‘Fix Me’ – Lisa M. Cronkhite

Pen is, to put it bluntly, a mess. Since her sister committed suicide a year ago, Pen has done everything she can to avoid dealing with her feelings about it. She and her friend Rose have spent the last year experimenting with Fix, a once legal anti-depressant that has become the go-to drug since it produces intense hallucinations.

When we first meet Pen she is high. She spends most of her time high, getting into more dangerous situations. While she recognises that she is playing a dangerous game, Pen is addicted to Nate – the ‘imaginary’ guy she sees during her highs.

Initially this seemed like an odd read. Pen is not a likeable character, but as we start to get hints of odd things happening around her she becomes a little more intriguing. At one point I wondered if she was doing something while under the influence, but her unreliability keeps us uncertain.

As one girl after another disappears it becomes clear that something very dangerous is going on. We question everyone, and there were moments when it seemed that Pen’s life was in danger for reasons other than the drug-taking.

I did feel that there were elements of the ending that were less satisfactory, but it was definitely an engaging story that will get under your skin. Thanks to publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication in exchange for my review.

‘Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle’ – Gabrielle Kent

Alfie Bloom’s life is dull. Dull and lonely, and this summer is set to be the most boring yet. All of that changes when he is summoned to the bizarre offices of mysterious solicitor, Caspian Bone, where he discovers he has inherited a castle full of wonders that has been sealed for centuries. Alfie is astounded to learn he was born in that very castle six hundred years ago during a magical timeslip. There, Orin Hopcraft, the last of the druids hid an ancient magic inside him, which others seek but should never be used. With the help of his cousins Madeleine and Robin, and Artan the flying bearskin rug, Alfie must keep the magic from terrifying adversaries and ensure that the secrets of Hexbridge castle stay secret, forever!

From the moment he arrives at Hexbridge Castle Alfie gets the feeling that this is a good place. However, it’s clear that there are secrets being hidden…and that they involve his new head teachers.

This is an exciting read for younger readers, with just a hint of terror. There are elements of the novel that can be found in a number of other popular stories for this age-group, but it doesn’t seem overly-similar . Great fun, and the events were left in a good place for book two.

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and for Alfie that is certainly the case!


‘Lies She Told’ – Cate Holahan

Scheduled for publication in September 2017, I must thank Crooked Lane Books publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

Our plot focuses on Liza, a novelist who hasn’t been able to reproduce the dizzy heights of her debut novel. We meet her as she is struggling to work out the plot of her next novel. It’s hard to focus on writing though as she’s undergoing fertility treatment, desperate for a child, and her husband’s work partner has disappeared.

We regularly switch to chapters of the work in progress. Here we follow the character of Beth, a young mother who learns that her husband is having an affair. We watch as Beth follows the adulterous couple, eventually killing the other woman, a police officer.

From the outset it was hard to keep focused on which parts of this story were Liza’s and which belonged to the fiction of Beth. Their voices were very similar, and the details from both stories were clearly intertwined.

There’s a moment in the book where Liza says “Blurring fact and fantasy is my trade. I am a con artist. A prevaricator. I make up stories. So why does he think this one is real?” This, for me, was the essence of the story-what was reality, and what was fiction?

A rather difficult one to get into initially, but it was certainly worth it.

‘Before I Let Go’ – Marieke Nijkamp

I’d really enjoyed This is Where it Ends, so was excited to be authorised to read an ARC of this by NetGalley and the publishers. Unfortunately, it didn’t hold quite the same appeal.

While the story focuses on some interesting topics – mental health, sexuality, suicide – it’s not the kind of book I think I’ll remember much about later. A bit like The Smell of Other People’s Houses there was something that jarred with me.

Our main character, Corey, has been at boarding school for a few months, and she’s desperate to get back to Lost Creek (her remote Alaskan village of 247 residents). Unfortunately, just before her scheduled return she gets the news that her best friend is dead.

Corey returns home, but she is treated as an outsider. People don’t talk to her, she is convinced she hears strange things outside her room and she can’t reconcile what she remembers of the place with what is in front of her months later. Nothing is as she left it, and though she has questions about what happened to her friend, nobody seems willing to give her answers. Corey is determined to find out what happened, but she isn’t aware of what price she may have to pay.

The depiction of the Alaskan village was atmospheric, but we got very little about the other characters which made it hard to understand their motivation. The timeframe jumped all over the place, and this gave everything a disjointed feel that I found off-putting.


‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ – Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant…a truly remarkable character.

Honeyman strikes a perfect balance in her portrayal of Miss Eleanor Oliphant. She is socially awkward, blunt to the point of rudeness, and has a clear defined structure to her life. All the signs point to her being on the autistic spectrum, possibly the quirky kind of character that you may find it hard to understand. Though it’s clear that people who encounter her think she’s somewhat bonkers, I never felt that we were given anything other than a sympathetic account of her.

The narrative is split into three sections: good days, bad days and better days. As you’d expect, we see Eleanor go through her daily life and we slowly come to see there’s a bit more to her than the surface oddness.

Our understanding of Eleanor comes as she becomes friends with her co-worker, Raymond. It would have been easy for this to turn into a romance, and I was pleased that Eleanor and Raymond’s relationship focused on the platonic bond, and the benefits to each of them of having someone to share things with. There were some genuinely funny moments as these two awkward people find a way to interact with someone else. Yet there were genuinely emotional moments that rather wrung me dry.

I felt somewhat awkward as I read about Eleanor’s visit to a salon for a waxing session, or her comment ‘it sounds gibberish’ to the hairdresser setting up her new style…there are definite traits that many of us could recognise in ourselves.

It’s not until quite late on in the novel that we learn the truth about Eleanor Oliphant, and by this point I admit to being quite beguiled by this woman. She is, indeed, completely fine.

‘Splintered’ – A.G. Howard

Wonderland and Alice’s adventures are very appealing, but what would you do if these things were real? For Alyssa Gardner, that is not something she has to worry about.

Ever since she was younger she’s been aware of the fact that she has a bond with Wonderland. She’s been teased throughout school for the rumours that she’s a descendant of Alice Liddell…but what would her peers do if they ever learned the truth about why her mother doesn’t live with them?

There’s all sorts going on here, and initially it felt a bit of a struggle to get into. Alyssa hears voices from bugs etc talking to her, and seems totally paranoid that she may be going mad (like her mother). What is clear early on is that strange things are afoot for her.

Alyssa ends up going down the rabbit hole and finds herself part of a twisted plan to end the curse on her family/sort out who should be Queen. She recognises Morpheus, the friend from her childhood who certainly appeals to her passionate inner self. But Alyssa also has to consider the love of her life, Jeb, who ends up journeying with her.

A rather surreal experience. We recognise characters from the story but there’s a ghoulish element to them…I imagine this could be turned into a great movie.

‘Freshers’ – Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Any book that can have you snorting with laughter and welling up (sometimes, simultaneously) gets a big thumbs up!
Freshers week is a particularly odd experience, and some of the memories are better than others. What this summed up so well was that mix of heady excitement at being independent, and utter terror at having to find your own way through things without relying on your safety-net.
Told through alternating views this was great fun. Phoebe and Luke have had very different school experiences…and their first term at university is similarly different. We veer from the first night Freshers ball, to the awkward moments as you try to remember any of the people you spent the first week glued to, through seminars and awkward relationship moments to the end of the first term..and so on.
A wonderful ensemble of characters. Some great comic moments, while also raising awareness of some more important issues.
It’s been a long time since I was in this situation, but it brought it all back. Bittersweet.

‘Eliza and her Monsters’ – Francesca Zappia

On the surface, this is a clever book packed full of graphics and interesting text to support the main narrative. But, beneath the surface, it’s a story about finding yourself, coming to accept your strengths/limitations and – in part – addressing mental health issues and thoughts about the role the internet has in our lives.

Eliza has always been introverted. She feels she doesn’t fit in with her sporty competitive family, preferring to spend her time online. Here she is not the oddball she feels in real life; here, she’s Lady Constellation, creator of Monstrous Seas…a webcomic like no other.

When new boy Wallace joins her school, she finds an unlikely ally. The growing friendship between these two was well-handled, and I liked that Zappia showed us suffering can come in numerous ways and it’s all about how we deal with it.

Of course, not everything goes as smoothly as we’d like. There are bumps along the way, but Eliza comes through a pretty tough time…smiling. For those who like their reading a little different, this will be right up their street.

‘You Don’t Know Me’ – Imran Mahmood

An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech. 
He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out.Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth. 
There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters:
Did he do it?

This was an interesting format-told through transcripts from court. We focus on our unnamed narrator, who is on trial for murder, and who gets to tell his story in his own words. This created a rather claustrophobic atmosphere, and though you wanted the narrator to stop talking at times – you can picture just how well some of the information given would have gone down – I admired the voice and the insight he tried to give into his existence.

Part of me expected a straightforward retelling of a story with a final focus on the decision. While we were given a story, it didn’t quite go as expected.

The actual telling of the story building up to the shooting for which he is in court meanders all over the place. We twist and turn as details are passed over because they don’t quite fit at this moment, and we have to trust our narrator knows what he’s doing. Given his position, it does make it hard to decide to what extent we’re getting a brave attempt to recreate his life for us, and how much we’re listening to the delusions of someone trying to escape justice.

The voice of the narrator is, sadly I think, representative of many young black men in court. Much is made of the advice he is given to ‘play the jury’ and to present himself in the best light possible. Does the truth matter? Our narrator thinks so, even if it doesn’t present him in the most favourable light. He is keen to stress that those judging him don’t know the reality of his life and are judging stereotypes.

The story unfolds quite slowly, but it worked. We learn what our narrator tells us about the events he is caught up in. Did he shoot the man? It almost doesn’t matter, as we’re so focused on his account of what he recalls. What I was frustrated by was the sense of inevitability to his experience.

I would like to thank NetGalley and publishers Michael Joseph for the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest review.

‘Yesterday’ – Felicia Yap

Described as the thriller of the year, I was intrigued when I saw this on NetGalley and, while I enjoyed it, I think there are some aspects that stopped it from being quite as good as I hoped.

In this world we have two types of people, Duos and Monos. Their whole existence is dominated by the need to record everything on Idiaries as their memory is limited.

So, what do you do when a murder is committed and you can only remember events of the day before? It makes it extremely difficult for those investigating the crime also.

As we flit between perspectives and time I have to confess it felt like we were being fed false details throughout. It was hard to work out who was reliable, and to what extent we should trust what we were seeing.

I enjoyed seeing Claire try to work out just how her husband knew the woman pulled from the river. It was interesting to try and put together just what secrets she was hiding. I really liked the character of the Detective-his obsession was understandable, and it certainly gave us an insight into the effect our identity has on our actions.

Where I lost interest somewhat was in the closing stages, once we thought we’d sorted out what had happened…only to have a whole new layer added in. This felt a step too far for me.