I read a lot of books this month, but still haven’t found any new favourites. But anyway, here are the books I read in August!
1. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.
Premise: In a world where every human has an animal counterpart called a daemon, children have been disappearing with no explanation. Lyra travels to the North to find them, befriending witches and an armoured bear along the way.
I knew these books would be good. I’ve never heard a bad word about His Dark Materials, and Northern Lights boasts the lyrical prose and imaginative world-building I was expecting.
I wasn’t left thirsty for the next book, however. I felt very calm and relaxed after reading this because it was just so lovely and magical, so I’m thinking I’ll read the next one around Christmastime, when I’m allowed to be lazy.
My Rating: 4/5
2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.
Premise: Rumour surrounds the Blackwood house, where a mass murder took place years ago. Constance hasn’t left the house in years, her sister Merricat doing all the coming and going for her. Then a long-forgotten uncle appears and changes everything.
I wanted this to be better. I read The Lottery at university, so I knew Jackson could write, and I knew what sort of tone to expect. You do get that same creepy tone, but nothing that creepy happens so it’s kind of anticlimactic. In fact, all the creepy stuff has already happened – I’d much rather read about the events leading up to the murders!
I didn’t know much about this book going in, and I have to admit I was expecting a ghost story, just because of the cover designs and the title. (It sounds like a haunting, right?) I’m going to try The Haunting of Hill House, I think, because that sounds more like what I was expecting.
My Rating: 3/5
3. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.
Premise: A disabled child is abused by her mother and seizes an opportunity to escape when children start being evacuated. She and her brother travel to Kent, where they are taken in by a taciturn lady who slowly comes to appreciate them, and they her.
I was really hoping this would make me cry.
It came close, but fell short of the mark. It was a really good read though, and I’d definitely recommend it in schools. It was very similar to Goodnight Mr Tom – the abusive mother that the children are forced to go back to, for instance – but I think this was probably intentional, as it feels like a homage.
My Rating: 4/5
4. Flour Babies by Anne Fine.
Premise: An unruly class are given sacks of flour to babysit for their science project. One of them goes a little gooey over his flour baby, and uses it to start working out his own daddy issues.
We started reading this at school but as far as I remember we never finished it, so I’m counting it as a new book. It was cute and quirky, though a little unrealistic – I can’t understand why more of the boys, who have made it clear they don’t care about schoolwork, don’t just boot their babies into the canal. It was a fun, quick read though and I want to pick up more of Anne Fine’s books. (I feel like I read loads of her books at school but can’t remember any of them?)
My Rating: 3.5/5
5. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella.
Premise: Audrey hasn’t left her home in years, due to social anxiety and experiences of bullying. After meeting a boy she likes (quite a lot), she finally starts to work through her issues.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. I don’t know why I was surprised, because I really like the Shopaholic series (the first few, anyway – it’s getting a bit much now). For some reason, I’m a bit of a snob about chick-lit, and this book served as a wake-up call – no judging books by their genres!
This isn’t chick-lit; it’s YA, and very good YA at that. I cared a lot about Audrey, a realistic and likeable character, and that opening chapter is one of the best I’ve read in years. I was pulled – no, yanked – into the story straight away, as I imagine anyone would be if the first scene they read was a mum threatening to throw their son’s laptop out of an upstairs window.
My only criticism is that I wanted to know exactly what happened to Audrey at school. I suppose in the end it wasn’t really important to the story, but I don’t like being kept guessing.
My Rating: 4/5
6. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.
Premise: Eleanor is everything the new kid doesn’t want to be: poor, overweight and weird. She is bullied mercilessly at her new school, and her only salvation is Park, the kid on the bus who never talks but who wordlessly shares his comics and music with her.
I was probably setting myself up for a fall, because I expected SUCH good things from this book. I really like Rainbow Rowell’s work, and most people say Eleanor & Park is their favourite, but it wasn’t anything special for me. I did really enjoy it and it was of course well-written, but it had no lasting effect.
This gave me 32CP for the ReadThemAllThon. I was hoping I could get my Cerulean City badge with this – ‘a book that made you cry’ – but sadly I didn’t even get teary. (I did cry while buying it, though, does that count?) However, I think I earned the Soul Badge of Fuschia City Gym – ‘a book with a great romance’!
My Rating: 4/5
7. The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd.
Premise: Our protagonist is the daughter of Dr. Moreau, a man who caused a scandal with his gruesome experiments on animals. She discovers he is still alive and continuing his experiments on a remote island, where she travels to only to find one of his mutations is running amok. (This book is based on The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells.)
Again, I was being such a snob about this. It was one of those low-priced books on the Kindle store, and it’s got one of those covers that just looks… cheap…
Aaaaargh I’m such a snob. I don’t want to be but I am.
I just thought this was going to be such a rubbish book, and in a way I was right because it wasn’t particularly well-written. But I had fun reading it; I was eager to see what happened next and, really, that’s the point of mass-market fiction.
It was a bit ridiculous in places though, and it’s definitely not winning any awards any time soon. However, this was a fun homage to Gothic literature.
35CP for this one, and I earned the Boulder Badge (Pewter City) – ‘first book in a series’.
My Rating: 3/5
8. The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson.
Premise: David has a secret: all his life, he has wanted to be a girl. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with the new boy, a supposed juvenile delinquent who turns out to have a shocking secret of his own.
This was another disappointment. Waterstones voted this the best children’s book for older readers of 2016 (I never understand those awards – surely you have to wait until Jan 2017 to vote for your best books of 2016?!) and it won several other awards besides. I picked it up expecting it to be fabulous.
The representation for transgender people is obviously brilliant. I’ve never read a book that focuses so much on these issues before. However, I feel like the story itself was a bit boring, and even in places kind of twee. I had to force my way through it at times and probably won’t keep my copy.
35CP for this one. I guess I earned my Rainbow Badge (Celadon City) – ‘a book that focuses on diversity’.
My Rating: 3/5
9. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.
Premise: “(W)e enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion.”
This was so nearly a 5-star read. I loved the lyricism of Golden’s writing, and the intricate details we were made privy to. However, I didn’t like the ending. I wanted her to end up with someone else – but then that confused me as well, because really she shouldn’t end up with any of them, because they’re all perverts who think she’s a commodity. I always love it when a book makes me question things, but I would’ve liked if Chiyo had been able to get out of that world earlier.
Also, as usual, I read this about 6 years too late.
42CP, and earned the Thunder Badge – ‘a book with thunderous hype’.
My Rating: 4/5
10. The Dog Who Dared to Dream by Sun-mi Hwang.
Premise: This is the story of a dog called Scraggly, and what happens to her throughout all the stages of her life.
I’ve been wanting to read more translated fiction because it’s always so poetic. I also want to read more books about dogs, so…
I very nearly almost cried at this one. (I think there must be something wrong with my tear ducts at the moment, because normally this sort of story would have me in floods.) I finished it in about an hour and a half, so didn’t have much time to take it all in, and I’m definitely going to re-read it soon to glean some more information from it. I feel like if I read it again and take my time, it might go up to a 4-star rating.
16CP – only a short book! No badges earned.
My Rating: 3.5/5
11. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne.
Premise: We return to the final scene of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Albus Severus Potter’s first year at Hogwarts. Not saying any more. #KeepTheSecrets
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh omg omg omg. Review here.
33CP and no badges earned – unless I can get a second Thunder Badge???
My Rating: 5/5 (Rating based on seeing play rather than reading script)
12. The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp.
Premise: Jack Sparks is an infamous journalist who has taken it upon himself to explore the occult, despite being a fervent atheist and fan of Richard Dawkins. This book is presented as the first draft of his book, Jack Sparks on the Supernatural, during the writing of which he suddenly died.
This is presented excellently, with a foreword that adds authenticity and several transcripts and email conversations to give the whole thing a more multimedia, pieced-together feel.
Jack’s character, though, is horrendous. He is selfish, arrogant, and the epitome of the unreliable narrator. He has an epiphany halfway through about his own overblown ego and how bad a friend and family member he is, but this only serves to make him even less likeable because he doesn’t change his ways. He blames it on his drug addiction, but no – it’s not coke’s fault, you’re just a dickhead.
This is a clever idea for a thriller, but sadly it wasn’t much of a page-turner, and for me a good thriller is one that you can’t put down. I put this down quite easily, and at no point was I particularly scared.
37CP and I earned the Marsh Badge of Saffron City gym – ‘a book with fantasy/supernatural elements’.
My Rating: 2.5/5
13. The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke.
Premise: We flit back and forth between the viewpoints of Alex, a young boy who can see demons, and Anya, his new psychiatrist. The demon Alex sees the most is called Ruen, and he’s on a mission to make Alex do some very bad things.
After abandoning this book a couple of months ago, I didn’t really expect to enjoy the rest of it when I finally picked it up last week. Happily I did finish it, but that’s only really because I made myself.
I was kind of annoyed with this one, because it came up on my recommendations after reading Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, which was an amazing book. The Boy Who Could See Demons didn’t even come close. There was just nothing special about it.
I also thought we were going to be kept guessing as to whether Alex could actually see demons or whether Ruen was a manifestation of his mental health issues. I feel like if the latter had been the case, this could have been a much more powerful book.
24CP and no badges earned.
My Rating: 2/5
I earned a total of 254CP from all those books! I already had 44 so when I hit 150CP my Bulbasaur evolved into Ivysaur, leaving me with 210CP plus an extra 50CP from evolving. So I have 260CP – only 140CP to go before I get my Venusaur! (Not sure I can manage that before Sunday though…)