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 Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

This is the third book I read for the Semi-Charmed 2014 Winter Reading Challenge. I read it for the category “Read a book with a food in the title“, which is worth 10 points.

The plot:
Jerry Renault is a first year at Trinity High School, an exclusive, all-boys Catholic school. Each student at the school is “encouraged” to sell fifty boxes of chocolates at the annual chocolate sale. Although selling the chocolates is supposed to be voluntary, when Jerry refuses he soon finds out that it’s not, really. And so the bullying and coercion begins. When Jerry also runs up against the school’s group of thugs, a secret society, called “The Vigils” things start to get very ugly indeed…

My review:
I can’t really say I “enjoyed” this book, because the subject matter does not make for an enjoyable read! It does, however, make for a good one. This was one of those books that made me wish my commute was longer so I wouldn’t have to put it down – I then proceeded to read the rest in bed the following night, not stopping until it was done even though I was oh so tired. The story is told mostly from two perspectives, Jerry’s and that of Archie Costello, chief school bully and head of the secret society. I don’t always like stories that are told from multiple perspectives, but in this case it seemed to fit. The glimpses into the mind of Archie Costello were sometimes disturbing… in fact, a lot of the book was disturbing. I’m not going to claim this was an easy read! And I have no idea how I would have reacted to this as a teenager (especially as one who was generally ignored in school because almost nobody liked me). Also, there are some fairly explicit sexual references – although no actual sex. In fact, my one complaint about this book would be that it seems to imply that all teenage boys are obsessed with sex and view girls as sexual objects, not real people. Admittedly that’s probably true of a lot of boys, but is the stereotyping really necessary?! But as a book that deals with the corrupting influence of power, human cruelty and the results of peer pressure. The ending of the book was shocking but, unfortunately, somewhat realistic (I think a lot of teenagers have had the experience of bullies going unpunished – although this book exaggerates how far these things tend to go). Overall I thought this was a really good book and I would certainly recommend it. Although it was written in 1974, the themes it addresses are still relevant today. I want to give this one 4.5 stars, but I’ll be generous and round it up to 5.

Summer Reading Challenge: Month 2

BooksI am going to start telling you all about Vienna soon, but right now it’s the start of a new month and time to check in with the Summer 2014 Book Challenge over at Semi-Charmed Kind of Life. I’ve been useless at writing reviews recently, but I have been reading and I’ve managed to complete another four categories of the challenge.

As a reminder, here is my check-in post from last month: The Summer Reading Challenge: Month 1 when I completed 5 categories for 90 points.
And now here’s what I read in June 2014:

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 200 pages long.
The Night She Disappeared by April Henry– 229 pages. I have no idea how I came across this book, but I’m glad I did. I do want to write a proper review on it, so I won’t say too much here, but basically it’s a young adult mystery/thriller/crime novel. Having swapped shifts with co-worker Gabie, Kayla goes out to deliver a pizza and never comes back. When Gabie finds out that the caller originally asked for her, she’s plagued with guilt and, convinced Kayla is still alive, becomes determined to find her. I really enjoyed this book and though April Henry did an excellent job of getting inside the teenage characters’ minds. The various emotions they went through (guilt, fear, etc.) all rang true. You even got the occasional glimpse into the kidnapper’s thoughts, which was pretty creepy. This was a short read, but a good one. I’m just sorry it wasn’t around when I was a teenager! 5 stars (rating books is difficult! I really want to give it 4.5, so I’m rounding it up…).

15 points: Read a book that is on The New York Times’ Best Sellers List.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – 313 pages. I had to change my book for this category because the one I had originally intended to read was no longer on the best seller’s list by the time I got round to it. The Fault in Our Stars in at number 1 in “Young Adult”. I’m just assuming any category of the best seller list counts to get the points! And now, to the book…

The way everyone’s been raving about it, I expected to love this book, but I’m afraid I didn’t. I liked it, I read it all in one sitting and, of course, I cried…. but nowhere near as much as I was expecting to. I cried a lot more at P.S. I Love You! I did like Hazel. She was occasionally mean, argued with her parents, and you could feel her desire to be a normal teenager shining through. Gus, on the other hand, was way too perfect. Always knowing exactly what to do and say in every situation. He just didn’t feel real to me, and I couldn’t identify with him (okay, I’ve never had cancer, but I have been a teenager and I have been in love… I should have been able to relate to him on some level). It’s still a good book, but despite what everyone else thinks I’m afraid, for me, it just isn’t a great book. 3 stars.

15 points: Read a historical fiction book  that does not take place in Europe.
Peony in Love by Lisa See – 387 pages. I LOVED Snowflower and the Secret Fan by the same author, so I was really excited to read this book. Sadly I ended up being very, very disappointed. I am planning to write a full review of this one at some point so I won’t say much here, but let’s just say it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I wanted to get an insight into Chinese history and customs (as I had from the other book), instead I got a few glimpses into Chinese culture but mostly a weird teen love story.  2 stars for this one.

15 points: Read a book another blogger has read for the challenge.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton – 189 pages. There were a few books other partcipants had read that I found interesting, so I decided to order a few and see which arrived first… this one was the winner. The copy I read was actually a compilation of two books: The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks. The first omnibus edition (released in 1967) was called Bed-Knob and Broomstick, but I got the newer copy which was named after the Disney Film. Before I saw this title on the first check on for the challenge, I had no idea that the Disney film was based on a book… let alone one by the author of The Borrowers, one of my childhood favourites! I got very excited and had to order a copy straight away. The book is actually completely different to the film, and this is one of very few instances where I actually liked the film better (although it’s an unfair comparison because the only things the film seems to have taken from the book are the idea of three children meeting a witch and getting an enchanted bedknob that then causes their bed to fly). The war effort is a big theme in the film, whereas it isn’t even mentioned in the book. The children do wonder at one point whether it would be fair to use magic in wartime, and Carey (the eldest) has the idea that magic could be used to help with the war, but is promptly shushed with a warning about everything that could go wrong (“imagine if all the soldiers were turned to white mice!”). Generally, the book is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some good parts, but the first book seems to end rather suddenly before it really gets going. I would have liked one more adventure! It is a children’s book though, so maybe the author was thinking of short attention spans. There’s more action in the second book, and a bit of a gentle history lesson 😉 Overall, this a fun little read with some interesting characters (I liked everyone but Charles, the middle child, who was boring and a bit flat – probably because his sister and brother got all the good lines – Paul was the only one who could work the magic bedknob and Carey makes all the decisions and isn’t afraid to stand up to the adults in the book). I think I would have liked it better if I’d actually read it as a child though… the “scary bits” just aren’t as scary when you’re in your 30s! Also, this book was published before The Borrowers (1943/1945 for the Bedknobs books vs. 1952 for The Borrowers) and I would venture to say that Mary Norton’s writing improved somewhat in that time. From what I remember, The Borrower’s was better written. I’ll still give this one 4 stars though. If you’re interested, here’s the review by the blogger who inspired me to read this book (click on the purple writing).

So, that’s 50 points for month two of the challenge. Added to last month’s 90, that makes a total of 140 points. I still have 3 categories to complete: A book I failed to finish the first time I read it, a book by a blogger (I’m waiting for this one to arrive) and a biography/autobiography/memoir (I’m almost finished!).

Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

Another book review for the Summer 2014 Reading Challenge. I’m trying to get caught up with my reviewing before the first check in on 1st June!

I read this book for the category “Read two books with antonyms in the title”, which is worth 30 points. The other book I read for this category was The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell (Antonyms: Birth and Death… I just hope it’s okay that birth is only part of a word…)

book3The plot:
Birthmarked is the first in yet another Young Adult fiction series set in a dystopian future. There seem to be a lot of them about (The Hunger Games being the most obvious, but there’s also the Dilerium series, the Divergent books – the first of which has now been made into a film – The Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy, the Matched trilogy… I could go on, but I won’t. I’m sure you get the point!).

The story takes place about 300 years in the future, in a post-climate-change world where the lakes have dried up to become “unlakes” and water is a valuable commodity. In this world, there are those who live inside the “Enclave” – a walled city filled with rich privileged people and modern conveniences, like running water and electricity, and those like sixteen-year-old Gaia – the main character – who live in the small town outside the Enclave. Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing over the first few born each month to be “advanced” into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia herself has a scarred face as a result of a childhood accident, meaning she was never advanced herself as the Enclave only wants perfect, healthy babies. Gaia had always believed serving the Enclave was her duty and the right thing to do, but all that changes the night her parents are arrested by the very people they’ve served loyally for so long. Now Gaia begins to question everything she’s ever known. But in the end, her choice is simple: find a way to get into the Enclave and rescue her parents… or die trying.

My review:
First of all, I must confess that the only reason I bought this book is because it was the first one I found with the word “birth” in the title that sounded even vaguely interesting. And now, on with the review…
I loved the start of the book! It leaps straight into the action with Gaia attending her very first birth as an actual midwife, rather than her mother’s assistant. Immediately after the child is born, Gaia takes it from the mother in a heartwrenching scene and hurries to the gates of the Enclave to advance the child within the allotted timeframe. Gaia then returns home to find her parents gone and a soldior waiting to question her. The only clue is a piece of ribbon containing a code, given to her by her mother’s assistant. As the days go by and Gaia’s parents don’t return as promised, she decides she needs to get into the Enclave and rescue them so they can all escape together. At this point, things get slightly unbelievable… in the space of a few pages, Gaia goes from being the Enclave’s most loyal servant EVER to somebody who is willing to break every single rule in the book without a second thought. Obviously, she needs help to do this, and it seems as if almost everyone she comes across is willing to help her for no other reason than she asked nicely – saving Gaia’s parents certainly wasn’t going to benefit them! She also seems incredibly naive and ignorant. Her parents have clearly been withholding information, presumably to protect her, which makes sense, but the fact that she seemed never to have questioned anything in her world ever until her parents were arrested annoyed me slightly. Yes, openly questioning things might have been a bad idea, but by the age of 16 you would expect her to have had at least some doubts. At the beginning of the book, she does seem to have a tiny moment of hesitation about taking away the woman’s baby, but I felt like it stemmed more from it being the first time she had attended a birth alone than any real doubts about whether taking a baby away from its mother is actually justified, no matter what the circumstances. Having said that, I did quite enjoy the book. Enough happened to keep my interest throughout a two hour wait for a flight and I did genuinely want Gaia to save her parents. I desperately wanted the parents to live so I could learn more about them and how their subtle attempts to undermine the system (like keeping records of birth even though it was forbidden). I feel like the parents were more interesting characters than Gaia herself, even though they’re already gone by the time the story starts! I also enjoyed the various flashback scenes to Gaia’s childhood, and especially the parts about the relationship between Gaia and her father. The book ends on a cliff hanger (so obviously setting up for the sequel!) and I think I might actually read the next book, if only to find out whether Gaia becomes slightly more interesting… Not my favourite book, but I liked it well enough and I can see how it would appeal to its actual target audience. (Also, there are no sparkly vampires, which is always a plus ;-)). I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Stamp of Approval Staurday: Books and Music

books & globe
Photo credit: reenoreluv

For this week’s Stamp of Approval Saturday, I wanted to share this story of a woman who set herself the challenge of reading a book from every country in the world in one year. And I thought my plan to read all the books from the BBC Big Read in the next five years was ambitious!

While we’re on the subject of books, take a look at this Mashable list of 15 Young-Adult Books Every Adult Should Read. I have read two of them and naturally all the rest have now been added to my to-read list. If only there were more hours in a day…

Finally, I would like to share a music video with you. I had never even heard of the band Big Sixes until two weeks ago, then this link was posted on Facebook. The video is admittedly kind of boring, but please have a listen anyway…  they teamed up with some young musicians, and the cello player is my 14-year-old cousin!

For more stamps of approval, check out Alex’s blog,  Ifs, Ands & Butts!