‘Gardenia’ – Kelsey Sutton

Seventeen-year-old Ivy Erickson has one month, twenty-seven days, four hours, fifty-nine minutes, and two seconds to live.

There’s no getting away from the fact that knowing the exact amount of time you have to live would be draining. How do you live your life knowing exactly how long you have left with the people you interact with?

Ivy has become accustomed to seeing the numbers above people’s heads. Their individual countdowns vary, but Ivy is never wrong. This is bad enough, but to know your death date is highly likely to mess with your head.

In some ways this reminded me of Numbers by Rachel Ward, but in Gardenia we have a little more going on. Ivy’s best friend, Vanessa, was murdered and people in her town are convinced Ivy knows something. When more girls disappear, Ivy realises she has to do something. Only, time is running out and every moment counts.

The character of Ivy was quite sane for someone living with such a terrible burden. I liked how part of this focused on her coming to terms with things and how she interacts with people.

I was gripped by this, but I confess to finding the ending rather rushed. I also don’t feel we got any attempt to satisfy our curiosity about exactly what was going on with the numbers.

Anyway, thanks to publishers Diversion and NetGalley for the advance copy.

‘Lobsters’ – Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

‘Socially awkward’ is a fitting phrase for this…I couldn’t believe some of the stuff that was happening to Sam and Hannah and their friends.

Our groups of almost eighteen year olds are on the cusp of adulthood, and we watch them in their summer before heading off to university. We get the inevitable post-exam analysis; the drunken fumbles; the changing issues around friendships; a growing sense of needing to become independent and the highlights of summer-holiday and festival.

Throughout this I was laughing out loud at so many moments. I was also groaning, cringing and torn between being thankful I am long past that age and desperately wanting to return to that time, where anything seems possible.

I liked the characters of Hannah and Sam, and their somewhat disastrous attempts to get into any kind of romantic situation. Knowing the focus was on the love story I was holding out for a relatively hopeful ending – but I was really wondering just what else could get in their way.

The split in narrative really made this, and though this might not fit all teenagers there’s something that most will relate to. The dual perspective was used to maximum effect when we were focusing on the Hannah and Sam relationship – excellent stuff!

Can’t wait for Freshers…roll on August 2017…

‘The Last of August’ – Brittany Cavallaro

I’d thoroughly enjoyed the first in this series, and though this was fun it wasn’t quite as gripping. The focus of our story on this occasion is the disappearance of Holmes’s uncle Leander while he is investigating an undercover art-ring. Holmes and Watson travel to Berlin, with Holmes single-minded in her attempt to discover the whereabouts of her uncle and who is behind the strange goings-on at the Holmes estate.

Perhaps it was time to unleash the nemesis, but in this book Holmes is heavily reliant on August Moriarty. Though many believe him to be dead, he is alive and well – and very much needed as the numerous Moriarty family members that pop  up here are all connected to this forged artwork in some way.

Holmes plays a lot of cards close to her chest in this, and we are never quite sure what’s going on. There’s the merest hint that Holmes and Watson will get closer – but their ‘friendship’ is pretty toxic and messy. There’s a story here, but we’re not being told it yet. While it might have been therapeutic for them to develop their relationship, I think maintaining this distance actually makes them more intriguing.

All in all this is a story that develops the characters for us and sets us against a backdrop of a mystery – but never quite giving us what we’re expecting.

‘The Perfect Stranger’ – Megan Miranda

This must have been a difficult book to write, and early reviews strongly suggest just how hard it is to live up to a great debut. While it was not as instantly appealing as All the Missing Girls, I enjoyed this thoroughly.

In this story we focus on Leah, a journalist, who has taken up a new career as a teacher. After fabricating a source on a big news story (or so people think) Leah is forced out of her job and is definitely struggling to reconcile her need to get to the truth of the story and see justice done with her ability to live her life. Alongside Leah’s story we watch an unfolding murder investigation that may or may not be linked to Leah’s roommate, who may or may not exist.

The opening of the story was odd in mood, and it did take a while to really start piecing ideas together. However, as we learn more about the characters and their roles I was furiously trying to work out which twists were important.

For me this only really came together once I’d finished it, but it’s an intriguing idea and one that is rather unsettling.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.

‘Select’ – Marit Wiesenberg

Coming from a race of highly-evolved humans, Julia Jaynes has the perfect life. The perfect family. The perfect destiny. But there’s something rotten beneath the surface–dangerous secrets her father is keeping; abilities she was never meant to have; and an elite society of people determined to keep their talents hidden and who care nothing for the rest of humanity. So when Julia accidentally disrupts the Jaynes’ delicate anonymity, she’s banished to the one place meant to make her feel inferior: public high school.  

Julia’s goal is to lay low and blend in. Then she meets him–John Ford, tennis prodigy, all-around good guy. When Julia discovers a knack for reading his mind, and also manipulating his life, school suddenly becomes a temporary escape from the cold grip of her manipulative father. But as Julia’s powers over John grow, so do her feelings. For the first time in her life, Julia begins to develop a sense of self, to question her restrictive upbringing and her family prejudices. She must decide: can a perfect love be worth more than a perfect life?

When I read this, I was excited. It sounds like the perfect blend of a number of elements that I usually find appealing. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite come off as successfully as I’d hoped.

There was nothing particularly bad about this, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. It really does have the potential to be a great book; at the moment, it’s far from perfect.

I wanted to know more about Julia’s family and the past of the group. I wanted some different perspectives to offer some variety. I would have been happy to have at least some of my questions about the skills Julia has and John’s role in the group answered…

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication. Due for release in October 2017 I can’t help but hope that there’ll be some changes made before it’s released.

‘The Hidden Gallery (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place)’ – Maryrose Wood

Thanks to their plucky governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia are much more like children than wolf cubs now. They are accustomed to wearing clothes. They hardly ever howl at the moon. And for the most part, they resist the urge to chase squirrels up trees.

Yet the Incorrigibles are not entirely civilized, and still managed to ruin Lady Constance’s Christmas ball… So while Ashton Place is being restored, Penelope, the Ashtons, and the children take up residence in London. As they explore the city, Penelope and the Incorrigibles discover more about themselves as clues about the children’s-and Penelope’s own-mysterious past crop up in the most unexpected ways…

Just before their journey to London Penelope receives an unusual illustrated guide to London, the like of which has never before been seen, from her ex-headmistress and it’s evident that something odd is going on.

Characters who don’t seem to exist, strange noises from the attic, an obsession with charting the phases of the moon and people attempting to attack the children. There’s no escaping the fact that people are hiding things; the question is who, and why?

There’s the usual chaos surrounding the children, and Penelope’s determination to hang onto the power of education is amusing. Though it’s good fun, the clues about the origins of the children and suggestion that Penelope is linked were never developed fully and this felt rather short on answers.

‘What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible’ – Ross Welford

Having loved Time Travelling With A Hamster I was looking forward to this one.

Ethel lives with her grandmother as her mother is dead, and she knows nothing of her father. She has such severe acne that she resorts to purchasing a herbal remedy online. This ointment, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to do much to cure her acne…but taking it before she goes on a sun-bed has an unexpected side-effect. She becomes invisible!

There’s some lovely comic scenes where Ethel attempts to help her friend Elliot out. There’s an endearing quality to Ethel that shines off the page, and it was good to a genuine friendship between a boy and a girl.

Family, just as in Welford’s debut, is central to the book and there’s many links to it here. There are some unexpected developments in the course of the story, and this is a novel about finding yourself that will entertain and move you.

‘Twelve Minutes to Midnight’ – Christopher Edge

Orphaned Penelope Tredwell has taken on the mantle of publishing the magazine, The Penny Dreadful, after the death of her father. It’s 1899 so, as a young girl, she is expected to act with a certain decorum – which is at odds with her fascination with the macabre. Though she has raised circulation of the periodical by writing under the pseudonym of Montgomery Filch it is a time where nobody could believe a young girl would be capable of such writing, so Penelope is forced to pay a jobbing actor to pretend to be the writer in a bid to boost publicity.

A letter is sent to Mr Filch by a doctor at the notorious Bedlam asylum. Upon investigation Penelope learns that at precisely twelve minutes to midnight the inmates of Bedlam rise out of their beds and start feverishly scribbling what seem like nonsensical words and ideas on anything they can lay their hands on. Caught up in this real-life adventure, Penelope learns that these scribblings are being engineered, as someone is determined to use these visions as a way of predicting the future.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and we are plunged into a crazy world. Edge creates an authentic setting, and his style of writing is entertaining. I loved the range of vocabulary and literary skill evident here. Though this is targeted at upper primary/lower secondary age students, it is definitely one for more confident readers – but if you like Lemony Snicket then this should be right up your street.

‘Orbiting Jupiter’ – Gary Schmidt

This story is told through the eyes of our young narrator, Jack, and focus on how he copes when his family get fourteen year old Joseph – a young father who has been in detention after attacking a teacher – come to live with them.

Joseph is the kind of boy that many are quite happy to regard as trouble. He is mercilessly bullied by a trio of boys in his new school, and many of the teachers are convinced that he is bringing down the better students. He is, in many ways, a boy more sinned against than sinning – we never get all the details (thankfully) but what we are told about his behaviour suggests strongly that he has been abused while in care and that he does not come from a supportive family background.

However, Jack’s family judge a person’s character on how their animals react to them. Joseph is able to calm down the family cow, so he’s okay. A rathe simple approach, but it allows Joseph to bloom. As he relaxes in this new environment, he starts to share some of the details of his past. Unsurprisingly, things are not as we were led to believe at the start.

Just when there was a hint of something positive happening, we’re sideswiped by a move so shocking I wasn’t sure I’d read it correctly. Abrupt, certainly, but it did get me emotionally.

This is a very quick read, and I think I’d have liked to have had details fleshed out a little more or spent a bit more time with these characters. However, I really did feel an awful lot of stuff was packed into these pages…perhaps I couldn’t have coped with more.

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance.

‘The Secret’ – Katerina Diamond

You don’t have to have read The Teacher before you read this, but it would definitely help – if only to understand a little the rather odd dynamic in the relationship of Miles and Grey, and the very graphic violence featured unrelentingly.

The blurb for the book tells us…

Bridget Reid has a secret, one that could get her killed… If she can escape the man who is keeping her locked in a basement bedroom.

DS Imogen Grey is good at keeping secrets – truths she’d never reveal to her colleagues at Exeter Police. She worked hard to get where she is – she nearly died for it. Now her past is catching up with her…

As DS Grey and her partner DS Adrian Miles search for Bridget, they uncover a terrifying web of abuse, betrayal and murder. And they realise that some secrets are better left buried…

An undercover cop (Bridget) escapes when the other prostitutes in her house are killed. Someone is onto her…Imogen Grey becomes entangled in this case, and it quickly becomes apparent that there’s links to what happened to Grey a couple of years ago.

We jump timeframes a lot – and, on occasion, I found myself having to check where we were – but this was, for me, one of the most compelling parts of the book. As we slowly come to work out the links between the characters, and see that sometimes the bad guy can be right under your nose, I was desperate to work out just how things would connect.

The end, which suggests we could be in for another story following Adrian’s attempt to bring down his ex-wife’s new partner, both frustrated and excited me.

A departure from my normal reading, and not a genre I’m totally at ease with because of the seemingly increasing need to torture characters in increasingly violent ways. However, here it is evident that the details do shed light on the characters and the set-up we are being asked to witness. Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in return for my review.