September round-up

Apologies if this seems something of a cop-out, but work has rather got in the way of me posting reviews of late. I am still reading, but the time for updating my blog has been short. For this reason I have decided to give a round-up of the remainder of my September reading.

During the latter weeks of September I have finished Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series. In ‘Blood Promise’ we watch Rose travel to Russia in an attempt to track down Dimitri and keep her promise. Things don’t go to plan. Much as I’d enjoyed the series, this was not one of my favourite reads and it felt slow. Things picked up a little in ‘Spirit Bound’ and there was a definite sense of political intrigue in the world of the Academy. Dimitri remains at large, determined to make Rose pay, but I liked the fact that Lissa gets to play more of a role in events as the understanding of Strigoi evolves. Rose still comes across as rather immature, but she just about manages to keep a grip on her more extreme reactions. The final instalment in the series – ‘Last Sacrifice’ – is a fitting end to the series. Rose is accused of murdering the Queen, and we focus on her attempts to clear her name. Alongside this intrigue – which does, indeed, lead us up one or two garden paths – we have the rather slower story of the trial to find the new queen. There’s a lot in here…some parts of which are definitely more appealing than others. The breakout and Rose’s quest to clear her name is entertaining. The development of Lissa and her role was well-handled, though I felt the ambiguity of Lisa’s reaction to Jill wasn’t quite in keeping with her character. Of course, it wouldn’t have been right to not deal with the relationship between Rose and Dimitri. I’ve always liked Dimitri, and I got the feeling this was going to be a ‘Twilight’-style thing where, eventually, they end up together. Six books in – and after a lot of obstacles – they get their happy ending. Naturally, this makes me happy except for one thing…Adrian. There has to be fallout, I get it. But the way Adrian is treated is shabby. I don’t normally get so attached to a character, but I really felt he deserved more.

After something of a series glut, I knew it was time to get back onto the ARCs I’d received from Edelweiss and NetGalley. First up was ‘Pushing Perfect’ by Michelle Falkoff, which focuses on the story of Kara who ends up in a dangerous game due to the pressure she feels under to achieve perfection. While this suggested it would be an exploration of pressure and its effects, we soon got into a bizarre ‘Pretty Little Liars’-style story where everyone had something to hide. Unfortunately I felt this was going to be better than it was.

This was followed by Danielle Paige’s ‘Stealing Snow’ which was an intriguing idea, but not entirely successful. Snow is living in a psychiatric hospital and finds herself drawn into another world where she learns just what she is and what it is rumoured she will achieve. There were some interesting ideas here, but they were not particularly well-linked and I didn’t really feel I could engage with any of the characters. The mixed reviews of this on Goodreads suggests that it will have its fans; I wasn’t one.

My final read of the month was ‘The Beginning Woods’ by Malcolm McNeill, and it was a good way to end the month. It was not without its faults – random capitalization of dialogue and unconnected events – but this was a captivating read that will stay with me for some time. Max was abandoned in a bookshop and he seems to be an important part of the Vanishings taking place, though nobody is sure how. There was a haunting feel to the writing, and some beautifully evocative description. Originally published in German, this is a children’s novel that I feel will appeal more to adults due to its layering of ideas and the length.

‘Truly, Madly, Guilty’ – Lianne Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty

I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and I have enjoyed the other Moriarty novels that I have read so I was looking forward to this.

Sam and Clementine have been together for years and lead a seemingly ideal life. Clementine is a cellist, Sam has just started a new dream job and their children bring them happiness. Clementine’s oldest friend, Erika, seems to know exactly what is being thought from just a look. It all sounds wonderful (if a little claustrophobic) but Moriarty is adept at revealing slowly just how things that look so amazing on the surface might not be quite as they appear.

We know that a barbecue hosted by one of Erika’s neighbours has been the catalyst for a huge change in the relationship between these characters. Unfortunately, the build-up to us actually finding out the significance of this event was so interminably slow that I had almost reached the point of being beyond caring by the time we were actually told what had happened! I have patience – which many reviewers have commented is needed when reading this – but Moriarty was well and truly stretching mine.


‘Three Truths and a Lie’ – Brent Hartinger

Three Truths and a Lie

The premise behind ‘Three Truths and a Lie’ is fairly straightforward – four teenagers head off to a cabin in the woods where they play a game, get spooked by things outside and then end up in serious trouble. Not all make it back alive.

In spite of the links with so many teen horror movies, I have to say I found myself gripped by this novel.

When we first meet Rob he is with his boyfriend, Liam, Liam’s best friend, Mia, and her boyfriend, Galen. They are desperate to do something a little different – something fun – and when Mia suggests a visit to her family’s woodland cabin it seems like the perfect suggestion. The dynamics between the group are intriguing, and there is a very real sense of Rob’s detachment from the group.

From the moment the group arrive in the cabin it seems that someone is out to cause trouble. The question is, who? Strange things happen, with no obvious explanation, and the way Hartinger describes this experience completely plays on the reader’s fears. On occasion the writing becomes a little more graphic than I really wanted, but I found myself finding it increasingly hard to tear myself away from this as I was desperate to find out just what was going on.

There are clues to the ending, though I think I’d benefit from re-reading the novel to see which of these clues I missed first time around.

‘Furthermore’ – Tahereh Mafi


Described as a fantasy adventure for middle-grade readers, this was my first experience of Mafi’s writing and it strikes me that ‘Furthermore’ is the kind of book that I think I would have loved as a younger reader.

Alice Queensmeadow lives in Ferenwood and she spends a lot of her time being ignored by her mother, and desperately keen to find out what happened to her father after he left three years earlier. In this world, magic is used with caution and Alice bitterly resents the fact that though she can change the colour of any object, she is unable to change herself.

When an old friend, Oliver, turns up and asks for Alice’s help in travelling to the mysterious land of Furthermore it is clear that her adventure is going to be like nothing she has experienced before.

This was a curious tale, full of vivid and evocative description. More than once I felt there were nods to Wonderland, but all works out okay in the end.

‘The Many Worlds of Albie Bright’ – Christopher Edge

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright

I picked this book up thinking it would be a quick read. It was, but that doesn’t mean it’s a book I won’t be thinking about for a long time afterwards.

My interest in Science is minimal, and I confess that anything linked to what I called “hard maths” (i.e. physics) in school still leaves me cold. So why did I find myself walking down the road with my head in this book desperate to finish it? It is, basically, a book I fell in love with.

Named after his parents’ favourite scientists, Albie Bright is a boy that I immediately warmed to. When we first meet him he and his father are adjusting to life without Mrs Bright, who died of cancer just two weeks earlier. Neither Albie or his father are really doing anything other than existing at the start of the novel, and Albie’s questions about what exactly has happened to his mother would – I suppose – be of comfort to any child in similar circumstances.

Due to the fact that Albie’s parents have always encouraged his natural curiosity, his father’s reluctance to talk to Albie about what has happened shows the depth of emotion these characters are feeling. Rather than dwelling on this however – which I imagine could have been very depressing – Edge takes us in a totally different direction.

When Albie’s father tries to comfort his son, things don’t quite go as you’d expect. Using quantum physics to explain that if there are parallel universes there is the possibility that, somewhere, Albie’s mother is still alive creates a sense of hope in Albie that, while naïve, is touching to watch. Fired up with determination to find his mother again, Albie creates Quantum Banana Theory which allows him to travel to a parallel universe.

This is the point at which we are well and truly in the realm of the fantastical. I found myself laughing at some of the scenes that we get to witness, but throughout there was a thoughtful exploration of Albie’s feelings and a clear focus on showing us just what Albie in each parallel universe gained, and lost. I loved how we got to see Albie slowly come to the realisation that you have to live with what you’ve got and make the most of it.

I can’t wait to see what the students who select this under the BookBuzz scheme make of this one.

‘Hot Milk’ -Deborah Levy

Hot Milk

The day I finished this rather unusual novel coincided with the announcement that ‘Hot Milk’ was on the short-list for the Man Booker Prize. This in no way impacts on my review – if anything, it makes me wonder whether I wouldn’t be better off focusing my attention on the ones that didn’t make the list, since I really found myself confused by this novel.

The story, such as I understood it, focuses on 25-year-old Sophia. We are told she has a first-class degree in Anthropology and is working on her doctoral thesis. For such a clever woman, she seems remarkably stupid. When she accompanies her mother to Spain in order to seek further medical intervention for the mysterious ailments that have plagued her mother for years, I can’t understand why she doesn’t leave her to it. The mother is manipulative and the manifestation of her physical ailments seems to come and go depending upon who she is talking to, or what else is happening. Yet Sophia happily accompanies her from appointment to appointment and seems content to do nothing to break out of this debilitating co-dependant relationship.

There are some quirky characters, though I don’t feel I really ever got to see them as anything other than a device to illustrate whatever point Sophia wanted to make about herself at the time.

Throughout the novel I was struck by a number of images or repeated references. I’m certain these were important, but I’m still not certain why. I found this an easy book to read as it is relatively short, and the action is easy to follow. However, the language is richly evocative and I cannot help but feel that it is the kind of novel that I ought to read again in order to try and make more sense of it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll be in a hurry to do so.

‘Quantum Drop’ – Saci Lloyd

Quantum Drop

The front cover for ‘Quantum Drop’ suggests an explosive read, but I have to confess that I didn’t have quite that experience as I was reading.

Anthony Griffin (the name we know our main character by) is determined to find out who was responsible for the murder of his girlfriend, Tais. This prompts him to take his life in his hands and trail the Bettas in an attempt to find out exactly what happened.

Lloyd creates a world that has blended the real and the digital seamlessly – now virtual reality has become commonplace, with people entering the Drop in order to carry out a range of tasks. Corruption is rife, but with gangs controlling who is able to access all manner of resources it is inevitable that some miss out.

Personally, I felt that in this novel we never got enough opportunity to know the characters in the detail needed to get me to care about what was happening to them. There was plenty of action, but I felt it came at the expense of detail that would have made certain events a lot clearer.


‘Darktown’ – Thomas Mullen


Due for publication on 13th September 2016, I was excited to be approved by publishers Little, Brown Book Group via NetGalley for an advance copy of this novel.

Described as a “riveting and elegant police procedural” I was keen to see how Mullen would link the context of race relations in 1948 Atlanta with the demands of a crime story. While it took me a while to really get into the feel of the characters and how they were linked, as far as the action goes I was hooked from the opening pages.

When we first meet Boggs and his partner Smith we are efficiently shown just how helpless the first eight coloured police officers in Atlanta actually were. They are given no cars with which to patrol, they are not allowed to carry a gun, their  contact cards have to be paid for from their own pockets and they are not actually allowed to arrest anyone without a white officer being present. Throughout the novel I admit to feeling an element of seething frustration on behalf of these characters who were treated so poorly solely because of the colour of their skin.

As we are shown Dunlow, a bigoted cop who has grown used to people doing things his way, lock horns with Boggs it is clear that things are not going to go smoothly. I could not believe some of the details we are given in the novel – but however upsetting they might have been to read, I think they were vital. This was a compelling read that I can’t wait to see people’s reaction to. The news that this novel is due to be adapted by Sony Pictures Television and Jamie Foxx is exciting stuff, and I can’t wait to see how such a gritty read translates to the screen.


‘Miraculous Miranda’ – Siobhan Parkinson

Miraculous Miranda

Sometimes a book comes along that is just perfect in every way. For me, ‘Miraculous Miranda’ is one of those books – and I really hope it gets read by a wider audience than its target group of upper primary-age children.

Miranda lives with her mum, dad, gran and older sister, Gemma. She is a rather precocious individual – though her confidence and sparkiness come across as enthusiasm and interest at this age – and  I loved her fascination with words and their meanings. Her older sister has a condition that Miranda is not told much about, but it means Gemma is often taken to hospital.

As an adult reading this I was trying to piece together the background to the characters and their stories, but it really is not important within these pages that we don’t know all the details. We see events through Miranda’s eyes, and her reaction to what’s going on around her is touching.

We see Miranda trying to deal with what she can see is not an ordinary situation, without being told all the details. This does lead, inevitably, to some confusion – the incident with her classmates being very concerned for Gran because they haven’t understood a word Miranda used in her journal was a little sad, while being very humorous. There is. it seems, something to be said for talking to younger children about illness and not trying to hide the truth from them completely!

This is a book that I could see myself reading again and again, without tiring of Miranda and her imaginative perception of the world around her.

A huge thank you to NetGalley and publishers Hodder Childrens’ Books for the copy in advance of publication in exchange for sharing my honest thoughts.


‘The Movie Version’ – Emma Wunsch

The Movie Version

Due for publication in October 2016, I thank publishers Amulet and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Described as ‘a whip-smart, heart-wrenching debut YA novel about first love, first loss, and filmmaking’ this strikes me as the kind of novel that will divide opinion.

In ‘The Movie Version’ we are introduced to Amelia and her family. She is obsessed with movies, and in her life elder brother Toby is the archetypal star. Everything revolves around her popular, smart brother and Amelia seems to accept her role as ‘second-best’ without question.

After returning from a summer away working, Amelia can’t help but notice that her brother has changed. He’s always been a little erratic, but Amelia is concerned by his outbursts and lack of personal hygiene. Initially she puts Toby’s changed behaviour down to a summer of smoking pot – and she covers for his slip-ups without question, because that’s what she’s always done – but when he is found in a state of extreme anxiety it is clear that something is not right.

Slowly it becomes clear that Toby is actually suffering with schizophrenia. His illness impacts on family life in ways that they cannot imagine, and it is all too apparent that Amelia has hidden behind her brother for so long that she has not really pushed herself to develop personally.

Initially I found the constant film referencing a little self-congratulatory, but I know this will appeal to some readers. Amelia veered between sensitivity towards her brother and genuinely offensive – perhaps this is realistic, but I wonder if her attitude will make it harder for some readers to really empathise with her.