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:

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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!

What I read in June 2019

It’s book day again! I have a lot to get through this month so no long introduction. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, obviously.

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The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman. At 34, Brett Bohlinger seems to have it all—a cushy job at her family’s multimillion-dollar company and a spacious loft she shares with her irresistibly handsome boyfriend. She’d forgotten all about the life list she made when she was 14. Then Brett’s mother dies, leaving her utterly devastated. Things get even worse when the will is read – in order to receive her inheritance, Brett must first complete the goals on said teenage life list, some of which seem impossible. How can she build a relationship with a father who’s been dead for seven years? As Brett reluctantly tries to complete the abandoned life list, one thing becomes clear: sometimes life’s sweetest gifts can be found in the most unexpected places. I looked at this book in a train station when it first came out but didn’t end up buying it. Then Jan’s mum gave me it for Christmas last year. So there’s a not-very-fun fact for you. This is a cute, quick read. Honestly everything works out a little too perfectly and Brett is the very definition of kind and lovely, almost to the point of it being sickening, but it was a nice light bit of escapism that didn’t make me have to think too deeply. 3.5 stars.

A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson. It’s bad enough having a mum dippy enough to name you Owl without adding in a dad you’ve never met (and who your mum refuses to talk about properly), a new boy giving you weird looks at school and a best friend dealing with problems of her own. So when Owl starts seeing strange frost patterns on her skin, she’s tempted to hide away and ignore it. But could her strange new powers be linked to her mysterious father?And what will happen when she ventures into the magical world of winter? A beautiful, magical fairy-tale come to life, but with some grounding in the real world. Unfortunately the ending seemed rushed to me – I felt like the book needed to be longer to incorporate both Owl’s everyday life/her best friend’s very much non-magical problems and everything that was going on with the magical part of the book. Somewhere between a 3.5 and a 4 stars. 3.75? Sorry, I’m being ridiculous now.

The Hour Before Dawn by Sara MacDonald. In Singapore in the 1970s, Fleur abandoms her dreams of becoming a dancer after falling madly in love with David, a handsome army officer. After their first blissfully happy years together, tragedy strikes and Fleur is left alone, a widow with her young twin daughters, Nikki and Saffie. Grief-stricken, she prepares return to England with her daughters – but then one of them mysteriously vanishes, without a trace. Years later, Nicki Montrose is living in New Zealand, heavily pregnant and still haunted by the loss of her twin. Her mother, who Nicki never forgave for her part in the tragedy, is on the way to visit her. But then Fleur goes missing during a stopover in Singapore and Nikki must travel out there and attempt a reconciliation. But what they discover back in Port Dickson will send shock waves through the entire family. This is written alternately from Fleur’s perspective in the past and Nicki’s in the present day. However, Nicki’s perspective is also written in the past tense, which annoyed me at first. Somehow it just felt weird. But towards the end the story got so gripping that I didn’t even notice any more. Lots of twists and turns and revelations. 4 stars.

Where I Found You by Amanda Brooke. Maggie Carter loves to visit the park near her home. She knows what time of year the most fragrant flowers bloom and which paths lead you to the bench by the lake. The park is her safe place. Because away from it, in the real world, Maggie is expecting her first baby and is beginning to question whether she’s going to be able to cope. Then she meets Elsa, who is also expecting her first child, and is utterly terrified that her child will be taken away. But all is not as it seems. The secrets of sixty years ago are haunting Elsa and refuse to let her rest. I really enjoyed this book. I loved Maggie and felt so sorry for Elsa. There was just a little something missing that stopped it from being a five star read for me. I think there were too many side characters and little side plots that felt irrelevant. 4 stars.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis. Seventeen year old Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the spaceship Godspeed. She left everything behind to join her parents as a member of Project Ark Ship, and expects to wake up on a new planet 300 years in the future. But 50 years before Godspeed is scheduled to land, Amy’s cryo chamber is mysteriously unplugged. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship —tried to kill her. Now Amy and Elder – a teenager who is due to take over from Eldest as the next leader of the ship – are on a race to find out the hidden secrets of the ship before more people die. I enjoyed this so much more than I thought I was going to – I read the entire thing on one journey to the office and back (that’s two train rides of 2 hours each). Some people have given it’s bad reviews due to faulty science -but I can honestly say I didn’t notice. I only read it for the plot anyway – I have no interest in science fiction that reads like science fiction (i.e. focuses on the science). I’m all about the plot; the whole happening in space thing is irrelevant to me. Elder is annoyingly slow at times and I feel like Amy would have been a better character if we’d learned more about her past. I just didn’t understand *why* Elder liked her. Because she was the only girl close to his age he’d ever met? But if a book can keep me occupied for that long on a train it will always get a high rating. 4 stars – and I’ve already bought book 2 in the series!

The Beloved Dearly by Doug Cooney. Twelve-year-old Ernie is always looking for ways to make money – the start of the book finds him trying to sell fast-food burgers to his classmates at lunch time. After a conversation with his dad about how much it cost to bury Ernie’s mother, he comes up with his best idea yet: pet funerals! With his pals Dusty (designer of coffins) and Swimming Pool (one of the world’s great criers) Ernie creates a thriving business – until he loses his star employee over a raise. It takes the death of his own dog to bring everyone back together. The description of this story sounds so fun, but the execution is meh. Ernie really annoyed me and all the other characters felt flat and underdeveloped, except Swimming Pool. Admittedly I’m not the target audience but I can’t imagine I would have loved it as a child either. 2.5 stars.

Der fabelhafte Geschenkladen by Manuela Inusa (my translation of the title: Tghe Marvellous Gift Shop). Orchid loves her little gift shop – the fulfilment of her life-long dream. Located in Valerie Lane (the most romantic street in Oxford), In Orchid’s Gift Shop you can buy wonderful scents, home-made candles and creative cards, and Orchid herself is always there with a welcoming smile and an open ear. The only person that hasn’t taken Orchid into his confidence yet is Patrick, her own boyfriend. Surely after all this time she should know more about him? Finally, Orchid gives Patrick an ultimatum but what she learns is something she would never have thought possible. This book is part of a series, but there’s no indication of that anywhere in the description. Maybe if I’d read the others first I’d have liked this one better? The beginning of this book is sweet to the point of being almost sickening. Valerie Lane is the most perfect place on Earth. Everybody loves each other. All the shop owners are the absolute best of friends and always there for each other no matter what. Patrick’s story is very far-fetched and belongs in a Hollywood film. It was also very convenient that immediately after telling Orchid his secret everything turned out to be resolved and he could actually live a normal life again. That all sounds very negative, but it wasn’t a terrible book. I read it quickly and I really did want to find out what happened between Orchid and Patrick, but I won’t be bothering with the rest of the series. 3 stars.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. During a summer party at the family farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has stolen away from her younger siblings and is happily dreaming of the future in her childhood tree house. She spies a stranger coming down the lane, sees him speaking to her mother, Dorothy, and soon witnesses a shocking crime. Fifty years later, Laurel is a well-known actress. As the family gather to celebrate Dorothy’s 90th birthday, Laurel is still haunted by that long-ago day. Realizing that this may be her last chance, she searches for answers that can only be found in her mother’s past. I enjoyed this book – Kate Morton can certainly write – but parts of it dragged. The plot kept going off on tangents that kind of made sense for helping the reader get to know the characters but at the same time made it feel like the book was going to go on forever. At one point I seriously asked myself why it needed to have so many pages! I didn’t guess the big secret (I actually had something else in mind) so when the reveal came I was surprised. If you’ve enjoyed other books by Kate Morton you will probably like this one. She does seem to follow a bit of a pattern but I think the details are different enough to make it okay. 4 stars.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter. Andrea knows everything there is to know about her mother, Laura. She lives a quiet but happy life in sleepy beachside Belle Isle. She’s a speech therapist, business owner and everybody’s friend. And she’s never kept a secret from anyone. But when Andrea is caught up in a shocking act of violence at the mall, Laura intervenes and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to her mother. Twenty-four hours later Laura is in the hospital, shot by an intruder who’s spent thirty years trying to track her down, and Andrea is on the run, trying desperately to find out who her mother really is. This is a good book. It started off slow, but by the end I was gripped. Not the best Karin Slaughter book I’ve read but still an excellent thriller. 4 stars.

What’s a Girl Gotta Do by Holly Bourne. Book 3 in the Spinster Club series, this time we’re following Lottie. After an encounter with some builders, Lottie decides to start a project: every time she sees something sexist (aimed at either gender) she will call it out. Lottie is determined to change the world with her #Vagilante vlog. It’s just a shame the trolls have other ideas. Meanwhile, her parents would prefer that she waited until after she gets into Cambridge. After feeling a slight disconnect with Amber’s story (although it’s still an excellent book) this one reminded me of why I loved this series to begin with. Lottie felt so real – it was like I actually knew her. I love how passionate she is – even if she can be annoying and stubborn at times, and has a tendency to believe that what she would do is best for everyone. And I love how the three girls are there for each other – even when Amber and Lottie fell out at one point, after Lottie opened up Amber was immediately supportive. The feminist message is, sadly, incredibly true to life and so, so necessary. It may not be a perfect book but I still gave it five stars.

Dead Wrong by Curtis Jobling. Book 2 in the Haunt series. In book one, our protagonist Will dies in a hit and run accident only to find himself stuck as a ghost… a ghost that only his best friend, Dougie can see. Together the two of them ended up solving a decades old mystery and helping another ghost move on. In this book, Will and Dougie are still adjusting to their new friendship dynamic – and the fact that Dougie’s new girlfriend is none other than Will’s crush from when he was alive and the first – and last – girl he ever kissed. Meanwhile, Dougie’s dad has been acting extremely strangely since Will’s death. Clearly he’s hiding something. Just as things are beginning to go right for Will, it seems he couldn’t have been more wrong… I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the last one – parts of the storyline seemed a little far fetched (and yes I am aware that the main character is a ghost!). Nonetheless it’s a fun book and Will is a really likeable character. His friendship with Dougie feels genuine and I just love it. Unfortunately this book was a little predictable. It’s still a good book but falls slightly short of the first one. If the series continues I will definitely give the next book a go. 3.5 stars.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor. After something damaged his eyes when he was young, Paul Fisher views the world through glasses so thick he looks like a bug-eyed alien. But he insists he can see perfectly fine, and he’s certainly not too blind to realise there’s something very odd about the family’s new home in Tangerine County, Florida. Where else does a sinkhole swallow the local middle school, fire burn underground for years, and lightning strike at the same time every day? And as if that wasn’t enough, Paul is completely terrified of his football–star older brother, Erik, the golden child of the family. Then Paul joins the school soccer team and, with the help of his new team mates, begins to discover what lies beneath the surface of his strange new home town and even gains the courage to face up to some secrets his family have been keeping from him. This book certainly has a lot packed into it and it felt like some issues were glossed over. It made compelling reading though and I didn’t want to put it down. I loved the main character, Paul, and hated the way his parents were all about Erik and his football dream – and that was before I even found out the extent of their neglect. The perfect example of an outwardly normal but actually very dysfunctional family. 3.5 stars.

Basic EightThe Basic Eight by Daniel Handler. Flannery Culp wants you to know the entire story of her disastrous senior year. Between perverts, unrequited crushes, complicated relationships, gossip, cruel jokes, and the hallucinatory effects of absinthe, she and her other friends who make up the Basic Eight have lived through it all. But now, on tabloid television, they’re calling Flannery a murderer, which is a total lie. It’s true that high school can be stressful sometimes, and it’s also true that sometimes a girl just has to kill someone. But Flannery wants you all to know that she’s not a murderer at all — she’s a murderess. Read that description, look at the cover and tell me you’re not reminded me of the film Heathers? Surely it can’t be just me? Anyway… this book is wild. Deliciously dark, quirky, crazy and – dare I say it – even fun. It could have been an amazing book but something in the execution just isn’t quite there. Flannery is very much an unreliable narrator (and she knows it – even seems to take great joy in pointing it out) but I actually quite liked her voice. Some parts just seemed to drag though and I found myself wishing it would just get to the main event already – I mean, we know from the start there’s going to be a murder. At the end, I was left with many questions. Not least of which is what kind of name is Flannery?! I liked it well enough but it’s not a new favourite by any means (although I would probably have rated it very highly at 15). Another 3.5 stars.

Good As Gone by Amy Gentry. Eight years ago, Jane witnessed the abduction of her thirteen year old sister, Julie from their house in the middle of the night. For years there was no trace of her and the family have done their best to move on. Eight years later, the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. The family is, of course, overjoyed but Anna, Julie’s mother, has whispers of doubts. Is this woman really who she says she is? I have another book on my to-read shelf (The Lost and the Found) that I swear has almost the same plot – except that one is YA, the missing child is younger and it doesn’t explicitly say that anyone doubts who she says she is. I’ll be interested to see how similar the two books are. Anyway… This book started off good but then the ending seemed to come out of nowhere. It wasn’t so much a twist as the author suddenly revealing that she hadn’t actually told us half the story. And Julie’s reason for not coming home sooner didn’t make any sense to me. As thrillers go this one is pretty average. 2.5 stars.

The Dragon With the Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving their cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. When the human she encounters tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw. But she’s still the fiercest creature in the mountains, and now she’s found her passion: chocolate! Now all she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious) and soon she’ll be able to show them all! I loved everything about this book. Dragons! Chocolate! Aventurine is awesome, as is her human friend Silke who she meets when she reaches the city. This is the first book in a series – because I definitely needed to be committing to reading more of those?! – and I plan to read them all. 5 stars.

The Secret Shopper’s Revenge by Kate Harrison. Single mum Emily wants to get her revenge on the nasty shop assistants who laugh at her post-baby tummy and make her feel inadequate for not being rich. Store manager Sandie has been working in a department store for years and she loves everything about it, but then she’s set up by a bitchy assistant and loses her job. Glamorous widow Grazia just can’t seem to leave behind the high life, despite her chronically low bank balance. Together, they are Charlie’s Shopping Angels – a team of secret shoppers who receive assignments from the mysterious Charlie. But when they’re sent to stitch up a doomed shop owned by Will, the teams loyalties become divided. This is classic chick lit. A quick, easy read – which is precisely what I wanted at the time. I liked the characters and I was especially satisfied with the ending to Sandie’s story. Emily’s ending was a little predictable but that’s chick lit for you. I might give the sequel a go if I find myself wanting a lighter read again. 3.5 stars. Nothing spectacular but fine as a light, fun read.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Three years ago, Jude and her twin brother Noah were inseparable, two halves of one whole. Back then, Noah spent all his time drawing and painting, and was falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while dare-devil Jude wore red lipstick, dived from the cliff top and did all the talking for the two of them. Now, the twins barely speak to each other and Noah never picks up a pencil. Something has happened, changing each of the siblings in different, but equally devastating ways. Then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor, and slowly things start to change again. If Jude and Noah can just find their way back to each other, together they can remake their world. This book is told from two perspectives – Noah tells the story from when they were 13 while Jude gets the aged-16 years. It took me a chapter or two to get into it, but once I did I was hooked. I smiled, I cried. I was desperate for both Noah and Jude to get their happy endings. The writing style definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you don’t mind a lot of artistic metaphor and very quirky characters I highly recommend it. 5 stars.

Phew, that was 17 books. If you’ve made it to here you’re officially a star! And in case you couldn’t be bothered to read everything, here’s a quick summary of the ones I enjoyed:

TL;DR: I recommend The Hour Before Dawn and Where I Found You. If you like historical fiction, The Secret Keeper is good. If you like children’s books, chocolate and dragons you need to read The Dragon With the Chocolate Heart (probably my favourite book I read in June). Pieces of Her is a decent thriller but not Karin Slaughter’s best. YA lovers should definitely read I’ll Give You the Sun and the entire Spinster Girls series. I liked Across the Universe but if you read sci-fi for the actual science and are likely to notice implausible technology you might want to steer clear.

What have you been reading lately? Check out the Show Us Your Books link up for more recommendations.

What I read in May 2019

Hello and welcome to one of my favourite days of the blogging month – Show Us Your Books day with Jana and Steph.
May has been my worst reading month of the year so far. – although “worst” is relative and I still read a lot of books by most people’s standards. Turns out when most of your time is spent as far away from the dust-filled construction site you call a flat there isn’t much time for reading. During the day I was elsewhere, working, then I just about had time to walk home and drop my stuff off before heading back into town to meet Jan for food. Then by the time we got home it was usually pretty much bed time, and I couldn’t even read in bed like normal since for most of the time we had no electricity (and thus no light) in the bedroom. I had hoped to get some reading time in while we were on holiday, but every day was packed full with the result that I actually only finished one book and started another (on the plane home). I did finish that book and read a whole second one on my first day back in Basel though. Result! After that reading became more sporadic again as I spent most of my time trying to free our flat of the dust that coated everything. Nonetheless, I managed to read 9 books, which I shall talk about now.

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Nebelkind by Emelie Schepp (original title: Märkta för livet, title of English translation: Marked for Life). When the head of immigration is found shot dead at his home, there is no shortage of suspects – including his wife – but nobody can explain the presence of a child-sized hand print at the scene. Young and brilliant, but cold and aloof, public prosecutor Jana Berzelius is assigned to lead the investigation. A few days later on a nearby deserted shoreline, the body of a young boy is discovered alongside the murder weapon that killed both him and the original victim. A discovery during the autopsy draws Jana deeper into the case than she ever planned to get – the boy has the name of a God carved into his neck… and so does she. This book is mixture between police procedural and thriller. There were some fast-paced parts that made me want to keep reading, but a lot of it is pretty slow. Main character Jana is so mechanical and distant she seems almost robot-like, which I understand is related to her past but it made it difficult to get to know her. What happened to her was horrible and I should have felt more sorry for her but she was so detached from everyone and everything that I had trouble caring. Her “rival”, police officer Mia, is more human with obvious flaws but she’s also really annoying and I didn’t like her at all! I feel like the reader finds out what’s going on too soon so it’s a really long, drawn out wait for the police to get names and start tracking people down. Overall I would say it could have been a great book if it had been roughly 100 pages shorter. 3 stars.

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine. After the death of her father, Sophie Taylor is forced to find a job. She’s lucky enough to get a position in the hat department of the new department store that’s opening in London – Sinclair’s. When a precious artefact – a clockwork sparrow – goes missing the day before the grand opening, Sophie becomes the chief suspect and is quickly let go. With the help of he friends Lil and Billy, she’s determined to find out who the real culprit is and clear her name. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected to. It’s well written and I liked the characters. But somehow I just wasn’t fully captivated. All the clues or little mysteries seemed to be resolved very quickly so there wasn’t much tension or opportunity for the reader to try and work things out. Towards the end I started to enjoy it more and as I said I did enjoy the characters so I wouldn’t be adverse to giving book 2 a try. 3.5 stars.

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill. Baby is twelve years old. Her mother died when she was a baby and she live in a succession of seedy apartments in Montreal with her heroin-addict father, Jules. While still just about young enough to cling onto childhood, dragging around a suitcase full of dolls on every move, she’s old enough to be tempted by the adult world and feel flattered when her burgeoning beauty draws the attention of the local pimp. This book had been on my to-read list for so long that it never even made it onto Goodreads, so it was about time I read it! I’m not actually sure why I liked this book. It’s absolutely packed with similes to the extent that the writing style should have been annoying. But somehow it spoke to me. I really liked Baby and all I wanted was to take her away from everything and give her a proper permanent home. Jules too, who despite all his problems obviously loved his daughter more than anything. Knowing that there are kids out there who really live like this breaks my heart. There’s a glimmer of hope at the end and I really hope Baby was able to turn things around and live the life she deserved. 4 stars.

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor. In 1986, Eddie and his friends are twelve years old. They spend their time riding their bikes around their sleepy English village. The chalk men are their secret code; a way to leave messages for each other than nobody else will understand. But then a mysterious chalk man shows up that leads the group to a body hidden in the woods. In 2016, Eddie is 42 years old and thinks he’s put the tragic events of the past behind him. Until an anonymous note turns up with a drawing of a chalk man. Now it seems that Eddie is going to have to face his past, one way or another. This book is creepy and suspenseful, but for me there was something missing that stopped it from being a five star read. Some parts were just too confusing. It is well written though and I would definitely give this author another chance. 4 stars.

Chalk Man

More Than This by Patrick Ness. A boy drowns, his final moments spent desperate and alone. He dies. But then he wakes up. Naked and weak, but alive. How is this possible? He remembers dying, the sound of his bones breaking. And what is this strange, deserted place? It looks like an abandoned version of the English town he lived in as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy struck his family and they family moved to America. He begins a search for answers, hoping that he is not alone and that, just maybe, there is more than this. Aargh! How can a book be this long and still leave me with a million questions? It’s engrossing, bizarre, confusing. Every time you think things are going to be explained it only goes so far then leaves you with even more mysteries. I loved it right up until the end, which left me frustrated. I need to know what happened and who or what is real. I still highly recommend this book though. My first by Patrick Ness and it definitely won’t be my last. 4.5 stars.

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus. Ellery has never been to the small, seemingly picture perfect town of Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing years ago, aged 16. And where a home-coming queen was murdered just five years ago. And now Ellery and her twin brother Ezra are being forced to move there, to live with a grandmother they barely know, while their mother goes to rehab. Before school even starts, someone starts leaving notes and threats around town, promising to make home-coming as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then another girl goes missing… I feel like this book took me a tiny bit longer to get into than One of Us is Lying, even though I liked the characters in this one better. But once I did get into it I was gripped and read the entire thing in one go (sitting at the train station waiting to be able to go home). I loved the twins and their friend, Mal. And I did not guess who the killer was. 5 stars. Also, when I went to review this I discovered there is going to be a sequel to One of Us Is Lying and I’m so excited!

There May Be a Castle by Piers Torday. It’s Christmas Eve and eleven-year-old Mouse is travelling to his grandparents with his mum and two sisters. It’s sowing heavily, visibility is bad and they get into a car accident. Mouse is thrown from the car and wakes up in a world that isn’t his own but seems somehow familiar. He meets a sheep he names Bar, who can only say Baaa, and a horse who looks surprisingly like his favourite toy, Nonky, grown huge. Thus begins a quest to find a castle in a world full of monsters, nights and mysterious wizards. A world of excitement, but also of terrifying danger. But why are they looking for a castle? As the book goes on, we realise how this journey has links to the real world and the people Mouse left behind. I absolutely loved this book! It is wonderful, but so sad. I wasn’t sure about Violet’s point of view (it was fine in the beginning but I would have preferred her to stay where she was). The ending is so sad though – I was hoping for a different outcome. I still highly recommend it though, if you’re a fan of children’s books. 5 stars.

Together by Julie Cohen. One morning, Robbie awakes. His wife Emily is sleeping beside him, as always. He gets up, makes coffee and walks the dogs. Then he writes Emily a note and does something that will break her heart. As the story rewinds through their lives, back to 1962, Robbie’s actions become clearer as we gradually learn the story of a couple of a terrible secret that they will do anything to protect. This is a really well written and captivating book. It starts on such a shocking note that I could not put it down until I found out why. What was the big secret? Then when it was finally revealed I didn’t know what to think. I was imagining all sorts of things, but not that! (Other people have said they knew, so maybe I’m just naive.) At the start I really liked Robbie. He seemed so loving and caring. But as the story went on it seemed like no matter what happened he was determined to always get his way. I think I was supposed to see him as a charming bad boy type but he just seemed selfish and controlling. No thanks! Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading this book and did not see the end coming. 4 stars.

Mr Briggs’ Hat: The True Story of a Victorian Railway Murder by Kate Colquhoun. My first non-fiction book of the year! I started it in April and finished on 31st May so it just sneaks into this round-up. On 9 July 1864, after an evening with relatives, Thomas Briggs walked through Fenchurch Station and entered carriage 69 on the 9.45 Hackney-bound train. A few minutes later, two bank clerks entered the compartment to find blood pooled in the indentations of the cushions and smeared all over the floor and windows of the carriage, and a bloody hand print on the door. There was no sign of Mr Briggs. This book tells the story of the investigation into Mr Briggs’ murder as well as giving lots of detail about train travel in Victorian times. It’s quite interesting read but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought there would be more of a resolution and some information on the crime itself/how it was actually committed. Instead it’s more of an examination of the investigative process in Victorian times – I learned more about how the police went about gathering evidence than the actual crime this was supposed to address. Not that all that’s uninteresting but the title was misleading. It’s worth a read if that sounds good to you but I wouldn’t necessarily make it a priority. 3 stars.

So, while I read less than in previous months (and don’t get me wrong, 9 books is still pretty decent), almost everything I read ranged from good to absolutely amazing. Quality over quantity, yes? I’m not even sure I can narrow it down enough to tell you which books I absolutely recommend you should read. But I’ll give it a try:

TL;DR: The three books I absolutely recommend to everyone this month are More Than This by Patrick Ness (YA, I think but definitely interesting for adults. Some kind of dystopian/sci-fi/mystery type thing. Really well written), Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus (YA mystery/thriller. So good!) and There May Be a Castle by Piers Torday (wonderful but sad middle grade fantasy). I also really enjoyed Lullabies for Little Criminals but I hesitate to recommend it because the writing style won’t be for everyone.

Read anything good recently? Check out the link up for more book reviews.

What I read in April 2019

Hello! It’s the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s SHow Us Your Books time again with lovely hosts Jana and Steph. I read 14 books in April and it’s a real mixed bag – everything from classics to children’s mysteries and even a a spy novel, which is normally so not my thing. Let’s get to the reviews, shall we?

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The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton. Seth is a kitchen boy at the remote Last Chance Hotel. His dad used to be head chef there, until he left apparently under a cloud of suspicion, leaving Seth trapped until he’s old enough to set out on his own. His only chance of escape is to become a famous chef as well. One night a group of special guests turn up at the hotel, who turn out to be magicians participating in a selection procedure to determine the most magical people in the world. Seth finally has the chance to prove himself by making Dr. Thallonius the best-tasting dessert of his life. But then the professor dies and the dessert is blamed – how can Seth prove he’s innocent? This is a wonderful book! Spooky and magical with a murder mystery for good measure. And there’s a fantastic talking cat. I was a little annoyed by Seth’s inability to stand up for himself, but there are some revelations at the end that I hope will make things better in that respect in book two. 4.5 stars.

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. When the four Stanley children meet Amanda, their new stepsister, they’re amazed to find she dresses in strange costumes, carries a crow in a cage and claims to be a witch. Before long, she decides to make the children her “neophytes” and introduce them to the world of witchcraft. Then strange things start happening in their old farmhouse and it’s not long before they discover that the house was supposed to have been haunted long ago. Is the poltergeist back or is there another explanation for all the strange goings on? This a fun mystery with just the right amount of spookiness for a children’s book. Even though it was written in 1971, it doesn’t seem to outdated – other than the kids being left home alone while their parents go into town, etc. But maybe that actually still happens in areas as isolated as the setting for this book. I would have loved this book as a child! 4 stars.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. When Tess Durbeyfield’s father finds out by chance that they’re descendants of the old aristocratic  D’Urberville family, he encourages her to make use of the connection and try to claim a share of the wealth for the rest of the family. But Alec d’Urberville turns out to be a rich scoundrel who seduces her and makes her life miserable. When Tess meets Angel Clare, she is finally offered a chance at true love and happiness, but her past catches up with her and she faces an agonizing moral choice. I really enjoyed this – although “enjoyed” seems a bit mean for such a tragedy. Poor Tess is surrounded by good-for-nothing idiot men. And I include her father in that. She just could not seem to catch a break. As classics go, the language in this one is actually very readable and Hardy managed not to spend pages and pages on pointless descriptions (as in Far From the Madding Crowd were her spent three pages describing a barn!). Victorian double standards make me angry, but the book is good. 5 stars.

The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton. First of all, thank you to Steph (yes, as in the host of this very link-up) for reminding me of the existence of The Gutenberg Project, which is where I found this book and was thus able to read it for free. I love the TV series so the book had been on my wish list for a while. This is basically a series of short stories all featuring the priest, Father Brown solving various mysteries. Chesterton was a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; interestingly, if I hadn’t known this book was published in 1911 (and there weren’t references to 18–) I would have put it more in the era of Agatha Christie in terms of language. It’s still quite readable over 100 years after it was published. I like the TV series better but the book was still a fun read. 3.5 stars.

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard. Alice has acquired brain injury after an assault four years ago. Since then, to put it in her own words, “her electrics have been broken”. Her speech is slow and slurred and she has fits. She writes poems to express all the things she cannot say. She lives with her grandmother, who is sick, and her brother Joey, who looks after her but is also growing up and, just maybe, away from Alice. Manny is from Sierra Leone. He seems to be adapting to life in his new country, but at night he runs to try and escape the demons of his past. One night, he sees Alice sitting on the roof of her home and finds one of her poems. This book is beautiful and heart-breaking. The narrative style is disconcerting at first, but once you get into it you stop noticing (or at least I did) and it really does represent the problems with Alice’s brain perfectly. Joey is a wonderful brother. Despite all the awful things that have happened to both Alice and Manny, I’m really glad I read this book. Plus, it has a pretty cover. 4 stars.

Oktober Bend

 

Avalanche Express by Colin Forbes. A a high level Soviet official has been feeding the West intelligence for a number of years. Now he’s been found out and needs to be extricated to the US. With most of the airports in Europe closed due to snow storms, the only option is to take the Atlantic Express from Zurich all the way to Amsterdam. An armed team of British and Americans are on board to protect him, but there may be a double agent on board the train, and the Soviets will stop at literally nothing to kill the defector. Will anyone make it out alive? I acquired this ages ago when I needed a book set where I live for a challenge, but ended up reading a different one. Now I decided it was time to read it so it could leave my bookcase. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it – spy stories aren’t really my thing – but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s action-packed and thrilling right from the first page. It also helped that I am at least a little familiar with most of the places mentioned so it felt more “real”. 3.5 stars.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain. After her father’s death, Riley MacPherson is returning to her childhood home to clean it out. In the process she discovers a shocking family secret – after a life time spent believing that her older sister Lisa died tragically as a teenager, she now finds that she may not be dead after all. What made her go on the run all those years ago and which other secrets have been kept from Riley? This is a surprisingly quick read considering it’s over 300 pages – I started reading it in the bath and was shocked to find I’d read over half when I came out. It started off really well then it became kind of predictable – as soon as I read the words “she told her everything, even the things daddy didn’t know” I knew what the final outcome was going to be, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to read to the end and find out what happened to all the characters. Riley is annoying at times and the final few chapters read a bit like a soap opera with some really cheesy/dramatic dialogue. Along the lines of “one day you will get your comeuppance, but it won’t be me that causes it”. Nonetheless, I mostly enjoyed the ride. 3.5 stars.

A Singing Grave by Tim Wilson. Twelve years ago a little boy was taken from the camp site where he was staying with his parents and killed. Howard Gandy, a man from the village was convicted of the crime. Philip Springthorpe was one of the witnesses who helped secure this conviction, but to the shock of his daughter, Rebecca, he now reveals he lied. Investigative journalist Adam Dowling is running a campaign to have Gandy released and Philip’s new testimony could be the missing piece that will allow the case to go to appeal. But if Howard Gandy didn’t do it, then who did? I picked this up from a free public bookcase on a whim – I had never heard of the author but the description sounded good. It’s an interesting and suspenseful mystery. Parts are really creepy. At one point I thought I knew who the murderer was, but I was wrong. I’m not really sure what I think of the ending though. 3.5 stars for this one as well.

How Hard Can Love Be by Holly Bourne. Book two in the “Spinster Club” series. Amber’s off to America to spend the summer with her mother, who she hasn’t seen in two years. Even before her mum remarried and had a complete change of personality, she was never the caring type, but Amber is hoping an entire summer together will help them make up for lost time – especially since her step-mum and step-brother make her life a misery at home. In California she meets prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Could he really be interested in feminist, anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie advising and encouraging her from back home, Amber can’t escape the fact that love is hard! I really enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the first one. If I had read this first I’m sure I would have adored it, but I just loved Evie so much in the first book and Amber’s boy troubles seemed so insignificant compared with Evie’s mental health struggles. Sorry Amber! This isn’t just some shallow love story though – there are some deep issues with Amber’s mum being a recovering alcoholic and Amber’s feelings of abandonment. Her family situation really isn’t easy and I felt so sorry for her. And of course the girls still discuss feminism a lot. 4.5 stars. Lottie’s story next. I can’t wait!

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse. Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life with her family in her beautiful, expensive house. But then her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she knew unravels. Left alone with her two sons and eight million pounds worth of debt, Nina is forced to move back to a tiny flat on the estate where she grew up and begins to wonder whether she ever really knew Finn at all. This is an enjoyable enough read but it didn’t blow me away. At times the dialogue seemed somehow… I don’t know… off. Stilted maybe? Also, a few lucky coincidences lead to Nina’s struggles being over relatively quickly – the flat they end up in belongs to a relative and the previous tenants just happen to have moved out just in time, then after applying for job after job that she has no qualifications for, somebody decides to create a job especially for her after meeting her briefly, once, when she turned up asking for a job she obviously could not do. And apparently if she hadn’t pawned her belongings and found a job she and her boys would have immediately been out on the streets starving to death because child benefit and job centres are not things that exist? It’s not a terrible book by any means, but definitely not my favourite. 3 stars.

The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell. After their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to the hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her big brother Seb return home to find it’s been ransacked. Before long, a very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. The two manage to escape, with a little help, but find themselves in an “uncommon” world, a secret underground city called Lundinor where ordinary objects can do extraordinary things – like belts that let you fly. They quickly discover that their family is connected to this amazing world. But evil forces are at large, and they’re convinced Ivy and Seb have something they want. The two need to uncover the family secret before it’s too late. I really liked this book. It’s charming and quirky. Parts of it reminded me of Un Lun Dun – the underground city that’s like the real world, but also not and the ordinary objects that aren’t so ordinary after all. My favourite character is actually a talking bicycle bell names Scratch! One thing that bothered me is Ivy is supposed to be 11 but she often seems much older – and not in a “mature for her age” way, but like there’s absolutely no way she can possibly be only 11. I did really like her but in my head she was much older than the book stated her to be. 4 stars.

Darkhouse by Alex Barclay. This book had been on my shelf for ages but I couldn’t remember whether I’d read it or not. Turns out I had – it just wasn’t very memorable. When a routine investigation ends in tragedy, Detective Joe Lucchesi takes leave from the NYPD  and moved with his wife and son to a quiet village in Ireland. When a young girl goes missing and the village closes ranks , Detective Lucchesi is determined to discover the truth and uncovers a sinister trail that leads right back to the other side of the Atlantic. This was an okay book. There are pretty much two storylines,  one of which is predictable while the other was confusing with too many characters. I don’t regret finishing it but I most likely won’t be continuing the series. 2.5 stars.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. In rural South Africa in the late 1930s, Peekay liveslived with Nanny (his wet nurse), his grandpa and his mother. When his mother has a break down he is sent to boarding school where he suffers horrific bullying by people who hate him for his heritage. After a while his family move home and he’s sent on a long train journey to reunite with them. Along the way he meets train conductor Hoppie Groenewald who introduces him to boxing and teaches him that little can best big,  resulting in Peekay resolving to become the Welterweight champion of the world. The story then follows Peekay for the rest of his childhood until early adulthood. I only read this because it’s on the BBC big read and had no expectations of it at all. In fact,  I put it off for ages. I ended up falling in love with little Peekay immediately and loving the book. A very unexpected 5 stars.

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford. Twelve-year-old Ethel Leatherhead only wanted to get rid of her acne, not turn herself invisible. But that’s exactly what happened when she combined some dodgy Chinese medicine from the Internet with an old sun bed. At first being invisible is terrifying, but then she discovers it’s not so bad at all, as she tries to keep her new power a secret with the help of her friend Boydy. Meanwhile, Ethel’s Gran is acting strangely and Ethel herself (whose mum died when she was very young) is starting to question who she really is. Then one day the invisibility effect doesn’t wear off and Ethel finds herself in the middle of an adventure. This book is good but a little confusing. There are two stories – one with Ethel turning invisible and all the chaos that causes then a second one involving her family and secrets that have been kept from her – and the two things don’t really seem to relate to each other It felt like there was a disconnect between a fun, whimsical story on one hand and a more serious coming of age/self-discovery story on the other. It’s really well written, it just felt like I was reading two different stories that were both not quite satisfactory – the author would have done better to have stuck with one story, I think. It’s set in the North-East of England though so yay for that. 3.5 stars.

That is all for today. Check out the link up for more book talk. And let me know in the comments if you’ve read anything good lately or what you thought of any of the books I read in April if you’ve read them.

What I read in March 2019

Happy Show Us Your Books day! March was another good reading month. I read 17 books – not quite as many as last month, but still a lot. There are a lot of reviews to get through, so I’ll just get on with it. Oh, obviously I’m linking up with Jana and Steph.

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This will be another long one, so I’ll add a TL;DR after the reviews for those who don’t have time to read my rambling thoughts.

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine. Sixteen year old Iris is obsessed with fire. When she accidentally sets a cupboard at her school alight, she’s whisked off to London before she can get arrested – or so her mother claims. The real reason they left L.A. was because of her mum and step-dad’s increasing debt. Back in England, Iris’s millionaire father – who she has no memory of – is dying and her mother is determined to claim his life fortune, including his priceless art collection. Forced to live with him as part of an exploitative scheme, Iris soon realises that her father is far different from the man her mother has brought her up to hate. This book was good, but it felt like something was missing. The pacing was really off. Most of the real story seems to be packed in at the end, which makes it feel rushed. It could have done with being longer. The twist at the end was clever though. 3.5 stars.

The Accident Season  by Moïra Fowley-Doyle. Every year, towards the end of October, seventeen-year-old Cara’s family become inexplicably accident prone. They lock away the knives, cover table edges with padding and avoid risks, but still injury follows wherever they go. Why are they so cursed, and what can they do to break free? This book is bizarre but (in my opinion) in a good way. Between the writing style and Cara’s friend Bea’s stories it almost feels like a dream. There are some mysteries that weren’t cleared up – I’m still not sure whether a couple of things really happened – but overall I loved it. 4 stars.

Tell Me Three Things by Julia Buxbaum. It’s been barely two years since Jessie’s mother died, and now her father has eloped with a woman he met at his bereavement support group and is forcing Jessie to move from Chicago to live with her new step-mother and step-brother in Los Angeles. At her new prep school, Jessie feels like everything about her is wrong and she’ll never fit in. But then she starts receiving emails from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (or SN) offering to help her navigate life at Wood Valley High School. Genuine or an elaborate hoax? Gradually, SN becomes her closest ally and Jessie can’t help wanting them to meet up in person…
The “I’ve been forced to move across the country and now hot, mean girls are making my life miserable” stuff is cliché. The stranger friendship turning to possibly, maybe romance is cute. If that had been the entire thing, it would have been a three-star read. But Jessie’s grief made the book for me. The parts where she was remembering her mum and trying to come to terms with not only her loss but the loss of their entire future future together really got to me and made it worthy of an extra star, in my opinion. So 4 stars.

Ink by Alice Broadway. Every event in your life, every action, every special occasion is tattooed on your skin forever. Then, when you die, your skin is removed and turned into a book to serve as a record of your life. As long as your book exists, you will never be forgotten. When Leora’s father dies, she knows he deserves to have his life preserved through this ritual. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all. The concept of this book is really interesting but it doesn’t live up to its promise. Leora is a really bland character – she doesn’t really seem to have much a personality. There are various stories (supposedly about that world’s history) woven throughout the book, mainly obviously re-tellings of our fairytales, and I really liked the Sleeping Beauty one. It’s a quick read and it wasn’t bad but it’s not really anything special. This is book 1 in a series but I have no plans to read the other two. 3 stars.

The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe. (I have a number of books that I’ve had for years and either have read and want to read again before deciding whether to keep them or can’t actually remember whether I’ve even read them. This was the first of those books.) A divorced father of two teenagers accidentally mixes two antidepressants, goes into a coma and then has a stroke, leaving him with brain damage. His teenage children inherit some money and son, Chris, decides to bring him home and try to rehabilitate him on his own. Without an adequate father around, Chris and his sister Cathy try various ways to bring meaning to their lives – Cathy turns to Catholicism (although the family are secular Jews) while Chris just seems to meander around, has a few sexual encounters and being cynical about everything. This is a really hard book to review. It’s pretty much as bizarre as the description makes it sound. Parts of it are good but overall it feels like it’s trying too hard to be clever/funny. I couldn’t connect to Chris at all – practically everything he said annoyed me. I didn’t dislike it as such, it was just okay. 2.5 stars.

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal. Desdemona, known as Mona, is turning 60. After tragedy struck in her youth, she now lives alone and earns a living selling beautiful, unique dolls, each with a name. But there are also other dolls – ones that she gets a local carpenter (who she has an odd relationship with) to make for her based on a weight that her clients give her. At the start of the book, Mona happens to meet a German gentleman living close to her and the two begin a friendship, which somehow grows awkward as it gradually seems like it could potentially become more than friendship. Meanwhile, Mona reflects on her early life, the death of her mother and her whirlwind relationship with the charming William. This is a beautiful book, but sad. I did guess the twist, but I’m okay with that. The journey was more important than the surprise. A gorgeous story about love and loss, but to me ultimately it felt hopeful. 4 stars.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr. Seventeen-year-old Ella Black seems to be living the perfect life, but unknown to everyone she also has a dark side. Her evil alter-ego Bella is always there, waiting, ready to take control and force Ella to do bad things. When Ella’s parents drag her out of school one day, telling her nothing, and whisk her off to Rio de Janeiro, Bella is desperate to break free – and so is Ella. Determined to find out what her parents are hiding from her, Ella takes her chance and searches through their things. And realises her life has been a lie. Unable to deal with this, Ella runs away to the one place no-one will ever think to look for her. This nowhere near as good as The One Memory of Flora Banks. Ella is supposed to be 17, but she seems to fluctuate between being relatively intelligent and acting like a spoiled child who overreacts to everything. I understand that her parents lied to her, but running away in a foreign country is slightly extreme! There’s also some animal abuse at the start of the book that’s just horrible – there was no need to go into so much detail. 2 stars.

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Zu. When Li Jing, a happily married businessman, is caught up in a gas explosion and a shard of glass pierces his forehead, he loses the ability to speak Chinese. Instead all that will come to him is the broken English of his childhood in Virginia, leaving him unable to communicate with his wife, Meiling, or their young son. In desperation, the family turns to an American neurologist, Rosalyn Neal, who finds herself as lost as Jing (who she calls James) in this bewildering city. Gradually, the two of them form a bond that Meiling doesn’t need a translator to understand. I’m not sure what to think of this book. Parts of it were good, the idea was intriguing, but I just didn’t like any of the characters. Rosalyn is like the worst kind of “expat” – loud, obtrusive, not making any sort of effort to fit in. Even when she goes out with her Chinese employers instead of having them show her around their city, she takes them to an Irish pub.  Also, she has this whole back story where coming to China was a chance to “escape” her problems – she and her husband waited to finish grad school before having kids, then discovered Rosalyn was infertile. After (I think) one failed round of IVF and a miscarriage, Rosalyn didn’t want to continue and in response her husband divorced her. So that was fun to read about when I’m about to start the IVF process. Anyway, given all that Rosalyn should be at least in her 30s but acted more like a 20-year-old who had just escaped her parents’ home for the first time. Meiling came across as cold and stubborn. The situation is obviously difficult and frustrating, but it almost seemed like she was annoyed at her husband for not recovering quickly enough. At no point was there any suggestion that she felt any compassion for him, being unable to communicate in his own country – instead it was all spending money to get him better, staying with him because he has stayed with her/looked after her when she was ill previously, etc. Honestly, the entire family could have used some counselling. I found the idea that we have different personalities in different languages and how not being able to communicate with loved ones might change our perception of them interesting and would have liked to read more of that. Overall it isn’t really a bad book, it just wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. 3 stars. (Sorry this is so long, apparently I had a lot to say about it?).

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough. Natasha is the most popular girl in school, so why was she pulled out of a freezing cold river in the early hours of the morning after being dead for thirteen minutes? She doesn’t remember what happened, but she does know it wasn’t an accident and she wasn’t suicidal. Now Tasha’s two closest friends are acted strangely. Determined to solve the mystery, she turns to her childhood best friend who she dumped years ago. At first Becca isn’t even sure she wants to Help Tasha, but gradually she gets drawn in to the mystery. As an outsider, Becca believes she may be the only one who can uncover the truth… but it turns out to be far more twisted than she could ever have imagined. This book is an intense ride. There’s a lot of drug-taking. Is this normal for British secondary schools these days? Either things have changed a lot since I was a teen or the people I knew were very boring. I knew people who occasionally smoked a bit of weed, but snorting stuff in the school toilets? Maybe it did happen and I just wasn’t cool enough to be aware of it. There’s also a sex scene, not described in graphic detail exactly, but not skipped over either. Definitely one for the older teen. I didn’t actually like most of the characters (except Biscuit the dog, obviously and maybe Hannah) but that didn’t matter. The bitchiness felt incredibly real to me (that I do remember from school – we may not have had hard core drugs but there was plenty of bullying!). The story kept me guessing. At one point I thought I knew what had happened, but when the storyline reached that outcome it continued and turned into something else. The final twist is something I have kind of seen before but I still wasn’t expecting it here. 4.5 stars.

Abandoned by Cody McFadyen. This was another re-read of a book I had no memory of. I first read it pre-Goodreads, so at least five years ago. FBI Special Agent Smoky Barrett, is at her colleague’s wedding when  a car pulls up, a woman is pushed out wearing only a white nightgown, and the car then speeds up. The woman is incoherent and a fingerprint check determines that she’s been missing for nearly eight years with no ransom demand, no witnesses and no suspects. As Smoky fits together the pieces, a chilling picture emerges of a cold, calculating and professional killer, who doesn’t take murder personally and never makes a mistake. This is decent detective style thriller. There was a bit in the middle with a computer expert that annoyed me – did you seriously just explain the concept of “lurking” in a chat room?! But apart from that it’s a well-written, fast-paced book. While reading I realised I had forgotten almost the entire plot – I only remembered the “twist” shortly before it was revealed. 4 stars.

The Little Grey Men by ‘B.B’. (Denys James Watkins-Pitchford). The last three gnomes in Britian live in Wrwickshire by a brook. There used to be four, but their brother Cloudberry went upstream to find the source and never returned. So Baldmoney, Sneezewort and Dodder decide to build a boat and go and look for him. This is the story of all their adventures. This is such a beautifully written book. It reminds me of such classics as The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers. Some of the nature elements also reminded me of Enid Blyton’s Cherry Tree Farm books. Parts of it were a bit slow, but you do find yourself rooting for the gnomes and worrying for their safety as they go through their adventures. There is some difficult vocabulary (some things even I didn’t understand) so for children it would probably be best as a book to be read aloud to them, or perhaps for a patient older child with a dictionary. I know I would have loved it as a child (and indeed did now as a grown-up lover of children’s stories). 5 stars. There is a sequel, Down the Bright Stream, which I would love to get my hands on.

This Secret We’re Keeping by Rebecca Done. Jessica Hart has never forgotten Matthew Landley. He was her first love when she was fifteen… and also her maths teacher. Their forbidden affair ended in scandal with him being arrested and imprisoned. Seventeen years later, Matthew is back in Norfolk, with a new identity and a long-term girlfriend and a young daughter who know nothing of his past. Yet when he runs into Jessica, neither of them can ignore the emotional ties that bind them. With so many secrets to keep hidden, how long can Jessica and Matthew avoid the dark mistakes of their past imploding in the present? Based on the cover and description, I expected this to be a thriller – either Matthew/Will getting revenge for being sent to prison or his girlfriend finding out and doing something evil. Instead, I think it’s meant to be a romance? It alternates between the present day, where Jess has a turbulent relationship with boyfriend Zac but still finds “Will” irresistible, and Matthew’s story from the past. I was probably supposed to feel some sympathy/understanding for past-Matthew, but every time he talked about having sex with Jessica all I could think was “SHE’S FIFTEEN!”. And if you truly loved her you would wait for her to grow up before taking things to the sexual level. None of his “she was just sooo sexy… I couldn’t possibly resist” stuff convinced me in any way. And yes, he’s only 10 years older than her, but 25 really isn’t that young. I mean, I obviously made bad decisions at that age but none of them were actually illegal. Anyway, this is a really well-written book but definitely makes for some uncomfortable reading. While I didn’t want Jess and Will to get back together, I HATED the current boyfriend, Zac. He was definitely not good for her, or in any way a good person. There’s also an infertility side story involving Jessica’s best friend, Anna, who it seems will basically try anything to get pregnant – mainly cutting out any kind of enjoyable food/drink, forcing her husband to do the same and constantly obsessing about what she’s doing wrong. That was hard for me to read… I hate it when infertile people are portrayed as crazy/selfish/unable to think about anything else, ever. I was also annoyed by the resolution to that story, but oh well. 4 stars for this one.

Going Down South by Bonnie Glover. When fifteen-year-old Olivia Jean finds herself in the “family way,” her mother, Daisy, decides that Olivia Jean can’t stay in New York and whisks her away to her grandmother’s farm in Alabama to have the baby – even though Daisy and her mother, Birdie, have been estranged for years. When they arrive, Birdie says that Olivia Jean can stay, but only if Daisy stays too. Furious, she complies. Now, three generations of spirited, proud women are forced to live together under one roof in the 1960s Deep South. Gradually secrets are revealed and the three begin to form something like a real family. This is a heart-warming book about three strong women from the same family. Even though it deals with many issues – racism, the treatment of unwed mothers, etc. – it somehow feels light rather than hard-hitting. It’s a well-written piece of historical fiction and I was entertained while reading it, but overall I just liked it rather than loving it. 3 stars.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. If Naomi had picked tails, she wouldn’t have had to go back for the yearbook camera, and she wouldn’t have fallen and hit her head on the steps. She wouldn’t have woken up in an ambulance with no memory of the last four years of her life. She would have remembered her boyfriend, Ace, and best friend, Will. She would know about her parents’ divorce and her mom’s new family. But she would also have never met James, the mysterious new boy at school who tells her he once wanted to kiss her. And she wouldn’t have wanted to kiss him back. But Naomi picked heads. I enjoyed this. Naomi isn’t always very nice but she IS a believable character and I did feel like she grew and changed by the end. I was genuinely interested to find out what would happen between all the characters and whether Naomi would end up forgiving her mum. 3.5 stars.

Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson. At the doors of a charming country church,  a wedding party are mown down by a gunman. A huge manhunt ensues. The culprit is captured. The story is over. Or is it? For Alan Banks, still struggling with a tragic loss of his own, there’s something wrong about this case — something doesn’t fit. Working with profiler Jenny Fuller, Banks delves deeper into the crime, unearthing long-buried secrets, until the truth is revealed. This is book 24 in a series apparently! I had never read any DI Banks books before, but a friend offered to lend me this one and it sounded good. It’s solid detective mystery. I didn’t guess who the killer was until the police pretty much knew as well. As with most series of this kind, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the previous books. Of course it is nice to have some background on the police characters but it’s really the current crime that’s important. Some people have taken a star off saying it’s not as good as other books in the series but luckily I didn’t have that problem 😉 I may read some other books in the series at some point but 23 is a bit of a commitment! 4.5 stars for this one.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. What goes up must come down, right? Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim get on board the London Eye, but when his pod comes down half an hour later, there is no Salim. He can’t have vanished into thin air, so where is he? Since the police are having no luck, it’s down to Ted and his older sister Kat to find out what happened. Despite their sometimes difficult relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London as they try to find their cousin. In the end it’s down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way (in his own words: it runs on a different operating system), to find the key to the mystery. is an interesting mystery. I did guess where Salim was about half way through (but then again, I’m not 10) and just hoped the book characters would in time. I really liked Ted and was so pleased at the end when everyone acknowledged that his different way of thinking saved the day. Kat and Ted’s sibling relationship felt very realistic. Ted is clearly on the autism spectrum and I can’t comment on how realistically that’s portrayed. 4.5 stars.

The Ice Garden by Guy Jones. Jess is allergic to the sun. She lives in a world of shadows and hospitals, having to cover every bit of her body whenever she leaves the house in daylight. One night she sneaks out to explore and discovers a beautiful impossibility: a magical garden made entirely of ice. Meanwhile, at the hospital, she “befriends” a boy in a coma to whom she reads her made-up stories. This is a beautiful book full of magic that’s all about friendship. Jess is a fantastic character even if she’s not always nice – I really felt for her mum even though I understood Jess’s frustration. I absolutely loved the idea of stories saving lives. The stories within the story were all excellent – if the author were to publish Jess’s “book of tales” as a companion to this I would definitely read it! 5 stars.

And that’s it for March. I was hoping to have another book to add here, but alas I didn’t manage to finish The Innocence of Father Brown. It will definitely feature next month though.

TL;DR: If you like YA read The Accident Season and Thirteen Minutes (but be aware that the latter contains drug-taking, sex and bad language), The Little Grey Men and The Ice Garden are excellent children’s books (or middle grade, if that’s what we’re calling them these days). I also enjoyed The London Eye Mystery but the portrayal of autism/Asperger’s Syndrome may or may not be accurate so proceed with caution. Read Abandoned and Sleeping in the Ground if you enjoy detective-led crime thrillers. The Trick to Time is beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful and well worth a read.

Check out the link up for more book recommendations!

February 2019: The month with all the books

Hello friends! It’s Show Us Your Books day again with Jana and Steph, and I feel like I should warn you in advance that this one is going to be long. February may have been a short month, but I managed to read a whopping 21 books, which I think might be the most ever in a month. Six of those were read in a single weekend, when I took part in the first ever Show Us Your Books readathon (and also my own very first readathon). So I’d better stop chatting and get on with the books. I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. Some of these books were read for the bonus round of Erin’s challenge, so I will put the category in brackets after the author. For the bonus round you get extra points for reading books that somebody else chose in the first round, so I read a few I may not have otherwise.

If you can’t be bothered to read all 21 synopses/reviews, skip to the end for a TL;DR.

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Apartment 16 by Adam Neville. I started this on the flight back from England and finished the last few pages the next day. In Barrington House, an upmarket block in London, there is an empty apartment. No one has gone in or out for 50 years – until Seth, the night watchman, hears noises and decides to investigate. What he finds will change his life forever. Meanwhile, a young American woman, Apryl, has inherited an apartment in Barrington House from her mysterious Great Aunt Lillian who died in strange circumstances. Rumour has it Lillian was mad, but her diary suggests she was implicated in a horrific and inexplicable event decades ago. Apryl starts to investigate and discovers that an evil force still haunts the building, and it all centres around apartment 16. This book started off well. It’s very atmospheric and creepy. But it almost felt like too much was going on. Apryl’s story (and Lillian’s) would have been enough without adding in Seth’s as well. Also, this is slightly petty, but the spelling “Apryl” really irritated me. It held my attention through 2 flights though, so 3.5 stars.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Samuel W. Westing is dead and sixteen people have been gathered for the reading of his will. And thus begins a bizarre game. The will turns out to be a contest – working in pairs, the group has to figure out who among them murdered Samuel Westing. Whoever gets the right answer wins his fortune. This book is an absolute delight. I would have given it 5 stars as a child. As a an adult I wished it had been longer and some of the characters had been fleshed out more. 4 stars. Maybe 4.5.

Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor. Seventeen-year-old Kettle has not had it easier. An an orphaned Japanese American, he is struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to — the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”. Now things are finally looking up – he has a hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys. Naive 18-year old Nora is desperate to run away from her violent father, a civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie. When Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window. This book is utterly heart breaking. The awful things humans do to each other, fathers to their children and powerful groups to minorities. Nora and Kettle are both such strong characters and the way Nora cared for her sister was both beautiful and devastating. There is a follow-up to this and I truly hope things work out well for all the characters in book 2. (Except Nora’s dad. I hope nothing goes well for him ever again). 5 stars.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (challenge category: read a book with a six-word title). Every day at 11 p.m., Eveyln Hardcastle will die at a party thrown by her parents. Unless, that is, Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. The only problem is that Aiden wakes up in the body of a different party guest every day. Some of his hosts are more helpful than others. Evelyn has already been murdered hundreds of times – can Aiden prevent it this time around? I got this book for Christmas and was dying to read it, so I pleased to see it had previously been chosen for this challenge. It’s Clue meets Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie, which sounds bizarre but is actually really fun. I loved it! 5 stars.

Whizziwig and Whizziwig Returns by Malorie Blackman. This was published as two separate books, but I read the omnibus edition. Whizziwig, a small, furry alien, was on her way to visit her aunt when she crash-landed on Ben’s wardrobe. Once Ben recovers from the shock, he’s delighted to learn that Whizziwig is a “wish giver” and she needs to grant wishes in order to repair her ship. Unfortunately Whizziwig can only grant accidental wishes, and they have to be made for someone else. Naturally chaos then ensues! I remembered seeing a TV series of this in the 90s, but had no idea it was a book, so when I discovered it I obviously had to read it. This is very much a children’s book so the wishes are pretty harmless – things like wishing someone was a little lighter only for them to float up to the ceiling. Whizziwig causes a lot of chaos but she’s also a lot of fun (as long as you’re not on the receiving end of a wish!). It’s possible that the nostalgia factor played a part in my 4-star rating, but I’m sticking with it.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (challenge category: freebie). It’s the 1920s and childless couple Jack and Mabel have recently moved to Alaska to start a new life. But things are tough out there, and they are drifting apart – he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. Gradually, Jack and Mabel come to know and love the little girl – Faina – who seems to be a child of the woods. The writing in this book is magical and poetic and I was captivated throughout most of the book. But I feel like I just didn’t get the ending. I can’t tell you what happened though or I will spoil it! Also, Mabel lost a child to stillbirth many years before and the sections where she was grieving her baby were hard for me to read. I gave it 4 stars in the end.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay (challenge category: set in Europe). Anotoine Rey thought he had the perfect 40th birthday surprise for his sister, Mélanie a weekend on Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach. A place they hadn’t returned to since their mother died 30 years before. But along with the happy memories, the island reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and disturbing about their last island summer. When she tries to tell Antoine what she’s remembered on the drive home, she loses control of the car and crashes. Now Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children. How well does he really know his mother, his children, or even himself? I chose this from the list of previously chosen books because I recognised the author’s name – Sarah’s Key has been on my to-read list for ages. This one started off well but in the end it was somehow lacking. The writing is a little clunky and I couldn’t connect with the main character. At the beginning he seemed whiny and sorry for himself. Then he meets a love interest starts to read like a horny old man – even though he’s only supposed to be in his 40s. At one point something bad happens and he literally thinks to himself “I’m glad I’m a man and can lose myself in imagining how it would feel to touch this beautiful woman I just met’s breasts instead of thinking of the bad thing”. And the secret isn’t at all shocking for today’s standards. 3 stars. I still want to read Sarah’s Key though.

Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayer’s. Mary is an eight-year-old orphan who lives with her granpa, but after he is mixed up in a robbery at the bookies where he works, they flee to the Isle of Skye. Gradually, Mary realises that her granpa is involved. And the robbers are coming after him–and their money. I absolutely loved this. Mary’s a fantastic character and I loved seeing the world through her eyes. Mary and her Granpa’s relationship is so adorable – reading about him from her perspective means you can’t help but like him even though, as a reader, it’s obvious that not everything he does is right. This book is both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and I gave it 5 stars. A wonderful debut – I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author.

Consumed by Abbie Rushton. Myla used to love long, hot summer days at the beach. Until her sister was taken and murdered two years ago. Since then, cripping agoraphobia and panic attacks have kept Myla confined to the house. Jamie is new in town and also struggles with things most people find easy – nobody understands why it’s so hard for him to eat. When their respective guardians bring them together, the two gradually begin to trust each other. Are they willing to reveal their secrets and start facing up to things, or will they allow the past to consume them? This is a quick read – I finished it in two hours – and I was totally engrossed throughout, but it does have some weaknesses. The two characters’ struggles felt realistic and were well written but it felt like things were resolved too easily. Even without having ever experienced agoraphobia it felt like Myla made it out too easily. On the other hand she needed to leave the house for the resolution to happen. Maybe if the book had been longer and built her outings up more gradually it would have been more believable. On the other hand the mystery sucked me and I didn’t guess the killer. I also enjoyed Myla and Jamie’s relationship and appreciated that it went relatively slowly. Despite its flaws, I did like it so I’m giving it 4 stars.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (challenge category: read a book that’s been turned into a film). Believe it or not, I had literally no idea what this was about before I read it – and my copy was a 10-year anniversary of the film edition, so instead of a synopsis the back cover just had a letter from Nicholas Sparks. An old man reads to a woman from a faded notebook, a morning ritual that she doesn’t understand. The story he tells is of thirty-one, Noah Calhoun, back home in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. Unable to find her, yet unwilling to forget the summer they spent together, Noah is content to live with only memories. . . until she unexpectedly returns to his town to see him one last time. Twenty-nine year old socialite Allie Nelson is now engaged to a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. With her impending marriage only weeks away, Allie needs to make a choice about her future. For the first half of this book I was sure it was going to be a three-star read. The writing feels very simple and the story of young lovers was cute enough but felt generic. Then the second part was beautiful. I mean, it’s incredibly cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is okay. Not sure I’ll read it again but I rounded by 3.5 stars up to 4.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). I started this book, read about 20 pages, then put it down and read three other books before picking it up again and almost finishing it on the train to and from work. This is a classic and you may already know the plot, so I’ll be brief. Two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, each fall in love only to find that the man the admire is engaged to another. Marianne immediately goes into deep mourning while Elinor tries to hide her pain from those she loves to avoid making them unhappy too. This was hard to read at times just because of the old-fashioned language and I felt like it took me forever, but it’s a really good book. Jane Austen could certainly write. I love the sisterly relationship between Elinor and Marianne. There are a few funny lines in there as well. 4 stars.

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a different language). The boy has spent his whole life underground, in a basement with his mother, father, grandmother, sister and brother. His family were disfigured in a fire before he was born. His sister wears a surgical mask to cover her burns. He spends his days with his cactus, tracking the beam of sunlight that comes in through a crack in the ceiling, or reading his book on insects. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before he was born and why they can’t leave the basement. This book is so disturbing! It book started really well. I was sucked in and needed to know what was happening. Why was everyone in the basement? Then there’s a major reveal/twist the writing changes to third person POV, which makes sense because the boy can’t tell the story of before he was born, but it also felt like the tone of the book changed at that point and it almost felt like an intrusion, although it was good to finally get some answers. Then came the ending and I HATED it. I can’t say why though because spoilers. I was genuinely sucked in by the rest of the story though and the writing/translation are excellent so 4 stars. Read this if you are intrigued, but be warned there are lots of disturbing things that I can’t tell you about without spoiling it.

The next six books are the ones I read for the readathon (minus about 20 pages of the first one since I started it the night before).

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Terra Cooper is tall, blonde and has an amazing body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her “flawed” face with its large birthmark. Terra secretly plans to leave her small town in the Northwest and escape to a college on the East Coast, but her controlling father puts an end to that. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in the path of Jacob, a quirky goth, he immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, forcing her in yet another direction. Will Terra ever find her true path? This was okay. It’s cute and there’s a map theme running through it, which is interesting but the “beauty is skin deep” and “be true to yourself” message is kind of obvious. Generic YA that passes the time fine. 3 stars.

 

I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson. Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy ad is confined to a wheelchair, unable to move or communicate. Her family and carer have to do everything for her. She has a sharp brain and knows all sorts of things, she just can’t express them. When somebody tells Jemma a terrible secret, then someone close to her goes missing too, she is utterly powerless to do anything about it. But that may be about to change… I thoroughly enjoyed this. Jemma is a well-written character. I found myself getting frustrated along with her. The mystery aspect was good but I actually found that I was more interested in reading about Jemma’s everyday life with her carer and foster siblings. 5 stars.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she begins to reflect on past events – both recent weeks and from her younger years, and particularly her friendship with her best friend Elsie. Recently, a charming new resident has arrived and Florence thinks she recognises him. The only problem, is the person she thinks he is died sixty years ago. Is a horrifying secret from her past about to be revealed? This is an adorable book, so heart-warming. I enjoyed seeing the characters try to solve the mystery of the new resident. Poor Florence just wanted to be taken seriously, but since she obviously has Alzheimers people mostly just assumed she was confused, even when she wasn’t. There were a few parts that quite didn’t hold my attention so that I wasn’t 100% wowed by it but overall it’s a wonderful story and beautifully written. 4 stars.

The Last Secret (Scarlet and Ivy book 6) by Sophie Cleverly. Scarlet and Ivy are back at Rookwood school for what could be their final term. The school is in danger of closure, and they will have to confront old enemies and uncover more secrets if they are to have a chance of saving it. I think the fact that I have already read this book is a testament to how much I’ve enjoyed this series – it’s rare that I read books in the year they came out, even rarer for me to have read a book from the current year when it’s still only February! This was a wonderful end to the story. It was good to have a resolution to the story of Scarlet and Ivy’s home life as well. I’m a little sad to be leaving Rockwood School behind but can’t wait to see what Sophie Cleverly does next. 4 stars.

Day of the Dead by Nicci French. Another final book in a series – this is number 7 of the Freida Klein books. On a north London high street, a runaway vehicle crashes into a shop window. The man in the driving seat turns out to have been murdered a week earlier. On Hampstead Heath, a bonfire blazes; in the flames the next victim. A serial killer runs amok in the capital, playing games with the police. But this is no ordinary criminal. He has a message for one specific person – psychologist Frieda Klein, who has gone into hiding. An old adversary wants her to know he’s coming for her. A worthy ending to this series. New character Lola is flipping annoying and I wanted to shake her. Josef  is wonderful, as ever. It was good to see things resolved. Maybe not everything was tied up with a neat little bow but that’s okay. I am satisfied with how it ended. 4 stars.

Instructions for a Second-hand Heart by Tamsyn Murray. Jonny has spent every day in hospital. He has a faulty heart and his time is running out. But for him to get a new heart, someone else has to die. That someone turns out to be Niamh’s twin brother, who lost his life in a tragic accident. When Leo was alive, all Niamh wanted was for him and his perfection to go away. Now he actually has gone she has no idea how to cope. When Jonny walks into her life, he initially just wants to find out about Leo, the first owner of his heart. He doesn’t plan on falling in love. is such a sad book. I really felt for Niamh, trying to deal with grief while at the same time feeling guilty about not liking her brother more. The family relationships and different ways they all deal with Leo’s death are really well written. Johnny’s story was also good although I found his relationship with Niamh a little creepy – I could understand why he tracked her down but he should have told the truth sooner. I would also have preferred them to stay friends. The romance felt forced and unnecessary. It’s a really well written book though, and genuinely moving at times. Also, I recently learned that this genre is apparently known as “sick lit”, so that’s weird. 4 stars.

How It All Began by Penelope Lively. When Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, she has to move in with her daughter, Rose for a while. As a result Rose can’t accompany her employer, Lord Peters, to Manchester so his niece, Marion goes instead, leading her to send a text message to her lover Jeremy. Unfortunately, said message is intercepted by Jeremy’s wife, Stella. And thus begins a life-altering chain of events for all our characterss. This is an interesting concept, how one incident has a ripple effect on many people’s lives. I enjoyed some stories more than others. I couldn’t have cared less about Jeremy and Stella or Marion. Charlotte’s story was interesting, and I liked her student, Anton. 3.5 stars. Good but not great.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid (challenge category: read a book that is another participant’s friend or family member’s favourite book). Finally my last book for Erin’s challenge arrived! At age twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in various cities and had countless pointless jobs since graduating college. Now, after breaking up with her married lover, she’s moving back to her home city of Los Angeles to live in her best friend Gabby’s guest room. One night, Gabby arranges a get-together with old friends, where Hannah runs into her high-school boyfriend, Ethan. At midnight Gabby wants to leave and Hannah has to decide whether to go too or stay with Ethan. From that point on, two concurrent storylines tell the tale of what happens to Hannah if she makes each decision, quickly diverging into two very different lives. This book is cute and fun. It’s interesting to think about how one decision can affect the way your life turns out. This is billed as a romance but I actually thought it was more about friendship. Hannah does end up with a love interest in each story, but the really central relationship for me was Hannah and Gabby’s friendship. There is a dog in one of the time lines who I looooved. She was honestly my favourite character in the book. 4 stars.

The World According to Garp by John Irving. Jenny Fields is a nurse who isn’t a particular fan of men. However, she does want a child, so she goes about getting herself pregnant by… let’s say unconventional means. As a result, T.S. Garp, known to all as just Garp, is born. And this book is his life story, from conception through to adulthood. This is a weird book. It’s mostly about sex. And lust. Parts of it are very dark, parts are amusing and others are just plain bizarre, but somehow it’s always captivating. I wasn’t expecting to love it but I actually did. 5 stars. Definitely not one for everyone though.

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you will be very pleased to know that, although I started one other book in February, I didn’t finish it. That one will hopefully be included in my March roundup – although I keep having to put it down because it includes a secondary storyline about infertility and that’s not something I constantly need reminding of.

And as promised, here’s a TL;DR: I highly recommend Nora and Kettle, I Have No Secrets and Three Things about Elsie. Read Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart if stories about sick teens are your thing. The Light of the Fireflies is well-written but be aware that there are lots of disturbing elements. I don’t want to spoil it, so basically if you can think of a thing that would put you off a book (along the lines of violence, sexual stuff, etc.) you should probably stay clear.

And that, finally, is that. Check out the link up for even more book talk!