Despite the fact that March was a heck of a lot busier than I had been expecting, when it came to reading I had a stellar reading month finishing 9 books in total.  Part of the reason for that was because I joined in with a Youtube read-a-long called ‘Middlegrade March’ and Middlegrade books do tend to be a lot shorter, or just less complex to read, so it is mostly because of my choices for that read-a-long that I managed to squeeze in so many books.

books read in march 2018

Gangsta Granny by David Wallaims

This was an audiobook I listened to with the kids on the way down to my parents house at the start of the month.  I’ve not read any of David Walliams books before so I was interested to see what his middlegrade offerring would be like and I was suitably impressed.  He narrates the audiobook too which I think was the perfect choice and the kids spent the whole time in hysterics over what was happening.  The story is basically about a young boy who is forced to stay at his Granny’s house every Friday night and he despises going.  Until one day he discovers that his Granny may just have had a secret past as a jewel thief.  Lots of amusing things happen as a result and it was a really great choice.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

I went into this book with semi-high expectations.  The Nightingale by the same author is one of my all-time favourite books so I was expecting big things from Firefly Lane.  It is basically the story of female friendship following two girlsl who become friends as teenagers unexpectedly as they are from opposite walks of life, and it follows their friendship through the next 30 or so years.  I didn’t love the story as much as I thought I would but I do think it is testament to Kristin Hannah’s writing that, despite the fact I thought the story was a little on the weak side, I still found myself crying at the end.  Kristin Hannah has a way of creating characters which just manage to get under your skin and that was very much the case here.

Magic Study by Maria V Snyder

This is the second book in a fantasy series called The Chronicles of Ixia.  I read the first book and loved it at the tail-end of last year so I was keen to jump back in.  I can’t say too much about this book as it would spoil the first one but this is a series set in a world where magic has been outlawed.  Our protagonist, Yelena, discovers that she has magic and has to keep it hidden whilst also working as the king’s food taster. It’s a very easy to read fantasy series, which I have really enjoyed falling into and I can’t wait to see where the third book goes.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill

OH.THIS.BOOK! This was my favourite book I read this month and I have literally not stopped talking about it since I finished.  It was the perfect example of how a whimsical middlegrade book should be written and I will definitely be on the lookout for any other offerings by Barnhill in the near future.  We follow the story of an old witch who lives in a forest, on one side of the forest is a dark and grey village and every year this village sacrifice their youngest baby to the witch in the hope that she will take the offering and not terrorise them.  Unbeknownst to the villagers however, the witch Xan actually rescues the babies and takes them to a village on the other side of the forest where they are raised in loving families.  As she travels across the forest she feeds the babies starlight in order to sustain them.  Except one year she accidentally feeds the baby moonlight, causing her to be filled with magic.  Xan decides to keep this baby and raise her, teaching her the ways of magic.  And the story unfolds from there.  I have to say though, that it is about so much more than that.  It’s about love, hope, loneliness, sorrow and trust.  It has dark moments but also truly beautiful moments and the writing in just GORGEOUS.  To put it simply.  I adored this book and I don’t think any small snippet will do it justice.  You should just read it!

Lie with Me by Sabine Durrant

This book would be the perfect option for a holiday read.  It is fast-paced and pulls you right into the story.  It’s a thriller but isn’t too spine-tingly and was the ideal choice for me in a busy month.  We follow the story of Tom who is a forty-something year old and a bit of a loser.  He had some mild success with a book he wrote in his twenties but has been mostly sponging off friends and family since then, pretending at a life he doesn’t have.  When he bumps into an old university friend and finds himself invited on a family holiday to Greece, events start to spiral out of his control and we begin to discover things about Tom’s past that he has managed to bury very, very deeply.  I think if you want something straightforward and quick then this is a great read.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

This is a middlegrade book written in verse, and it’s the first book I’ve ever read in this style.  It is a beautiful and moving story about a young Vietnamese girl who is forced to flee from Saigon with her family.  They travel across the sea and end up in America where she has to acclimatise to a whole new way of life.  The style made it a very quick book to read but it was nonetheless a very worthwhile book about a culture that I am not massively familiar with and I’m really glad I went for it.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

This was the Bookish Mamas pick for the month and it was my first Matt Haig book.  Having heard great things about his writing, I tried not to go into this with too high expectations.  How To Stop Time is about Tom, a man with a secret.  Tom ages differently from other people in that he ages a lot slower and so in our present day has actually been alive for centuries.  He is part of a small group of people like him, and in order to protect themselves they never stay in one place for more than 8 years.  On top of this, to avoid ‘complications’, the society has one rule which is to not fall in love.  Suffice to say that when the book begins, Tom is beginning to feel dissatisfied with his life and this is an interesting look at humanity, what we need as people, the loneliness that can come from living with a hidden ‘illness’ and so much more.  I really enjoyed it and although I wish it had expanded on a few more areas, it was a good choice and I will look to pick up more by Matt Haig in the future.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

A classic from my childhood which I haven’t read for many years I was excited to pick this up again.  If you aren’t familiar with this story then it is about five children who discover a sand fairy whilst they are on their summer holidays.  This sand fairy, or psammead can grant wishes and so the children go on a journey to discover that sometimes the things we think we want the most, are actually not in our best interests.  I found E.Nesbit’s writing a little tricky to get into at first but once I had picked up the gist of it I flew through the book and it’s one I look forward to reading with Meg and Eli in the future.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

This was the final book I read in the month of March and what a gem to end on.  Again, this was a much loved book from when I was a child but one I hadn’t picked up for a long time.  It is told entirely from the perspective of a gorgeous black horse and follows his life from its beginnings as a colt in the fields of a country manor house right through to his retirement.  He is treated well, and poorly, and we meet characters from all different stations and walks of life.  I don’t know what Anna Sewell’s hope was in writing this book but what always sticks out to me is the references she makes to the fact that animals may be ‘dumb’ but that doesn’t mean they are stupid.  I know I’ve said it about many of the books I read this month but I’m very glad I picked this one up to round off a great reading month with. 

If you are a reader and want to know what I will be picking up in the month of April then you can find my TBR video here.

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Ah, February.  I can’t say that I’ve ever really felt the impact of a month being shorter than the others before, apart from this February when I only managed to read four books.  Six is usually my average and I feel like I might have just squeezed in completing two more if only I’d had those extra days.  But perhaps that is just wishful thinking!

I also can’t really say that I loved the books I read this month, apart from one.  Most were okay, and averaged around 3.5 stars on Goodreads but none really blew my socks off.  Whilst that doesn’t sound like the most enticing way to get you to read on, you never know, you might find that you love the books for the very reasons that I didn’t.

books read

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This was a reread for me and I picked it up primarily because I needed a good dose of morally grey characters in a solid fantasy world.  I hadn’t been getting that from the books I had been reading recently but I knew that Leigh Bardugo would deliver.  And she didn’t let me down.  I don’t usually reread books but I’m so glad I did this time as I picked up on details I had overlooked the first time round in my race to find out what happened and I got to savour the characters and the moments so much more because, ultimately, I knew how it would all turn out in the end.  I gave this 5 stars the first time I read it and that rating has not changed.  If you like rich characters, magic, fantasy and seemingly impossible challenges, then I would highly recommend giving this book a go.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

I read this book with a couple of other bookish friends from Youtube and I always find that reading books with other people is a really interesting experience, especially when a book leaves us all with different thoughts and feelings.  White Oleander is a book about a mother and daughter; Astrid is just a young girl when her mother goes to prison for murdering her lover in a crime of passion.  Astrid is placed in the US foster care system and we follow her story as she goes through some really troubling experiences whilst also learning that her mum is perhaps not as magical and ethereal as she always believed.  It is a moving and dark story but ultimately, I felt quite detached from Astrid as a protagonist and this really coloured my reading journey meaning I didn’t enjoy the story as much as I had hoped to.

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

This book was the Bookish Mamas choice for February and when I first picked it up, I didn’t actually realise it was a middle grade book!  It was only after puzzling over the simplified language that I did a little digging and discovered that it wasn’t a book aimed at adults.  Having said that, this book is quite tricky to place age-wise as it does cover some darker themes which would perhaps not be suitable for all 8-11 year old children.  The Secret of Nightingale Wood is about a young girl called Henry, whose family have moved to the country following the tragic death of Henry’s brother.  It is set in 1919 and, as you might expect, each member of the family is struggling to deal with this tragedy.  Henry has chosen to cope by retreating into the world of her favourite bookish characters and then one day, she spots a trail of smoke coming from the woods near to her home.  Curious, she follows the trail and comes across a woman living in the woods.  From there the story unfolds.  This is a story which touches on a number of issues from women’s rights to mental health as well as looking at how much children can observe and take on themselves.  I enjoyed it to some degree but I felt that it was a little simplistic and I felt that some of the plot points were too convenient, although I appreciate this is often the case in middle grade literature.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

I am a huge fan of Anna Kendrick so I was really looking forward to picking this up.  Pitch Perfect 1, 2 and 3 are some of my all-time favourite guilty pleasure movies.  Written in the form of essays, it was an interesting look at Anna’s early career, how she started and how she felt once she became a household name.  It wasn’t quite as funny as I had hoped it would be and I felt a little like Anna tried too hard to pretend she wasn’t affected by fame and was really just ‘one of us’ but I think it you like autobiographies and are an Anna Kendrick fan, then you’ll probably enjoy reading this.

If you are a reader and want to know what I’ll be reading in the month of March, then you can find my TBR vlog here.

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I know in my last Raising Readers post I talked about the top 5 picture books for children aged 5-9 years so it might seem strange that I have altered the ages here to talk about books for children aged 6-8 years.  The simple answer is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the right type of book and the right type of age.  Some children pick up reading quickly and devour everything you put in front of them and for some it takes a little longer.

Meg and Eli are both voracious readers but at 6 and 8 they still enjoy the odd picture book alongside more complex reads so I’ve picked 6-8 years as this is typically when a child will be looking at advancing to chapter books with fewer pictures and more words.  That said, there is no right or wrong and if your child is younger and chomping at the bit then let them go.  Or if they are older and only just now getting into reading then you may find some of these books to be a great starting point.  As I said, no hard and fast rules here.  I think children should enjoy reading and that should come above all else.

There are absolutely stacks of books aimed at this age group and I understand it can feel a little overwhelming.  As I mentioned in my very first book, this is about finding books which your children enjoy so whether that’s books about fairies or non-fiction books about sharks…as long as they are enjoying it then you should too.

It made this list very tricky to make, to narrow it down to just 5 books but I wanted to share the books that we have appreciated as a family, in the hope that it might inspire you to read them too.

1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

These books are absolutely fantastic options for children who want to progress into longer books without necessarily losing all pictures.  They are told with a great mixture of words and cartoons and they are pretty amusing to boot. The books focus around a young boy called Greg Heffley who gets into all kinds of scrapes as he tries to prove himself at his new school.  The books are told in the form of Greg’s diary and with the movies now out to accompany them, I think these are excellent books to start with.

2. The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton

I think all of Enid Blyton’s books should be a staple in a household of readers but there is something rather special about her Magic Faraway Tree series.  They are silly and yet straightforward and open up a whole world of imagiation for children.  I will admit that Eli was less keen on these books than Meg but if you are looking for a book full of magical adventure then you can’t go wrong here.  These books tell the story of three siblings who move to a new home and find an enchanted wood right on their doorstep.  They are whisked off into a magical world where they meet a whole host of new and interesting characters which will keep children turning the pages, just to see what happens next.

3. The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

If you’ve read my other posts you will have seen Jill Murphy’s name crop up already and The Worst Witch is her series for slightly older children.  Meg had all of the books and absolutely raced through them; they are the ideal length with enough adventure and mischief to capture most children’s attention.  There’s also a CBBC television series to go along with them.  These books are about Mildred Hubble, a trainee witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches but, unfortunately, she just can’t seem to get anything right and as such, complete chaos is usually not very far behind.

4. Mortimer Keene by Tim Healey

These are fairly new discoveries for us; Eli went through a long stage of not wanting to pick anything too heavy going up and then I alighted on a Mortimer Keene book in a charity shop and he absolutely ate it up.  He has since read most of the books through four or five times and still finds them as funny as he did the first time round.  With titles such as ‘Attack of the Slime’ and ‘Robot Riot’ you can quickly get an idea of what these books are about.  They are fast-paced, funny, engaging and have a great mix of rhyming language and creative illustrations.

5. The BFG by Roald Dahl

Finally, I am going to insert and suggest another classic author in the form of Roald Dahl.  Roald Dahl has a number of books suitable for all kinds of ages.  The likes of Esio Trot and Fantastic Mr Fox are perfect for younger readers and the books progress is difficulty as you go along.  I’ve picked out The BFG because along with Matilda it is a personal favourite of mine and I seem to have passed a love of the story onto Meg and Eli as well.  Some of the language in Roald Dahl’s books can be a little tricky but this is actually what I love about them as it pushes the boundaries of children’s language and encourages conversation between adults and children about the meaning behind words.  If you haven’t picked up a Roald Dahl book yet then I highly recommend you do!

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Four books in January might not seem a lot but when you’ve got plenty of other things going on, it’s actually a fairly decent amount!  I’d say six is an average number for me so I was just behind that, although I am also making time to listen to Anne of Green Gables on audiobook which did also affect how much I read.  Regardless…here is what I read in January.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I went into this book expecting something very different from what I found.  I had picked up from somewhere that this was a dystopian and I was not at all prepared for how dark and uncomfortable a read it would turn out to be.  It is indeed in the dystopian category but is written as though it is a historical piece of work.  In our world, girls suddenly discover that they have the ability to generate electrical currents in their bodies and as such there is a shift in power with women becoming the dominant gender.  We follow four characters who become significant figures during this time and each play a different role in the changing of society.  There were a lot of things I didn’t enjoy about this book, predominantly the fact that women so quickly became power hungry, evil pieces of work subjecting men to all forms of physical and mental torture but as I said above, it did get me thinking and it did get me talking to people.  How would women behave if they were given more power.  Would they have more compassion or would they immediately become power hungry moguls, as this book suggests.  Overall it is one I would definitely recommend but you have to go in prepared to find the plot slow until the last 100 pages or so, and to know that there are a number of scenes which are not pleasant to read.

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas

Why do I do these things to myself?!  I mentioned that one of my goals this year was to finish reading series that I had already started but given the way I felt about A Court of Mist and Fury, ACOWAR wasn’t a book I was planning on picking up any time soon.  Yet…I decided that there had been enough time passed that I could try and pick it up and read it as though it was a completely individual book and I’m glad I did.  I think that I enjoy Sarah J Maas’ writing enough that I need to make my peace with some of her writing flaws.  So, she might have a limited book of adjectives and she might prefer to write longer sexy scenes than the politics of a society but when she does write about things of interest such as fight scenes or politics it is enough to hold my interest.  Although she is writing more books in this world, ACOWAR is the final book in the original trilogy so I can’t go into too much detail.  Suffice to say it is a dark YA fantasy about fae.  And it wasn’t half bad.

The Widow by Fiona Barton

After the heaviness of The Power and ACOWAR, I felt the need for something quick and straightforward to read so I decided to pick up The Widow.  This is a psychological thriller about the widow of a man who was accused of abducting a 2 year old girl.  At the start of the book we discover that her husband has just died and she has decided to give her side of the story to a reporter.  It wasn’t the most complex thriller I’ve ever read and I saw the ending coming a mile off but it was quick and easy to read and exactly what I needed.

Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

I read The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff last year and really enjoyed it’s originality so when I spotted this second hand, and knowing it was one of the books which Jenoff was best known for, I immediately snapped it up.  It is the story of a young 19 year old Jewish girl who must live a double life during the second world war in Nazi occupied Poland.  Her husband leaves her after just six months to go into hiding as he is part of the Polish resistance.  Due to her husband’s connections she is provided with false papers and must live life as a gentile and in a turn of events she ends up working for the Kommandant, one of the most powerful men in Poland at that time.  In order to help the resistance, she begins an affair with the Kommandant and events unfold from there.  I honestly didn’t enjoy this book as much as I wanted or expected to.  I felt the characters were very difficult to connect with and the only one who had any depth was the Kommandant.  Our protagonist was wishy-washy and just didn’t sell the story for me.  I would say that this is a great entry level world war historical fiction if you are looking for something which isn’t too complex to read.  It doesn’t break any new ground in terms of the story line and the ending is rather convenient but it isn’t terribly written and is pretty easy to follow.  Compare it to the likes of The Nightingale and All The Light We Cannot See and I think you will be a little disappointed but it is okay for what it is, in my opinion.

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I love picture books.  They are classic and timeless and can appeal to children (and adults) of all ages.  Even now, though Meg and Eli are pushing the age bracket I have suggested above, they still find enjoyment in sitting down with myself or James and discovering a great picture book together.

It was difficult to whittle this list down to 5 as there are many books we have enjoyed as a family over the years, a number of which I remember from my own childhood but I have managed to select just a few which I think will appeal to a wide audience.

1. A Squash And A Squeeze by Julia Donaldson

I said last week that Julia Donaldson’s name would be cropping up a lot in these posts and no surprise, here she is again.  I could have listed a large number of her books including (but not limited to) The Gruffalo, The Smartest Giant in Town, The Highway Rat, Stick Man and Zog, all of which have been loved and enjoyed by Meg and Eli but A Squash And A Squeeze was one of the first Julia Donaldson books we ever bought as parents and for that reason it holds a particularly special place in our hearts.  It’s a silly story really, of a little old lady who lives by herself in a house and complains that it isn’t big enough for her.  So a wise old man decides to show her just how much smaller it could be by introducing a whole host of bothersome farm animals into the mix.  As with all Julia Donaldson books, this is a mastery of rhyme and rhythm and themes which will appeal to children of all ages.

2. Whatever Next! by Jill Murphy

Jill Murphy is another name which crops up often when discussing children’s books.  She is the author of the likes of The Worst Witch books as well as the series of picture books featuring the Large family (i.e. Peace At Last) but this is one which I remember being read as a child and I was very excited to read it to Meg and Eli.  Baby Bear wants to go to the moon before bedtime and to do that he finds a cardboard box rocket and heads off on his adventures.  It is a lovely and quaint story about children’s imaginations and one which is just sure to become a bedtime classic.

3. Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

If your children are slightly older but still interested in picture books then Oliver Jeffers is the perfect author to turn to.  Again, and I know I sound like a broken record here, but I could have listed a number of his books in the place of Stuck.  Stuck is a charming story about a little boy whose kite gets stuck in a tree.  How does it decide to knock it down again? Why, by throwing a whole host of items including both his shoes, a boat, an orangutan and his front door up into the tree in an effort to get back his pesky kite.

4. Kipper’s Beach Ball by Mick Inkpen

The Kipper stories are fantastic if you have a little one who loves the idea of having their own cuddly dog and best of all, they cover a range of topics which will appeal to children from a sleepy puppy who just wants to create the perfect bed such as discovering hidden treasures in the form of a beach ball!  There are simply and interesting illustrations to accompany all of the books and just enough story to hold the attention of younger listeners.

5. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

This has to be one of my all-time favourite picture books and one which I never tired of reading to the kids.  It is the story of Gerald, the giraffe, who just wants to perform with the other animals at the Jungle Dance but everyone knows that giraffes can’t dance…until, Gerald finds his own rhythm and all the other animals come to admire as he dances to his own tune.  It is such a cute story and I’m actually pretty sad that Meg and Eli are too old to read it nowadays!

What do you think of my choices? Are there any you would add into the mix?

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