‘In The Shadow of Blackbirds’ – Cat Winters

In The Shadow of Blackbirds


Having read ‘The Cure for Dreaming’ by the same author it seems that Winters has an eye for period detail and is fascinated by the supernatural and its place in our world.

‘In the Shadow of Blackbirds’ is set in America in 1918, and the attention to detail is to be applauded. Through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black we see the effects of war, Spanish influenza and the Spiritualist craze on a small group of people. There’s a lot packed in here, and I felt the writer created an intriguing background to events.

The story itself focuses on Mary and what happens to her when she is sent to live with her Swiss aunt. Mary is scornful of her aunt’s fascination with the latest craze for Spiritualist activity and she is dismissive of the efforts of an old friend of the family, who is determined to prove through his photographs that ghosts exist. When Stephen, the man she loves, is killed in war Mary becomes reckless. She is struck by lightning, and then seems able to communicate with Stephen.

If you are not prepared to accept the characters’ interest in ghosts then I would imagine you will not enjoy this novel. Mary’s initial scepticism is challenged, and there were moments that I felt it was all too incredible. However, it was a story that engaged me from the start, and the light it sheds on the experiences of people in war was to be applauded.

‘Radio Silence’ – Alice Oseman

Radio Silence


In this novel, Osman focuses on Frances – a high-achiever, following the path expected of her – and what happens when she makes friends with Aled.

You may be forgiven for thinking this is a stereotypical YA romance; you wouldn’t be further from the truth. The relationship between Frances and Aled revolves around shared interests, and accepting each other for who they really are, not what they think they should be.

This novel explores so many areas, but never in a way that feels forced. It was a genuinely exciting read, and the ending was almost exactly what you wanted.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.

While this review might seem short on details, it’s important that key details are unknown until they’re revealed in the reading.

‘Black-Eyed Susans’ – Julia Heaberlin

Black-eyed Susans


Tessa Cartwright has always been regarded as one of the lucky ones. At sixteen she was found, barely alive, in a grave with three other unidentified bodies under a blanket of flowers. Her testimony helped put her killer behind bars, and, since then, Tessa has been pursued by the press.

As an adult, Tessa has, in some ways, put the past behind her. She has a teenage daughter and has a career as an artist. Then she is left a gift – flowers, of the type that were found in her grave, planted under her window. Tessa becomes convinced, with a short time before her convicted killer’s execution, that the wrong man has been imprisoned and that the real perpetrator of these horrific crimes remains at large.

I was really excited about this story, and was looking forward to seeing how events panned out.

The writer alternates the narrative point of view between Tessa at sixteen and Tessa in the present. This did make it quite hard work to feel how the story was moving forward at times. I never quite got the feeling of understanding the character as I would have liked, though I think this is part of the fashion for unreliable narrators. I also felt that there were one or two characters/incidents that seem to have been included simply to make the end viable.

By the end of the novel some of the details had been hinted at enough to stop it feeling completely satisfying. There were also some details about Tessa’s best friend of the time that I felt could have warranted further exploration. All in all, this promised a lot and had some good elements but it just fell short for me.

‘Pet Sematary’ – Stephen King

Pet Sematary


Described by King himself as his scariest book, I did most of my reading of this book during daylight hours. I know my limits!

Horror is not a genre that I’m particularly comfortable with, for obvious reasons. I’m not keen on the slasher-style violence that seemed to mark my teen experiences of horror movies (Freddie Krueger still creeps me out), but I find myself completely sucked into King’s novels. He seems to tap into our greatest fears and voice what we never dare to. For these reasons I have found the few books of his that I have read compelling.

‘Pet Sematary’ focuses on Doctor Louis Creed, his wife and two children and what happens when they move into their beautiful new home in rural Maine. The woods behind their home harbour a terrifying secret, and power that you cannot imagine.

King tells us virtually straight away what is going to happen. He drops not very subtle hints about things that will turn out to be of utmost importance. This might suggest that there are no surprises, but that is definitely not the case. As we wait for what we know is coming, the tension is masterfully controlled. The horror comes from the contrast of the innocent and the corrupted, and the sense of inevitability that weighs heavily as you turn every page.

By the end I was desperate for things to end, just not quite as they did. I think I need to go and re-read something very different to just shake off that uneasy feeling I currently have (and I’ll not go into the woods behind my house today!)


‘What’s Left of Me (The Hybrid Chronicles 1)’ – Kat Zhang

What's Left of Me


Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

This is an intriguing idea, though I was not convinced from reviews I’d read that this would be a novel I’d find satisfying.

Initially I found the novel quite confusing. As a number of readers have commented, there’s a lack of detail to help explain why this world is as it is. However, there are some details given later on, and it’s strongly suggested that more answers will be given in part two of the series. On balance, this lack of detail doesn’t interfere with enjoyment of the story itself.

The creation of two distinct characters is handled well by Zhang. I felt deeply for both girls as they struggle to do something they’ve been brought up to believe is dangerous though it might bring them happiness. It doesn’t ruin the reading experience to know that there are some unscrupulous people who are running experiments on children like Addy, and that a lot of the novel is set in the clinic where these experiments are taking place.

Personally, I felt parts of the novel dragged but the pace picks up towards the end and brings us to a satisfying conclusion.

‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven’ – Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is Forgiven


When war is declared in 1939 Mary North, the daughter of a wealthy family, signs up to do her bit. She is assigned the role of teacher, which those who supervise her think she is wholly unsuited for and she is ordered to remain in London. Determined to do her bit, this fiery character seeks an audience with the education administrator and practically demands that he let her resume teaching those children not deemed suitable to be evacuated to the countryside. Tom agrees, and so marks the beginning of an unusual relationship.

Mary is passionate and her relationship with Tom becomes personal. This might have become a pedestrian romance in the hands of less engaging writers, but Cleave introduces a third character, Alistair, and thus begins a wholly engaging story.

The characters of Mary and Alistair are loosely based on Cleaves’s own grandparents, and the personal investment in this shone through in the tender portrayal of the relationship. Cleave is unflinching in his depiction of the wartime experience, and I felt the writing was evocative.

Though a happy ending seemed inevitable from the outset, I think that one of the strengths of this novel is the cast of characters surrounding our main trio. Throughout I was keen to know more about their experiences and how the war affected them.

Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

‘The Universe Versus Alex Woods’ – Gavin Extence

The Universe Versus Alex Woods


This is definitely the kind of book that you’re better off not knowing a lot about before you start. I think I’ve found a new favourite though, and can’t wait to try Extence’s second novel on the grounds of how I felt about this.

The opening had me curious about where we were going, but I liked the fact that our narrator, Alex, takes us back to explain how, aged 17, he came to be in Dover port with an urn containing ashes on the front seat of his car and home-grown marijuana in the glove-box.

Alex is a precocious, yet touchingly innocent, character, perhaps because of the accident that took place when he was younger. He is very knowledgeable about subjects that might not be expected to engage many teenagers, but rather clueless  when it comes to the things that might make his teenage years a little easier. His awkwardness results, sadly, in some rather stereotypical bullying, but this device is needed to introduce the two main characters.

The relationship that develops between Alex and touchy war veteran Mr Peterson was deeply moving. Some reviewers have criticised Extence for creating an all-too-neat ‘father figure’ for Alex, but in my mind Mr Peterson fulfilled the role of mentor. His presence is also needed to allow us to see how the character of Alex matures into the kind of young man that any parent would be proud to be related to.

I found parts of the novel laugh-out-loud funny. I am now resolved to find out more about Vonnegut, the writer who appears to be something of a favourite for Extence, and it made things about which I have very little interest in seem fascinating.

What happens in the final section of the novel is presented logically, and without becoming mawkish. The subject wasn’t what I expected to be reading about, but it was handled with sensitivity and the arguments presented were compelling. I want other people I know to read this, and soon.

‘The 5th Wave’ – Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave


Aliens. Immediately people have certain ideas in their heads about what that means and how we’d react as a race if we were to see aliens come to earth. Yancey plays with that idea a little.

In this novel, aliens have been amongst us for thousands of years, watching us and learning about our race. They have developed a way of implanting their consciousness inside a human embryo. It then exists alongside the human when it is born, slowly assimilating. This idea is downright creepy, and I think the concept behind the waves of attack when they finally come is carefully set-up.

The aliens have a plan to eradicate the human race. The initial four waves of attack have culled the weakest, and so starts the fifth wave. Cue a brash action-packed novel.

From the outset I can see the movie appeal of this novel, and I found this an entertaining read for the most part. I loved the relationship that develops between Cassie and Evan, and think Cassie is a great main character. I’m not sure quite how credible some of the behaviours are from the younger characters in the novel, but my son – very much the target audience for this novel – justified this by saying that humans would have to adapt, and we never know what we’re capable of until we’re forced into that situation.

I felt that the way the narrative was told from different viewpoints was a good way to maintain an air of tension. As we slowly piece elements of the story together it becomes pretty nail-biting. Unfortunately it all felt a little predictable at times, but there’s no doubt about the fact that if you like this sort of thing you will enjoy it.

‘The Sudden Appearance of Hope’ – Claire North

The Sudden Appearance of Hope


All the world forgets me. First my face, then my voice, then the consequences of my deeds.
So listen. Remember me.

My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. We’ve met before – a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit – you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

The Sudden Appearance of Hope is the tale of the girl no one remembers. But this gripping story – of love and loss, of hope and despair, of living in the moment and dying to leave a mark – is novel that will stay with you for ever.


From this I was expecting a very different story to the one we got; not bad, but it took me a while to adjust to what was happening.

Hope Arden is our narrator. We’re told that moments after meeting her, people forget her. This started when she was in school, and I got the impression some considerable time had elapsed since then, though this is never explicitly said.
Having realised that many of the things we take for granted are not an option for someone who is forgotten the moment they walk out of a room, Hope turns to criminal activity to survive. We meet her during a fairly audacious theft, and it’s clear that this time she has tangled with the wrong people.

Hope’s story is intertwined with what sounds like a very plausible, though terrifying, app called Perfection. This in itself could have made for a fascinating book, but it is intertwined cleverly with Hope’s story.

Throughout the novel I felt myself fascinated by the character of Hope and her relationships with some of the people that she meets time and time again. Though it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, this was an entertaining read.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

‘The Prey’ – Tom Isbell

The Prey


In the start of a trilogy that seems perfectly suited to the big screen, ‘The Prey’ lands us in the Republic of the True America. Rumours abound of radiation sickness, Crazies and mutated animals that everyone is warned about. Sometimes, though, those closest to you are the ones to be most afraid of.

We are introduced to a number of characters, each with their own stories (some of which get developed). We meet Hope and Faith, twins on the run with their father. When he dies, he urges the girls to separate. What does he know that makes this the best choice? We meet Book, a studious boy who seems haunted by his past. There’s also Cat, a mysterious boy running from his own demons.

These characters end up together, where they hatch a daring plan to escape the danger from within the camps they are contained in.

If I’m being honest, this was full of exciting action though it had the sense of scenes written with an eye on movie rights being obtained. I liked the characters and there was enough focus on them developing to keep me engaged. My main gripe is that I cannot imagine that, having been through what they had endured during this book, they would willingly turn their backs on their chance of freedom in order to return from where they came in an attempt to rescue the others.