‘Things I Should Have Known’ – Claire LaZebnik

Things I Should Have Known

Scheduled for release in March 2017, I have to thank NetGalley for granting me access to an early copy of this novel in exchange for my honest thoughts.

Claire, on the surface, seems a typical American teenager. She has everything going for her, and is rather obsessed with popularity. Determined to help prepare her autistic sister, Ivy, to lead a more independent life, Claire decides it is time to get her a boyfriend. Ethan, a boy in Ivy’s special needs class, seems perfect. Claire can overlook the fact that Ethan is the younger brother of David, the know-it-all in her class who seems to wind her up at every opportunity.

With that kind of summary, you can – if I’m being honest – spot where this is going a mile off. However, though it clearly signals its intentions, the novel quickly veers off in another direction and was definitely better for it.

We are treated in this novel to a story that explores the issue of autism and how it can impact on everyone’s lives. We are treated to a rather sweet romance. We are also treated – and I think this was, by far, the best bit – to a frank exploration of the more complex thoughts and feelings that might be part of the experience of someone living with a family member with autism. Claire and David don’t always get things right, and they certainly have some lessons to learn about themselves and their siblings.

‘What Light’ – Jay Asher

What Light

The cover is unashamedly highlighting that this is a romance, and though it is described as ‘unforgettable’ I wasn’t totally engaged by it.

Sierra has got used to upping sticks and moving across country for Christmas every year so she can help her parents with their tree lot. Heavy on the seasonal influence, this is the kind of book best suited to reading when the nights are drawing in, it’s cold and Christmas is just around the corner.

On the occasion that we first meet Sierra we are told that this might be the last year that she and her parents will go to the lot. With her visit already touched by sadness, it is somewhat inevitable that Sierra is then going to find herself falling for Caleb, a local boy who has a bad reputation.

After a few weeks of angst and some issues with parents/friends worrying about the impact this relationship will have on Sierra, we’re then left with a lovely moment indicating this relationship might go somewhere. It is left rather up in the air, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt anyone to realise that not every issue will be resolved. It would take a very hard-hearted person to not be moved by the ending, and there were some interesting thoughts explored. Ultimately, sadly, it never really gripped me in the way it was intended.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘The Masked Truth’ – Kelly Armstrong

I found the start of this really got me hooked.

We watch Riley as she prepares to start her impromptu evening baby-sitting…only to end up cowering under the bed with her young charge as the adults are murdered.

The action then moves on to show Riley has become seen as quite the hero, though she feels guilt about her role in events, and is encouraged to take part in a group therapy weekend.

Involvement in this event is, perhaps naturally, something she is not keen to participate in. What follows is, honestly, beyond belief and though it was interesting enough as I was reading it will not – I’m pretty certain – be that memorable.

It’s giving nothing away to reveal that once the weekend starts – and the teens involved are without phones or any other means to communicate with the outside world – we learn that they are taken captive. Naturally, given the subject, there’s some violence, and the focus on Max and his schizophrenia might be hard for some to read.

Just when you think you’re keeping up with events, you start to realise that we’re always one step behind!

‘Twenty Questions for Gloria’ – Martyn Bedford

Twenty Questions for Gloria

Gloria was missing for over two weeks, and nobody had any idea where she was. All they knew is that she was likely to be with Uman, a new boy in the area who seemed to have a hold over Gloria.

There’s no getting away from the fact that Gloria is an incredibly selfish character, who really seems most naïve in some ways. She is suffering from a state of perpetual boredom, and is clearly struggling to feel loved in a family where her brother has left for university and her parents are busy with their own interests. It’s little surprise that when Uman comes along she falls quite heavily for him. He’s different, doesn’t want to do the same things as her friends and has a strong sense of self-confidence that must be very appealing for a young girl who is so full of self-doubt.

When we first meet Gloria she is sitting with her mother in a police interview room, about to speak with the police about where she has been for the last fifteen days. Slowly, we are told some of the details about how she and Uman arrived at the decision to leave their homes and what they did during the time they were away. Gloria’s parents and the police seem convinced that Uman manipulated her into running away, but Gloria’s story denies this.

Throughout the story I have to confess to thinking how immature the two main characters were. Simply using ‘big words’ doesn’t make you clever, and the issues that they face when they are hiding out reveals clearly just how ill-equipped they are for looking after themselves.

There are hints throughout that there is more to Uman’s story than Gloria is told; we never get a satisfactory answer to this. This had the potential to be a great story – sadly, it never quite got there in my view.


‘All of the Above’ – Juno Dawson (published as James Dawson)

all of the above

‘All of the Above’ is one of those books that I wish I’d been able to read as a teenager as Dawson has such a distinctive voice, exploring some of the concerns you might face with candour. That said, it isn’t exactly comfortable reading. I picked this up as it’s on the nominations for Carnegie 2017, but all I could think was I’ll never get this into our school library!

When Toria moves to the back of beyond she imagines hiding out until school finishes. What she gets instead is a rather unusual group of new friends, and some interesting experiences.

There is a small warning on the back about strong language, but exploring sexuality and showing teenagers drinking/drug-taking means this is going to be one of those novels that will get some het up about the content rather than focusing on its relevance. There is a knowingness to this that could be off-putting, and I sensed some editorial judgements that led to a real conflict. The word ‘f***k’ was starred throughout the novel, yet other terms that might be considered more derogatory were used without concern and printed in full. I’d be interested to know the background to this decision, but I did feel it painted a somewhat skewed picture of this group of teens. 

Ignoring those reactions, the story itself was compelling for what it showed us about the friendships within it. Toria veers between self-obsessed drama queen and painstakingly shy – but her hesitancy and discomfort in her own skin was very real. Polly is a force to be reckoned with; not always likeable but eminently lovable. Beasley was a guy that had you rooting for him to get his happy ending. Daisy…think I’m in love! Her struggle was dealt with sympathetically, but without it all being too saccharine. Nico could have been a character to loathe, but he’s a good guy who just happens to not be the one for that moment.

While there were bits I was less keen on – the whole crazy golf setting became wearing – I felt Dawson captured well that sense of self-doubt. This was a novel that bravely shows sometimes people get it wrong, and that’s okay.

‘Wicked’ – Sara Shepard


There is a part of me that thinks I am suffering a little from series overkill with this fifth book in the series, as it really didn’t grab me in the same way as the others.

This instalment begins with Ali’s presumed killer locked up, and A is assumed dead. Naturally, just when you think things are going to calm down, the whole story goes off in a direction you weren’t expecting. We are treated to Spencer acting in increasingly irrational ways; Emily decides she fancies a boy; Hanna gets together with a nice boy but is so determined to remain popular that she acts in truly appalling fashion and Aria gets a little close for comfort to her mum’s new boyfriend.

Although we have already met Kate, Hanna’s step-sister to be, she really steps up here and is more than a little irritating. The show certainly benefits from clever editing, but even in the books I am struck by just how dumb the adult characters are shown to be. How can all this stuff be going on around them and nobody notice?

While I am able to gloss over the increasingly frustrating clothing references (perhaps it’s my age) I was really not enjoying this. However, it picked up towards the end and does just enough to get our curiosity about Wilden aroused. While I will continue reading the series, it won’t be for some time…back to Netflix where we haven’t got some of the best characters bumped off!


‘Silver Stars’ -Michael Grant

Silver Stars

It is the summer of 1943 and our women soldiers, with the cries of battle fresh in their ears, are being shipped out – with the rest of the American army – to conquer the Italian island of Sicily.

With some time having passed since I read the first in the series, it did take a little time to get back in the heads of Frangie, Rainy and Rio though they remain fascinating characters. Once again Grant blends the historical detail with masterful storytelling to create the kind of book that you want to devour in one sitting, but also savour for what it tells us about war and our attitudes to fighting.

As Grant points out, he tones down the reality faced by those at war and that’s a sobering thought. The accounts of battle are vivid, and it is as if we are alongside the soldiers through their experiences. Too often, there were details I’d rather not have to think about, but I think that simply shows why books such as this are needed.

I felt mixed emotions while reading this. I felt frustration at the situations these men and women were placed in; I felt annoyed by the casual sexism and racism that was faced; I was dismayed at the seeming ineptness of some of those in charge, but my overwhelming feeling was of intense admiration for those who can face their worst fears as these characters do.

I received a copy from edelweiss in exchange for my honest thoughts, and I have to thank them – and Grant himself – for giving me the opportunity to read this.


‘Demon Road 3:American Monsters’ -Derek Landy

American Monsters

In the third in the series, Amber and Milo are on the trail of her parents – while also trying to work out how to double-cross the demon Astaroth.

While I find the relationship between Milo and Amber fun, and there are some great humorous scenes here, I do feel that a lot of the violence is unnecessary and this detracts from the good elements of the book (sorry to those fans who are, no doubt, cursing me now).

As we watch Amber’s journey we see her relationships with a number of characters develop in rather unexpected ways. Unfortunately, there were just one too many incidental journeys/events that meant this felt a little dragged-out to me.

Towards the end, as we started to explore Amber’s reaction to events, I felt we got back on track. Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in advance of publication, but I’ve felt less engaged with this series as it’s progressed and it’s a shame as it started so well.

‘Perfect’ – Sara Shepherd


Although I wasn’t expecting some of the events that we’ve seen so far, I have to say that I think this is the best of the first three books in the series.

There was, naturally, a little less linking back to events and I got the impression that certain details are being put in place for us that might only make sense as we progress through the series. There felt to be more interruption from A, and I loved the fact that there was a more menacing tone to the notes/messages.

A lot of the focus in this novel is on Emily and her uncertainty over her sexuality. She has a refreshingly honest relationship with Maya and I felt really angered by the reaction of her parents and some of the other characters to what was revealed. I also found myself wondering how Mona turned so quickly, and Spencer’s behaviour is definitely setting off alarm bells. I can’t be the only one surprised at the apparent ease with which certain characters are getting injured/bumped off, so I’m wondering just who is going to be left soon!

‘The Naturals’ – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals

Seventeen year old Cassie has a natural talent – she can read people, and is adept at working out their likes and interests from observation. This is a skill that she’s always had, and refined with her mother’s help. Unfortunately, since her mother’s disappearance – and presumed death – Cassie hasn’t felt comfortable with her talent.

Then one day the FBI come calling and try to enlist Cassie in their new program, using teenagers with exceptional abilities to profile cases that haven’t been solved. Determined to try and find out more about what happened to her mother, Cassie enlists – and gets a lot more than she bargained for!

While the whole idea might be seen as preposterous, this is a highly entertaining novel that will be of interest. There are some graphic details connected to murders, but nothing like the level of detail that some writers seem intent on giving us.

I enjoyed seeing how Cassie got on with the other teenagers she is placed with. They are all damaged in some way, but the relationships that Cassie forges were interesting.

At one or two moments the story felt slow, but when we are introduced to the serial killer currently at work – who seems to be linked to Cassie in some way – it becomes a lot more intriguing. Throughout I was trying to second-guess just who was involved, and how, but I was totally off!