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

Raising a Bookworm

We’re a bookish family and one of the parts of parenthood I’ve looked forward to most is sharing my love of stories with my daughter. I’ve been collecting books for her since birth and have given her the lowest shelf on our bookcase within her reach, but it’s only in the last few months that she’s shown a real interest in stories.

In Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust distributes free books at intervals from birth to five years old to encourage a love of reading and promote literacy. A few of my daughter’s earliest favourites were books she received from the health visitor, including a simple rhyming bed time story called One Sleepy Night and a peekaboo lift the flap book, there was also a rhyming book to help children learn to count in the most recent Bookbug bag by Julia Donaldson called One Mole Digging a Hole that my daughter really likes too.

Although I’ve read to my daughter since birth, once she became mobile she lost interest in books so I picked up a few more interactive sensory books for her from the “That’s Not My” range and a couple of Nosy Crow lift the flap books too to try to keep her interest.

As she’s gotten older, her language skills have developed and her attention span has increased we’ve been able to introduce more narrative stories. One of her earliest favourites that she demanded over and over again was Corduroy by Don Freeman, which tells the story of a bear in a department store who gets overlooked by customers because he’s missing a button on his dungarees and sets out on an adventure to find a button once the shop closes. It’s a really lovely story and one that has aged well since it was first published in 1968.

Another popular classic in our household is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which also happens to have been one of my husband’s favourite childhood stories) which describes the life cycle of a caterpillar hatching from an egg, eating a lot of food and eventually transforming into a butterfly. My daughter practically knows this one off by heart and enjoys pointing out all the foods that the caterpillar eats.

Between Halloween and Christmas last year, my daughter discovered the wonderful rhyming stories of Julia Donaldson and has been demanding “Broom!” (Room on the Broom) and Gruffalo’s Child regularly. For those unfamiliar with these stories, Room on the Broom is about a witch who keeps losing her belongings which are returned to her by various helpful animals she meets on her journey, who all ask to travel on her broom with her and eventually team up to rescue her when a dragon threatens to eat her. It’s a fun story about helping each other and team work. While The Gruffalo’s Child is the sequel to The Gruffalo, in which the Gruffalo’s daughter sets out on a quest to find the big, bad mouse that scared her father in the original story.

I’m looking forward to seeing how my daughter’s reading tastes change and develop as she grows, and have enjoyed this chance to look back at some of the books that we’ve read together over the last couple of years. Have a lovely week. X

January Reading Wrapup

I’ve decided to try monthly reading wrap-ups instead of quarterly, and this year is already off to a strong start as I read six books this month, including one that I’m almost positive will be in my end of year Top 10.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

My first book of 2022 was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas which involves the frail but bombastic patriach of the Lee family, Simeon, inviting his relatives for Christmas dinner. The family is absolutely rife with resentment and rivalry, and on Christmas Eve, Simeon is murdered and his uncut diamonds stolen. The retired Belgian Detective, Hercule Poirot, is invited by the local police to help investigate, and discovers a multitude of secrets and deceptions among the household as everyone from his sons and daughters-in-law to the valet seems to have a motive for murdering the old man. I’ve read a few Poirot mysteries and I thoroughly enjoyed this one that had me suspecting then dismissing the murderer and kept me guessing until the end.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

I picked this up hoping for a wintry adventure but unusually for a children’s book found this a real slog to get through as it’s very slow paced and I never felt the characters were in much danger. The Dark is Rising follows 11 year old Will Stanton who finds that he is the last of the mysterious Old Ones, a group of druidic Guardians who stand against the Dark that threatens the world. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Stanton’s family Christmas and the pagan and Christmas traditions that are laced throughout the story but not enough to redeem this story for me.

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

Set in Beartown, Sweden, this story follows a group of characters all connected to the local ice hockey team. The junior team is preparing for the national semi-finals and a victory would put the struggling town back on the map bringing tourism and investment. The stakes are high and the pressure on the team is immense, but when one player crosses the line outside the rink, the town has to decide between seeking justice and hushing up the crime. Beartown really captures the stifling claustrophobia of locker rooms, high school and small towns, yet it’s balanced with moments of bravery, loyalty and loving, supportive families and friendships. Beartown was absolutely gripping, tense and full of suspense from start to the end, but not without humour and full of insight about families, friendships, community, wealth and poverty, growing up and growing older, and so much more. This is the first part in a trilogy and I’m really looking forward to returning to Beartown and all its characters, and I’m already predicting that this will be one of my favourite books of the year.

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

After Beartown I was in the mood for something lighthearted and this YA fantasy follows a broken hearted young woman, Evangeline, who makes a deal with Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, to stop her beloved from marrying her step-sister in exchange for three kisses. It’s a very light-hearted fairy tale with a wicked stepmother, Prince Charming, capricious Fates and vampires but it’s far from predictable. This is the first book in the series and I’m curious to find out what happens next.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

This is the first part in a fantasy series inspired by pre-Columbian American mythology and culture. Black Sun follows four different characters in the days leading up to a solar eclipse, Naranpa, the Sun Priestess, Xiala a sailor who can control the sea with the power of song, Okoa a warrior from the Carrion Crow clan and Serapio, a human vessel for the Crow God. I really loved the setting and the characters but I felt the pacing let this story down as most of the action happens in the last few chapters so at times it felt like reading an extended prologue, but I’m invested enough to want to know what will happen next.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Eduacation was one of my favourite books last year and while I wait for the final part of the Scholomance trilogy, I decided to borrow one of Naomi Novik’s other books from the library. Uprooted is a strange fairy-tale about a young woman, Agniezska, who is chosen to live with and serve the local wizard, known as the Dragon. Agniezska turns out to be more than just a woodcutter’s daughter and has her own destiny to fulfill as she and the Dragon attempt to stop the Wood that threatens the land steadily swallowing up villages and corrupting everyone that it touches. Uprooted has a lot of interesting ideas and plays with some fantasy and fairytale tropes, and I really enjoyed the magic in this story.

What have you read recently? Have a lovely week. X

2021 ~ My Year in Books

I fell back in love with reading in 2021, I derived so much comfort and pleasure from books, and it was the first year I’ve ever managed to reach my goal of reading 52 books. My final tally was actually 66 books and I reviewed 47 of those on the blog.

I began 2021 with a mystery, a new genre to me, and where better to start than with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie ended up being my most read author, as I read five of her Poirot mysteries last year, though Leigh Bardugo, V.E. Schwab and Maggie Stiefvater were close behind with four books each. I started and finished reading whole series last year, binge-reading trilogies and quartets like Shadow and Bone, The Folk of the Air and The Raven Cycle.

Of the 66 books I read, three were actually re-reads. I re-read Maya Angelou’s Letter to my Daughter, as well as two of my all-time favourite novels Jamaica Inn, Daphne du Maurier’s thrilling and chilling tale of smugglers in Cornwall, and Emily Bronte’s gripping story of obsession and revenge, Wuthering Heights.

I read a real mix of fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, magical realism, children’s fiction with a few autobiographies, classics and even a parenting guide thrown in. More than any other genre I found myself drawn to and devouring Young Adult stories, and I found so many new favourite writers and books among them.

My Top 10 favourite books were comprised of stories that captured my imagination, left me wanting more and that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Among my favourites were fantasy stories inspired by the legends of King Arthur (Legendborn) and Owain Glyndwr (The Raven Boys), West-African folklore (Raybearer) and Arabian mythology (The Empire of Gold) as well as enemies-to-lovers romances (The Wicked King and Dance of Thieves), paranormal mysteries (Ninth House) and even a classic (Pride and Prejudice). I couldn’t put them all in order, but I tracked down hardback copies of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education to survive rereads and because I couldn’t possibly wait for the sequels to come out in paperback, these two were absolute highlights of my reading year.

I’m setting my goal to 52 books for 2022 as well, though this year I’m really hoping to make a bigger dent in my TBR pile (which seems to permanently hover around 40 books) though my most aniticipated books coming out this year are the concluding parts of Naomi Novik’s The Scholomance trilogy and The Inheritance Games trilogy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and the sequel to Legendborn by Tracy Deonn.

What were your favourite books of 2021? Have a lovely week. X