Hello everybody! Today, I’m here with another set of reviews, and the theme I chose this time is books set in different countries to where I live (which is Scotland, if I’m being very specific, but none of these are set within the UK as a whole). I had so much reading all of these and getting a feel for so many different places, so onto the post!
The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell
When I put this on my TBR I have to admit I’d expected it to be a bit more of a fantasy, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless, and I loved the fabulism elements that were present. It takes place in Papua New Guinea and it’s about a girl named Blue Wing, who has lived with the village Shark Caller since her parents’ tragic deaths, who is desperate to learn the traditions and secrets of the role despite some people believing that it’s an outdated and unnecessary practice. When an American professor and his daughter visit, Blue Wing and Siringen are made responsible for looking after them, and the two girls end up teaming up to try and find an incredible magical treasure. The friendship between Blue Wing and Maple was so beautiful and the amount they came to care for each other was incredibly special, so I think it was probably my favourite part of the book. However, I also adored the setting, which was based on where the author grew up and her childhood, and as previously mentioned I really liked the little hints of magic within a contemporary setting, and the slightly mythical feel the book had. I don’t want to spoil the ending because it’s so brilliant and I don’t think I’d have suspected it if I hadn’t had a slight hint, so all I’ll say is that I thought it was incredibly cleverly done and it absolutely sucker punched me in terms of the emotional impact.
The Last Bear by Hannah Gold and illustrated by Levi Pinfold
In her gorgeous MG debut, Hannah Gold tells the story of a girl named April who moves to Bear Island with her father so that he can monitor the weather there for the government, and what happens when she meets and befriends a beautifulbear who is stranded miles away from the safety of the nearest polar ice caps (much to her surprise, given there aren’t supposed to be any bears left on the island). I don’t think it’s any secret that I love stories about the bond between humans and animals, and this one was absolutely stunning. April’s relationship with her father is very complicated, and often heartbreaking, and just as I loved the solace and comfort she found in Bear, so too did I love how much Bear came to love her and how much she was able to help him. This is such an emotional read that had me going from joy to tears in seconds sometimes, and I think its messages about the environment and climate change are vitally important. Levi Pinfold’s illustrations throughout just made the book feel even more classic and really contributed to the setting and atmosphere the writing conjured up, and I’m so excited to see what Hannah writes next.
Kidnap on the California Comet by M.G Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (received a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
In the 2nd Adventures on Trains book, we follow protagonist Hal and his Uncle Nat on another train journey, this one taking them through America. When a wealthy heiress to the Reza fortune is kidnapped, it’s up to Hal and his new friends Mason and Hadley to investigate and work out what’s going on, with extra information they have that they can’t take to the police. Hal is such a great main character and I love that his drawing abilities play such a big part in his mystery solving, and also his relationship with Nat is incredibly special. I’ve seen a lot of people comment on this when talking about this series, and I think it’s brilliant to have more adult characters in middle grade mysteries who help our Detectives solve the crime, rather than those who put barriers in their way and try and stop them. Mason and Hadley were my particular favourites of the supporting cast on account of the fact I have a HUGE spot for characters who are impressionists and a love of magicians helping to solve mysteries, but I also loved Zola and Vanessa Rodriguez and I’m very much hoping that they might pop up in future books of the series? I’m not sure if it was my imagination, but I could definitely see Uncle Nat and Zola together at some point. I also found the mystery really engaging and gripping, and the conclusion was genius in that I absolutely didn’t see it coming, but it also made perfect sense when reevaluataing the clues that led up to the reveal. I’m very much looking forward to reading Murder on the Safari Star soon and following Hal and Nat on even more adventures as the series continues.
When Life Gives You Mangos by Kereen Getten
A few people have been telling me I’ll enjoy this for ages, and I’m so glad I’ve finally picked it up now! It’s about a girl called Clara, who lives on a Jamaican island, and her trying to come to terms with an event that happened the previous summer that she seems to have blocked from her memory. The main thing I loved about this book was the setting and depiction of Jamaican culture, because I found it incredibly interesting to learn more about this and I really felt as if I was right there alongside Clara and her friends. I also loved its exploration of the friendship between Clara and Gayah, which reminded me a lot of a friendship I had when I was around their age, and I also enjoyed the new friendship Clara forms with Rudy. My favourite characters, however, were Eldorath and Ms Gee, who both remind readers that you can never judge people based on what the rumour mill says about them and things others judge them unfairly for, and because they’re also just brilliant characters. The reveal of the traumatic event Clara can’t remember was both amazing and unexpected, and I adored the ending overall too.
Tamarind and the Star of Ishta by Jasbinder Bilan
This is the story of a girl named Tamarind, who is going to stay in India with her mother’s family (who she’s never met, for reasons her father won’t share with her) while his dad and his new wife Chloe go on their honeymoon. She arrives to a rather mixed reception from the family, and it’s clear that a lot of her past has been hidden from her, including the truth of how her mum died. Whilst she’s in the process of getting to know about her background, she meets a mysterious girl named Ishta and her pet monkey in the garden, and I loved finding out who Ishta really was. I also loved both the gentle feel this had, the magical realism, and the contemporary element of Tamarind meeting and getting to know her mum’s family, even though it isn’t necessarily always very easy for her. Tam was such a lovely protagonist who I was rooting for from pretty much the first page, and I also loved the different members of her family. Arjun was such a sweetheart in the way he tries to make Tam feel less alone when she first gets there, and I found Sufia really complicated and interesting. The setting is described so vividly and beautifully, and I loved the writing style. Something else that I really appreciated, which is admittedly a pretty small detail, is the fact that Tamarind is reluctant to try new foods , which I very much related to as a fellow picky eater! Jasbinder asks her readers in her acknowledgements, “where shall go next?”, and my answer is I’ll journey to whichever place and fall in love with both it and whichever characters she chooses to write about next.
The Hungry Ghost by H.S Norup
I was a big fan of H.S Norup’s debut the Missing Barbegazi, but to my surprise, I ended up enjoying this even more. It is the story of a girl named Freja, who is forced to go and live with her dad and his “new happy family” in Singapore (her stepmother and two half brothers). She arrives in August, the month in which the Hungry Ghost festival takes place, and when she sees a spirit who needs help, she starts trying to uncover an old family mystery in order to help the ghost find peace. I loved Freja as a character and felt huge sympathy for her, and I also really liked the way the book handled her struggle to accept her new family situation, as well as adjusting to life in Singapore. Her relationships with her new friends at school, such as Kiera and Jason, were really fun, and I don’t want to spoil anything but as I’ve said before, I found the exploration of her family and her feelings towards all the different members really interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Singapore before, and it’s such a fascinating, phenomenally described backdrop for the action- both in terms of the contemporary plot and the book’s fabulism element- and I particularly enjoyed learning about the Hungry Ghost festival, which plays a very important part in the story. Ling’s story was heartbreaking, but I loved the way the mystery unfolded, and how much she helped Freja to make some peace with the past and accept her life the way it was. Their friendship, like the friendship at the heart of the Missing Barbegazi, was very touching, and I look forward to seeing what the author writes next.
Trouble in New York by Sylvia Bishop
I thoroughly enjoyed Sylvia Bishop’s last mystery, the Secret of the Night Train, and so I was pleased to discover that this one, with it’s 60s New York setting, was just as excellent. It’s about a boy named Jamie, who is desperate to become a journalist, and a criminal conspiracy he stumbles across in the pursuit of his dream, which becomes a huge danger to him, his family and his newfound friends Eve and Rose. Like with Secret of the Night Train, my favourite part of this was definitely the narration, which has this lovely quality to it with gentle humour sprinkled throughout, and I loved the news articles too, for the same reason! The main trio of characters were wonderful- I loved Jamie’s ambition but also his love for the people around him, Eve’s ingenuity in handling her mother and Rose’s desperation to keep her father safe. The supporting cast were all really interesting too, and I loved the reveal about what was genuinely going on, even though I can’t say too much about on account of the fact it might spoil it. I’m not sure if or when Sylvia Bishop’s next upper MG will be, but whenever the time comes I absolutely can’t wait to read it.
The Summer of Us by Cecelia Vinesse
I really enjoyed Cecelia Vinesse’s debut back in 2017, so it really shouldn’t have taken me quite so long to pick this up, but I’m very glad I finally have now. It’s the story of a group of five friends who decide to go inter-railng together after they finish high school, and how the trip impacts them not only as individuals but also the dynamic of their group as a whole. The characters are all so layered yet inherently likeable, and my particular favourites were Gabe and Clara, even though our POV characters were best friends Aubrey and Rae, who I did still like very much. I also loved the romances in here, and the way things ended for both of them was lovely. The writing is strikingly beautiful, and I also loved how many locations the book takes place in, and the bite size glimpses we get of each one, and the way the journeys of each character and the development of the two romantic relationships is woven into these really cleverly. This is a really well written YA contemporary and I’m really hoping to see news of another book from Cecelia Vinesse soon!
The Switch Up: LA Exchange by Katy Cannon (received a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
It’s taken me a frankly ridiculous level of time to get to this given how much I always adore Katy’s books, but this was a spot of sunshine in a horribly dark week, so in a way I’m grateful that I left it till now. This is the sequel to 2018’s the Switch Up, and it sees Willa and Alice (who look like each other even though they’re not related) swap places again when Alice goes to visit Willa in LA for spring break. Alice has to volunteer at the Shore Project, a punishment Willa was supposed to undertake for a misunderstanding at school, while Willa helps shoot a short film which she sees as the first step to her achieving her dream of becoming a director. I love its messages about climate change/the climate crisis, and how hard it can be to fit into new situations you didn’t really choose, but most of all I just love how fun these books are! They’re incredibly readable and I often found myself reading a lot more than “just one chapter”, every time I said that to myself. I’m delighted with myself for picking it up so close to the time it’s set at, and I just had such a good time catching up with the characters and getting some cameos from book one’s characters, via text messages and phone calls mostly. I also loved the reference to How to Write a Love Story!
Thank you so much for reading! Do you have any recommendations for books set in other countries that you’ve enjoyed? What are your thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned? I’d love to hear in the comments!
7 thoughts on “Reviews: Reading All Over the World”
I really love this post. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of reading about other countries and cultures than our own so as we can learn to be more understanding and open-minded. I read When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson and it’s set in Iraq under the reign of Saddam Hussein and it was so eye-opening for me.
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That sounds really interesting! I have a book on my TBR that’s about Spain under the rule of General Franco, which I’m really looking forward to getting to soon x
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Ha, you know what I think the theme of most of these *should* have been 😂😂
Kidding aside though, great selection. I’m looking forward to Trouble in New York.
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Honestly, after you guessed that the next 2 or 3 all had people turn out to be dead/not real and I was genuinely wondering if you had psychic abilities 😂😂😂
I think you’ll really like Trouble in New York! x
😂 😂 I did laugh when I saw Hungry Ghost on there too!
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By the time I got to the Summer of Us I was just like “please, no more secret dead people!!”
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