‘Detached’ – Christina Kilbourne


I think the first thing that I have to say is that any book that gets teenagers to think about mental health issues is a good thing, particularly one that is so unflinching in the way it explores one of the things that scares adults most – suicide.

Sixteen-year-old Anna is a talented artist but since her grandparents died in a car crash caused by a drunk driver she feels detached from those around her. On the surface she seems to be coping, but inwardly her thoughts increasingly turn to suicide.

I found it hard to believe that someone of Anna’s age would attempt suicide five times and nobody would actually recognise there was anything wrong. That aside, I did find myself keen to keep reading and see whether Anna would get the help she so obviously needed.

As well as watching Anna research how to kill herself, we watch how she fails time after time. Her survival instinct is strong, and it’s fairly apparent that she is living with depression. The experience of her Grandmother didn’t come as much as a surprise. We also see Anna coping with a period in treatment/therapy, and feeling fairly positive about the future at the end of the novel.

Ultimately, I felt that the book suffered from trying to cover too many aspects of the issue. I think this is a good starting point, but the issue is far more complex than we are led to believe here.

‘The Bone Sparrow – Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow

A book that will speak to adults and children alike, this is a timely reminder of our common humanity and the need to show compassion for others where we can.

Nine year old Subhi is Rohingya, but has only ever known the inside of the detention centre in Australia where he lives. Through his constant questioning of others in the camp he learns their stories of life outside the centre. Subhi’s voice is distinctive, though he remains innocent of the knowledge of what is happening and how so many came to be in this compound with him. He describes – with touching simplicity – the routines of his life and slowly reveals some of the horrors that those he talks to have experienced.

This book has been likened to ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne, but I found it interesting that our narrator is the boy who has nothing. Witnessing the events through the eyes of Subhi means we get a real understanding of the deprivation these people are experiencing on a daily basis. However, unlike Bruno in ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ Jimmie does not come from a privileged background – she is much more an Everyman-character, and this forces us as the reader to imagine ourselves in her shoes. I enjoyed the moment when Jimmie first meets Subhi and they strike up an immediate friendship. In their own way, each has something to offer the other though their friendship is not something either can share with the people around them.

As an adult reader I turned the pages with a sense of mounting horror at what I felt was the inevitable climax to the novel. Subhi’s innocence means we are never given overly graphic details-things are explained in such a way that suggest he is making sense of what he sees, and it’s up to us to fill in the blanks. Subhi gets to save Jimmie, but he also has to come to terms with his inability to protect his friend Eli.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication. It’s a book I’ll be urging people to read.

‘The Muse’ – Jessie Burton

The Muse

This is a hard novel to review as I’m not entirely sure where to start. There’s a number of stories within this novel, and it’s only clear how they are linked as they pull together.

The main focus of the novel centres on the discovery of a painting by celebrated artist Isaac Robles. Edmund Reede, an art historian, is determined to authenticate the painting’s provenance, and ensure it is seen. As he attempts this, we learn the background of the painting.

The setting shifts from 1930s Spain to Britain in the 1960s. There’s a large number of characters that feature within this story: the Schloss family, Isaac Robles and his sister, Margot Quick and Odelle Bastien.

I feel it’s important not to give away any plot details since the appeal of the novel really does come with the gradual revelation of details and the manipulation of our understanding of events.

Throughout my reading I had a sense of some crucial detail being hidden, and I thoroughly enjoyed the discovery of this information, although there were a few heavy-handed signs to signal that to us that something along these lines was coming.

The characters were elusive, and this does make sense in light of the whole novel. I enjoyed the period details, particularly the sections focusing on Odelle’s experience in 1960s London, but it was also an interesting look at how we regard artists and the pressure that expectation can put on creativity. Though I haven’t yet read ‘The Miniaturist’ I understand that Burton has publicly talked of her own battles with this issue after the success of her debut novel, which suggests we’re also being given some insight into the writer’s fears and concerns.

A huge thank you to the author and publishers, via edelweiss, for the advance copy.


‘Frostbite’ – Richelle Mead


The second in the Vampire Academy series, I think this is one of those novels that you’ll either love or hate.

In some ways it reminded me of the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast. You have a tightly-knit group of students struggling to get on with their peers, a rather strong-minded female ‘leader’ and more than one or two males that she is interested in, vampires and problems with those in authority.

Ignoring the obvious similarities with other YA novels I have to say that I found the first in the series quite entertaining.

‘Frostbite’ picks up quite soon after the events of the first novel. Rose is still struggling to deal with her feelings for Dimitri, and she remains worried about Lissa. There are some nasty attacks by Strigori and the Moroi are worried – but nobody is quite sure what the best course of action will be.

Rose spends a large amount of the book sulking and being a bit of a bratty teenager. She resents her mother and the focus she has shown for her work. She dilsikes the fact that Dimitri seems immune to her charms and is talking about getting close to someone else. She is jealous of the closeness between Lissa and Christian, and she spends far too much time toying with the emotions of those around her.

However, once Rose gets to actually do something she is much more appealing. Not an awful lot actually happens in this novel, but there is a very real sense of lots of small pieces of a puzzle being put in place ready for what comes later. Rose gets the opportunity to show her potential towards the end of the novel, and you start to get a sense of how she will grow and develop over the course of the series. It also helped that Dimitri admitted to having feelings for her (which would definitely keep the majority of teen readers happy).

‘Murder’ – Sarah Pinborough


Some time after the events of ‘Mayhem’ we return to London. Many of the characters we met in that novel return, and we can see the impact of those events on their lives.

Following the loss of her husband Juliana has become an over-protective mother to her young son James. She is a husk of her former self, but she remains friends with Dr Bond – unaware of the role he played in James’s death. The three men involved in that evening have kept quiet about their involvement, and Dr Bond  even dares to hope that he might one day marry Juliana.

Initially, everything seems rather dull. Everyone is going about their business and nothing particularly out of the ordinary happens (which, in light of what was happening at the time, is no bad thing). Then the battered body of a woman is found in a train carriage and it gets Bond thinking about the events of previous years.

In this novel we are introduced to Edward Kane, an old friend of James, and he asks Bond to look into some letters that James sent. In these letters, James talks of the Upir and the awful things it made him do. Bond appeases Kane’s curiosity with plausible explanations for these comments – but the information included within the letters’ pages opens up new questions for Bond.

Suddenly we are plunged into a horrific tale- where Bond learns of the extent to which those closest to him were caught up in the impact of the Upir’s existence. Unable to let this go, Bond continues to seek answers to his questions – with devastating consequences.

This novel was more focused on the personal decline of Bond, and it had less interest in some ways. There were minor irritations because of poor editing, but the story was a fascinating example of horror.


‘The Selection’ – Kiera Cass

The Selection

Originally published in 2012, ‘The Selection’ is the first in a series that has been amazingly popular. I’ve steered clear for reasons I’m a little embarrassed to admit – the pictures of frilly dresses on the cover and the focus on romance just haven’t appealed to me. Needing a book to fulfil the requirements of a reading challenge meant I decided to pick up this ARC from NetGalley that had been languishing on my Kindle and see what all the fuss was about.

The premise is straightforward. In America of the future – now named Illea – society is divided into eight castes. The Selection is, for want of a better word, a game-show where thirty-five chosen girls compete to win the love of Prince Maxon. Slowly the numbers are whittled down, until the new queen is chosen.

Our heroine, America Singer, comes from Five so she is used to being hungry and feeling out of place. She is in love with Aspen, a family friend, but he convinces her to sign up for the Selection as he’s embarrassed at not being able to provide for her. Make no mistake, we’re in very familiar territory here, and there’s a lot of similarities with a number of popular YA novels of recent years.

Though the idea behind the novel is drawn straight from some awful reality dating show, Cass portrays the girls and their shifting relationships so well. America is a likeable character, and Prince Maxon was a lot more interesting than he first appeared. Watching their relationship develop provided plenty of amusing moments, and it was interesting to watch the process at play. I’m keen to know what role the rebels will play in the rest of the story, and I think there’s an interesting story behind the queen. Much as I was rooting for the romance, I liked the reappearance of Aspen – who I felt should have just got over his pride – and wonder what that will come to signify for America.

Reading this was akin to the experience of eating Haagen-Daazs ice-cream…you know it’s not a healthy treat, thoroughly enjoy it while you’re in the moment and then hope nobody notices what you’ve done! I’m going to have to read the rest of the series to satisfy my curiosity about what happens next.

‘Watching Edie’ – Camilla Way

Watching Edie


Beautiful, creative, a little wild… Edie was the kind of girl who immediately caused a stir when she walked into your life. And she had dreams back then—but it didn’t take long for her to learn that things don’t always turn out the way you want them to.

Now, at thirty-three, Edie is working as a waitress, pregnant and alone. And when she becomes overwhelmed by the needs of her new baby and sinks into a bleak despair, she thinks that there’s no one to turn to…

But someone’s been watching Edie, waiting for the chance to prove once again what a perfect friend she can be. It’s no coincidence that Heather shows up on Edie’s doorstep, just when Edie needs her the most. So much has passed between them—so much envy, longing, and betrayal. And Edie’s about to learn a new lesson: those who have hurt us deeply—or who we have hurt—never let us go, not entirely…

Another thriller touted as the next Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, but don’t let that put you off!

The opening chapter was intense. Edie’s discomfort at seeing Heather, the best friend she’s not seen for seventeen years, set up a tense situation.

As we alternate between the present and the before, my views on the characters changed regularly. The unreliability of our narrator and the selection of memories shared made for a tense and compelling read.

Both girls/women show compassion and positive characteristics. But as we learn more of Edie’s past, and her relationship with older boyfriend Connor, we see the potential of both to act in unappealing ways.

I felt the alternating viewpoint was an interesting structural choice to manipulate how and when we received certain information. I was not surprised by the ending, though the actual details were more shocking than I thought. What I was more disturbed by was the tension created in the build-up to our final revelation.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

‘Mayhem’ – Sarah Pinborough



After reading ’13 Minutes’ on a friend’s recommendation and enjoying it so much, I wanted to try other books by Pinborough. It’s at moments like this that I’m tremendously grateful for public libraries!

What has impressed me with Pinborough’s writing so far has been the versatility she demonstrates. Common to the novels I’ve read so far is great characterisation, and this is no exception.

It’s very unlikely that you won’t know something of Jack the Ripper and his awful crimes. This is, indeed, part of the focus of ‘Mayhem’, but it is so much more than that. At the same time as the police were being taunted by the infamous Ripper, there was another murderer on the loose. Dubbed the Thames Torso Murderer, his modus operandi was to butcher the victims’ bodies and leave parcels of dismembered limbs for the police to discover. However, the heads were never discovered.

While this lesser-known story would have been interesting in itself, Pinborough adds in a fascinating supernatural element.

Initially I found the shifting viewpoints a little hard to follow, but as it becomes clearer how the characters link this became less of an issue. The main character of Dr Thomas Bond was intriguing. Initially sceptical of the potential for something ‘other’, I found his story absorbing. Following him around the opium dens of London, and getting caught up with some rather unusual characters, it was never totally clear how much of what he described was real, and how much was the imaginings of a mind overweight with tiredness and increasingly addicted to opium. As events draw to their thrilling conclusion I found myself trying to read more slowly to draw the experience out a little longer.

I can’t wait to see how Pinborough carries this story on in ‘Murder’.

‘Eight Rivers of Shadow’ – Leo Hunt

Eight Rivers of Shadow


The second in the series picks up some time after ’13 Days of Midnight’. Luke is now with Elza, and is doing his best to fit in (harder now he’s not popular).

When a foreign exchange student – Ash – appears, she eventually asks for Luke’s help in saving her twin sister. It’s quickly clear that Ash knows a lot more about necromancy than Luke does, and yet he doubts she can help him.

Luke has to make some difficult decisions, and he ends up relying on the help of people/spirits that he never wanted to see again.

Though I enjoyed the first novel, this was a real step-up. I loved the blend of humour and terrifying events, and really felt engaged with this story.

This is definitely a grower, and I’m curious to see where this goes in the next of the series.

‘Matched’ – Ally Condie



In this series we see a society where everything is organised for you in an attempt to keep things effective. What you eat, where you live and work, who you marry and even when you die is organised for you. While this brings security, for me it felt claustrophobic and intensely stifling.

The majority of people who live around Cassia and her family accept these interventions in their lives without question. Some cannot reconcile themselves to a world without choice, but for our narrator this realisation is a long time coming!

Cassia has always been someone who follows the rules. She does what she is supposed to and doesn’t question the things that don’t feel quite right. Cassia has known Xander a long time, and they are good friends, so she is pleased when they are Matched (yes, they even sort your relationships for you). However, she then sees a brief glimpse of a second face – another person she knows – and this rouses her curiosity. Who is to say which of the two would be the better match? Why can’t she decide for herself?

What follows was a rather typical story of someone questioning the status quo. Cassia wants to rebel, but is worried about breaking out from the confines she lives within. The love triangle doesn’t really bother anyone, since Cassia can’t make her mind up what she wants for the majority of the novel. It felt like events were rather dragged out on occasion. I would have liked to know more of the past and how this society came into being.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book, but I felt it could have been a lot more powerful.