Yeah, it’s been a while since I last wrote a review post… Luckily I read so little last year that I can recap 4 four months and still have fewer books to write about than I did in a single month before becoming a mother. And right now I have time, having very cruelly (in her opinion) dropped my daughter off at nursery. I took this week off work in case she needed time to settle in again after the Christmas break, but apart from crying when I leave – a new thing – fingers crossed she’s been fine so far. She even finished all her soup yesterday. She loves soup but she’s never eaten more than 10 spoonfuls at home or in a cafe!
Anyway, if you’re reading this you probably came for books, not babies, so let’s get on with it.
Death in the Spotlight by Robin Stevens (Murder Most Unladylike #7). Having returned from Hong Kong, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are staying with Daisy’s Uncle Felix (and Aunt Lucy). When Uncle Felix is called away for work, the two girls end up at the beautiful Rue Theatre in London, where they will face an entirely new challenge: acting. But behind the theatre’s glittering facade, the girls soon realise that there is trouble at the Rue. Jealousy, threats and horrible pranks quickly spiral out of control – and then one of the cast is found dead. As opening night looms closer, it’s up to Hazel and Daisy to take centre stage and solve the crime… before the murderer strikes again. I really enjoyed this one. I feel like the series is back to its best after a small blip. I loved that Hazel brought some of her confidence she had in Hong Kong back with her. Daisy is getting better at acknowledging Hazel’s strengths and does seem to be genuinely proud of her friend even if she does still act annoyingly superior at times. It was interesting to see how things are changing for the girls as they grow up and can no longer get away with things because people see them as “just kids”. I can’t wait to see where the series takes us next!
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. Queenie Jenkins is a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures but not really fitting into either. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend (she swears they’re just on a break!), Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places— including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth. As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”- all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her. This was a difficult book to read. I alternated between wanting to shake Queenie and wanting to give her a big hug. There are some humorous parts, but mostly it’s very dark. Poor Queenie is mistreated by just about every man she encounters, and half the time she doesn’t even seem to notice. Her friends were fantastic. Everybody needs friends like Queenie’s. Apart from Clarissa. F Clarissa!
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman. The only child of a single mother, Nina Hill likes her life exactly as it is. She has her dream job in a bookshop, an amazing trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book. When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all – or almost all – excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is? It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page. This book was cute and quirky, although I don’t remember a lot of what happened now – but I do know it involved books and pub quizzes, which are two of my favourite things. I definitely remember liking Nina and her friends. I feel like it lost me a bit somewhere in the middle? (Can you tell I forgot to write a review at the time?) But overall it was a fast, fun read and I gave it 4 stars.
Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin. Snow and Rose didn’t know they were in a fairy tale. People never do… Once, they lived in a big house with spectacular gardens and an army of servants. Once, they had a father and mother who loved them more than the sun and moon. But that was before their father disappeared into the woods and their mother disappeared into sorrow. Before they had to move into a cottage in the very woods that took their father from them. Snow refuses to believe their father won’t return, while Rose is convinced he is dead and they need to get on with their lives as best they can. Despite their fear of the woods, eventually Rose and Snow begin to venture out to explore off the beaten paths. They find a friend – Ivo, an unusual boy who farms mushrooms – and an unusual library, but they also come across more dangerous things in the woods – bandits and wolves and a giant bear. Unknowingly, the two sisters have already started along the path that will lead them to their eventual fate. This is a charming little tale and the illustrations are gorgeous. The side characters aren’t really fleshed out which I guess is typical for a fairytale but I would have liked to know more about the librarian and I have unanswered questions about the huntsman. Overall I did like it though and think 7-8 year olds would probably love it. It is fairly true to the original stors of Snow White and Rose Red without being quite as dark. 3.5 stars.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply – but that almost seems beside the point now. Maybe that was always beside the point. Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie announces that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and she thinks she’s finally about to get her big break; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her, but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and actually go home without her. When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything. That night, Georgie plugs in an old landline phone at her mother’s house and discovers that she can use it to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts… Is that what she’s supposed to do? Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage had never happened at all? This was fine. It passed the time well enough. I really didn’t understand what young Georgie saw in Neal though, or why it took older Neal so long to get fed up. The best character was Georgie’s sister Heather – I loved her! 3 stars.
A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong (Rockton #2). When experienced homicide detective Casey Duncan first moved to the secret town of Rockton, she expected a safe haven for people like her, people running from their past misdeeds and past lives. She knew living in Rockton meant living off-the-grid completely: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. But she wasn’t expecting Rockton to come with its own set of secrets and dangers. Now, in A Darkness Absolute, Casey and her fellow Rockton sheriff’s deputy Will chase a cabin-fevered resident into the woods, where they are stranded in a blizzard. Taking shelter in a cave, they discover a former resident who’s been held captive for over a year. When the bodies of two other women turn up, Casey and her colleagues must find out if it’s an outsider behind the killings or if the answer is more complicated than that… before another victim goes missing. I liked book 1 in this series so much that I immediately bought the second one. I’m really enjoying the unusual setting of these books. This one was maybe a little too long but it was still compelling. The whole atmosphere and what happened to Nicole was chilling. I definitely want to read book three. 4 stars.
The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris. Whatever happens, don’t tell anyone what you did to Bee Larkham… Thirteen-year-old Jasper is not an ordinary boy. In fact, he would say he is extraordinary.. Synaesthesia paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder. He’s convinced that something awful has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no-one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. The knife and the screams are all mixed up in his head and he’s scared that he can’t quite remember anything clearly. It doesn’t help that he also has face blindness and relies on other clues – like clothes and voices – to figure out who people are. But if his dad is right then where is Bee? Why hasn’t she come home yet? Jasper must uncover the truth about that night – including his own role in what happened… Another book that I forgot to write a review of at the time so I’m relying on my memory. I thought I was going to love this book, but reading things from Jasper’s perspective turned out to be a really frustrating. In addition to synaesthesia and face blindness, Jasper is also autistic and doesn’t really understand the world around him. He’s an interesting character and I genuinely liked him but his various conditions meant the book was very repetitive and it seemed to take forever to move on from one scene to the next. Every time I thought there were going to be answers the story would skip to something unrelated. 3 stars.
Luster by Raven Leilani. Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. When she gets involved with Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist whose wife has semi-agreed to an open marriage, Edie doesn’t expect to end up living in his home, providing advice to the couple’s adopted black daughter, while finally having the chance to do the one thing that means most to her: to finally document her own life on canvas. This book reminded me of Queenie, but I liked Queenie better. Not that this one was terrible. Parts of it were good, but I found the writing really, really odd. For instance, Edie describes her lover’s wife as being “sexy in the way a triangle is sexy” which just makes no sense whatsoever! 3 stars.
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust. Sixteen-year-old Mina is motherless, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone – has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d never realised that wasn’t normal normal. How could she have guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass? When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother. At fifteen, Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do – and who to be – to either win back the only mother she’s ever known… or else defeat her once and for all. I enjoyed this book. It’s quite slow and I can see why some people might find it boring but I didn’t. I liked that the step-mother is not portrayed as simply evil. It manages to recognisably be the tale of Snow White while at the same time turning everything on its head. Mina is an intriguing character and I found the relationship between Mina and Lynet really interesting. 4 stars.
Frenemies by Megan Crane. Gus Curtis has been avoiding growing up for a long time. But at almost thirty, official adulthood is just around the corner. It’s okay though – with a strong career, great friends, and a wonderful boyfriend, Gus feels like her life is finally on track. That is, until she walks in on her “Mr Right”, Nate, kissing her former college room mate and so-called “friend” Helen. Determined to win back her man, Gus drinks far too much, indulges in some ad hoc karaoke and loses what’s left of her dignity in a series of public slanging matches. Before long, even her loyal friends have had enough and she’s finding consolation in the arms of the one boy she really should have stayed away from… I found this in a free bookcase and I’m not sure why I took it with me. I thought it would be a quick, easy read and I was at least right about that. It’s fairly typical “chick lit” but the writing isn’t great. I thought Gus was a complete idiot and acted younger than 30 – the way she went on you would have thought she was still *in* college! Like why was she trying to win her ex back while he was still with her supposed friend?! So much unnecessary drama. I did like Henry though. He saved the book for me and bumped it up from 1 star to 2.
The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston. Florence Day is the ghostwriter for one of the most prolific romance authors in the industry, and she has a problem – after a terrible breakup, she no longer believes in love. It’s as good as dead. And she just can’t bring herself to write another happy ending. When her new editor, a too-handsome mountain of a man, refuses to give her an extension on her book deadline, Florence prepares to kiss her career goodbye. But then she gets a phone call she never wanted to receive, and she must return home for the first time in a decade to help her family bury her beloved father. For ten years, she’s run from the town that never understood her, and even though she misses the sound of a warm Southern night and her eccentric, loving family and their funeral parlour, she can’t bring herself to stay. Even with her father gone, it feels like nothing in this town has changed. And she hates it. Then her editor turns up at the door of the funeral parlour… just as broad and infuriatingly handsome as ever, but now, apparently, a ghost. And he’s just as confused about why he’s there as she is. Romance is most certainly dead.. but so is her new editor, and his unfinished business will have her second-guessing everything she’s ever known about love stories. This was a lot of fun to read and it quotes The Princess Bride, which is definitely one way to my heart! Some things didn’t make sense – like why was Florence mercilessly teased and ostracised to the extent that she left and never came back in a town that has a golden retriever as mayor and a non-binary person running a B&B where the doors to the rooms features pictures of deadly plants? Surely Florence was the exact right kind of quirky to fit right in? Never mind. Florence’s family was awesome and her relationship with them felt so genuine, but I would have liked to see more of them grieving. Florence was the only one who really seemed to care – the others were almost too much “business as usual” (quite literally considering they owned the very funeral home that was dealing with everything). But it’s fun, quirky (almost too quirky at times) and a fast read. 3.5 stars.
Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie). Returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself unexpectedly alone – stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks. This sudden solitude compels Joan to assess her life for the first time ever and face up to many of the truths about herself. Looking back over the years, Joan painfully re-examines her attitudes, relationships and actions and becomes increasingly uneasy about the person who is revealed to her, and she begins to question everything she has ever believed. It’s a testament to Agatha Christie’s talent that a book where so little happens makes you want to keep reading. I was fascinated by the main character. As someone who is constantly questioning what people really think of me I’m very intrigued by people who can take everything at face value and assume that everyone likes them and everything they’ve ever done has been the right thing! 4 stars.
That’s it. 12 books in four months, a mere two of which were by BAME/BIPOC writers.
Now I can draw a line under last year’s reading and finally move on to 2023. I’m hoping to have a little more time to read this year since I will have roughly an hour and a half each day between finishing work and picking Zyma up from nursery (at least until she inevitably picks up her next cold…)
Have you read any of these? Let me know whether you agree with my opinions!