‘Elizabeth is Missing’ – Emma Healey

elizabeth is missing

I cannot help but feel that losing one’s memory, and having your sense of self eroded, must be one of the worst things imaginable.

I felt the utmost sympathy for Maud, who writes endless notes to herself but cannot remember when she wrote them. She knows her friend Elizabeth is missing, but seems to have no recollection of why she believes this to be the case. However, she seems to experience a sense of clarity when recalling the facts surrounding the disappearance of her sister, Sukey, many years previously. Unfortunately, as an unreliable narrator we are never quite clear what Maud is remembering and what she thinks she remembers.

This is a book that crosses a number of genres. It was not a comfortable read by any means because of the nature of the illness Maud has, but I did enjoy this story because of the controlled way in which we see the pieces coming together.

‘Everything, Everything’ – Nicola Yoon

everything everything

I’d read a number of reviews of this before I started reading, and they didn’t fill me with optimism. I fully expected to be annoyed by this, and maybe not even finish it – how wrong!

From the outset, the world that Maddie inhabits is claustrophobic. Her whole life has been lived in a sterile bubble and her contact with the outside world is limited to interaction with her mother, nurse and the occasional tutor. Even when I am feeling at my most anti-social there is no better feeling than to go outside and feel the wind on your skin and to smell the air. i cannot even begin to imagine how it would feel to have to remain inside in order to live. Is it really living?

With the setting clearly established, Yoon quite quickly introduces Olly, the character who is going to turn Maddy’s assumptions about the world on their head. Olly is the teenage son of the newly-arrived couple next door. Of course, they strike up a bond and Maddy ends up falling in love. Some reviews have commented on the implausibility of this relationship, but both are damaged in their own way and they each offer something that the other needs. Their conversations are witty and endearing, and I was firmly rooting for them throughout.

We are given little clues that there is more to Maddy’s illness than initially shared, so the ending doesn’t really come as any surprise. Maddy is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve come across in recent YA fiction, and I will certainly be recommending it to many of my students.

Once again I have to thank NetGalley for a free digital copy of this in exchange for an honest review.

‘One’ – Sarah Crossan


Sarah Crossan is the author of ‘Apple and Rain’, one of the 2015 Carnegie Award nominees that all the students who read it thoroughly enjoyed. When I saw this book available for request on Netgalley I couldn’t resist.

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins. Though they are many other things, this fact is what seems to define them in the eyes of others.

Through the eyes of Grace, the quieter twin, we see the girls starting school as their family cannot afford to home-school them any longer. We view their family going about their daily lives, and the impact that the girls’ condition has on those around them. We gain some insight into the practicalities of living so closely intertwined with another person. This all sounds very worthy, but that is not the impression that you get as you’re reading this.

The free verse of the novel makes this a very easy read, but it keeps you firmly in its grasp. The emotional pull of our narrator Grace really kicks in as we watch the twins and their family dealing with the very real impact of their failing health. This was a beautifully-told story that had me in tears, and it is one that I will strongly recommend to those who enjoyed ‘Apple and Rain’.

I had to update this entry, as ‘One’ was the winner of the 2016 Carnegie Award. All the students that were involved in the Shadowing process rated this highly, and anything that helps readers see that poetry is not something to fear is to be applauded.

‘The Tea Planter’s Wife’ – Dinah Jeffries

the tea planter's wife

Due to be released in September 2015, this book tells the story of 19-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper. When she leaves England she is full of hope for her new life as the second wife of tea plantation owner, Laurence. Upon her arrival it is clear that her new home and family harbour many secrets, some of which will have far-reaching consequences for Gwen.

The opening of the novel had a languid feel to it, with beautiful and evocative descriptions of another land. Seeing this new land through Gwen’s eyes means we also focus on the issues surrounding race and colonialism that would have been prevalent in Ceylon at this time.

The novel was not what I expected at all. The bitter choice that Gwen makes early on has far-reaching consequences, the effects of which are only fully revealed later. The cast of characters kept me intrigued, and I think this is a novel that would warrant a re-read (if I could bear to put myself through the emotional wringer again!)

One of my unexpected pleasures of my summer holiday reading, and I thank Netgalley for allowing me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this in exchange for an honest review.

‘Go Set A Watchman’ – Harper Lee

go set a watchman

When it hit the news that a manuscript for ‘Go Set A Watchman’ had been found I completely understood the concerns that many readers will have had. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is a modern classic, and one that so many people hold dear for numerous reasons. How on earth would publishing the novel that was rejected add to anything? I admit to thinking it seemed like a fairly cynical money-making ploy, and certainly seemed like a rather frail woman was being taken advantage of.

When the novel was first published I was quite surprised by the furore surrounding some of the revelations. It was the idea that this was the book that become ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ that intrigued me and my interest to see the book as part of a process was what, ultimately, persuaded me to purchase a copy.

It took some time to read. Not because it was challenging, or because I couldn’t get into it. If I’m being honest, the character of Scout is such a defining character that I could not read this without thinking of her as she was. The story didn’t really seem to go anywhere. There was nothing awful about it, but nor did I really find anything to rave about.

For me this is a novel that has to be read alongside ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, and purely to see it as part of a process of writing.

I can’t help but think this is a valuable document for lovers of literature, but not a book to recommend to readers for its own sake.

‘Broken Promise’ – Linwood Barclay

broken promise

David Harwood is a single parent, recently made redundant, and he is living in his home-town of Promise Falls with his parents. Things could be better. As is often the way with fiction, things are about to get a lot worse!

Without going into details, he gets caught up in the aftermath of what can only be described as a horrific murder.

I raced through this, desperate to find out if my hunch about the ‘bad guy’ was correct. It was, but I wish I’d learned more about why he’d acted as he did. The ending also felt a little open-ended for me, but given that this is part of a new series I assume this is to set up what comes next.

I was given a free digital copy of this by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

‘The Girl on the Train’ – Paula Hawkins

the girl on the train

If you’ve read and enjoyed Gone Girl then this would seem to be the book that people push you towards. I can see why – it’s touted as a thriller, has a flawed narrator, leads the reader up the proverbial garden path on more than occasion and there are some rather gruesome moments. While I enjoyed Gone Girl, my feelings towards this are less secure.

The general premise is straightforward enough. Rachel catches the same train to and from work every day. On the way she passes what she sees as the ideal couple – who she christens Jess and Jason. One day she sees something from the train that leads her to question whether their relationship is as good as she thinks. Then Megan – the real name of the woman she has christened Jess – goes missing and is discovered dead.

Unfortunately, I really disliked Rachel at the opening of the novel and I wonder if this is a deliberate ploy to get us to reassess our feelings towards her as she gets caught up in events that are way beyond those she imagined from her seat on the train. Her alcoholism and selfish disregard for all around her is irritating, though quite realistic. The characters that she interacts with seemed too one-dimensional and I also found the use of multiple narrators meant the story was quite difficult to piece together clearly.

I got a niggling feeling that the character of Tom was more pivotal to the plot than we were being led to believe quite early on and the red-herring of Scott (Jason in her alternative world) was irritating. As the book progressed I felt desperately sorry for Megan, but it felt as though so many ingredients were being thrown in to this pot by the end that I just wanted it to end.

A great holiday read, but I really don’t think it deserves the hype.

‘Awake’ – Natasha Preston


A really mixed bag of reviews for this, and it does seem to be something of a love it or loathe it kind of book. I received a free digital copy of this from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing I will say is that this is the kind of book that you will race through if you can get over the rather awful beginning. I’m some way out of my teens and perhaps just a little sceptical to have fallen for the rapidity with which Scarlett falls for the new boy in school, Noah. However, with the story being told from varying perspectives it is quickly clear that there is more to Noah than meets the eye.

As so many readers have pointed out, not having many memories before the age of four is quite normal. As we learn more about why Scarlett has ‘forgotten’ her memories we get drawn in to the world of the Eternal Light. I know very little about how cults operate, but I can’t imagine so many people would remain in this kind of environment without questioning some of the things that occur within it – certainly not based on what we learn about the group from within the pages of the novel.

I won’t reveal plot details here because one of the things that kept me reading was the way this could never be pinned down in the way you might expect. This could have been a powerful book. It’s readable, and if you stick with it you will probably enjoy it. Unfortunately, you then start to realise all the things that are nonsensical within the novel, and find reasons to pick holes in it. The ending also felt horribly contrived in order to leave the way open for a follow-on. For me this was a novel that was full of promise, that didn’t really deliver.

‘Concentr8’ – William Sutcliffe


Due to be published 27th August 2015, I have to thank NetGalley and Bloomsbury Childrens for giving me an advance digital copy of this novel.

The cover stands out, but it was the description of the book that stood out for me. Set in a future London, Concentr8 is the cheaper version of drugs used to treat children with ADD. It quickly becomes the ‘go-to’ drug, and a way of keeping what are perceived to be troubled teens in line.

Blaze and his crew have been taking Concentr8 for as long as they can remember. When supplies are removed, rioting breaks out across the city. What makes Blaze and his friends take hostage one of the Mayor’s employees we never really find out. What we get is an account of the five days following this decision.

We witness these events from many viewpoints, but never Blaze’s, and this was one of the most infuriating things about the novel. We are granted a tantalising glimpse into Blaze’s mind when he arranges an interview with a broadsheet journalist. He is evidently articulate and has academic potential, but social policies have ensured he is denied opportunities that would make a difference.

This was an interesting concept, and it certainly gets you thinking about how certain behaviours are managed, but I would have liked more.

‘The Black-Eyed Blonde’ – Benjamin Black

black-eyed blonde

This was my attempt to read something from a genre I’m not familiar with. I have only a passing interest in detective movies/novels and I admit to reading this because it was passed on to me to try, rather than it being a deliberate choice.

The story focuses on the attempts of Private Detective Phillip Marlowe to find the former lover of beautiful heiress, Claire Cavendish. Tales of dodgy dealings and double-crossings abound, and there was a certain fascination for me in reading a book so firmly placed in this time-period.

I confess to feeling completely distant from the events/characters. The ‘big reveal’ was heavily hinted at, and I found the whole thing dated in style. I’m aware this may have been intentional, but it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

I may well try ‘The Big Sleep’ or another Raymond Chandler to see if the original is, in this case, better than what comes later…