‘The Darkest Lie’ – Pintip Dunn

The Darkest Lie


Six months prior to the opening of this story we are told that CeCe’s mother committed suicide after being accused of having sex with a student. CeCe has had to live with the taunts from the boy’s friends – and other students – ever since. She and her mother used to be close, and the betrayal CeCe feels as she and her father live with the fallout is evident.

This could have been a very different story; thankfully, the focus is not on what we’re told happened, but CeCe’s conviction that she trusts her mother would never have done such a thing. We follow CeCe as she tries to work out just who has secrets to hide, and just how her mother was involved.

Without revealing the intricacies of the plot, this quickly develops into a bit of a mud-slinging contest – any number of characters could have more to do with it than we realise. Eventually, something sticks but it’s always a good idea to listen to gut instinct at times.

This started out as quite an interesting idea. I admired the strength of character that CeCe showed, and it considered some difficult topics. Unfortunately, I couldn’t shake the feeling I had from the start, and all the attempts to lead us away from this felt like the grip on credibility was being heavily stretched at times.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.

‘Dear Amy’ – Helen Callaghan

Dear Amy


Margot Lewis is the agony aunt for The Cambridge Examiner. Her advice column, Dear Amy, gets all kinds of letters – but none like the one she’s just received:

Dear Amy,
I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.
Please help me soon,
Bethan Avery

Bethan Avery has been missing for years. This is surely some cruel hoax. But, as more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public. How is this happening? Answering this question will cost Margot everything . .

This has the premise of a great book. As soon as I saw this on NetGalley, I was keen to read it.

This book, for me, started with a bang. We witness the kidnapping of Katie Browne and then we are introduced to Margot. We see the arrival of the first letter, and once Margot takes it to the police a chain of events is set in place that really draws you in.

We work out that the cases, though years apart, are linked. The question is how. Margot seems to be the key, but she cannot say why.

Once we get halfway in, a rather implausible event takes place and, after this point, I felt things unravelled somewhat. A lot happens very quickly in the second half of the book; not all of it is prepared for, and some of it seems to contradict what has come beforehand. The issues surrounding the central characters of Katie, Bethan and Margot are resolved, but they seem to be less engaging.

Having started with a bang, this had a bit of a hiccup halfway through and ended on a rather sorry whimper for me.

‘Time Travelling With A Hamster’ – Ross Welford

Time Travelling With A Hamster


“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty nine and again four years later when he was twelve.

The first time had nothing to do with me. The second time definitely did, but I would never even have been there if it hadn’t been for his ‘time machine’…”

When Al Chaudhury discovers his late dad’s time machine, he finds that going back to the 1980s requires daring and imagination. It also requires lies, theft, burglary, and setting his school on fire. All without losing his pet hamster, Alan Shearer…


For a childrens’ book, this packs a real emotional punch.

Here we have the story of twelve year old Al Chaudhury who is coming to terms with his dad’s shock death and moving away from everything he knows to live with his new step-family.

Al is, to put it mildly, something of a eccentric character. His curiosity is limitless, and we get to travel with him on the most amazing journey.

With a gripping opening that immediately arouses our interest, we learn that Al’s dad invented a time machine and is trusting his son to go back in time and save his dad’s life.

For someone who will always have a soft spot for Back to the Future, this novel really is fascinating. The science might be a stretch for younger readers at times, but it is about a lot more than the concept of time travel. Welford, with real humour, explores issues of grief, friendship and identity.

Definitely, a gem.

‘All The Bright Places’ – Jennifer Niven

All The Bright Places


Published in 2015, ‘All The Bright Places’ strikes me as one of those books that, once found, will be held dear in the hearts of its readers.

Please don’t be under any illusions; this is a book that deals with raw emotions and the focus on mental health/bereavement may be quite challenging for some. However, I think this is an important book as many teenagers and young adults will live through such events. How can they ever hope to navigate their way through these emotions and experiences if they are sheltered from them?

When we meet Violet Markey she is living with the fact that she survived the crash that killed her sister. She feels guilty. This goes some way to explaining why, when we first meet her, she is sitting at the top of her school’s bell tower trying to find the courage to get down. Her rescuer is Theodore Finch, a boy reviled by many of his classmates simply because he doesn’t conform to their label. Thus begins a beautiful friendship.

This book makes no secret of the fact that Finch and Violet are struggling to live with some pretty nasty demons. Yet, together, they seem to lift one another.
Though you sense where this ends, I was in no way prepared for the emotional impact of the story. Niven does not shy away from the details that we may prefer not to know.

This is fascinating to read. I found it hard as an adult to sit back and watch these fragile teenagers dealing with what was thrown at them. The anger I felt towards Finch’s family took me by surprise. As a young adult I think I would have loved this book; as an adult I’m trying to encourage my own teenager to read it and hoping the film will be released soon.


‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ – E.K. Johnston

Exit, pursued by a bear


Hermione Winters is co-captain of her cheerleading squad, along with her best friend Polly. Just like the rest of the team Hermione has given everything for her sport. Determined to go out on a high, the team attend what will be – for some – their final Cheer camp.

The first part of the book focuses on establishing the key characters within Hermione’s team and her relationship with them. It ends with the party to celebrate the end of camp. All we are told is Hermione remembers getting a drink, then she is taken outside and everything goes black.

With this title, the interest in staging is evident. I loved the fact that we are given regular Shakespearean quotes pertinent to the content. The structuring of the novel felt, at times, like a script for a performance.

There’s no spoilers in me telling you that Hermione is raped. We’re given very few details about the attack. This is more focused on the impact such an event can have on a person and their relationships, and how to come to terms with events about which you may have no recall.

Ultimately, this is a sensitive subject that many may shy away from. However, I feel this is an important book for people to consider reading although the focus on cheerleading might be off-putting.

‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

the smell of other people's houses


This debut novel focuses on the stories of four teenagers living in Alaska in the 1970’s. Apparently, it began life as a series of short stories and there is still something of that feel to it.

The novel is short, which left me feeling that parts of the story that I was really interested in knowing more about were somewhat glossed over. They were still interesting, but there just didn’t seem to be enough to make me really feel much of a connection with the characters.

We are given the stories of four quite different characters, their link being the place they live. We have Ruth, a young girl living with her grandmother. After her only sexual experience she ends up pregnant and is shipped off to an abbey to allow the nuns to have her baby adopted. We have Dora, who is living with a friend to escape the abuse she experiences at home. There is also Alyce, a dancer who knows she will have to escape her home-town to fulfil her dreams. Lastly, there is Hank – the older brother who has taken on the responsibility of his younger siblings after their father dies.

The issues touched upon in the novel are many, and potentially harrowing, but they are somewhat superficially raised and this makes it a curious novel to write about. I liked the fact that the stories connected, though some of the links did seem unlikely. I did not like the way in which the world surrounding the teenagers was described. It comes across as bleak and unpleasant, with many shortcomings, yet the only way anybody seems to escape it is by dying. I’m not sure what kind of message that sends, but it really does not make sense to me.

This was a book that I really wanted to like. It wasn’t a bad read, but it just left me feeling a little colder than I was expecting.

‘Pushing the Limits’ – Katie McGarry

Pushing the Limits


Part of a series of novels, each telling the story of a different couple of characters.  This, the first in the series, focuses on Noah and Echo.

Both Echo and Noah have had to contend with more trauma than anyone should have to experience in a lifetime,never mind before you finish school! They are damaged characters, but there is an inner strength to each of them that is really beautiful to see.

Noah’s parents died in a fire. His younger brothers are with a couple who want to adopt them. All Noah wants is the chance to be a family again.

Echo’s brother died on active service. She was attacked by her mother, but remembers nothing. All she wants is to sleep without being disturbed by nightmares, and to regain her memories without losing her mind.

This book was crammed with issues, some of which were better handled than others. The relationship between the main characters is at the heart of the novel. It’s tempestuous, but oddly sweet.

Only by testing ourselves at times can we really develop. Both characters push their limits…hard to read, but powerful.

‘The Girls’ – Lisa Jewell

The Girls


The cover for this sums up perfectly the idea that a lot of the characters in this are trapped in some way. Though they may burn brightly, they are characters whose lives are claustrophobically linked.

Claire and her young daughters move to a new home, escaping the aftermath of a truly horrific episode in their lives. They move to a house in an area that makes much of its communal garden and friendly atmosphere. There the girls make friends with the local kids who, in a nod to Lord of The Flies, spend lots of their time unsupervised hanging out in the gardens. Adele, Leo and their three daughters are pivotal to the story.

Grace, the thirteen year old daughter of Claire, is found in the gardens late on the evening of her birthday. She is unconscious, and her clothes suggest some form of assault has taken place. The rest of the novel focuses on the attempts to discover what happened to Grace.

This was a clearly plotted story, with interesting characters, but it just didn’t quite have that spark for me. Unfortunately, too often I found myself wanting to skip ahead. Throughout the novel, Jewell dropped hints that suggested one character over another might have been involved. While it was fairly evident from quite early on who was actually responsible, I did find this interesting for highlighting just how little we actually know anyone.

’13 Minutes’ – Sarah Pinborough

13 Minutes


Sarah Pinborough is a new author to me, and on the basis of my response to this I think I will have to try and get my hands on some of her other novels. Quickly!

’13 Minutes’ starts with an arresting image of a teenage girl being dragged, unconscious, from the water. Despite being technically dead for thirteen minutes, Natasha survives. We then cut immediately to a number of different perspectives which alert us to the fact that there is more to Natasha’s accident than we at first thought.

Natasha is reminiscent of Regina in ‘Mean Girls’ or Alison in ‘Pretty Little Liars’. She is the girl who tells her small circle of friends what is in and what is not. Everyone wants to be her. Yet she is not liked, and under the surface she is not quite what everyone thinks she is.

Once Natasha has been rescued we follow a fairly small circle of characters as the police, and Natasha’s ex-best-friend Becca, try to work out who is responsible for what happened to Natasha. Pinborough gives us a range of perspectives, and the undercurrent of menace is crackling from the start. We think we’ve got it, and then a new detail is revealed and we’re back to the drawing board.

I really did not want to put this down once I’d started. This is a tale set in a murky world of half-truths and deception, that sucks you in. Fairly late on there is a startling revelation which, for me, felt a little disappointing. It worked, but I felt there should have been more to it. There was! Swiftly following on from this was another development that took this book from the simply good to the absolutely amazing.

A masterful piece of storytelling.

‘Georgia, Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit’ – Jaye Robin Brown

Given the shooting that has just happened in Orlando, the need for this book is great. I can certainly see how it could act as support for any teenager exploring a crisis of faith that occurs as a result of their sexuality.

Jo, as a confident and proudly out lesbian, is put in a really difficult situation. At the start of her senior year she moves with her father and new step-mother to a less tolerant area. Her father, a preacher who says he accepts his daughter, then asks Jo to hide who she really is to help them integrate into the community.
The irony that Jo then befriends a boy with two mums, and the beautiful Mary who is coming to terms with her own sexuality, will not be lost on readers.

Suddenly Jo is struggling with her own crisis of faith. Should she show love and respect for her father and his new wife, or should she be true to herself?
The question of faith and what it means to us is at the heart of the novel. There are some interesting questions raised, and we see a range of views considered.

Ultimately, this has a feel-good factor in the way key issues are resolved though I did find it hard to accept some of the things asked of individuals and the scenarios that lead us to these results. An absorbing read, which I will have no hesitation to recommend.

Thanks to the publishers, via edelweiss, for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.