What I read in February 2020: part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I read in January 2020: Part 2

Hello! As promised, I am now going to recap the rest of the books I read in January. And of course I am linking up with Jana and Steph for Show Us Your Books.

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Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winter. Jemima Small just wants to fit in. But it’s hard when she’s the exact opposite of her name – she#s sick of everyone at school calling her “Jemima Big”. Being forced to join the school health group – aka Fat Club – doesn’t exactly make things better. And she can’t even apply for her favourite TV show without worrying everyone will laugh – even though she knows she has a good chance of winning. But Jemima also knows that the biggest stars in the universe are the brightest. So maybe it’s her time to shine. I loved everything about this book! Well, I didn’t love the bullying, obviously, but I did love how Jemima dealt with it and realised what was important. Some of the other characters aren’t as well fleshed out (like the others who are singled out as being overweight/forced to join the so-called “fat club”) but Jemima herself is fantastic. I also loved Jasper, her big brother – despite being annoying and occasionally joining in on the teasing he did seem to love her and want to look out for her, and her friend Miki is amazing. 4.5 stars.

Pog by Pádraig Kenny. David and Penny’s strange new home is surrounded by forest. It’s the childhood home of their mother, who’s recently died. But other creatures live here too. Magical creatures – like Pog. He’s one of the First Folk, charged with protecting the boundary between the worlds. As the children explore, they discover monsters slipping through from the place on the other side of the cellar door. Meanwhile, David is drawn into the woods by something darker that lures him in with promising that there is a way to bring his mother back. This is a story about grief and monsters that’s surprisingly creepy at times (for a children’s book) but also heart warming. I would love a friend like Pog! 4 stars.

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.” It’s also famous for being the scene of a crime – shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed “Truly, Devious.” Now true-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan. She intends to solve this cold case. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. Now Stevie finds herself investigating two mysteries. After seeing many rave reviews of this book I was expecting to love this book. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked it – enough to read about two thirds in one sitting then finish it in my lunch break the next day – but I wasn’t completely bowled over. I liked Stevie a lot, and also some of her fellow students. And I’m intrigued by the mysteries but parts of the book were pretty slow. Also, I’m annoyed by the ending. Cliff hangers are one thing but this felt like the author had run out of time or something. It was just so abrupt! I wish someone had warned me not to start this one unless I could read book 2 immediately. Nonetheless, 4 stars.

Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrian Edmonson. When seven-year-old Tilly’s dad builds a time machine in the shed and asks her what time he should take her back to, there’s really only one answer. She wants to go back to her sixth birthday party, when she ate too many cupcakes and her mummy was still here. But then something goes wrong! Tilly’s dad gets stuck in the past and only she can save him! Thus starts an exciting journey through time. Will Tilly and her dad make it back in time for tea? This book is so cute and fun (but also emotional). Tilly is very resourceful – she reminded me a bit of Kevin from the Home Alone films, but nicer and better behaved. A fantastic time travelling adventure children at the younger end of middle grade (probably around 6+). 4 stars. (Oh, and apparently those with more cultural awareness than me will have heard of Adrian Edmondson from his role in the TV series The Young Ones.)

Tilly

Wormwood Gate by Katherine Farmar. Aisling and Julie are bickering, as usual, when they are almost run over by a white horse with a red mane. Suddenly, they find themselves somewhere else… in a city that’s Dubmin, but not quite. Three castles for three Queens blaze on the horizon and pigeons and seagulls are at war with one another. Can Aisling and Julie find the Wormwood Gate and get back to Mortal Realms? And could it be possible that they like each other more than they first thought? This book has a few bad reviews on Goodreads (although in fairness it currently only has 12 reviews total), but I actually quite liked it. The world building could have been more detailed but it was a quick, fun read with nods to folklore and other stories (I liked the white rabbit). It’s not exactly a fantasy masterpiece but not everything has to be! A high 3 stars.

So Long At the Fair by Christina Schwarz. Is it possible to be in love with two women at the same time? This is a question Jon has been asking himself frequently these days. He’s loved is wife Ginny ever since they were back at school together and he was afraid to even talk to her. But recently, he’s been becoming increasingly infatuated with his Freddi, his colleague at the ad agency, where late-night brainstorming sessions devolve into giggles and sexual attraction. This book covers one day in Ginny, Freddi and Jon’s lives, while also weaving in stories from their families’ past. This book is quite honestly boring. I finished it because I was in a train with nothing else to read and the writing is decent, but I honestly couldn’t have cared less about the story. The affair is totally cliche and the story from the past seemed entirely unnecessary. The original synopsis says ” Ginny is getting closer and closer to a thirty year olds secret” but there’s never even the slightest hint of her finding out anything about the past. Only the reader realises what went on! 2 stars.

Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson. Luke falls. He’s new in school, and on his first day, he has an epileptic fit in front of the whole class. As it turns out, he has much bigger issues too. Esther falls. In love. It’s wonderful – but there’s a shadow that she can’t identify and she can’t make go away just by loving Luke. Luke’s experience has taught him to despise himself; Esther’s self-belief is fragile. And love is not as easy as it looks. Will they be still falling at the end of term? I liked this book well enough but I didn’t love it. The two main characters are interesting but I didn’t like how a particular situation was resolved, or not really resolved to be honest. Part of the reason I picked this book up is because it’s set in Belfast and that part I did like – it’s a nice change to read about teens who are neither American nor English! 3 stars.

The Night She Disappeared by April Henry. This was a reread – I read it for the first time five years ago. Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also works part-time as a delivery girl at Pete’s Pizza. One night, Kayla – another delivery girl – goes missing, having swapped shifts with Gabie. To her horror, Gabie learns that the supposed kidnapper had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working. Unable to get past the thought that she was supposed to be the actual victim, Gabie becomes obsessed with finding Kayla and teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete’s. Together they set out to prove that Kayla isn’t dead – and hopefully to find her before she is. This is a fast-paced book that had me hooked from the very beginning. I didn’t remember most of what happened from my first read. I really liked the mixed media approach with interviews, newspaper articles, etc. I feel like some parts could have gone into more depth but overall it’s a good read. 3.5 stars.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to move into their minivan… again. Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s Jackson’s old imaginary friend. Now he’s back in Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything? Considering this book is literally called Crenshaw, the imaginary cat features surprisingly little. Instead it’s a sweet but sad book about a boy who is terrified of becoming homeless again and feels like he has to be the adult in his family because his parents won’t take anything seriously. It seemed to dwell on the past a lot with Jackson’s memories of when the family had to live in a minivan before – I would have liked to have seen more of the present day situation and especially of his friend Marisol who seemed awesome! Not as good as The One and Only Ivan but still a good read. It would be a good way to introduce topics like homelessness and poverty to children. Also, I listened to this on Scribd while cleaning so I do wonder if I might have got into it more if I actually read it? 3 stars anyway.

Chances by Freya North. When Vita’s relationship with Tim ended, they both knew they had to move on but Vita’s struggling to come to terms with Tim’s new girlfriend. And the fact that she and Tim own a gift shop together doesn’t exactly help matters! Meanwhile, active and outdoorsy Oliver runs his tree-surgery business as calmly as his home – but his love life is intensely private. When Vita and Oliver’s paths cross at a pear tree, he seems to her to be the perfect man. But  will she ever be able to compete with the memories of his late wife? As spring turns into summer, both Vita and Oliver are given choices and chances. But will they take them – or walk away? I have enjoyed Freya North books in the past but this one was just okay. The main character, Vita, is supposed to be this amazingly sweet human being who everybody loves (literally there’s a scene where someone shouts at her on the phone and it’s all “she didn’t know how to react –  nobody ever shouted at Vita”), but for the first half of the book I honestly just found her annoying. Things improved once Vita and Oliver finally got together and I loved Jonty, the teenage son, but overall this book is distinctly average. 2.5 stars.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Young, handsome and fabulously rich, Jay Gatsby seems to have it all. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life, Gatsby is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon, this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel. lot of people seem to love this but for me it was meh. I just didn’t care about any of the characters or what they did. The writing is good but the story is boring – as evidenced by the fact that it took me 3 days to read (and my copy was only 192 pages long). I honestly only finished it because it’s on the BBC Big Read. Meh. 2 stars.

TL;DR. Again, I don’t have loads that I would wholeheartedly recommend, but this half is definitely better than part 1! Jemima Small Versus the Universe is fantastic if you’re into middle grade/YA (it’s kind of between the two… older middle grade and younger teens). I also recommend Pog and Tilly and the Time Machine if you’re into children’s books – or have kids to share them with. Maybe Crenshaw as well. Truly Devious is a decent enough mystery but make sure you have book 2 on hand to avoid being completely disappointed with the lack of any sort of reveal at the end!

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for you. Check out the link up for more book reviews!

Six degrees of separation: From Daisy Jones & the Six to…

I came across this link up on stargazer’s blog and thought it was so fun! Basically the host – Kate – assigns a starting book from which all participants build a chain, adding six books, one at a time, with each having something in common with the one before it to see where they end up.

This month, the starting book is Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Daisy Jones

I haven’t actually read Daisy Jones yet (or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo… I know, I know. Am I even a reader?) but from what I am aware it’s about a singer called Daisy Jones and a famous rock band in the 70s. I’ve seen it compared to the actual story of Fleetwood Mac, which intrigues me. And now for my chain:

1. Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett features a character whose father is a formerly famous punk rocker, so that’s a connection with musicians. Tentative? Maybe, but I’ll take it.

A major component of this book involves camping in the wilderness and stargazing, which brings me to…

2. Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass. Three teens are brought together at Moon Shadow, an isolated campground where thousands have gathered to catch a glimpse of a rare and extraordinary total eclipse of the sun. Two of the three teens in the story find out that they’re going to be moving, one to Moon Shadow and one away from it, into the city, where she’s terrified that she won’t fit in.

3. Ella on the Outside by Cathy Howe is another book involving a move. Ella is new in town and is trying her best to fit in at her new school. When a popular girl befriends her, Ella finds herself dealing with blackmail and lies, and has to figure out the right thing to do.

4. What Lexie Did by Emma Shevah also has a main character who is struggling to work out the right thing to do, and the difference between being honest and telling tales. When one spontaneous, jealous lie ends up tearing her family apart poor Lexie is more confused than ever. Lexie is part of a Greek-Cypriot family and there are many descriptions of food in the book that made my mouth water, which brings me to…

5. Born Confused by Tanuja Desei Hidier. This book is about a teenager in the US, Dimple Lala, who has spent her whole life rejecting her Indian parent’s culture. But now she’s in high school and suddenly everything Indian is trendy. Like with What Lexie Did, there’s a lot of food in this book and every time Dimple’s mum started cooking I honestly started craving curries and samosas!

6. The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan. Finally, I come to another book about the daughter of Indian parents who is caught between two cultures, in this case in the UK. When Jay and her mother are forced to move in with Jay’s aunt and uncle, life becomes very difficult for Jay. Her aunt is very strict about what a good Indian girl should and should not do and would absolutely not approve of Jay having non-Indian friends. But as it turns out, that’s only the beginning of Jay’s nightmare. This is a hard hitting book that absolutely broke me when I read it last year. Without meaning to spoil anything, I feel like I have to inform you that this book involves a sexual assault.

So, there’s my chain. I hope I’ve done it right! I had fun doing it anyway. Somehow all of these books are children’s and young adult fiction, which is interesting (and unintentional)!

You can see the original post (and chain) here and also find other people’s chains in the comments, where you can also add your link if you decide to join in too.

What I read in December 2019

Good morning friends! It’s the first Show Us Your Books link up of the year, and I’m here to tell you about the books I read in December. In terms of actual books, it isn’t as many as usual but I read most of It by Stephen King in December, which is a lot of pages! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning…

I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

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What She Saw by Wendy Clarke. First of all, the actual synopsis of this book is totally misleading so I’m going to try to write my own. Leona and her daughter Beth have always been close. But their closeness has meant Beth struggled to make friends. Her mother’s over-protectiveness has led her to be sheltered and totally reliant on her parents. Meanwhile, Leona has a secret that she can’t tell anybody – not even Beth. Something in her past has caused her to be wary of strangers and meant she’s had to lie to Beth ever since she was a child. Could that past now be catching up with them? This is a reasonable enough thriller but rather predictable. I guessed most of the twists, apart from being misled on one thing I expected to happen that didn’t. 2.5 stars. I think the author has potential but this particular book was average.

The Real Katie Lavender by Erica James. 30-year-old Katie Lavender thinks she is better than most when it comes to dealing with life’s surprises. But when she loses her job and receives a request to visit a solicitor all on the same day, she has no idea of the dramatic turn her life is about to take. The solicitor gives her a letter from her deceased mother that will change everything Katie thought she knew about herself. So. Much. Drama. This is more soap opera than book. Everyone is having affairs, half the characters are adopted. Suspension of belief is one thing but so much happening in one family eventually just became ridiculous. And most of the characters didn’t feel authentic – either cliché or too perfect. It’s an easy read and goes by quickly (with so much going on it has too!) but honestly it’s not that great. 2 stars.

The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf. When you’re a hypochondriac, there are a million different things that could be wrong with you, but for Izzy, focusing on what could be wrong might be keeping her from dealing with what’s really wrong. With her mother suffering from a rare disease, a best friend who seems to have suffered a personality transplant, and a way-out-of-her league maybe boyfriend who keeps blowing hot and cold, Izzy’s life feels out of control. But when the worst-case scenario actually happens Izzy realises there’s no handy list of symptoms to help her through. This book is a little predictable and there were almost too many issues, but I actually quite liked reading it. Parts of it are actually pretty funny. I felt bad for Izzy even if she caused some of her own problems. 3.5 stars.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland, but the similarities end there. They couldn’t be more different. Connell is one of the most popular boys at their high school, handsome,star of the football team and an excellent student. The only thing he lacks is money. Marianne is from a fairly well-off family,  but she’s plain-looking, odd, stubborn and completely ostracised at school. However, there is a deep and undeniable connection between the two teenagers, one that develops into a secret relationship. When both are accepted into Trinity College in Dublin, their roles end up being reversed. This book follows the two of them throughout their university years, as they fall in and out of romance. And as Marianne experiments with an increasingly dangerous string of boyfriends, Connell must decide how far he is willing to go to save his oldest friend. I bought this on a whim at the train station because I needed something for the journey home and I’m so glad I did. I read the entire thing on the train and enjoyed every minute. It’s emotional, hard hitting, thought provoking. I can imagine a lot of people hating it but I loved it. It reminded me a lot of One Day. The characters’ failure to communicate drove me crazy at times but the author perfectly captured the feeling of not fitting in. Not quite a 5 star read, but almost… I’m giving it 4.5.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. Now, newly married, newly widowed, and pregnant, Elsie is sent to her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge. With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Behind a locked door inside her home, she finds a painted wooden figure – a silent companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition until other strange things start to happen. This is a great read. Very creepy and gothic. And I was not expecting the ending at all. 4.5 stars.

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen. This is the story of various people who all end up wearing the same little black dress for one reason or another, for example a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl who would love a way to get back at her lawyer ex-boyfriend who’s engaged to someone else after just two months, a woman has been quietly in love with her happily married boss for twenty years and, now he’s a widower, just needs the right situation to make him see how perfect she is for him, and a private detective specialising in finding evidence on cheating husbands. For all of them, everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season. This is a cute, quick read. It’s kind of fluffy and with so many characters it doesn’t truly go into depth with any story but it’s perfect escapism and I really enjoyed it. Definitely nothing earth shattering but a nice palate cleanser. 4 stars.

In the Dark by Cara Hunter. The second in the DI Adam Fawley seires. A woman and young child are found locked in a basement room, barely alive. Nobody knows who they are and the woman can’t – or won’t – speak. The elderly man who owns the house, and seems to be suffering from dementia, claims he has never seen them before.The inhabitants of the quiet Oxford street are in shock – how could this happen right under their noses? But DI Adam Fawley knows that nothing is impossible, and nobody is as innocent as they seem. I loved the first book in this series, but found the ending a little hard to swallow. This second book was even better. It’s a great thriller with many twists and turns – by the end you’re not sure whether anyone can be trusted! And I really didn’t expect the final twist. I am very excited to continue with this series. 5 stars.

The Clocks by Agatha Christie. Sheila Webb, typist-for-hire, arrives at 19 Wilbraham Crescent in the seaside town of Crowdean to accept a new job. Instead, she finds a well-dressed corpse surrounded by five clocks. Mrs. Pebmarsh, the blind owner of No. 19, denies all knowledge of ringing Sheila’s secretarial agency and asking for her by name, and neither does she own all those clocks. And neither woman seems to know the victim. Colin Lamb, a young intelligence specialist working a case of his own – and a friend of the police detective who ends up taking on the case – happens to be on the scene at the time of Sheila Webb’s ghastly discovery. Lamb knows of only one man who can properly investigate a crime as bizarre and baffling as this – his friend and mentor Hercule Poirot. This was the first ever Agatha Christie book I read, back when I was 10! I read it again for the first time in over 20 years on the plane home from England. It’s pretty typical Christie fare full of intrigue and mysterious relationships. I was certainly kept entertained, and after all this time I couldn’t remember who the culprit was. It’s a slightly bizarre addition to the Poirot series given that Poirot only turns up at the very end and doesn’t actually do any investigating, but following Colin Lamb is just as interesting. Maybe not Christie’s best work, but this was a fun bit of nostalgia for me. 4 stars.

It by Stephen King. Finally we come to the behemoth that is this book. I started it in October and read 212 pages then abandoned it for Believathon, which meant I read 1164 pages of it December! Most people know what this book is about, so just quickly: Only the children of Derry could see and feel what made their home town so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, It lurked, taking on the shape of every person’s deepest dread. Sometimes it reared up, going on a killing spree, before falling back into a sleep. Until one group of children figured out a way to stop the cycle for that year. Time passed, the children grew up, moved away, forgot. But now it’s starting again and the grown-up children have been called back again to confront It once more and this time, hopefully, put a stop to it for good. Stephen King certainly can write! It takes talent to hold my attention throughout most of a book this long. There were parts I didn’t like as much and I did think there were a few tangents that could have been left out. Also one particular scene was just horrible and entirely unnecessary! I’m sure he could have found a better way to renew the children’s bond (if you’ve read it, you’ll know). It definitely did not need to be over 1,300 pages long, but overall I really liked it. A solid 4 star read.

And that’s it. Nine books is relatively few for me, but as I said, in terms of page count I still read a lot!

TL;DR. If you really need this for a post with only 9 books I’m not sure you can be helped! However, I shall give you my recommendations anyway: thriller fans please read the DI Adam Fawley series by Cara Hunter. I promise they’re not your usual police procedural books. I feel like Normal People will be a Marmite type book (you will either love it or hate it) but I really liked it. The Silent Companions is a great gothic book and a fairly quick read. And I expect you will know whether you’re interested in reading It or not.

Check out the link up for more book recommendations, and let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them.

That’s all from me. Hope you have an awesome day/afternoon/night/whatever!

Favourite books for each year of the decade

Yes, I am aware that I said I was going to stop dwelling on the past now, but Gavin made a video like this and I was inspired. So today I am bringing to you my favourite books of the last decade, by publication year (I can’t do my favourite book I read in each year because I honestly couldn’t tell you which books I read in 2010!).

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I have decided to do two books for each year because in some years it was just too hard to choose just one… others were easier because for some reason I apparently haven’t read many books that were published in 2010 or 2012?

Anyway… let’s do this. I’m not going to give a description of the books, but the title will link to Goodreads if you want to read the synopsis and if I’ve reviewed them on my blog I’ll include a link to where you can find the review.

Here goes…

2010

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. I had previously read a lot of murder mysteries and detective novels, but this was one of my first thrillers and I just thought the entire concept and way of telling the story were so unique! I still remember being shocked by the twist. I think I may have actually read this one the year it came out, or if not in 2011. No review because I rarely reviewed books on my blog back then.

Faithful Place by Tana French. I think I may have actually read this in the year it came out – or at least as soon as it came to German bookshops (which is sometimes later) – which, is rare for me. I buy most of my books second hand and when I actually do enter a bookshop I tend to pick up back list titles that I was excited about when I first heard of them. But I really enjoyed the first two books in this series and was actually waiting for this one to come out so I could buy it. There is only one book in this series that I’m not a particular fan of, but of the rest this is probably my favourite. Again, no review, but I am planning to reread the whole series so maybe there will be one on my blog eventually.

2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I knew this book was going to be included in this list no matter what, but when I looked it up I was shocked to discover it came out in 2011! I didn’t read it until 2015, having been given it for Christmas, and before that I hadn’t even heard of it. Where had it been hiding all those years! I actually wrote a review of this one on my blog, which you can read here.

Among Others by Jo Walton. I owned this for a few years before I actually read it and I actually think I remember picking it up once and not being able to get into it. But then in 2016 I picked it up again and was absolutely entranced. It’s a book about loss, and about growing up. It’s a fairytale, a boarding school book, a book about family. But most of all it’s a book about books. I loved it!

2012

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Although this was published in 2012, I somehow didn’t get round to reading it until 2017! It’s both heart warming and heartbreaking and I wish I had found it sooner. I reviewed it briefly here.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Blunt. I can’t believe I didn’t discover this book until 2018! It’s a beautiful, emotional read all about grief. Here’s a review.

2013

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell. A lot of people think of Lisa Jewell as a thriller writer, but I first knew her as a writer of what would probably be labelled “chick lit” (my first Lisa Jewell book, many years ago, was 31 Dream Street). This one is a contemporary book centring around a family tragedy and it absolutely broke me.

Waiting for Wednesday by Nicci French. I love this series so I had to get at least one of the books in! I actually only gave book 1 in the series 4 stars, but they got better and better as they went along, and this one definitely beats all the other books I’ve read that I found out were published in 2013.

2014

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. This book has one of the most unexpected twists of any thriller I’ve ever read. It totally shocked me and I honestly still think about it although I read it in 2015! I reviewed it briefly here.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. I couldn’t write this entire list without including a Flavia de Luce book! This is book 6 in the series and in some ways felt like a filler book between Flavia at home and book 7 where she goes away, but I still loved it and we found out more about Flavia’s mother in this one, which was nice. I wrote a review of it here.

2015

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne. This is the first book in the Spinster Club series and is also my favourite (of the main trilogy – there is also a special book 3.5 that I haven’t read). Such a great teen book. You can find my review here.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. I adored this book – it’s dark and twisted and Faith is such a fantastic main character! I read this in 2018 and have been meaning to pick up another Frances Hardinge book ever since. There’s a review in this post.

2016

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. I know a lot of people aren’t fans of this book, either because they don’t think it’s believable or they hate the romance, but I really liked it. I loved the characters and the writing style. Very brief review here.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This is a strong contender for my overall favourite book of the decade (but seriously… do not ask me to make that choice!). It’s just wonderful! I read it in November 2019 and reviewed it here.

2017

Interestingly, the two books I’ve chosen for 2017 are ones where I would say if you liked one you will probably like the other. I loved them both and could not choose between them to include a less similar second book, so here they both are.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Most people know this book. I lot of people loved it, some people hated it. Obviously I belong to the former category. Review here.

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard. A friend gave me this book, I think for my birthday, and I feel like it hasn’t got enough overall attention. I adored Elvira and honestly just wanted to give her a hug. You can see my review here.

2018

In the Dark by Cara Hunter. I recently mentioned this (in this post) as being one of my favourite books of 2019. I read it in December so I haven’t actually published my review yet – you’ll have to wait for Tuesday for that. But suffice to say it’s one of the best detective-based crime thrillers I’ve ever read.

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. Another one that was mentioned in my favourite books of 2019, this is the sequel to Nevermoor, which I also adored. See my review here.

2019

As I’ve mentioned, I very rarely read books in the year they come out, so I was surprised to find that I had about 12 books to choose from that had been published in 2019. That was still a lot easier to narrow down than other years though! But if you’re thinking there were much better books published in 2019 than my choices, you may be right… there were many amazing sounding books published in 2019, but most likely I haven’t actually read them. Anyway, my choices:

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus. I really liked One of Us is Lying, so when I found myself in a bookshop earlier this year in need of something to read straight away, I couldn’t resist picking this one up, and I ended up enjoying it even more than her first book. You can find my review here.

The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf. This book is hard hitting and heart breaking, but it also manages to be beautiful and heart warming and fun, with a wonderful sense of friendship. I loved it! Read my review here.

Let me know what some of your favourite books of the decade were in the comments, or if you decide to also do a post like this leave me a link and I’ll come and take a look.

What I read in October 2019

Hello my lovelies. It’s book review day again, and can you believe it’s the tenth one of the year? Crazy! Also, last month’s link up was the fifth anniversary of Show Us Your Books and I totally forgot to congratulate Jana and Steph. I am a terrible person, but I hope they know I think they rock. Anyway… on to what I read in October. It wasn’t as much as in other months. I actually only have nine books for you this time round, which I know is still quite a lot, but for me it’s not many at all. Too much crafting and Buffy the Vampire Slayer taking up my time! But you’re hear to read about books, so I’ll get on with it shall I…

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Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson. Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have been inseparable ever since Mila moved to Cross Creek. There’s not much to do in their small town, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favourite activity: amateur witchcraft. When Riley and two mean girls from their high school die in suspicious circumstances within a short time of each other, Mila refuses to believe her friend was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient spell book, Mila decides to bring Riley back from the dead and uncover the truth. Unfortunately, she also ends up bringing back the other two girls, and none of them can remember what happened before they died. With only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again. This was such a fun read and the perfect start to October. There’s lots of wit and sarcasm, and I loved the friendship the girls built up. The cast is also extremely diverse. The mystery kept me guessing and I was surprised by who the culprit was – lots of people found it predictable though, so maybe I’m just dumb 😉 It definitely requires a LOT of suspension of belief, lots of absurd things happening. But I kind if liked the silliness of it. It’s not quite a 4 star read, but I rounded it up to 4 on Goodreads.

Friend Request by Laura Marshall. When Louise receives a message saying Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook, she’s confused to say the least. Maria Weston has been dead for 27 years… hasn’t she? The message brings back long-buried memories of Louise’s school days, when she almost became friends with new girl Maria, until one decision made everything go horribly wrong. Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. But as she is forced to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with and piece together what happened, Louise discovers that there’s more to the story than she ever knew. I really liked this. It does take it’s time to finally tell you what Louise did but I felt like it mostly built up the tension well. I did not guess what was happening at all and the ending totally shocked me. My theory was way off base – although I suspected most people at one point or another! 3.5 stars.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Volume 1: The Crucible by Robert Aguirre. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, high school student and young sorceress Sabrina Spellman must choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. This is a graphic novel comprising the first five issues of the ongoing comic book series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which I believe are related to the Netflix series. It’s hard for me to rate this because I don’t really read graphic novels. I feel like it was over too fast and I didn’t have a chance to get to know the characters. Sabrina is supposed to be the main character but the story spent so much time in the past or with other random people that it didn’t really feel like it. I liked Madame Satan – she’s wonderfully creepy and just plain bad. I want to keep reading because this one ended on a cliffhanger and I won’t to know what happens, but in general I don’t think graphic novels are going to be something I start picking up regularly. 3 stars.

The Au Pair by Emma Rous. Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs. Now an adult, Seraphine is mourning the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph taken on the day the twins were born. It shows their mother, together with her husband and her young son – the twins’ brother – smiling serenely, and holding just one baby. Her brother has a vague memory that his au pair, Laura, took the photo – right before she fled back to London. Seraphine is determined to find her and learn exactly what happened that day and who the baby in the photograph is. This is a fast-paced read and I liked it fine, but I didn’t love it. I really didn’t like Seraphine. She jumped to conclusions constantly and was just generally really annoying. There’s one point where her brothers say they didn’t tell her something when she was younger because they knew how she’d react and I found myself agreeing with them – she definitely would have overreacted, lashed out and generally been a pain. I much preferred the chapters from Laura’s point of view, although the “twist” in her tale was fairly obvious to me, I just wasn’t sure precisely how it came out. The ending is so elaborate that it all seems incredibly far-fetched. This is billed as a “thriller” but it’s really not that thrilling. And the tag-line “Would you let a complete stranger into your home?” is incredibly misleading – there’s no “evil” au pair in this one! 3 stars.

Vox by Christina Dalcher. Like every other woman in the United States, Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins. A new government is in power and almost overnight, bank accounts have been frozen, passports taken away and seventy million women have lost their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write. Then suddenly Jean’s skills are needed, giving her a temporary reprieve. She is determined to regain her voice – for herself, for her daughter and for every woman silenced. I’m not sure how to review this book. I thought I was going to love it, and I did love certain aspects. The beginning was terrifying and felt like something that could really happen, but other parts were just confusing and most of the characters lacked depth. Even though the book is told from Jean’s perspective, I feel as though I don’t really know her, and I know even less about her husband. The storyline with Steven, her teenage son, are scary and show exactly how teenagers/children are indoctrinated in dictatorships – those parts were really well done. However, the ending felt rushed and incomplete. Possibly setting up for a sequel? I did like it and parts of it will stick with me but overall it just wasn’t what I was expecting. 3.25 stars.

The Drowning Pool by Syd Moore. After relocating to a coastal town, widowed teacher Sarah Grey is slowly rebuilding her life, along with her young son Alfie. After she and her friends accidentally hold a séance one drunken night, strange things start to happen and Sarah is convinced she is being haunted by her namesake, a 19th Century local witch. Delving into local folklore, she learns that the witch was thought to have been evil incarnate. When a series of old letters surface, Sarah discovers that nothing and no-one is as it seems, maybe not even the ghost of Sarah Grey… This is billed as a “modern ghost story” but it’s more of a whodunnit/mystery surrounding a crime that happened in the past with a bit of haunting thrown in. There are a few creepy scenes, but the way it’s written is more chicklit than horror (not that there’s anything wrong with chicklit, it just wasn’t what I was expecting!). There’s also an awful lot of the protagonist getting drunk – at one point she wasn’t sure whether she’d drank 2 or 3 bottles of wine while home alone, and she also talks about being on antidepressants… was she really being haunted or hallucinating from the effects of mixing alcohol with medication every single night? Overall it was an interesting story, but not all that gripping. I especially enjoyed the parts about the original Sarah Grey – modern-day Sarah Grey was slightly too annoying! 3.5 stars

The Taking of Annie Thorne by C.J. Tudor. One night, Joe’s sister Annie went missing. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. But then after 48 hours she came back. But when she did, she wasn’t the same. In fact, sometimes Joe found himself scared to death of his little sister. Now a grown man, Joe receives a message: “It’s starting again”. Needing to get out of town anyway, he returns to the small town of Arnhill in Nottinghamshire where he grew up to start a job teaching English at the school. But not everybody is happy to see him back. I am torn on how to rate this book. The writing is good. It’s very dark, a bit creepy. The author captures the atmosphere of a former mining town very well (I spent my teen years in one, and in fact the house my dad lives in was originally miners’ flats). The main character is not likeable, but I don’t think he’s supposed to be. Actually, nobody in that town seemed to be likeable. Anyway, I was enjoying it and then it go to the twist/reveal/explanation and… it’s a blatant rip-off of a very popular book, which I will not name because even if you haven’t read it as soon as I mention the title you’ll know what the explanation is as well. I get that most things have been done before, new takes on old stories, new twists, etc. But this was a little *too* close to that other book. I quite liked The Chalk Man and I really think this author could write an amazing book in the future, she just needs to make it a little less obvious where she gets her inspiration from! 3 stars.

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. When Moomintroll learns that a comet is coming, het sets off with his friend Sniff to consult the professors at the top of the Lonely Mountains. They have many adventures and meet new friends along the way, but the greatest adventure of all awaits them when they learn that the comet is headed straight for their beloved Moominvalley. Surely Momminmama will know what to do, if only they can get back in time to warn her. This is charming and delightful. I had only read Finn Family Moomintroll before, so it was nice to learn how the Moomins met some of the other characters in this one. I think we can all learn a lot from the Moomins about how to treat each other and the important things in life. It gets confusing sometimes with the weird names of the creatures and lack of explanations (you’re just expected to know what Hemulens are for example – maybe it was explained in the first book?), but overall I liked it. It reminds me of simpler times. 4 stars.

They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire. Every year, the lives of ten junior girls at Vienna High are transformed. All because of “the list”. All Kenzie wants is to get through high school and earn a scholarship to her dream college so she can get away from her overprotective mother, who has been smothering her ever since Kenzie’s older brother died the year before.  But when she’s voted number five on a list of the prettiest girls in school, her average life becomes dazzling. She’s invited to parties, makes new friends, and the cutest jock in school is after her. This is the power of the list. If you’re on it, your life changes. But this year, the girls on the list are dying one by one. Kenzie is determined to find out what’s going on before it’s too late… This is entertaining and fast paced. I mostly enjoyed reading it (even while rolling my eyes at most of the characters). I didn’t guess the reveal mostly because it’s so absurd that nobody’s mind would go there. There’s suspension of belief and then there’s just entirely implausible. I wouldn’t necessarily say don’t read it, but be prepared to roll your eyes a lot – at the plot and at the sheer sexism of it all. Hottie list? Really? 3.25 stars.

And that was all I read in October. A couple of decent ones, nothing turly terrible, but nothing absolutely outstanding either, sadly.

TL;DR. This is usually where I give a brief overview of which books I recommend, but I’m not sure what to tell you this month. Everyone should read Vox for certain aspects – particularly for a chilling look at home indoctrination happens in schools – but don’t go in expecting an outstanding new addition to the dystopian genre. If you like witchy YA and  aren’t likely to roll your eyes out of your head when things get absurd then I recommend Undead Girl Gang as a fun, silly read. Graphic novels aren’t my favourite, but if you’re a big fan and like creepy things you should definitely read Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.Finally, the Moomins books are very cute and nostalgic, but I would recommend starting with book 1.

Don’t forget to check out the link up for more book reviews. (And admire Jana’s new puppy while you’re there!)

What I read in July 2019

Hello friends. Today is my birthday and also Show Us Your Books day… could there be a better gift? July was an excellent reading month for me… I managed to read 20 books, which is one fewer than in my best ever reading month. With so much to get through, I don’t want to ramble on too much, so I’ll just get on with it. Linking up with Jana and Steph, of course. TL;DR at the bottom if you just want to know which ones I recommend without reading the whole post.

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The first three weeks of the month were completely dominated by reading for Erin’s reading challenge, so the first ten reviews here are from that. If you want to know the categories, you can find them here.

Joyland by Stephen King. In 1973, Devin Jones gets a summer job at an amusement park called Joyland where he learns that a young girl was murdered on the haunted house ride a few years ago. Supposedly her ghost has been seen there since then. In between nursing a broken heart after being dumped by his first love and learning that he actually has a talent for entertaining kids, Devin decides to investigate the murder… or rather gets one of his friends to do all the work for him. He also befriends a single mother and her son, who is dying. This book is part ghost story, part murder mystery but mostly coming of age. It’s far from being my favourite Stephen King story but it’s a quick read and I was reminded, once again, that he certainly can write. Devin felt so real to me. A few things threw me though – were smoothies really that big in the 70s that someone would just casually invite someone in for one? I don’t think I’d even heard of a smoothie until about 2000, although I’m not from the US so maybe it was different there. Whatever. 3.5 stars.

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey. I bought this book last year then I realised it’s not a sequel to The Girl With All the Gifts, but more of a companion… or prequel, really. But when I realised it fit a category for Erin’s challenge I decided it was time to get over myself and just read it. I don’t really know what to say about this one because if you haven’t read The Girl With All the Gifts you really should go into that one without knowing what it’s all about. So maybe skip to the next review if that applies to you? So, in this one a group of soldiers venture out from London , tracking down caches left my a previous team to find out whether any of them have been left in an environment that’s inhospitable to the pathogen the causes the plague that’s struck society. They also occasionally stop to take samples from the “hungries” for analysis. Meanwhile there are all sorts of tensions within the team – one is a spy, half the crew seem to hate the other half and many of them are hiding secrets. The story mainly revolves around Dr Khan, who discovers she’s pregnant after the start of the mission, and a teenager named Stephen, her ward, who is some kind of genius, probably on the autistic spectrum (although diagnoses kind of went out the window when the world basically ended) and invented the cream that makes people invisible to those who are infected. I  didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as The Girl With All the Gifts. I missed Melanie – she was such a fantastic character. Some of the characters in this one are cliché (particularly the soldier-types who shoot first and ask questions afterwards) and I hated the way they treated Stephen. But other than that I really did enjoy being back in this world. The ending really tied things together for me and provided some resolution for the first book as well so I’m glad I read it. Technically it could probably be read as a standalone but I don’t think it would be as enjoyable without having read the other book first. 4 stars.

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. Ceony Twill has just graduated from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined at the top of her class and is really annoyed to have been assigned an apprenticeship as a paper magician – she wanted to learn metal and once bonded to an element you can never control anything else. Yet the spells she learns under her new master, the kindly Thane, turn out to be more wonderful than she could ever have imagined – animating paper creatures so they come to life, creating paper snow that’s actually cold, reading fortunes. But then an Excisioner — a practitioner of the forbidden dark magic involving flesh — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will literally take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart. This could have been really good. The magic is fantastic – paper animals brought to life. I adored Fennel, the dog Thane makes from paper. But the writing and the whole world are just confusing. It’s supposed to be set in London but at one point the main character – born and raised in England – cooks biscuits and gravy. Biscuits in the UK are cookies and you certainly don’t eat them with gravy. Nothing about it sounded British! And it didn’t sound like it was taking place in the early 1900s either. There were a few “quaint” expressions that I suppose the author thought would make the book sounded dated but they really didn’t. It would have been a lot more convincing if it were set in modern day New York. A disappointing 2.5 stars.

I, Coriander by Sally Gardner. The daughter of a merchant and his beautiful wife, Coriander’s childhood in seventeenth century England is a happy one, until her mother dies and her father – a Royalist – is driven into hiding by her wicked stepmother and the rise of Oliver Cromwell. When the fanatical (and evil) Puritan minister Arise Fell locks her in a chest and leaves her to die, she is transported to fairyland where she discovers her mother was actually a fairy princess and her daughter has inherited some of her magic. Now it’s up to Coriander to use her new-found magic in order to save both herself and an inhabitant of the fairy world from the evil-doers of both worlds. is a cute book. I would have appreciated more detail on the fairytale world – maybe some explanation of must what was so special about the prince. But this is Coriander’s tale and her life is rooted in London. I did appreciate Coriander being the one to do the saving – no week girls relying on men-folk here! And I loved Hester. It was a pleasant surprise that Coriander’s step-sister was not portrayed as “wicked” but as much a victim of her mother as anyone else. 3.5 stars.

Lost Boy by Christina Henry. We all know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who doesn’t grow up. But that’s just one story. What about the other side? Peter brought Jamie to the island many years ago because there were no grown ups and they could play and do as they liked all day. He brought boys from the Other Place to join the fun. But it’s never been all fun and games on the island, where their neighbours are pirates and monsters, their toys are stones and knives and their games are violent – and often deadly. Peter promised they would all be young and happy forever. Peter lied. This is Jamie’s side of the story… better known to readers as Captain James Hook. This is a dark and twisted tale that takes just enough from the original story to make it seem like it *could* have happened like that. I thoroughly enjoyed this other side of the story retelling. 4 stars.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. Eileen Dunlop is an unassuming yet disturbed young woman, trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen’s days are filled with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. All while she fills her time with shoplifting, obsessing over a prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When beautiful, bright Rebecca Saint John comes to work at the prison just before Christmas, Eileen is unable to resist what she thinks is the start of a wonderful friendship. Until her affection for Rebecca pulls her into complicity in a crime. I liked this book to start with. Eileen is a thoroughly unlikeable character – tightly wound, disturbed, you could even call her disgusting. She dresses in her dead mother’s clothes, has a really messed up relationship with her body, hates the idea of anyone knowing she has actual body functions and frequently neglects even the most basic hygiene. But for all that, she’s utterly fascinating. The writing is so good that you can’t help but read on even while wondering why you would possibly want to read about such an awful person and her mundane little life. But after a while things started to get repetitive and I found myself wishing the book would hurry up and get to whatever point it was trying to make. There were so many references to “the last time I would see him” or “if I had known that I wasn’t coming back” that I wanted to shout at her to just get on with it! The ending, when it finally came, was anti-climatic. If this hadn’t been short and for a challenge I probably wouldn’t have bothered finishing it. 2.5 stars.

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye.  Ashton Pelham-Martyn is the son of an English botanist, born on the road while his parents are travelling through India. His mother dies shortly after his birth. When he loses his father just a few years later, his nanny is supposed to take him back to his people, but circumstances intervene and result in her adopting him as her son and raising him as a Hindu, believing it’s the only way to keep him safe. When she dies, he finds out his true parentage. As a result, Ash ends up torn between his two identities, always able to see both sides of the picture, resulting in lots of trouble when he later joins the army. He then falls in love with a beautiful Indian princess, complicating matters even further. This book went on and on and on. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I liked parts of it. I enjoyed most of the childhood part and I was genuinely invested in Ash and Juli’s love story and wanted to know how things would work out for them, I also loved the character of Wally. In between there were parts that dragged. There was a lot of history, which makes sense given that the author most likely assumed the readers would know very little about India (probably true), but a lot of those sections read like a history book. Surely there must have been a better way to do it? At times it almost seemed like the author was trying to pack in everything she knew about Indian history just to prove that she did know it. I think the main problem is that it didn’t really know what it wanted to be. It’s definitely historical fiction (with too much of an emphasis on history, if you ask me) but is it a romance, a war book, the story of someone trying to find his place in a world where he doesn’t fully belong to any one group? It was supposed to be Ash’s story, but half the time it felt more like the story of the British occupation of India. It’s all of those in one and it’s just too much. There are also too many places. Ash must have been in every region of India at some point! (As well as England and Afghanistan). There are enjoyable parts and the writing is mostly good. If it wasn’t so long I would probably recommend it but honestly it’s not worth slogging through all the politics/history for the sake of the actual story. 3 stars.

Der vertauschte Mantel by Jean-Pierre Gattégno. André Jefferson is a French teacher at a secondary school in Paris, and he hates his job. He was meant for a completely different lifestyle, far away from the humdrum of everyday life. After all, his father was no less than Sir James Andrew Jefferson, British diplomat in Cairo and Alexandria. Such a shame a single financial scandal cost him all his riches and, ultimately, his life, leaving his only son stuck in a dead-end job, scouring second hand shops to be able to buy the expensive clothing brands he loves. Then, one evening, the mother of one of his pupils offers him the chance to earn some money. Lots of money. This book was so weird. The main character is obsessed with clothes. He goes on and on about brand names, what he’s wearing, what he was wearing on another occasion. And he keeps repeating himself. I can see why his colleagues didn’t like him – I didn’t either! He’s also totally naive. Someone offers him a huge amount of money to do something and it never occurs to him that the “something” could be criminal. Then when he agrees to help with the crime he’s surprised when the people involved continue to commit crimes. It picked up a bit towards the end but I can’t say I was sorry when it was over. Very much just okay. 2 stars.

Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor. Felicia is a young, unmarried and pregnant Irish girl who has come to England to look for her lover. Instead she is found by Mr Hilditch, a strange and lonely man, who at first seems to be trying to help, but gradually reveals that he has something else entirely in mind. This is well written and parts of it are creepy. Mr Hilditch made my skin crawl at times. But it’s verrrry slow and I was confused by some parts. The “twist” wasn’t particularly surprising, to me at least. Not bad, but not great either. 3 stars.

Schwarzer Regen by Karl Olsberg. It wasn’t a question of “if”, but “when”… and now it’s finally happened. A deadly attack on a major German city. One of the many victims is Ben, son of ex.police officer Lennard Pauly. While completing a surveillance mission, the private detective discovers something that makes him doubt the official explanation for the attack. While the whole country is being consumed with hate, violence and hostility towards foreigners, he sets out to find out the truth. So, first of all, when I read “major German city” I was not expecting it to be Karlsruhe. It was very strange reading about landmarks in a place where I have lived being blown up! As for the review… this book is is weird. Most of action happens at the beginning, then we have a confusing mishmash of characters who are bound by a very flimsy thread. There’s also a random mathematician character who has been looking at the writings of Nostradamus and sort of predicts the attack but gets the time and place slightly wrong, then reappears once more later in the book but is ultimately utterly pointless and I didn’t understand why he was even in the book. Parts of it are exciting but then the resolutions of the various threads are just incredibly disappointing. 2.5 stars.

Once I was done with Erin’s challenge, I moved onto the Reading Rush, a week long readathon with seven categories to complete. Each completed category earned you a badge on the website and you were allowed to use one book for several prompts, but there was also a bonus badge for reading seven books so obviously I wanted to go all out and have one book per category. Here’s what I read for that:

readingrush2019

Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez. Duke and Earl are just passing through Rockwood county in their pick-up truck when they stop at Gil’s diner for a quick bite to eat. They’re not planning on sticking around for long, but then owner Loretta offers them 100 dollars to help find out why zombie attacks are such a regular occurrence at the diner. Given that Duke is a werewolf and Earl’s a vampire that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, right? But the shambling dead are just the tip of the iceberg. Someone’s out to drive Loretta from the diner, and is more than happy to raise a little hell on Earth if that’s what it takes. This is not exactly high literature, but it’s a fun and entertaining read. I liked Earl and Duke’s friendship. There are some sexist bits when it comes to describing how “hot” the girl causing all the problems is, but nonetheless I liked it for its sheer silliness. 3.5 stars.

Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Ross Montgomery. For centuries, people have been trying to discover what lies at the centre of the Forbidden Lands. One of those is Alex’s father, the most famously failed explorer in the history of the Cusp, who has just escaped from hospital again, yelling ‘squiggles’. Now the evil Davidus Kyte and all his henchmen are after Alex, convinced he alone knows the meaning of the word ‘squiggles’. Alex really isn’t the type of boy for adventures, but with the help of a talking dog and a girl with unfeasibly sharp teeth, he just might have what it takes to cross the Forbidden Lands, escape the evil Davidus Kyte, and find out what lies beyond the Cusp. I enjoyed this. It’s fun and quirky, but with a surprisingly deep storyline underneath the silliness. 4 stars. Also, this was my 100th book of the year. Just thought I’d point that out.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Ivan, an easygoing gorilla, lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when a newcomer arrives at the mall in the form of Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see his art and their home through new eyes. Ivan knows Ruby doesn’t belong at the mall, but how can he possibly change things for the better? Based on a true story, this book is heart-warming and heartbreaking in equal measure. Everyone should read it! 5 stars.

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman. Olivia, or Vee, and her twin brother Aidan  are heading back to Earth after a virus wiped out the rest of their crew three years earlier. Nathan is part of a community heading in the opposite direction. But on their journey, Nathan’s ship is attacked. Olivia tries to save them, but most of the community are wiped out. The few survivors join Olivia and Aidan on their ship, where Nathan and Olivia are instantly attracted to each other, deeply, head-over-heels – like nothing they have ever experienced. But not everyone is pleased with this development. With people being murdered on board and suspicions and rumours flying, is a happily-ever-after even possible? For the most part I liked this book. I read it quickly and even though I worked out some of the twist I still thought it was well done. There are lots of little hints dropped throughout so you can work out what’s going on if you’re paying attention. But Nathan’s character really let it down. I really didn’t like him. Especially after a certain scene which is, quite frankly, abusive. I don’t care what he thought Vee she had done – that is never okay. Both he and Vee seemed really immature for their age – and in Vee’s case at least I could kind of understand it. She hadn’t really been around people since she was 15 so she didn’t really have a chance to mature and grow. The world building was… not great. There’s a lot of mentions of different planets, etc. but no real explanation of how they all fit into the overall scheme. And there’s something called “the Authority” that certain people are apparently working against, but you never really find out what exactly the Authority actually is. You also don’t find out until almost the end what Vee’s ship was doing out there before the rest of the crew get wiped out. It definitely feels like it’s been set up for a sequel. Supposedly this is a retelling of Othello. I can’t comment on that since I either never knew or have completely forgotten the plot of Othello. 3 stars.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Peter rescued Pax when he was just a kit, after the fox cub’s family were all killed . Now the country is at war and when his father enlists, Peter has no choice but to move in with his grandfather. But far worse than leaving home is the fact that he is forced to leave Pax behind. Before Peter spends even one night under his grandfather’s roof he sneaks out into the night, determined to find his beloved friend. This book is very simple. For some reason I expected there to be more too it. I thought it would be really sad, but actually I only teared up at the ending. It was the perfect ending, but I still felt sad. I think kids will love it though – I certainly would have. 3.5 stars

Chocolat by Joanne Harris. When the exotic stranger Vianne Rocher arrives in the old French village of Lansquenet with her daughter, Father Reynaud immediately identifies her as a serious danger to his flock. Especially when she opens a chocolate boutique called “La Celeste Praline” directly across the square from the church at the beginning Lent, of all times. To make matters worse, Vianne is an unmarried mother, does not go to church and has a penchant for superstition. But she quickly begins to win over customers with her smiles, her intuition for everyone’s favourites, and her delightful confections. Her shop provides a place, too, for secrets to be whispered, grievances aired. She begins to shake up the rigid morality of the community. Vianne’s plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival divide the whole community. This was a reread for me, but it had been a while and I had forgotten some things. I enjoyed it just as much as the first time round. I love Joanne Harris’s writing. I wish I could be like Vianne and enjoy my life without caring what people think of me. Now I want to reread the other books as well before I try to get hold of the fourth book in the series, which has recently been released. Beware, this book will make you crave chocolate! 4 stars.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banker with big plans. Even though Mark has just lost his job, the newly weds head off on a dream honeymoon to the tropical island of Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. Suddenly, they are faced with a choice… to speak out or to protect their secret. After all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events. This book should have been good, and it starts off well, but it’s sooo slow and bogged down by way too much irrelevant detail. I didn’t need to know every choice they could have had on their wedding menu or an intricate description of how to take a gun apart. It took me 6 days to read it because I kept putting it down. I also didn’t really like the main character – she annoyed me from the very start. There were a couple of more interesting parts in the middle but overall it’s just not a good thriller. Also, the main character is randomly pregnant which seemed totally irrelevant to the story, other than as a weird way of showing her relationship isn’t so perfect as she keeps putting off telling her husband. Every time she said “I’ll tell him after I do this thing” I wanted to slap her. Meh. 2 stars.

On the final day of the Reading Rush, having completed by last book, I decided to pick up another one to try and clear away the lingering taste of Something in the Water. I chose something quick and easy that I expected to be good, and managed to read half of it that night.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don’t stand out – under any circumstances. The Stargirl arrives and everything changes. After 15 years of home schooling, the colourful Stargirl bursts into tenth grade, completed with ukulele, and commences scattering kindness like confetti, serenading people on their birthdays and cheering both teams at sporting events. But popularity is fickle, and suddenly Stargirl is shunned for everything that makes her different. Somewhere in the midst of Stargirl’s arrival and rise and fall, perfectly normal Leo Borlock has tumbled into love with her. I wish everyone could be more like Stargirl – although a couple of things about her did disturb me. Turning up uninvited at a stranger’s funeral was a little creepy. It was nice that she wanted to do things for other people, but her parents should maybe have taught her at least a little about boundaries. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than someone singing happy birthday to me in front of my entire high school! Also, I kept thinking the characters were younger than they were supposed to be. The first time Leo mentioned driving I was shocked because in my head all the characters were about 13. I think 11 or 12 would be the perfect age to read it – I’m sure I would have given it 5 stars back then. But with no nostalgia factor it’s a 3.5 for me.

Finally, with all reading challenges done, I slotted in two “just because” books at the very end of the month.

Words in Deep Blue by Cathy Crowley. Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie are best friends. Or they were, until Rachel moved away. Before she left, she placed a note for Henry between the pages of his favourite book at his family’s used book store confessing her love for him. Henry never responded and continued going out with pretty, popular Amy, who only loves herself but is happy to tolerate Henry loving her too. Now Rachel is back and grieving for her brother Cal, who drowned in the sea that he loved. To make matters worse, she has to work with Henry. I expected this to be a 5 star book, but somehow it just wasn’t quite there. I really enjoyed the bookish aspect and the sibling relationships (Rachel/Cal and also Henry and his sister). And I cried, so obviously I felt something. I did really love it, but it was just missing that final extra spark that would make it a full 5 stars. I think the overall popular/pretty girl vs best friend storyline was just a tiny bit too predictable. 4 stars.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. When sixteen-year-old Grace gives up her baby for adoption, she decides its time to find out more about her own biological mother, and in doing so discovers she has two siblings. There’s Maya, her loud-mouthed younger sister. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. When her adopted family’s problems begin to surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where it is that she belongs. Then there’s Joaquin, their older brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that it’s best to keep his secrets and fears to himself, where they can’t hurt anyone but him. This is such an emotional book. All the siblings have their own problems and I really felt for each of them. Also, I that neither the adoptive parents nor the biological mum were painted as “bad guys”. Both Maya and Grace knew they were adopted and neither of them wanted to know where they came from because of any issues at home, and the bio mum wasn’t shown to have been in the wrong for giving up her children. Basically I loved it and think you should read it. 4.5 stars.

TL;DR: If you liked The Girl With All the Gifts you should read The Boy on the Bridge, but be aware that it’s not a sequel and doesn’t follow Melanie. Everyone – child and adult – needs to read The One and Only Ivan. Lost Boy is excellent and Gil’s All Fright Diner is a lot of fun but beware of sexism. Chocolat is just as good as I remembered. Fans of YA and books about books should definitely read Words in Deep Blue, and Far From the Tree was my second favourite book of the month so obviously I highly recommend it.

And that, finally, is that. If you haven’t read enough book reviews yet make sure to check out the link up. And even if you have had enough for one day make sure you check it out tomorrow!