The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

My most eagerly anticipated book of 2022 was the third and final part of Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy. Set immediately after the events of The Last Graduate (reviewed here) , El is safely back in Wales with her mum having escaped the Scholomance graduation but still reeling from Orion’s choice at the end of the previous book. The Golden Enclaves really picks up when El is invited to help save wizarding Enclaves around the world and eventually finds herself caught in between New York and Beijing – the two most powerful Enclaves in the world – as they prepare to go to war with each other.

While the first two books were set almost entirely in the Scholomance, this one really opens up the wizarding world, giving readers deeper insight into the politics and practicalities of the Enclaves.

The Golden Enclaves answers most of the questions I had from the previous books as it’s full of revelations about El and Orion, the Wizard eating Mawmouths, how the Scholomance and wizarding Enclaves were created, and El finally starts to fulfil the prophecy that her great grandmother made that El would bring death and destruction to every enclave in the world – though not in any way I could’ve predicted.

The whole trilogy very much questions what people are willing to sacrifice and justify for their own comfort and safety, there’s no central villain as such but lots of people using their power and influence to make life better for themselves and their children at the expense of others, and El is such an unlikely hero because she’s such a misanthrope and cynic who shows consistently that doing the right thing is a choice to be made over and over again even if nobody ever knows or thanks you for it.

Without giving anything away, The Golden Enclaves had a happier ending than I expected, but still a bittersweet conclusion as El has to give up her dream in order to fulfil her purpose, which is totally in keeping with her character development as someone who refuses to sacrifice others to save herself and someone who weighs the cost of every choice and action. Ultimately, this is a dark and poignant but amusing and surprisingly heartwarming YA fantasy story about family, friendship, love, sacrifice, purpose and the choices that define us.

Have a lovely week. X

October Reading Wrapup

Sharing my October reads a little late but it was another good month for reading with a mix of fiction and non-fiction.

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown for a while but found this a bit different from her previous books, though it still covers similar themes such as shame, vulnerability, authenticity and courage, but reads like a dictionary of emotions and how to navigate them. Atlas of the Heart is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, packed full of Brene Brown’s humour, wisdom and personal anecdotes.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

I read and loved Beartown back in January (reviewed here), but have been psyching myself up to read the second part of the trilogy as they are such gripping but tense and emotional stories of small town life that often remind me why I was so eager to escape to a city. Barely recovered from the events of Beartown, the little town suffers another scandal around their ice hockey team that leads to another tragedy. While the first book took aim at rape culture and how far the local community would go to protect their star player, the second focuses on homophobia in sports and is just as absorbing. I’m no sports fan, but I was completely drawn in to this story of marriage and families, friendships and rivalries, team and community.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

My husband recommended Martin Seligman to me, and this was one of those books that overlaps different spheres of my life from work to parenting and personal development too, though this definitely falls into psychology rather than self-help. The focus of the book is about the link between learned helplessness, pessimism and depression, and Seligman argues that if these are learned behaviours, then optimism can be learned too. Seligman also makes a strong argument for developing an optimistic mindset given that research suggests it leads to living longer, healthier and happier lives. This book has some profound research on how we talk about events, setbacks and disappointments with kids for parents and teachers. Some of the research may seem a bit dated (a lot is from the 70s) but still relevant, and the book is obviously written from an American perspective with whole chapters on sports psychology, military recruitment and predicting presidential elections that aren’t necessarily relevant to other cultures or nationalities. The final third of the book focuses on developing thought-challenging techniques to combat pessimism, and understanding the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviour, that will probably be familiar to anyone that practices or has had CBT.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

My most eagerly anticipated book of 2022 was the conclusion to the Scholomance Trilogy, and I’m still trying to put all my thoughts and feelings into words about it so will give this one a full length post. Despite a slow start The Golden Enclaves is full of revelations and kept me hooked until the last page trying to work out how it would resolve itself as El finds herself saving the Enclaves she was prophesied to destroy and caught between two of the most powerful Enclaves as they prepare for war against each other. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy and The Golden Enclaves provides a very satisfying conclusion.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

My husband bought this when it first came out but gave up on it halfway through, I picked it up recently and was gripped from the start. I enjoy a cosy crime murder mystery and found this one that has four aging, amateur sleuths trying to solve a local murder kept me guessing to the very end as it’s full of clues that didn’t quite fit together with plenty of misdirection and red herrings, and the ending was clever but a bit abrupt. I loved the mischievous and determined main characters who remind us that life doesn’t end in retirement, from the relatable and lovable Joyce to the rogue-ish ex trade union leader Ron, the still sharp as a scalpel psychiatrist Ibrahim, and mysterious ex-intelligence Elizabeth who is nothing short of a force of nature. The Thursday Murder Club was an unexpected delight, and I’ve asked Santa to put the second book in my Christmas stocking.

Have a lovely week. X

September Reading Wrapup

September was a good month for reading with a real mix of genres, and a couple of eagerly anticipated new releases.

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

In the concluding part of the King of Scars (reviewed here) duology (and apparently the final book to be set in the Grishaverse for a while) an old enemy has returned, armies from neighbouring countries are massing at Ravka’s borders, and Nikolai’s legitimacy as King is under scrutiny. I loved the slow burn romance between Zoya and Nikolai, easily two of my favourite characters from the Grishaverse, and how they both had to confront their personal demons (both literal and figurative), and Nina’s mission as a spy behind enemy lines was tense and thrilling too. Rule of Wolves didn’t have quite as many clever twists as I’ve come to expect from Leigh Bardugo, but still an enjoyable read and satisfying conclusion that leaves scope to return to the world and reunite with the main characters from Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows in the future.

The Joyful Environmentalist by Isabel Losada

This was a bit different from most of the other books about environmentalism that I’ve read recently as Isabel Losada sets out to prove that environmentalism doesn’t have to be about guilt, anger and grief, and shares all the joyful experiences that becoming an environmentalist has brought her from playing in Extinction Rebellion’s samba band and a cosy night in with her flatmates during an unexpected powercut to planting trees in the Scottish Highlands with Trees for Life and listening to nightingales and other songbirds while camping at the Knepp Estate. The book also covers various ways that individuals can reduce their impact on the environment but really focuses on the benefits of creating a greener world from a greater sense of community and connection to less litter and pollution.

The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The final part of The Inheritance Games trilogy (reviews for The Inheritance Games and The Hawthorne Legacy) has been one of my most anticipated new releases this year, and it was worth the wait as I binge read it in a couple of days. The Final Gambit finally reveals why billionaire Tobias Hawthorne disinherited his entire family and chose Avery, a random girl he’d only met once in passing to be his heir instead, it also reveals a new enemy seeking to outwit Avery and destroy Tobias Hawthorne’s legacy and fortune. The weakest part of this story is the love triangle between Avery and two of the Hawthorne brothers, which I felt had been resolved in the previous book, nevertheless, The Final Gambit is a gripping YA mystery, and I loved how Avery grows as a character over the series and how she chooses to use her wealth when she finally comes of age and inherits the Hawthorne fortune.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

I don’t read much science fiction but I make an exception for Becky Chambers, and yet I find her books so hard to describe because they’re character driven stories that focus on identity, relationships, culture and humanity. Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third book set in The Wayfarers Quartet and is set around the same time as the first book, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (reviewed here), though this follows a different set of characters all living and working on one of the human homesteaders, the vehicles that humans built to escape Earth and make a new life in the Galaxy. The undergraduate Anthropology student in me found the practical elements of maintaining the homesteaders and the rituals people developed on board to preserve their history and culture fascinating.I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for this one, but Record of a Spaceborn Few is probably my favourite book in the series so far, it’s a poignant exploration of life, death, community and humanity.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I picked up this from the library because I’d read so many glowing reviews about it but it ended up falling into that awkward category of books that I liked but didn’t love. Nevermoor follows a little girl called Morrigan Crow who was born on the festival of Eventide, believed to be cursed and bringing all manner of misfortune to the people around her and destined to die on her 12th birthday until she’s saved at the last moment by a strange benefactor who whisks her off to the magical city of Nevermoor and enters her into a competition with other children hoping to join the Wondrous Society, an elite group of people with strange and magical abilities. Nevermoor is an enjoyable children’s story about friendship, belonging, bravery and destiny.

Have a lovely week. X

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

We’re into the season of dark, stormy nights now that are perfect for stories about witches, wizards and things that go bump in the night, and decided it’s a good time to share my review of the second part of The Scholomance trilogy as the final part is due out at the end of this month.

While the first part, A Deadly Education (reviewed here), covered just a couple of weeks at the end of term, The Last Graduate, covers El’s final year as she, her friends and allies, and her not-quite boyfriend Orion, prepare for the graduation battle they need to survive in order to return to the outside world.

As scathing and bad tempered as she is, El finds herself in demand as she’s sort-of-dating the school hero, Orion Lake, and is a monstrously powerful sorceress in her own right, but one of the main recurring themes of The Scholomance trilogy is who and what are the students (and by extension the Enclaves in the outside world) willing to sacrifice for safety but apparently her hippie-healer mum and heroic-to-a-fault, Orion, have rubbed off on misanthropic El who balks at sacrificing others to save herself again and again, even when it puts her in peril and at odds with the rest of the magical community.

The Scholomance itself is the antithesis of Hogwarts and other boarding schools in fiction as thousands of students are trapped inside with no way of communicating with the outside world, there are no teachers, no holidays (except Graduation and Induction day), the food is scarce and usually past it’s expiration date by years, oh, and the school itself and half the other students are trying to kill you. Yet, despite the loneliness, homesickness and constant risk of death, this is a story about love from familial and friendship to first romances and shared humanity at it’s core.

I really enjoyed the foreshadowing between the first and second parts of the trilogy and there are some interesting hints about what might be happening outside the Scholomance, a strong sense that El and Orion are destined to be star-crossed lovers, and about how the prophecy that El will be responsible for the destruction of every enclave if she survives to adulthood might come to pass. The Last Graduate is a bit less amusing than A Deadly Education, the atmosphere is tense as it builds to a heartpounding cliffhanger that makes the third and final part my most eagerly anticipated book of the year.

Have a lovely week. X

August Reading Wrapup

All the books I read in August were borrowed from the library, and all were on environmental themes from how to reduce the amount of pollution (especially plastic) we produce and consume less to nature and conservation.

How to Save the World for Free by Natalie Fee

This is a short but practical guide on what individuals can do to reduce their harmful impact on the planet, which starts off by describing a fairly bleak picture of our current situation with polluted oceans and rivers, air and soil, rapidly rising temperatures, melting glaciers and mass extinctions. However, after setting the scene, Natalie Fee provides a really inspiring, informative and thought-provoking book that provides a much needed antidote to the doom and gloom news about the environment, reminding readers that as consumers, campaigners and voters we have the power to influence politics and corporations, but she also recognises the importance of collaboration and signsposts to other campaigns and grass roots movements to get involved with. I’m no environmental angel and I really appreciated that there’s no guilt-tripping or shaming here, and no expectation that the reader needs to adopt every single suggestion to make a difference. I was pleased that I’m already doing some of the things she suggests, but there are plenty of other suggestions that I hadn’t considered, and I found this a quick, practical read that left me feeling motivated and inspired.

The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

This is quite a different book from others that I’ve read on climate change and environmentalism, and if I’m honest I found it a bit disappointing as it focuses on the mindset of stubborn optimism that will be required if we want to prevent the worst case scenario and create a greener world. The writers argue that we need to overcome our sense of helplessness, but I found this book a bit vague and idealistic as most of the practical suggestions such as flying and driving less, eating less meat and diary, switching to renewable energy tariffs and planting trees are already well known, and this still overestimates the individual’s carbon footprint when we also need governments, businesses and fossil fuel companies to reduce their emissions and move away from fossil fuels to greener technology and solutions.

A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button

A Life Less Throwaway is another practical guide about reducing our consumption by learning to resist manipulative marketing ploys but also learning to take care of items we already own instead of accepting planned obsolescence, upgrades and seasonal trends as the norm and campaigning for more durable products. I really enjoyed the first half of the book that covers the history of advertising, when and why disposable products became normalised, and it’s a surprisingly fun read with lots of exercises to help the reader identify their own style and values to develop a bit of immunity to advertising. The second half fell into more familiar territory covering minimalism, decluttering, make do and mend, as well as a few recommendations for products made with durability in mind. A Life Less Throwaway is another informative and practical guide on how to tackle over-consumption and reduce waste that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

A gripping children’s story and the second book that’s been shortlisted for the Wainwright’s Children’s Prize that I’ve read this year (the other was October, October reviewed here) about a young girl called Julia who moves from her home in Cornwall to a lighthouse in Shetland with her scientist parents for a summer. While Julia’s dad attempts to automate the lighthouse, Julia’s quirky mum becomes increasingly obsessed with finding a Greenland shark that could provide a cure for Alzheimers and dementia, and Julia is left to entertain herself. Julia and the Shark is such a poignant story about a child navigating new friendships and bullying, nature and conservation, mental health and learning that her parents are neither perfect nor infallible.

The Summer We Turned Green by William Sutcliffe

After some of the heavier books I’d read this month, The Summer We Turned Green turned out to be a comparitively light hearted, amusing and hopeful read about a seemingly ordinary British family that find themselves on the frontlines of a climate protest when the opposite side of their street is marked for demolition to expand an airport. I really loved the family dynamics at the heart of this story, but also the optimistic message about NIMBYs and climate protesters overcoming their prejudices, uniting towards a shared purpose and creating a little community together.

Children of the Anthropocene by Bella Lack

In Children of the Anthropocene, youth activist Bella Lack attempts to give a voice to young people’s experience of pollution and climate change across the world. It is at times uncomfortable to read about the plastic pollution poisoning oceans, rivers, landscapes, birds, fish and animals, but this manages to strike a balance by highlighting young people across the world all participating in different forms of activism and conservation from cleaning beaches and planting trees to challenging governments in courts. I found this so inspiring and thought-provoking and really informative as it covers such a wide range of topics from reducing consumption, slow travel, how educating women can reduce climate change, rewilding, ecocide and ecological blindness, and intersectional environmentalism. I loved the manifesto with practical tips at the end of each chapter and really appreciated how broad Lack’s definition of activism is.

Have a lovely week. X

July Reading Wrapup

July was a slightly slower month for reading, but a good one with lots of thoughtful books.

The Whole Brain Child by Dr Daniel J. Siegal and Dr Tina Payne Bryson

I’ve read a few parenting books this year, and I tend to prefer those that are underpinned by a solid understanding of child development. The Whole Brain Child is written by a psychologist and a neuroscientist, and seeks to help parents understand what different parts of a child’s brain do and how to integrate them to work together. I struggled to understand parts of this at times and may need to reread it to get a better grip on some of the concepts, and I also felt this was aimed at children older than my own daughter but there’s really helpful cribsheets at the back that describe how to apply each strategy for different age ranges.

How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price

I attempted to read How to Break Up With Your Phone in 2020, but given how dependent we were on technology to keep in contact with family and friends during long periods of lockdown, it just didn’t seem like the right time. Picked it up again recently as I still want to reduce the amount of time I spend staring at a screen, and this really helped me to achieve my goal. The first half of the book focuses on explaining how and why smart phones, the internet and social media are so addictive, and how they are rewiring our brains, as well as making us more distracted, stressed, depressed and tired. The second half of the book gives practical advice and a 30 day detox plan on how to break our phone habits and create a healthier relationship with our phones. One of the aspects I really liked about this is that Price recognises how useful phones can be helping us with a variety of tasks from banking and navigation to camera and keeping in contact with others, so she doesn’t advocate getting rid of our smart phones altogether, just creating boundaries around their use to help us save time, improve our relationships and end the constant state of distraction many of us are stuck in. I haven’t followed the plan exactly but it’s full of useful advice from buying an alarm clock and changing where you charge your phone to installing an app blocker, and understanding why (curiosity, boredom and loneliness, etc)
we reach for our phones in the first place.

Evil Under The Sun by Agatha Christie

Set on a secluded island off the coast of Devon, Hercule Poirot is on holiday when he finds himself investigating the murder of the seductive actress Arlena Stuart. There’s no shortage of suspects with motives and plenty of red herrings along the way. I loved this story until the reveal in the last couple of chapters, but felt a bit cheated as it’s a clever mystery and solving it relies on a key peice of information that isn’t uncovered until near the end, but Evil Under the Sun is still a thoroughly gripping whodunit.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

A comprehensive book about how climate change and capitalism are intertwined. Split into three parts, the first part considers how we ended up in our current situation, from the invention of the steam engine and the Industrial Revolution through to neoliberalism, deregulation and free market economy, covering climate change denial largely funded by the fossil fuel industry, and how NAFTA and WTO undermined investment and trade in green technology, while the Kyoto Protocol and climate summits have balked at regulating or holding the biggest polluters to account over the years.
The second part considers all the ways we’ve tried to avoid reducing carbon emissions and Klein debunks carbon offsetting, pining our hopes on philanthropic billionaires who are often heavily invested in polluting industries (like Richard Branson and Bill Gates), and some of the scientific community’s frankly terrifying proposals about how to geo-engineer the climate to reduce global warming (seriously, look up sun dimming).
One of the most compelling arguments is that the same individuals and industries that are exploiting natural resources in their relentless quest for growth and profit, are also exploiting employees and customers as well as polluting the water, air and soil, and this really ties together how climate change and social justice are connected.
The final section offers more hope recounting how protests have erupted all over the world against the Keystone XL pipeline, Arctic drilling and fracking, often leading to legal challenges, moratoriums and bans. This Changes Everything is a little dated (published in 2014 when Obama was still president and before Brexit here in the UK) but it’s still informative, terrifying, inspiring and a great place to start if you’re interested in climate change or conservation.

Have a lovely week. X

June Reading WrapUp

June was a good month for reading, ticking off four books from the TBR and receiving one eagerly anticipated new release. Halfway through the year now and I’m back on track, let’s hope I can keep up the momentum and make my target by the end of the year.

The Red Admiral by Bella Ellis

The third in the Bronte Mysteries series sees the three sisters and their brother leaving their beloved Yorkshire to help a friend living in bustling and gritty London. I love the ways this series juxtaposes the family dynamics with thrilling mysteries to solve, and always against the backdrop of Victorian society without shying away from the darker side of poverty, abuses and moral hypocrisy. The Red Admiral does cover some dark themes (CW: child trafficking and exploitation) but I thoroughly enjoyed this tense adventure with clever twists, daring deeds and an unexpected dash of romance.

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Last year I binge read Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, and was thoroughly captivated by the slow-burn enemies to lovers romance between Jude, a human raised by Fae, and the cruel and decadent Fae Prince Cardan. I’m usually not a fan of spin-offs but couldn’t resist the opportunity to return to this world of cunning and devious creatures to learn more about Cardan. Beautifully illustrated, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is an engaging addition that offers some insight into Cardan’s childhood and formative experiences, as well as a little glimpse of Cardan and Jude’s adventures after the events of the main trilogy.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

This one has sat on my bookshelf for a couple of years now until I was finally in the mood to read it. Helen Russell and her husband were living and working in London at a frenetic pace before he received a job offer from Lego which would mean relocating to Denmark for a year. Russell decided to use the year to start her own career as a freelance writer and undertake some investigative research into why Denmark consistently tops the world’s happiest country. The book is split into 12 chapters each covering a month of their year in Denmark and a different aspect of Danish culture and society from hygge and hobbies to childcare and taxes. It’s an enjoyable and informative read that is both positive and balanced (she doesn’t shy away from analysing the high rates of divorce, domestic violence and cancer for instance), but it’s also a record of her own personal journey as she considers her own work-life balance and infertility.

Vow of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

Dance of Thieves was one of my Top 10 favourite reads last year, and the sequel was every bit the nail-biting, heart-pounding and romantic conclusion I was hoping for. While the first book in the duology focused on the enemies to lovers to enemies to lovers again romance between the protagonists, Kazi and Jase, the plot takes centre stage in the in sequel as the leads fight together and apart to save the little Kingdom of Tor’s Watch from an unexpected villain hellbent on revenge, destruction and domination at all costs. Vow of Thieves was tense and thrilling, and provided a very satisfying conclusion to this YA fantasy duology.

Bridge of Souls by V.E. Schwab

The third and final part of the Cassidy Blake series actually turned out to my favourite as the girl who can see ghosts after a near death experience finds herself being hunted by an Emissary of Death. One of my favourite aspects of this series has been the settings, which are wonderfully described from the architecture and history to the food, and while I was familiar with the locations of the previous two books (Edinburgh and Paris), Bridge of Souls is set in New Orleans which was new and exotic to me. Bridge of Souls is a captivating conclusion to this middle grade series full of ghosts and the occult, family and friendship.

Have a lovely week! X

April & May Reading Wrapup

Reading fell by the wayside during April and I only managed to finish one book so decided to tack that review onto my May wrapup, but hoping I can catch up over the next few months and still reach my target by the end of the year.

How to Be A Calm Parent by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Much like Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (reviewed here), How to Be A Calm Parent challenges the reader to reflect on how their own childhood experiences influence their parenting style and the way they react to their own children’s behaviour. Sarah Ockwell-Smith takes a holistic look at the different stresses that impacts our parenting from a lack of support for parents to financial worries as well as perfectionism and comparisons. I found this book so relatable, and really appreciated when the writer openly shared her own struggles not to shout at her kids when she feels stressed and overwhelmed, as I actually picked up this book after one of the most challenging days me and my daughter have ever had together, full of tears, tantrums, shouting and eventually a lot of cuddles, and it was just the reassuring, reflective and inspiring book I needed.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

This was such a lovely, gentle story to lift me out of my reading slump. The Last Bear follows 11 year old April as she travels with her meteorologist father to Bear Island (near Svalbard) to study the effects of climate change. Left to explore the island while her dad works, she finds an unlikely friend in the form of a stranded polar bear. This children’s story is so full of universal and vital themes from grief, loneliness and friendship to climate change and nature, but despite the seriousness of the subject and the very real threats facing our planet, The Last Bear offers such a hopeful message that even one person can make a difference.

Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Linn

This is one of those awkward stories that I liked but didn’t love. Set in a world where Crafters can control origami creations, and where Shikigami (wild origami creatures) wreak havoc, a young woman called Kurara with crafting powers is rescued from a life of servitude and plunged into the battle between the sky-sailing Shikigami hunters and the Imperial family that seek to control the Shikigami to hold and expand their Empire. Rebel Skies is an action-packed fantasy adventure set in a whimsical world that reminded me a lot of Studio Ghibli films with plenty of mystery surrounding the main characters to keep you hooked.

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo has become one of my favourite writers, but having read her Grishaverse novels out of order (I started with the Six of Crows duology and only went back to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy last year before the Netflix series came out), I can see how much she has grown and developed as a writer. King of Scars follows my two favourite characters from the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the powerful Grisha General Zoya and the charming King Nikolai as they try to hold Ravka together as enemies from within and outside threaten to tear it apart, and start investigating mysterious and miraculous events occuring around the country. The story also follows one of the Crows, Nina, as she travels undercover through the country of Fjerda (where Grisha are persecuted) trying to locate and help other Grisha escape torture, imprisonment and execution, and learns more about her own powers in the process. I loved returning to the Grishaverse and getting to know the three protagonists better; King of Scars is a gripping fantasy full of suspense, action, slow burn romances, clever twists and cleverer cons, and I can’t wait to read the final part of this duology.

October, October by Katya Balen

This children’s story follows a little girl called October who lives happily with her father in the forest until her 11th birthday when a terrible tragedy changes both their lives. Written from October’s perspective, she’s a fascinating and utterly compelling narrator, and this reminded me a little of Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. October, October is a poignant and captivating story about change, estrangement and reunion, secrets and stories, and nature.

What have you been reading lately? Have a lovely week. X

March Reading Wrapup

I’d set myself the goal of reading one library book a month this year, but partly inspired by local campaigns to save two library earmarked for closure and partly due to the efficiency of the library request service (which has just resumed after a two year hiatus during the pandemic) all the books I read in March were borrowed from the library.

The Secret of Happy Children by Steve Biddulph

Steve Biddulph was actually suggested to me by my husband who had read one of his other books, and I found this one by chance in our local library. The Secret of Happy Children contains practical parenting skills like activing listening and how to respond to tantrums, sulks and shyness as well as how to model expressing your own anger, sadness and fear appropriately. Biddulph really packs a lot into a short book from a brief description of developmental stages and keeping our expectations realistic to tips about self-care for parents and child-proofing your relationship. This is an easy to read parenting book that’s short but full of practical advice, though at times I felt he was trying to squash too much into too short a book and it lacked depth.

The Monsters of Rookhaven by Padraig Kenny

A creepy, gothic children’s story of a strange family of monsters who live in Rookhaven Manor and whose lives are thrown into disarray when the magic protecting them from the human world starts to fade and two human children cross over. The family soon discover that there are creatures that even monsters fear, but this is a gripping story of friendship, family, compassion and bravery.

The Gentle Discipline Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

In The Gentle Discipline Book, Sarah Ockwell-Smith attempts to redefine our understanding of discipline as a form of teaching instead of being a synonym for punishment. I really appreciated that so much of the book is based on a solid understanding of child developmental stages and reminding parents to have realistic expectations of a child’s age and stage when dealing with sulks, tantrums and a variety of other problematic behaviours. Similar to Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, there’s a real focus on understanding the cause of the behaviour rather than just trying to correct it and connecting with your child emotionally through the process. I didn’t agree with everything in the book, and I think some of her suggestions make it obvious she’s writing for a middle class audience that some parents may find cost prohibitive, but there’s a lot of useful advice in here that I’ll be applying with my own daughter.

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

This YA fantasy took me a while to get into because there’s a lot going on in the story. This is a retelling of the Goose Girl fairy tale from the maid’s perspective and follows Vanja who was abandoned in a forest by her real mother and adopted by Fate and Death who raise her, before she becomes the servant of a noble family and befriends their daughter, Princess Gisele. When the nobles are cruel and abusive to Vanja, Gisele looks the other way, and in revenge one day Vanja steals Gisele’s identity and Gisele is cast out as a peasant. Vanja uses her newfound privilege to become a thief preying on the noble families who mistreated her until she accidentally crosses paths with a diety who curses her for her greed and threatens to turn her into jewels one body part at a time unless she gives back what she has stolen. Vanja is one of those characters who is deeply sympathetic though not always likable, nevertheless I still found myself rooting for her. Little Thieves is an enjoyable fantasy heist that kept me guessing right up to the end.

How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

Thanks to the unexpected efficiency of the library request service, this was the 3rd parenting book I read in March (meaning I read as many non-fiction books last month as I did in the whole of 2021!) but probably the only one that I’ll be buying a copy of and would recommend to parents for kids of all ages. Published in 1982, I could see how many other parenting gurus and psychologists have been influenced and inspired by the skills and ideas in this book. How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk won’t guide you through weaning, potty training or how to get your child to sleep through the night, but will give you practical communication skills to help children process difficult feelings, encourage co-operation and problem-solving between parents and children, offer alternatives to threats and punishment, how to give genuine and constructive praise, and how to let children be themselves instead of pushing them into roles or creating self-fulfilling prophecies. This is an accessible and engaging parenting book that is packed full of useful advice and skills, and one that I’ll definitely be referring to through my own parenting journey.

Have a lovely week. X

February Reading Wrapup

We’re only just getting back on our feet after a bout of illness floored us so sharing my February reading wrap-up a bit later than planned. February was another good month for reading, and Lunar New Year had me seeking out books with Asian settings and characters.

Not Here to be Liked by Michelle Quach

I started February with Not Here to be Liked by Michelle Quach, which is a YA romance about a Chinese-Vietnamese American girl, Eliza, who has been ruthlessly working towards becoming the editor of her High School newspaper, but whose ambitions are thwarted at the last minute by the cute baseball player Len, who only joined the paper last year but gets himself elected editor instead. Although I’ve always enjoyed stories with a romantic subplot, I really enjoyed how much depth this romance novel had as the teens wrestle with sexism and feminism, stereotypes and double standards, race and immigrations, and other issues. Romance is a new and unfamiliar genre for me but I adored Not Here to be Liked, it’s the perfect combination of adolescent awkwardness, humour, social commentary and romance.

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

I tend to avoid grimdark fantasy and while I enjoyed The Poppy War (reviewed here), I found some of the descriptions of war harrowing to read, and it’s taken me almost a year to psych myself up to read the second part of the trilogy inspired by modern Chinese history. The Dragon Republic did feel like a middle book, as I found it a lot slower than The Poppy War as Rin and her allies deal with the aftermath of the previous war and prepare for a civil war between the Twelve Provinces, but I didn’t find the descriptions as distressing as those in the first book. Unsurprisingly for a character inspired by Mao Zedong, Rin isn’t always likable or sympathetic but she is fascinating and I’m really intrigued to see how this trilogy ends.

The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee

My husband bought me Jade City for Christmas, and I was only halfway through it when I rushed out to buy the other two parts so I could binge read this urban fantasy trilogy. The story follows the youngest generation of the Kaul family who lead the No Peak Clan, one of the two biggest clans operation in the city of Janloon: there is Lan the eldest brother and a prudent leader, Hilo the charismatic but hot-headed middle brother who leads the clan’s military operations and their younger sister, Shae, the business mastermind of the family. This is a slow-burn story as No Peak find themselves at war with their biggest rival, the Mountain Clan, headed by the ruthless Ayt Mada, but it’s tense, gripping and I was thoroughly invested in the fate of the Kaul family. The world building is brilliant and vivid, and I loved the setting of Janloon, though the story did sometimes get bogged down in describing the politics. I also really liked the magic system where some people can wear jade to enhance their perception, strength and give them other supernatural abilities. The final part Jade Legacy was the longest book and definitely suffered from some pacing issues as it had several time skips forward to allow the children of the next generation of Kauls to grow up but was still full of suspense, heartbreak and tied up all the threads in a very satisfying conclusion to this original and gripping trilogy.

Have a lovely week. X