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.

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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.

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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!

What I read in January 2019

Hello lovely people. It’s the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s time for another round-up of what I’ve been reading. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

Most of the books I read were for Book Challenge by Erin 10.0, which I realise I never actually posted about on here, so I’ll add the categories after the book title/author. I read 11 books, which is a decent number but not as many as in other months. I blame the fact that I read two classics, which both seemed to take me forever to read! Anyway, I should get on with the reviews…

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Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (challenge category: read a friend or family member’s favourite book – this is my grandma’s favourite book, apparently). The book starts with farmer Gabriel Oak meeting a woman named Bathsheba Everdene who has come to stay with her aunt. After roughly two conversations with her, he falls in love and asks her to marry him, which he refuses. A short time later, she disappears from the village to take up her position as farmer of a large estate near Weatherbury on the death of her uncle. Farmer Oak then loses all his sheep, meaning he can no longer be a farmer, and through a series of coincidences ends up working as a shepherd on Bathsheba’s farm. Another farmer falls in love with Bathsheba and then a third person comes into the mix, but I don’t want to say too much about what happens with all these suitors in case I spoil things.
First of all, I have to say Hardy doesn’t half go on! At one point there was literally a three-page description of a barn and the positions of the people within it. More than once I found myself thinking “get to the point will you!”. It is an interesting story and towards the end especially it picks up a bit as Hardy finally leaves off describing and starts getting to the action. Bathsheba is a strong and independent woman for her time (insisting on running the farm herself, for instance) but is remarkably silly at times. 3.5 stars.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (challenge category: read a book that has won a Newberry Award). Mrs Frisby, a widowed mouse and mother to four small children, has a problem. She needs to move her family to their summer quarters immediately before the farmer ploughs the land it’s on, but her youngest son Timothy is gravely ill with pneumonia and if he moves he will certainly die. Fortunately, she meets the rats of NIMH, an extremely intelligent group of animals who have the perfect solution to her dilemma and the means to help her.
Where has this book been all my life? I mean, given it was published in 1971 it definitely existed before I did so why did nobody ever tell me about it? It’s adorable! I loved the rats’ story and Jeremy the crow. The start is a bit slow, but I actually don’t mind that… I kind of liked the contrast between everyday mouse life at the beginning and the extraordinary story of the rats later on. I could see some children getting bored before it reaches the “exciting” part, but it’s 5 stars from me.

The Dinner by Hermann Koch (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a language that isn’t your native language). This is the story of two couples who meet at a fancy restaurant for dinner. Things start off harmlessly enough, with talk of work, films, and holidays, but all is not as it seems. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son, and together their sons have committed a horrific act that has triggered a police investigation. Just how far is each couple willing to go to protect those they love?
This book is so odd… not so much a roller coaster as a spiral into madness. Which isn’t too say I didn’t enjoy it… although “enjoy” seems like the wrong word given the subject matter. It’s strangely compelling… like a train wreck that you just can’t look away from. I don’t want to say too much – I went into it with little idea of what it was about, and I honestly feel like that’s the best way. I would say if you’re at all intrigued read it (but if you don’t like violence steer clear). Also, it goes off on tangents a lot. 4 stars.

The Never List by Koethi Zan (challenge category: read a book that starts with the letter N). For years, Sarah and Jennifer kept the Never List: a list of things to be avoided at all costs. Never go out alone. Never get in the car. But one night they broke their own rules, with horrifying consequences. Ten years later, Sarah is trying to forget her horrible ordeal and get on with her life, but it seems the killer hasn’t forgotten her! This book is so disturbing, and filled with twists and turns. I was not expecting the final reveal at the end at all! (Some reviewers have said it was obvious, so maybe I’m just not clever enough?). My only issue is that the writing style occasionally seemed slightly juvenile, which briefly threw me out of the story. But generally it sucked me in and had me up way past my bedtime reading just one more chapter. 4 stars.

The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan (challenge category: read a book with exactly six words in the title). Until I started this book I had forgotten I’ve actually read one by this author before (The Long Weekend is a scary middle-grade thriller, this one is YA). After Jay’s father died, life was hard for her and her mother, but they managed to get by. Now they’re moving in with relatives, including an aunt who has super strict rules on how Indian girls and boys should act. Jay will be expected to have only Indian friends, if she has any at all. How can she see her school friends, Chloe and Matt? But forcing her to conform to Indian customs and traditions is only the beginning of a nightmare for Jay. When her life implodes, how can she hide the shame and how will she find a way to keep going?
I don’t want to spoil anything but I do feel like this needs to be said… this book involves a sexual assault. If that’s not something you can read about then avoid this one. This is a really hard book to review partly because of the subject. It’s raw and seems realistic. Not what I would call an “enjoyable” book but it’s well-written and compelling. I really felt for Jay and was her mother’s response to what happened was perfect. 5 stars.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Astri is a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After her aunt sells her to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America with the “goatman” in pursuit. This book reads like a mixture of historical fiction and a fairytale, with the main character drawing constant comparisons between folk tales and her own situation. It’s a really well-told story and I enjoyed it but it’s quite dark with death, violence and subtle references to sex. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone under about 12 or 13. 4 stars.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Another one of those supposed classics that I somehow missed as a child. This is the only book I read in January that wasn’t for Erin’s challenge. Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He’s been practising all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, the new kid – a girl no less – outruns everybody. Not the most promising start for a friendship, but Jess and Lesley quickly become inseparable. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen. Then tragedy strikes. This starts off as a lovely story about a friendship between two people from totally different backgrounds. Then it gets really sad and the bubble of innocence is burst. I’m not really sure why it’s labelled as “fantasy” though – it’s clear all along that Terabithia only exists in Jess and Lesley’s imaginations. Anyway, 4 stars.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). For some reason I always thought this was a ghost story. It’s not. However, it is among the first mystery novels and may have been the first novel written with multiple narrators. On a moonlit London road, Walter Hartright encounters a mysterious woman dressed all in white who asks him from directions. He then discovers she’s escaped from an asylum. Not long after he travels to Cumberland where he is hired as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe. Of course, he falls in love with Laura but can’t do anything about it because 1) she’s rich and upper class while he’s the opposite and b) she’s already engaged to be married to Sir Percival Glyde, baronet. Gradually Walter and Marian become convinced that Sir all is not as it seems with Sir Percival and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco. This is a fantastic book. For a classic the language is actually quite readable. Wilkie Collins was a great writer. My only complaints are it was about 200 pages too long and I would have liked Marian to play more of a role in the last third. I imagine this book must have been a true sensation in its time. 4 stars.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (challenge category: read a book set in Europe – it’s set in Ukraine). I’ve owned this book for years, having bought it after enjoying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A young American man arrives in the Ukraine searching for the village of Trochenbrod, where his grandparents came from, and  the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis fifty years ago. He is aided in his quest by Alex, a similarly-aged young man who has been hired by his father to act as a translator, Alex’s “blind” grandfather and a “seeing-eye bitch” named Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. This book was a mixed bag. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, then just as I started to get into it there would be a slow/weird part. I liked Alex’s letters and story but couldn’t really get into the Trachimbrod parts until close to the end. Also, the “young American man” is Jonathan Safran Foer… the book is a fictionalised version of his family background and he inserted himself into the story, which was just weird. I gave this 3.5 stars, mainly for the Alex parts and because it’s set in Ukraine.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (challenge category: freebie). My mum lent me this book so I needed to read it before travelling to England so I could return it. I feel like everyone has read this recently so I’m not sure I need to summarise it, but I will anyway. Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, charming and a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew, and is sent to Auschwitz on the first transport. There, he is put to work in the privileged position of Tätowierer– the tattooist – marking his fellow inmates with their prisoner numbers. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance. With a new purpose, Lale is more determined than ever to survive is time in the camp. This story is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It’s hard to know how to rate this book. The actual story is compelling but it feels like something is missing in the execution. The writing is too simplistic for the momentous events and at times it’s feels almost detached. At the same time I could not stop reading. I gave it four stars on Goodreads mostly because I felt bad giving it three.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (challenge category: a book that has been made into a film). I just sneaked this one into January – I read it on the way to England on 31 January, finishing about 10 minutes before we landed in Newcastle. Substance D, or Death, is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way on to the black market. It destroys the link between the brain’s two hemispheres, leading to disorientation and ultimately brain damage. Bob Arctor is an undercover narcotics agent trying to find a lead to the source of supply, but to avoid blowing his cover he has to become a user, not realising that he’s becoming just as addicted as the people he surrounds himself with. This is billed as science fiction, but really I think it’s more dystopian. Apart from a special suit Bob wears when reporting to his superiors there’s not much in it that points to science fiction (although it was written in the 70s but set in 1994, so maybe the future setting is what made it science fiction at the time?). Anyway, this was not what I was expecting. The writing style is easy to read and the story is strangely compelling considering it’s basically the ramblings of a drug addicts who is slowly losing his mind. 4 stars.

And that’s it for January. Have you read any of these? If so, do you agree with my review? Check out the link up to see what the rest of the SUYB community has been reading recently. You know you want to add more books to your list 😉

What I read in December 2018

Somehow it is the second Tuesday of the month, which can only mean one thing: book day! December was a fairly busy month, but that did not stop me from cramming in as much reading as I could. In the end, I managed 12 books. Admittedly the majority were children’s books, but reading is reading, so yeah…

Linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books, of course.

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Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry. I mentioned this book in my round-up of the year as having my favourite cover of 2019. Calliope June has Tourette syndrome, so she sometimes makes faces or noises that she doesn’t mean to make. When she moves yet again, she tries to hide her Tourettes at school on the advice of her mother and a previous doctor. But it isn’t long before the kids at her new school notice she’s different, labelling her a freak. Only Calliope’s neighbour, Jinsong who is also the popular student body president, sees her as she truly is – an interesting person and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public? This is a simple book, but somehow beautiful. Calli’s parts are written in verse, which can be annoying but the format is perfect for Calli’s voice. I wanted to give her a hug every time someone was mean to her, and I was so glad she decided to ignore the bad advice at the end and finally got to be herself. 4 stars.

Forget Me Not

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler. Okay, first of all when I read this book I had no idea Daniel Handler was Lemony Snicket! I mean, I’ve never read a Lemony Snicket book so it’s probably irrelevant but I just thought I’d get that out there. Anyway, this book is written in the form of letters from sixteen-year-old Min to her ex, Ed. The letters document their relationship and explain the random items she’s returning to him in the same box as the letters. I don’t know about “why we broke up”…. I feel like the title should have been “why we should never have got together in the first place”. Min is an artist and the entire book goes on about how “different” she is. Ed is a typical jock and so not her type. There seemed to be so many things Min was unsure of about Ed, but then just kind of brushed aside. Anyway, I don’t know how to review this book. The main character was kind of annoying at times but I really liked the concept and a few of the anecdotes from her relationship. I gave it 3 stars because I did kind of like it, but probably wouldn’t read it again.

The Imagination Box by Martyn Ford. Timothy is an orphan who has been adopted by a couple who own a hotel. His mum and dad are always busy and he’s on his own a lot, which is how he meets Professor Eisenstone, a guest at the hotel. The professor introduces Tim to his invention… a box that can produce anything you can imagine (with some restrictions, e.g. you can’t imagine “hot ice” – you would just end up with water). When the professor goes missing, Tim knows he has to investigate, so he sets off with a talking finger monkey named Phil to find the professor. I enjoyed this book. It’s great fun and I LOVED Phil the monkey. A lot seems to happen at the end and I could barely keep up, and some of the characters weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked, but generally I really enjoyed it and I think the target audience would too. It’s the first in a series so hopefully some of the gaps will be filled in later. 3.5 stars.

The Snow Sister by Emma Carroll. The holidays aren’t very joyous in Pearl’s family ever since her sister Agnes died. It’s nearly Christmas and Pearl has a tradition – every time it snows, she makes a snow sister. When Pearl’s father receives a letter about an inheritance, Pearl’s mother sends her to the shop to buy ingredients for a real Christmas dinner, but things don’t go quite as planned and she ends up having to stay the night at Flintfield Manor. Will she make it home for Christmas? This is a cute, heart-warming tale with a lovely message. The old-fashioned setting is perfect for the story and Pearl is a great character. A lovely children’s book. 4 stars.

Dead Scared (Haunt #1) by Curtis Jobling. After being hit by a car, Will finds himself in hospital where nobody can see or hear him and realise he didn’t survive the accident. At his funeral, he discovers that somehow his best friend, Dougie, can still see him and, in an attempt to figure out why Will didn’t move on, the two of them decide to investigate a school rumour – is there really a ghost haunting an abandoned building on the school grounds and if so why? What they discover is a long-buried mystery, which stretches its fingers right into the present. This is a surprisingly good book. I loved Will’ s sense of humour and his friendship with Dougie. This seems to be part of a series so I’m hoping we’ll find out more about how being a ghost works and some of the other characters – and possible eventually who was actually driving the car that hit Will. 4 stars.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. Yes, I read an actual adult book! I started this one in November, then continued when I went to work in December. Apparently four 2-hour train journeys weren’t enough to finish so I forced myself to read the rest in the bath. Ha. Anyway, I suppose most people know what this is about? I had never seen the film (well, I once saw the very beginning) but I had a vague idea. The book is more a series of semi-related short stories than a novel, really, and all told from different perspectives. Half the time I had no idea who was currently narrating or how much time was supposed to have passed… while I can read Scots dialect it made all the voices blend into one so I had no idea who was currently supposed to be talking, and it almost felt like it was only written that way to prove a point. I liked it better than I expected to though. 3 stars and finally another BBC Big Read book crossed off the list.

Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie. Lauren has always known she was adopted, but she knowns nothing about her birth family. While researching for a school project, Lauren comes across a website for missing children, where she discovers a girl who looks a lot like her; a girl who was taken from her parents over 12 years ago. Could her parents really be kidnappers? With the help of her best friend, Jam, Lauren makes it her mission to find out where she came from. was a very quick read. The concept was interesting (although it’s at least partly been done before… obviously Sophie McKenzie never read The Face on the Milk Carton) but the writing seemed almost too simple… yes, it’s for teens but I read plenty of teen books with much more complicated writing styles (even those obviously aimed at younger teens like this one is). The main character seemed quite childish for a 14 year old, and she’s also very whiny and self-centred. I also would have preferred it if Lauren and Jam really had stayed “just friends” as they insisted they were from the start. The relationship aspect was predictable and seemed unnecessary. Not a terrible book but not one I would necessarily recommend. 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 on Goodreads.

Plain Jane by Kim Hood. At nearly 16, Jane has lived in the shadow of her little sister Emma’s cancer diagnosis for over three years. But even before that, she always thought of herself as “Plain Jane”, the boring, ordinary counterpart to her talented dancer sister. Now though, with her parents struggling to cope financially and emotionally, Jane’s life in her rural mining village seems to be a never ending monotony of skipping school, long bus rides to the hospital and hanging out with a boyfriend she doesn’t even know why she is with. Nobody seems to notice or care what’s going on with Jane, and in fact even she is finding it increasingly difficult to care. I really liked this book. Some people have said it seemed a bit dull at the start, but that was clearly related to Jane’s state of mind and it was clear (to me) that something would have to give – she obviously wasn’t happy and it felt like something was bubbling beneath the surface. I was really concerned for Jane and kept wishing she would stop pretending everything was fine and give her parents a chance to notice that she needed help.
I always find it interesting to me to read a “child cancer book” that doesn’t focus on the child with cancer but on their sibling, who is obviously also affected by what’s happening within the family. It gives a different perspective to the one that feels like it’s been done a million times. Four stars.

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. Despite being part-way through way too many books, I couldn’t resist starting this one on Christmas Day! After working in the field for the maximum allowable time, NGO doctor Olivia Birch is returning home for Christmas. The only problem is, she’s been in Liberia treating the deadly Haag virus (seemingly a fictional version of Ebola) and she and her entire family need to be quarantined for 7 days. While Olivia struggles to come to terms with what she thinks of as first-world problems, her frivolous younger sister can think of nothing else but her upcoming wedding. Meanwhile every member of the family seems to be hiding a secret… what will happen when they all come out? This is a quick and quirky read all about how just being related doesn’t necessarily mean you actually know each other. It has its flaws but I really enjoyed reading it. Perfect escapist Christmas fodder. 4 stars.

100 Cupboards by N.D.Wilson. Somehow I didn’t realise this was the first book in a series. Like I have time to commit to another one! Anyway, 12-year-old Henry has been sent to the small town of Henry to stay with his aunt, uncle and three cousins. One night, he hears a bang on the attic wall above his head and wakes up to find plaster dust in his hair and two knobs in the wall, which turn out to be doors. Gradually, a total of 99 cupboards are revealed, and Henry and his cousin Henrietta (yes, really!) soon discover that they are not just cupboards, but portals to other worlds. This is a creepy children’s fantasy book. Parts of it are a little slow and confusing, other parts are really good. There are some Arthurian-seeming elements, which I enjoyed and the whole going through cupboards thing made it seem a little Narnia-esque. If I had realised from the start it was a series I might have given it a higher rating, but as it was I gave it 3.5 stars. Hopefully some of the confusion will be cleared up in book 2!

In the Night Room by Peter Straub. This book started off well but then just got really weird. It seems to be some sort of sequel to Straub’s previous book, lost boy lost girl. Or at least that book is mentioned in this one as having being written by a main character in this book? Anyway, the plot:  Willy Patrick, the respected author of the award-winning young-adult novel, thinks she is losing her mind again. The first time was after her husband and daughter were murdered. Now she is haunted by the knowledge that her daughter, Holly, is being held captive in a fruit warehouse. Except she can’t be, because of the aforementioned being murdered thing. Meanwhile, author Timothy Underhill, who has been struggling with a new book about a troubled young woman, is confronted with the ghost of his nine-year-old sister, April (also murdered, many years ago) and starts receiving strange, fragmented emails from dead classmates and acquaintances. There are books within books within books, characters who were dead or maybe not, or possibly were never even real at all. It all just felt unnecessarily confusing. I loved Ghost Story but this one just wasn’t for me. 2 stars.

The Fairy Doll by Rumer Godden. Did I quickly read a 96-page children’s book at the very end of December just so I could add one more book to my total count for the year? As a matter of fact, I did! Nobody is sure where Fairy Doll came from, but she has always been at the top of the Christmas tree. Elizabeth is the smallest in the family. She is always getting into trouble and her brother and sisters are forever laughing at her and bossing her around. She’s convinced she’s useless. Then Great-Grandma gives Fairy Doll to Elizabeth and suddenly she finds she can do things. Is Fairy Doll magical or was it Elizabeth herself all along? Slightly old-fashioned but very sweet and charming. I loved the glimpses into a child’s imagination – sawdust as fairy sand and a shell for a bed. I also like how it’s left to the reader to decide whether the Fairy Doll is actually magical. 4 stars.

And that concludes the round-up of books I read in December. In case you’re interested, the total number of books I ended up reading in 2018 was 168 (plus some I started but never finished and one started in 2017 that I read more of but still haven’t finished).

What have you been reading recently? Anything you would like to recommend?

Come join the link up for even more book talk!