytales is dangerous and unpredictable, and the characters aren’t as they seem. Soon, Tilly and Oskar realise that villains don’t just live inside the pages of books. Sometimes, you don’t get to live happily ever after… I enjoyed this book even more than the first one, and I LOVED the first one. Tilly and Oskar make such a great team. Tilly was a little naive and made some silly decisions but I feel like that just made it more realistic – she is a child after all. It was really interesting finding out more about the history of bookwandering and Tilly’s grandparents. I would have loved to continue reading immediately if only I had the third book. 5 stars.

Escape from Aurora by Jamie Littler (Frostheart #2). In the first book, Ash discovered that he was a Songweaver – someone who can do a kind of magic through song. This resulted in him being driven out of the only home he had ever known by the villagers who were terrified of Songweavers. Ash and his Yeti guardian, Tobu, ended up boarding The Frostheart, hoping to find out what had happened to Ash’s parents. Now Ash and the rest of the Frostheart’s brave crew have finally arrived at the majestic stronghold of Aurora – and Ash’s mind is blown. It’s an extraordinary place – unlike anything he’s ever seen – and he can’t wait to solve the next clue that will lead him to his parents. But it’s quickly clear that even Aurora isn’t safe for Song Weavers. A fanatical Pathfinder captain has turned the city against Ash and his kind – and it’s not long before the Frostheart has to make another break for freedom. But when a vicious Wraith attack leaves Ash, and his friends stranded on the ice, they will have to use all their strength and cunning to reach safety. But what they find is even more incredible. I read this book almost in one go (with a break to make food) over the course of about 4 hours because I genuinely could not put it down. It was SO good! It took me on a journey that left me absolutely reeling. I love what we’re learning about the world now and how it was in the old days. And the revelation at the end made me wanting more, RIGHT NOW! Sadly book 3 isn’t even out yet. Aaah, I cannot believe I have to wait! 5 stars.

The Missing Diamonds (Agent Zaiba Investigates #1) by Annabelle Sami. Eleven-year-old Zaiba is obsessed with crime. Her Aunt Fouzia runs a detective agency back in Karachi and has turned Zaiba on to the brilliant Eden Lockett Mysteries. She has every book in the series – and the quilt cover, and the phone case. All she needs now is a crime to solve and she may get her chance sooner than she thinks. At her cousin’s Mehndi party, Zaiba gets her first challenge: to discover the identity of the VIP staying at the same hotel. With the help of her best friend Poppy and brother Ali, Zaiba puts her sleuthing skills to the test. And when the celebrity’s precious dog disappears, along with its priceless diamond collar, it’s up to the trio to save the day! This is a cute, fun mystery. A Secret Seven/Famous Five/Nancy Drew for the modern generation. I love Zaiba, Poppy and Ali. I especially like that Ali is treated as a proper character in his own right and not just the annoying little brother tagging along. It was easy to solve the mystery as you were following along – the clues were all there – and I’m sure kids will feel a real sense of accomplishment if they manage to work it out before the reveal. I also really enjoyed how Zaiba’s aunt takes the three investigators seriously and doesn’t treat them like stupid kids, and I appreciate the step-mum who is actually nice. It’s also great that British-Pakistani children will get to see themselves represented in a book like this, where their race/religion/differentness aren’t the focus. 4 stars.

Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby. Sixth-grader Fig (actaully Finola) loves her dad and the home they share in a beachside town. She does not love the long months of hurricane season. Her father, a once-renowned piano player, sometimes goes looking for the music in the middle of a storm. Hurricane months bring unpredictable good and bad days. More than anything, Fig wants to see the world through her father’s eyes, so she takes an art class to experience life as an artist does. Then Fig’s dad shows up at school, confused and looking for her. Not only does the class not bring Fig closer to understanding him, it brings social services to their door. As the walls start to fall around her, Fig is sure it’s up to her alone to solve her father’s problems and protect her family’s privacy. But with the help of her best friend, a cute girl at the library, and a surprisingly kind new neighbour, Fig learns she isn’t as alone as she once thought… and begins to compose her own definition of family. This book is so emotional. I wanted to wrap Fig and her dad in a blanket and keep both of them safe. I don’t know if the bipolar rep is well done since I have no experience, but I appreciated how Fig is never ashamed of her dad – even if she is embarrassed by his actions occasionally, which honestly just seems realistic and she is always aware that he can’t help it, that he’s sick. It is a lot for an 11 year old to deal with and I was so glad when Mark stepped in and persuaded Fig’s dad to see a doctor. Hopefully it will show kids in difficult situations that it’s good to ask for help when things get to be too much. And through it all Fig and her dad’s love for each other shines through. Fig has a little crush on an older girl at the library, Hannah, and it’s so cute. I definitely recommend. 5 stars.

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby. 12-year-old Amira lives with her sea-witch mothers and a jinni called Namur, who is a cat-like companion to Amira. She has spent most of her life at sea, but when their dhow (boat) is damaged in a storm, they are forced to dock at an island while they wait for it to be repaired. On her first market day, Amira meets a boy Leo who has his own jinni – something that is very rare. When a giant bird-like creature that seems to feed off people’s emotions takes Namur, Amira set off on a journey to try and find him – and also possibly find out something about themselves and the magical connection they have with their jinnis. This is a magical, heartwarming adventure. I loved the characters and especially the family dynamics between Amira and her mothers. In between chapters, the narrator comes in with little comments or asides and that irritated me slightly at times – I just wanted to stay in the action – but that’s a minor niggle. Overall it’s a delightful book and I definitely want to continue the series. 4 stars.

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #3). In her home city, Morrigan Crow was known as a cursed child, doomed to die at midnight on her 11th birthday. Instead, in the first book, a man named Jupiter North appeared while she was waiting to meet her fate and whisked her away to a place called Nevermoor where she had to compete in a series of trials against other children to gain a place in the mysterious and prestigious Wundrous Society, and learned that she was a Wundersmith, which means she has special powers. In the second book, Morrigan and the other children who had passed the trials started their studies at the Wundrous Society and Morrigan solved a mystery. In this book, Morrigan and her friends have survived their first year as proud scholars of the elite Wundrous Society and proven their loyalty to each other as a unit. But a strange and frightening illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning infected Wunimals (special animals that can talk) into mindless, vicious Unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. And with the city she loves in a state of fear, Morrigan quickly realizes it’s up to her to find a cure for the Hollowpox, even if it will put her – and everyone in Nevermoor – in more danger than she ever imagined. This was my most anticipated book of the year and, thankfully, it did not disappoint. first couple of chapters were a little slow and I was worried it wasn’t going to live up to my expectations but once it got going it really got going! Fenestra was fantastic in this one and I loved how Morrigan’s unit stuck up for her. The new information about the world and past Wundersmiths is so interesting and I can’t wait to learn more! 5 stars.

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll. 11-year-old Addie, who has autism, lives in a small village just outside Edinburgh. When she learns about the countless women in Scotland who were killed in the witch trials, including many in her own village, she starts a campaign for a memorial to them. Addie knows there’s more to the story of these “witches”, just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, stand up to her bullies, and make her voice heard? This is such a powerful and moving book. It made me cry, but parts of it were also so, so heart-warming. I absolutely LOVE Audrey, the new giel who befriends Addie. Every child deserves a friend like her. As for the horrible, bullying teacher, Miss Murphy, I can’t remember that last time I hated a book character this much. She should not be allowed anywhere near children! Every child should read this book – either to see themselves represented or to gain some understanding (and hopefully empathy) for what life is like for people who are not neurotypical. 5 stars.

The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. But that’s not easy when your grandmother is a Yaga, guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife, and you live in a house with chicken legs that wanders all over the world, often picking up and leaving after just a few days. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties – and no playmates that stick around for more than a day. So when she stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules… with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife. I loved everything about this book. Marinka, Jack, Benjamin, THE HOUSE! There’s adventure, friendship/found family, unexpected twists. Ican’t believe it’s taken me this long to read a Sophie Anderson book and I will definitely be picking up her others. 5 stars.

Wer Wind Sät by Nele Neuhaus (Bodenstein & Kirchhoff #5). First adult book of the month! There doesn’t seem to be an English version of this, so here’s my translation of the title: He Who Reaps the Wind. Police detective Pia Kirchhoff has just returned from a holiday when her colleague, Oliver von Bodenstein, calls to tell her a body has been found. A night watchman has apparently fallen to his death at the headquarters of a company that builds wind turbines. When the corpse of a hamster is discovered on the boss’s desk, the two detectives start to think it may not have been an accident after all. The plot thickens when a farmer, who refused to sell a plot of land to the company for one of their turbines – despite being offered €2 million for it – is also found dead. Was it is children, who are all broke and wanted him to sell the land , preferably yesterday? The other members of the environmental action group, who appear to have hated the farmer and all have their own motives for not wanting the wind turbine? Or did the turbine company have something to do with it after all? I read the first book in this series years ago and I remember liking it. This one was fine but definitely way too long. There was so much going on, and half of it seemed to be irrelevant. A semi-connected side story involving a woman named Annika was way more interesting than the main murder investigation, but it seemed to end very abruptly without ever being properly resolved. It was still a decent read and I really wanted to know who had done what but it could have done with being about 200 pages shorter. 3 stars.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. What do you do when the girl next door asks you to write her biography? Alastair Cleary is the kid everyone trusts, but he doesn’t really have many friends, mainly hanging around with his neighbour, Charlie who is obsessed with video games. Alastair hasn’t really thought about Fiona Loomis much recently. They used to be friends when they were little, but as their families drifted apart so did they. Now Fiona wants Alastair to write her biography. He’s initially flattered, but then Fiona claims that in her basement, there’s a portal that leads to a magical world where a creature called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. And Fiona’s soul could be next. If she really believes what she’s saying, Alistair fears she may be crazy. But if it’s true, her life could be at risk. It’s up to Alistair to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality and figure out what’s going on. This isn’t a bad book by any means. The writing is good and the plot is intriguing, but also kind of confusing at times. I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is – some of the themes seem to mature for middle grade but I’m not sure teens would be interested in reading about 12 year olds. I have no idea what actually happened at the end but there is a sequel so maybe things are explained a bit more there. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m intrigued enough to want to continue though. I think it suffered a bit from me having read it after so many absolutely amazing, magical books that I truly loved. 3 stars.

The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell. On a cold February afternoon, Stella catches sight of a man she thinks she recognises, which immediately causes her to fall into panic. At the same moment on the other side of the globe, in the middle of a crowd of Chinese New Year revellers, Jake realises that things are becoming dangerous. They know nothing of one another’s existence, but both Stella and Jake flee their lives: Jake in search of a place so remote it doesn’t appear on any map, and Stella for a destination in Scotland, the significance of which only her sister, Nina, will understand. I’m not really sure what this is. It’s not a romance, although the two main characters do fall for each other, I guess. It’s more of a story about two sisters. Or maybe about how what happens to you as a child continues to affect you as an adult. This was actually a re-read for me, but the only thing I remembered was one scene where Stella tries to wake her sister up one morning and discovers she’s ill- Literally everything else had completely gone from my memory, and I’m already starting to forget the details again even though I only finished this about a week ago! Stella and Jake’s stories are given equal attention, but somehow Jake’s seemed irrelevant – it felt like it was really about Stella and Nina, not Stella and Jake. 3 stars.

TL;DR. I can’t say I really recommend either of the adult books I read this month, and I found the Truly Devious series disappointing (if you want a teen crime-solving series, try The Good Girls Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson. Or go ahead and read this series if you want – it’s not like it was actually bad, just not as good as I wanted it to be). The children’s books, on the other hand, were all amazing or at least good. The Riverman was my least favourite out of all of them but even that I wouldn’t necessarily not recommend. It just couldn’t quite measure up to the others I read in November. A lot of these are sequels, so obviously read the previous book(s) first. But honestly, I think you should read all of them. Especially the Frostheart series. And the Nevermoor series. And A Kind of Spark… I think you get the picture.

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, as always.

Have you read anything good lately? Check out the link up for more book recommendations – especially if you’re looking for some that aren’t children’s books 😉

What I read in June 2020

I’m a day late for the Show Us Your Books link up – mainly because I forgot it was coming up and I hadn’t pre-written my post – but better late than never, right? I have a few books to get to so I won’t waffle for too long, just get straight into it. I’m linking up with Jana and Steph, of course.

The Bad Luck Lighthouse by Nicki Thornton (Seth Seppi #2). After solving the mystery at the Last Chance Hotel, Seth has discovered a world of magic that he never knew existed. In book 2, he and his cat Nightshade find themselves swept up in a new case at Snakemouth Lighthouse – the murder of eccentric owner Mina Mintencress – where Seth is determined to prove himself. A satisfying second book in the series. I enjoyed seeing more of this world. Nightshade is as “delightful” and funny as ever. I found a couple of things predictable but I’m not 10 years old and it didn’t make the book any less enjoyable. I’m looking forward to seeing where Seth and Nightshade go next. 4 stars.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer (Cursebreakers #2). The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.Meanwhile, Grey is on the run with a secret that he doesn’t want anybody to find out.This book finds loyalties being tested while new love blooms in a kingdom on the brink of war. The tone of this one is very different to the first book and I found a few parts slow so it wasn’t quite a five stars read but I enjoyed getting to know Grey better in his own right and not just as a guard to be ordered around. The ending left me needing to know where things are going.I want everyone to be happy – I like the characters on both sides and I don’t want to see them pitted against each other. 4 stars.

The Babysitters Coven by Kate Daniels. Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it’s kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she’s good at it. And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let’s just say she owes some people a new tree. Enter hot new girl Cassandra Heaven. She’s never babysat before, so why is she so determined to get into Esme’s club? The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra’s mother left her: “Find the babysitters. Love, Mom.” Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they’re about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home. This was described as Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire and honestly the explanation of how the magic system/organisation work was a little too reminiscent of Buffy (to the extent that “like Buffy but witches and we only banish the demons” was almost the entire explanation). A lot of the pop culture references seemed to be aimed more at people my age than those who are actual teenagers today, which was weird. I did enjoy reading it though and I might continue with the series if I want something fun and a bit nostalgic in the future. 3 stars.

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews. The world has suffered a magic apocalypse. We pushed the technological progress too far, and now magic returned with a vengeance. It comes in waves, without warning, and vanishes as suddenly as it appears. When magic is up, planes drop out of the sky, cars stall, electricity dies. When magic is down, guns work and spells fail.In this world – specifically in Atlanta – lives Kate Daniels, a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong. Kate likes her sword a little too much and has a hard time controlling her mouth. The magic in her blood makes her a target, and she spent most of her life hiding in plain sight. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, she is determined to find out who killed him. Hiding is easy, but the right choice is rarely easy… This book was confusing and honestly I found myself rolling my eyes at times. All the different elements of necromancy, were-beasts and references to random ancient, magical creatures just felt like a bit much for one book, and I found some aspects just plain odd (and a but icky). I did like Kate and some of the other characters and I had a fun time reading this book but it was just a good read for me rather than a great one.I’ve heard they get better so maybe I’ll try book 2 at some point. 3 stars.

The Land of Never Endings by Kate Saunders. What if there exists a world powered by imagination? A world of silliness, where humans and their toys live on long after they’ve left the Hard World . . . and what if the door between that world and this one was broken? Welcome to the Land of Neverendings! When Emily’s sister Holly dies, she is surprised to find that she misses her toy bear, Bluey, almost as much as Holly. Bluey was Holly’s constant companion, and Emily used to make up stories about him and his escapades in the magical (and very silly) world of Smockeroon to entertain her. The only person who seems to understand Emily’s grief is Ruth, her kindly next-door neighbour, who lost her son years before. Then strange things start happening, Emily dreams of talking toys visiting her bedroom, telling her that they have come from Smockeroon, and have a message for her from Bluey. Then she discovers that they may not have been dreaming after all. What if Smockeroon is real?  This was not what I was expecting. The synopsis on my copy was literally just the first few sentences of the description up to “Welcome to the Land of Neverendings!” so I didn’t realise it was a story about grief. I was expecting something magical, and it was, but it was also kind of sad. I really felt Emily’s grief at losing her sister. I loved the toy characters and also Martha who was such a lovely friend. 4 stars.

Everfound by Neal Shusterman (Skinjacker #3). I can’t really say much about this one without spoiling the first two, but all the characters from the previous books (plus some new ones) are pitted against each other in a battle that may destroy all life on Earth. This book was a journey! So much happened and I was constantly kept guessing. I’m glad I finally finished this series. 4 stars.

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (Farseer #2). Fitz is the illegitimate son of the “King-in waiting” (this world’s term for the heir to the throne). In book one he was dumped at the palace by his maternal grandfather, only for his father to abdicate and move away. Nobody really knew what to do with him, until the king realised he would make a useful assassin. In book 2, Fitz has survived his first hazardous mission as king’s assassin, but is left little more than a cripple. After initially deciding to abandon his oath to King Shrewd and stay away, he changes his mind and ends up back at Buckkeep, and embroiled in the deadly intrigues of the royal family. And that’s all I want to say about this one. The first book was pretty slow but parts of this one somehow managed to be even slower. I spent quite a bit of time wondering if it actually was getting towards some kind of point. I still liked reading it though. I really thought things would turn around for Fitz by the end, that someone would see what was going on. But no, his suffering continues. Towards the end things picked up and made me really want to start book 3 immediately, but alas I don’t own it. 4 stars.

The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge. Martha can tell things about a person just by touching their clothes, as if their emotions and memories have been absorbed into the material. It started the day she fell from the tree at her grandma’s cabin and became blind in one eye. Determined to understand her strange ability, Martha sets off to Norway to visit her grandmother, Mormor – only to discover Mormor is dead, a peculiar boy is in her cabin and a terrifying creature is on the loose. Then the spinning wheel starts creaking, books move around and terror creeps in. This book is properly creepy! I would not have wanted to meet the thing from the woods let alone battle it. I enjoyed the way Nordic mythology was woven in and I absolutely adored Gandalf the dog. I was left with a lot of questions though, like what actually happened to Martha’s Mormor and Is Stig really who he says he is? I thought they might be resolved at the end but nothing really was. So minus one star for that but I still genuinely enjoyed and recommend this book. 4 stars.

The River King by Alice Hoffmann. For more than a century, the small town of Haddan, Massachusetts, has been divided, as if by a line drawn down the centre of Main Street, separating those born and bred in the ‘village’ from those who attend the prestigious Haddan School. Even within the school, hierarchy rules as freshman and faculty members find out where they fit in and what is expected of them. But when a body is found in the river behind the school, a local policeman will walk into this enclosed world and upset it entirely, changing the lives of everyone involved forever. This book was odd, very slow but strangely compelling. I knew from the synopsis that a body was supposed to be found so I spent half the book waiting for that to actually happen, although I had my suspicions about who it would be (and I was right). It’s not a bad book but I’m honestly not sure who I would recommend it to. 3.5 stars.

Twister by Juliette Forrest. Twister’s father has gone missing and as she’s searching for him she stumbles across a witch living in the woods. She is given a magical necklace that holds the souls of living things and can turn the wearer into a wolf, or a rushing river, or a rainstorm. But there’s a dark foe on the hunt for this necklace, a baddie who wears a coat crawling with creatures and who might have something to do with her father’s sudden disappearance… oved the characters and the story but I was slightly put off but the writing – I understand that Twister is supposed to sound childlike (hence the constant use of “catched” and weird grammar constructions) but then she would use words and phrases where I would think you know that but nobody’s told you the proper past-tense of catch? There was one scene that absolutely broke my heart. 4 stars.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. Irene is a professional spy, working for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. Along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen, and London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find it. Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own. Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option with the very nature of reality itself at stake. This was… confusing. There were parts I really liked but a lot of it was all over the place and not properly explained. It was an enjoyable read and I mostly liked the characters but I’m not sure I’m interested enough to continue with the series. 3 stars.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night, they go to a dinner party next door taking the baby monitor with them but leaving Cora home alone. While they’re gone, the unthinkable happens – the baby disappears. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years. Pretty much everyone in this book is just awful – horrible, horrible people. I enjoyed reading it even though it was very far-fetched and I guessed a few things part way through. The ending was slightly overkill though and felt really unnecessary. 3 stars.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother to teenage Pearl. The two of them rent a house from the Richardsons, but soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town – and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs. mostly enjoyed this book but there was a lot packed into it and I felt like I wanted more detail on some aspects. I felt like I didn’t know some of the characters as well as I should have. It is a good book though and I would read more by this author. It’s definitely one that makes you think. 3.5 stars

Shine by Candy Gourlay. Suffering from a condition called “The Calm”, thirteen-year-old Rosa lives on the island of Marisol, where she is forced to hide herself away from the superstitious population who believe people with the condition are monsters. Rosa seeks solace online, where she meets Ansel95, and as the friendship moves from virtual to real, Rosa discovers that she’s not the only one with something to hide. This is pretty dark for such a short book (I think I read it in about an hour). I thought I had guessed who Rosa’s friend was going to be, but I was wrong. I was slightly uncomfortable with the way one character’s mental illness was portrayed but other than that I enjoyed this book and really liked the writing. 3.5 stars.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Solomon Rivers. Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. Obsessive and withdrawn, Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the ship. When the autopsy of the ship’s sovereign reveals a link between his death and the suicide of Aster’s mother, she begins sewing the seeds for civil war, and learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it. This book was dark! Think of something you might need a content warning for and it’s probably in here. The abuse that’s inflicted on the lower class characters (who are all black) is horrific. The ruling classes literally see them as animals – and the way one character talks about horses makes it clear they’re not exactly nice to actual animals either. I loved the characters. Aster is awesome. Poor Giselle is infuriating but also clearly unhappy. The world building is also fantastic, if a little slow. What makes it 4 stars instead of 5 is the story. It seemed to get lost along the way only to rush to a conclusion at the end that left me feeling underwhelmed. Also every single white person felt like a caricature of a bad guy – the leader is a stereotypical megalomaniac and the guards all seem to be utterly sadistic and actually enjoy doling out punishments. I have no issue with white people being portrayed as horrible oppressors – I mean, it’s basically the truth – but I felt like giving them some humanity would have made the impact greater. Nonetheless it’s a good read but definitely go into it expecting to be horrified.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S King. Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone – the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to? I loved this book. Vera is flawed and judgemental (she spends a lot of time going on about sluts as if having sex is the literal worst thing a girl could do) and not always likeable but somehow I liked her anyway. Charlie infuriated me half the time, but then I would find myself liking and feeling sorry for him again. And I cried. For Vera, who will always have to live with what happened, and for Charlie who’s death just seemed so pointless in the end. If only someone had done something sooner. 4 stars.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. Keeping her head down at school, trying not to get caught up with new boy Malachi. The one place she can let everything go is in the kitchen, where she has magical hands – whipping up extraordinary food beloved by everyone. Emoni wants to be a chef more than anything, but she knows it’s pointless to pursue the impossible. So when her high school offers a new culinary arts class, she knows she shouldn’t take it – she doesn’t have time, and her family can’t afford the trip to Spain. But even with all the rules she has for her life – and all the rules everyone expects her to play by – once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free. This book is fantastic! I loved everything about it. It’s so well written. Emony’s love for her daughter is tangible, and her relationship with her best friend is GOALS. I was rooting for her the whole way through hoping she would find a way to follow her dreams. Highly, highly recommend. And I also want someone to cook all of Emony’s dishes for me. 5 stars – ending the month’s reading on a high.

TL;DR. My favourite book of the month was With the Fire on High, so obviously read that. DOn’t let the fact that it’s for teens put you off. Read A Heart So Fierce and Broken if you liked the first book. The Twisted Tree and Please Ignore Vera Dietz are both YA and I enjoyed both. The Land of Neverendings is cute but sad. Honestly, none of these books were really bad so if they sound interesting to you read them. Do be aware that An Unkindness of Ghosts is very dark and full of triggers though!

Tell me what your favourite book you’ve read lately was and don’t forget to visit the link up!

The books I read in April 2017

One of these days I will get round to writing a post that isn’t part of a link up. Today is not that day… I am linking up with Jana and Steph to tell you what I read in April.

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I read ten books in April, which is actually one more than I read in March. That surprises me considering I didn’t finish a single book after 20th April! So somehow I managed to read ten books in twenty days. Some were pretty short though.
The books are listed here in the order I read them, not according to any kind of scheme.

Carbonel: The King of Cats by Barbara Sleigh –  This is a cute little book from the 1950s about a girl called Rosemary who wants to help out with the family finances by cleaning houses, so she buys a broom… and with it comes a cat. To her surprise, she finds out that she can understand the cat when holding the broom. The cat turns out to be a prince and Rosemary spends the rest of the book trying to help him get his throne back. It’s a very cute, quirky little book. There isn’t a huge amount of action, and it’s kind of old-fashioned, but it’s the kind of book I would have loved at age 9 or 10. Four stars.

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan. This book sounded really good and I expected great things from it, but it turned out to be just okay. A lot of it was totally unrealistic – particularly the friendship at the centre of the plot. Having an instant friendship connection with someone? Okay! Immediately abandoning everything else and only being there for you new friend from then on? Yeah, right! At least it was a quick read. Two stars.

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery – The further I get into this series, the more preachy the books seem to become. This one seemed to be full of “God is watching you! ALL THE TIME!! He already knows you’ve been naughty, probably before you even knew you were going to be naughty, so you’d just better say your prayers and ask for forgiveness RIGHT NOW young man!!” As an atheist, the idea of a God who is just sitting there waiting for you to make a mistake doesn’t sit well with me – and I’m sure that isn’t the God most Christians believe in! I preferred Anne when she was still a schoolgirl and did silly things occasionally. Now she’s far too good. All the proposals got a bit much as well… I lost count in the end. Obviously Anne is perfect and every man who sets eyes on her wants to marry her! I did enjoy it though – I wish I had had friends like Anne’s when I was studying! And I loved the part where she went back to the house where she was born – it was nice to see a bit of a connection with her pre-orphan past. Four stars.

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler – This had been on my shelf for so long that I had almost forgotten I had it! It’s an interesting take on a “time travel” book – what would you do if you were taken forward in time by a year only to find that tragedy had struck and you relationship with your best friend was ruined? From an adult perspective, it’s all maybe a little simplistic, but it’s perfect for the 10-13 age range. I also felt that Jenni was portrayed realistically. She matured over the course of the book (as you would with so much going on!) but throughout I could believe that she actually was a 12-year-old girl and not a much older teen. I often find that 12 year olds in books read more like 15 or 16 year olds! 4 stars.

Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories by R. J. Palacio – After loving Wonder, I couldn’t wait to revisit that universe with this short story collection. However, while Wonder was amazing, this book was just okay. The first story, from Julian’s perspective, was good. It was nice to see events from his point of view and see him portrayed as something more than just “the nasty kid”. The Charlotte and Christopher chapters seemed unnecessary though and didn’t really add anything to the story. Three stars. (The Julian chapter alone would have been a four, the others probably a 2 or 3).

Die Stille Braut by Barbara Wendelken – Need to up my German reading game 😉 This is a typical crime novel. A body turns up at a lake, which turns out to be that of a deaf girl who disappeared from near her boarding school four years earlier. She turns out to have died of untreated appendicitis (so no “murder” as such), but the police need to find out who took her and kept her hidden for so long. Overall, it was a decent enough detective story and I didn’t guess the whole story of whodunnit. The main character annoyed me though – I wanted her to stop thinking about men/when she had last had sex and get on with her job! Three stars.

Two Truths and a Lie by Sara Shepard – Book three of the Lying Game series. They are getting better as they go along. There is less suspense in this one, but a few interesting things come to light. At the end of this one I still had no idea who the murderer is! Four stars.

Hide and Seek by Sara Shepard – Book four of the Lying Game series. I actually enjoyed this one, but how long can the author keep dragging this out… picking a “suspect” for Emma in each book only for her to end up being wrong, again! Immediately after reading this, my GoodReads review said “I’m starting to wonder whether Sutton was even murdered at all. If the solution to this whole thing turns out to be a tragic accident I will be so mad!” I’ve now changed my mind… it’s clearly not one of her close friends or family, and I feel like Ethan would be too obvious a choice. So I’m saying right now: Ethan’s mother is the murderer! Same motive as him, with the added bonus of revenge for her little boy. (But maybe I just don’t want it to have been the one person who Emma can interact with as herself and not Sutton?). Five stars.

Märchenwald by Martin Krist – More German, the title means “Fairytake forest”. It’s hard to say what this book is about, since there are various stories that eventually become interlinked. It’s a crime thriller with plenty of action – no time to get bored! Even though it was book 5 in a series, it could easily be read as a standalone and I didn’t feel like I had any trouble understanding what was going on with the detective and his family. I did guess who the culprit was, but that was okay because I was enjoying just reading everyone’s stories. Five stars – best book of the month!

Take My Word for It by John Marsden – I have been waiting to read this book for years, but could never manage to find a copy. Finally it appeared on Amazon for cheap. Yay! It’s a companion novel to So Much to Tell You, which is one of my all-time favourites. This one tells Lisa’s side of the story, and gives another perspective of some of the events in “So Much…”.  This is nowhere near as good as So Much to Tell You, but I didn’t expect it to be. Lisa’s problems seemed petty and silly in comparison, and honestly I just didn’t like her as much as a person – she was kind of boring. I did like the different perspective though, and it was nice to have some blanks filled in. I also liked that this one went on for slightly longer, so we got to see a little of what happened next. Not as fantastic as SO Much to Tell You, but I’m glad I read it. Four stars.

And that was it for April. I started reading Sophie’s World but still haven’t finished it, and I’m still trying to make my through A Sense of Style. It’s interesting, but slow going.

April pretty good reading month overall, lots of high ratings and only a couple of duds.
We’re already 8 days into May and I haven’t started a new book yet, but I have a couple waiting that I’m really excited to read so hopefully I’ll get through Sophie quickly so I can make a start on those.

So, if anyone is actually still here after all that…

Read anything good lately?

The books I read in March 2017

It’s hard to believe I’ve never actually participated in this link up before! Usually I would have some other opportunity to list recent reads and I wouldn’t want to have too many book posts. But I’m currently between reading challenges and the next one isn’t starting for a while, so I might as well tell you about the non-challenge reading I’ve been doing recently. I know some people break things down into categories, but I’m just listing my books in the order I read them.

I am linking up with Jana and Steph.

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First of all, in case anyone hasn’t already seen my final check-in post, I read all these books in March for the bonus round of Erin‘s challenge.

And now on to the other books I read in March…

The Lying Game by Sara Shepherd – For some reason I didn’t realise this was part of a series, then I was really confused when the end came (especially because my copy contained a preview of book 2, so I thought there was more left than there actually was…) then just as it started getting interesting it ended. Aargh! Most of the plot wasn’t really believable to me (how could anyone not realise that their daughter wasn’t, in fact, their daughter – especially after she literally told them at the start!) and 90% of the characters just weren’t likeable. But once I suspended ALL my belief it was actually kind of interesting. 4 stars.

The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood (book 2 of the Incorrigible Children series) – This one was even better than book one, and I really liked book one! The first book spent a lot of time setting the scene though, whereas more seemed to happen in this one. I was slightly annoyed by all the entirely unsubtle references to book 1 – it was like the author assumed I hadn’t actually read the first one! But apart from that it was great. 4 stars.

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix – This book has been on my wish list since about 2008! The idea sounded so intriguing – the life of a family’s third son in a world where the law forbids people to have more than two children. Unfortunately the book was a lot shorter than I was expecting and took ages to really get going. In such a short book I would have expected the action to start sooner! There are about a million books in the series though (well, 7) so I suppose it gets going properly later. Also, I think it’s aimed at younger children than I thought – I was expecting YA but it seems to be more for 11-12 year olds. 3 stars for this, but I will probably still give book 2 a chance.

Smart by Kim Slater – I loved this book, enough that I read it in one sitting even though it was pretty long and I ended up reading way past my bedtime. It reminded me a bit of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but I loved that book as well. I loved Keiran, the (presumably autistic) narrator and was really glad things worked out for him in the end. An added bonus was the setting – it takes place in Nottingham, which is where I studied. 4 stars.

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – I initially intended this to be my “genre you rarely read” book for Erin’s challenge (science fiction), but I had to rearrange things after I’d already read it. I enjoyed this one more than I expected. It’s one of the more interesting disaster/end of the world books. For some reason I was under the impression that the “Triffids” were alien plants that came to Earth on a comet and started attacking/blinding people, but actually they are very much man-made… 4 stars.

Never Have I Ever by Sara Shepherd (book 2 of The Lying Game) –  I decided to give this series another chance, and I’m glad I did. This book was much better than the first one. Finally the “mean girls” are starting to show that they do have some personality under all that nastiness. I will have to keep reading because I really want to know whodunnit! 3.5 stars (4 on Goodreads because I tend to round up).

The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood (book 3 of the Incorrigible Children) – Still enjoying the series. I think they are getting better as they go along. This one still referred back to the previous two, but in a much less annoying way. More secrets are coming out, and I think I am starting to guess some connections but I need to keep reading to be sure. 4 stars.

The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood (book 4 of the Incorrigible Children) – I had an evening to myself so I read this immediately after the previous one. This has been the best installment yet! Finally we got one or two answers, although I wish Miss Mortimer would reveal what she knows already. Only two more books to go (and book 6 isn’t even out yet!). How will I cope? 5 stars.

Super Awkward by Beth Garrod – Just snuck this one into March, as I read it on the 31st! I thought this was going to be like the Georgia Nicholson books, and in a way it was, but Georgia is much funnier – or maybe it’s just that I was younger when I read Angus, Thongs, etc. and could relate to it more? Anyway, at first I found this book really annoying. I kept thinking do teenagers really talk like that these days? In text speech? Do they really say things like “obvs” OUT LOUD? Am I old? Honestly, I thought about not finishing it, but I was reading in the bath so I didn’t really have another option to hand. Then things started to pick up more and I decided I did kind of like it after all. I would probably have loved this book to death at 15, but at almost 34 I’m afraid I’m too old for it. *Sigh*. 3 stars.

And that’s it. March was a most excellent reading month!

In case anyone is actually still here and interested, I  am currently reading The Sense of Style by Steve Pinker. It’s really good so far, but I’m useless at reading non-fiction so I’m getting through it at snail’s pace!

Have you read anything good lately?