‘Outstanding’ – Kathryn Flett


Thanks to publishers and NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my thoughts, though I wish I could be more positive.

Perhaps it was because I read this just prior to the return to work (in a school) so I was slightly put off by the setting and the characters, but I really found it hard to feel any empathy with any of the characters involved or even really care what happened to them.

Super Head teacher, Eve, came across as rather clueless for someone in charge of what is meant to be an outstanding school and I got sick and tired of the SEN agenda being shoved down my throat at every available opportunity. While there were some amusing moments, for the most part there were too many sub-plots to allow me to engage with any of the events in the way I had hoped to.

While this wasn’t for me I am sure it will have its fans.

‘Girl of Nightmares’ – Kendare Blake

Girl of Nightmares

I’d really enjoyed ‘Anna Dressed in Blood’ and was keen to see how Blake moved things on in the sequel. Desperate to find out what happened to Anna, I have to say I felt a bit disappointed by this.

Though it’s been months since Anna made the decision to support Cas in the way she did, he remains unable to forget the love of his life. I felt the opening part of the novel focused on Cas mooning around, not really doing very much. In spite of the fact that Cas’s best friends, Thomas and Carmel, have joined him, his inability to forget Anna is causing problems.

At this point we are introduced to The Order, a shadowy group with their own agenda, who offer to help track the Obeahman and help Cas work out what is going on.

There were some great scenes within the book – the Suicide Forest was genuinely creepy, and the scene between Anna and Cas after the fight was touching – but, on the whole, this was not as good as I’d hoped it would be. For too much of the time my attention was wandering and that’s never a great recommendation.

‘Eileen’ – Ottessa Moshfegh


I became aware of this when I saw it was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, so I was pleased to receive an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The most obvious thing to say upon completing the book is that this will not be to everyone’s taste.

The narrator of this story is Eileen Dunlop, a woman of indeterminate age, and she is looking back on events that took place around Christmas 1964.
Eileen is not a character you will easily warm to. As she describes herself – and we obviously don’t know to what extent she is manipulating our perceptions of her – we see a lonely twenty-four year old woman who behaves like a little girl in many ways. She lives with her alcoholic father and has a mediocre job in the local boys’ prison. She dresses in her dead mother’s clothes, has evident body issues, is quite unpleasant to those she encounters and has an obsessive need to detail her bodily functions. Yet there is something utterly fascinating about this quite grotesque character.

For a lot of the novel very little happens. Then Eileen meets new colleague Rebecca and her life changes.

What follows was not at all what I expected. It’s better to not know the details in advance, but Eileen gets to be the heroine of her own story. I was surprised that events took the turn they did, and the ambiguity of the ending sums up for me the utter selfishness of Eileen. What happens to others is simply irrelevant-once they don’t impact on her life it is as though they don’t exist.

I found this a puzzling but seductive read. Having enjoyed it so much I purchased my own copy.

‘Bumped’ – Megan McCafferty


A virus has made everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, so teen girls have become a commodity as people will pay them to bear children. This was an interesting idea, but I never really felt as though I got any answers to how this virus came about.

Twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have led very different lives. Melody has secured a contract with a wealthy family to breed, while Harmony has spent her early years living in isolation in a rural religious community that believes surrogacy for profit is a sin.

When Harmony turns up on Melody’s doorstep it changes their lives completely. We learn the two sisters have more in common than they realised, but I read the whole book with a sense of detachment. I found the language and attitudes of the society distasteful, and wasn’t particularly impressed by the resolution.

‘Not Just Jane:Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature’ – Shelley DeWees

Not Just Jane

Due for publication in October 2016, I have to thank the publishers and edelweiss for allowing me the opportunity to review this prior to publication.

Most of us are aware of the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen, but this meticulously researched piece of writing asks us to consider some of the other female writers of the same period. As an English graduate who had not heard of most of these writers it highlighted for me just how the Literary Canon is shaped by the politics and beliefs of others.

The writer’s passion for her subject is evident, and I found this an absorbing read. I don’t know how easy it will be to find some of these writings, but I am keen to try and find some of them.


‘Forget Tomorrow’ – Pintip Dunn

Forget Tomorrow

In this futuristic society once a person gets to their seventeenth birthday they are sent a vision – a memory sent from their future self, which is then used to help people make decisions in their present life. The context of the memory is not given, but it forms a crucial role in shaping the treatment someone receives from that point forwards.

Unfortunately, in Callie’s vision she sees herself murder her sister, Jessamine, and she is then imprisoned. With the help of family friend Logan, who is the somewhat inevitable love interest, Callie escapes and so begins the frantic race to change the course of the future.

As I was reading I was reminded of any number of science-fiction novels/films, but the story was just different enough to keep me interested. The interaction between the characters was interesting, but the thing that really got me curious to read the next instalment in the series was the ending. I did not see that coming!

Thank you to publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in advance of publication.

‘Holding Up the Universe’ – Jennifer Niven

Holding Up the Universe

Being dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ means that everyone knows Libby Strout’s name. But they don’t know her, and have never tried to look beyond the surface. She will always be remembered by some as the girl who had to be airlifted out of her home as she’d got too big to leave.

When we first meet Libby she is about to start High School and she describes herself as attempting to rejoin the human race. This view has been criticised by a number of readers as Niven being anti-obesity, which strikes me as more than a little naïve. Libby’s comments seem to stem from her desire to accept who she is and how she manages her emotional state over her mother’s death. She has got used to coping alone, but now recognises that she needs other people and has to learn to lean on others for support.

Another character who is used to people viewing him in a certain light is Jack Masselin. From the outset of the novel we are told that he has a condition that means he doesn’t recognise faces. This is useful because, initially, he does not come across favourably. However, as he spends time with Libby we see he has a level of self-awareness that tempers the less appealing aspects of his personality, and I liked the fact that he forms quite a close bond with Libby.

Some of the events in the novel were a little unrealistic, or at least the characters’ reactions to them were, but it was an interesting read. There were some great moments between the two main characters, and I particularly liked the supporting characters.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my thoughts, and I hope that people don’t get put off reading this because of the comments made by some reviewers.

‘Dangerous Lies’ – Becca Fitzpatrick

Dangerous Lies

‘Dangerous Lies’ really did feel like a book of two halves.

The story begins immediately after Estella has witnessed a brutal murder, carried out by a dangerous man (her addict mother’s dealer) that the Feds want to put away. So Estella and her mother are enrolled under the witness protection program and everything changes.

The opening of the book presented seventeen year old Estella at her most awful. She sounds like she’s has a pretty tough time and got used to coping alone, but her unwillingness to let those around her do their job was frustrating. She began by whining about what a hardship leaving her boyfriend is and complaining about the middle-of-nowhere town she’s been sent to, so there really isn’t much to like about her. In fact, Fitzpatrick almost goes out of her way to make the main character as unlikeable as possible.

However, Estella – for her safety now known as Stella – does not keep up the brat-act. Slowly, she finds people that matter to her and learns to behave more like a young adult. There is a gradual self-realisation that takes place, and the relationship that develops between her and Carmina is nicely presented.

While the romance between Chet and Stella is obvious, it doesn’t stop you as a reader wanting it to happen. Inevitably, the romance takes up a fair amount of time, but it is when we get towards the second half of the novel and the ‘thriller’ element that this becomes a much better read.

Sensing the net drawing in, and then learning the truth about Stella’s past, did take me by surprise a little. The resolution was a bit feel-good but it did move away from the bleakness that had settled in.

‘Nothing Tastes As Good’ – Claire Hennessy

Nothing Tastes as Good

Released in July 2016, this novel by Claire Hennessy has come in for criticism with some reviewers who dislike the sentiments expressed about body image and size. Perhaps I’m missing something, but the blurb hints strongly at the nature of the illness our main character, Annabel, has been living with. I think it’s unnecessarily provocative to seize on the thoughts and ideas she has (which are the product of her illness) and to see them as representative of the author’s views. Indeed, in response to me asking Claire Hennessy on Goodreads what she felt about those readers who had been critical of this novel she had this to say:

Hennessy quote

Annabel, our main character, is dead. As a ghost desperate for further contact with her family she is asked to complete an assignment. Her assignment involves helping someone she used to go to school with – Julia. Initially, Annabel is not told how she has to help Julia and it was a little confusing trying to work out just how the girls were linked and what Annabel would be required to do.

What I loved from the start was the way Hennessy portrayed the character of Annabel. Comments about her personal health and circumstances, and her comments about Julia and other girls she has met, suggest that Annabel is not quite as healthy and strong-minded as she believes herself to be. The gradual revelation of the extent to which Annabel and those around her have been affected by her anorexia was powerful.

Although Annabel is the main character, Julia’s role in the novel is equally important. Through Julia, Hennessy sensitively explores a number of issues that impact on many teenage girls today.

This is, in my view, a brave book and one that I feel any teenager – or adult working with teenagers – should be encouraged to read.

‘Baby Doll’ – Hollie Overton

Baby Doll

‘Baby Doll’ has a pretty explosive start. We open with Lily escaping from the room where she has been held captive for the last eight years. Along with her young daughter, Sky, she seizes her opportunity to run – hopefully, to safety.

I found the opening of the novel truly gripping. The focus on sound and the fear felt by Lily as she escapes was masterfully portrayed. As Lily describes recognising the area that she is running through and comes to the realisation that she has been held captive in the basement of a cabin only miles from her home, I wondered where Overton would take this.

Having seen Lily knock on the door of her old home and come face-to-face with her mother for the first time in eight years, Overton decides to focus on the narrative from the perspective of Rick – Lily’s abductor. From the outset it is clear that Rick is a repugnant character – he sees nothing wrong with what he has done, and the way he manipulates those around him is chilling. Splitting the narrative in this way created quite a stifling atmosphere, and I was very grateful that we did not get a lot of graphic detail about the horrors that Lily had endured.

While I was gripped by the story of what happens to Lily after she returns, I couldn’t help feel that Overton was trying to cover too many areas. I cannot begin to imagine the way people would react if someone in Rick’s situation was accused of such a crime, but I can’t see some of the things that happen to him being allowed. It also made me question my own views, as there was a part of me that felt pleased to see Rick being treated as he was in custody though it goes against everything that I believe in.

In spite of wanting to know more about the impact of the experience on Sky, I thought it was a bold move to focus instead on the relationship between Lily and her sister, Abby. Their relationship was intriguing. Although nobody could begin to imagine how they’d react in similar circumstances, I felt what actually happened was rather unlikely. It wasn’t what I expected though, so the element of surprise was welcome – and the ‘almost normal’ ending for Lily offset what was a particularly bleak read.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.