‘Time Bomb’ – Joelle Charbonneau

A story about trying to find your place, and working out just how far you’ll go to make people accept you for who you are.

This is a tense read, which will thrill and captivate readers. With a cast of six key characters there is someone you are likely to identify with.

Charbonneau starts by introducing our cast. We get to see them all before the action starts: Diana (the senator’s daughter/perfect student); new girl, Cas (about to start a new school after being bullied); Palestinian-American Rashid (conflicted about his place in society); class nobody Z (who has been coping with his mother’s death and is about to be evicted at the start of the novel); Frankie, star football player and Tad, the mixed-race gay student who is a little closer to Frankie than people realise. They each have their dark secret and issues that impact on their daily lives. They each are desperate to be recognised for who they really are. But only one of them is desperate enough to cause chaos at their school.

While it seems slow and rather cumbersome to introduce us to so many characters and switch between them throughout the novel, it’s a useful tactic to keep us guessing about just who has done what and where it will end up.

A bit like some of those 80s movies the group who seem to have little in common end up stuck together when a series of bombs hit their school. They have to work together to try and survive, and to determine just how desperate each of them is to make their mark.

It was quickly apparent who was likely to be responsible for the events, but this was a tense read as we watch the teenagers struggle with themselves and their situation. It doesn’t end happily for everyone, but for those who do survive we get a flash of how it impacts on them.

‘The Truth and Lies of Ella Black’ – Emily Barr

I’ve loved the other books by Emily Barr that I’ve read, but this didn’t quite work as I’d hoped.

The premise sounds great.

Seventeen year old Ella has a perfect life. There’s hints of a dysfunctional personality when she refers to herself as Bella (Bad Ella, the one who says what she really thinks) and some details that are given to make more credible what is revealed later. One day she is taken out of school and whisked off to Rio by her parents. There she makes some pretty startling discoveries, and it launches a rather incredible series of events.

Ella seemed a little caricatured initially, and this split personality is part-explained later but it doesn’t really fit together. Once in Rio she doesn’t really push for answers, being more content to pursue the hot American staying in her hotel. Of course, they fall in love and he supports her in spite of the kind of chaos that would have most people running a mile! There’s a few near misses, but nothing too awful happens and Ella just happens to bump into kind-hearted characters who all help her out.

I can’t understand why so many reviewers have said they didn’t finish this, but it isn’t a particularly believable story and there isn’t enough detail about the characters of most interest to me.

Still, thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

‘Lucky Girl’ – Amanda Maciel

Thank you to publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication. A hard-hitting and topical read, that will probably appeal to teen readers.

Rosie is one of those girls it would be easy to hate. Pretty and popular, she is used to using her looks to get what she wants. Initially, she seems shallow and quite unlikeable and definitely not a good friend to Maddie. However, Maciel tries to show there’s more to Rosie than people realise.

After her best friend returns from a summer in Spain, Rosie is jealous of her new relationship. Sadly, she ends up in a situation she can’t control and feels alone after she is assaulted by her ex. There’s no graphic description of the assault, and alongside the current media focus on sexual harassment it’s important to get teen readers exploring just what constitutes assault. Sadly I think there’ll be many teen readers who will recognise what happens to Rosie as an all-too-familiar story, and all too many who will think Rosie is wrong to question what happens to her.

Sadly, the novel felt like a powerful idea that didn’t quite work out. I personally felt I got too side-tracked by the plots surrounding Sophie’s relationship with her sister, and her friendship with Alex. Throwing in a best gay friend story felt like too many bases were being covered to really explore any in depth.

‘Little Fires Everywhere’ – Celeste Ng

In Shaker Heights people live by the rules, and anyone who doesn’t follow those rules is regarded with suspicion. Someone like Isabelle Richardson, youngest daughter of the Richardson clan, is seen as something of an outsider. When she leaves the family home, having burned it to the ground, people are convinced she has finally gone mad. What on earth could have caused such an action?

Initially I found it hard to place this story. We jumped from the fire – which immediately roused my curiosity – to mother and daughter, Mia and Pearl, who have moved to the area and are renting a home from Elena Richardson. How could these very different characters be linked?

Though it felt slow to get going, there’s no doubt that this is the kind of story that rewards looking beneath the surface. Having introduced us to the key characters we are then shown a little of their interactions, their past and we get a clear sense of who they are as characters.

Mia and Pearl seem destined to cause upset in the area, but it isn’t immediately obvious just how much damage will be done.

The side-story of Elena’s friends trying to adopt an abandoned Chinese baby seemed to come from nowhere, but it helps us to learn more about the background to some of our key players and to come to understand their motivation for acting as they do. It also allowed our younger characters the opportunity to explore their own views on identity and motherhood.

An enigmatic read, that I would highly recommend. Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my review.

‘The Child Finder’ – Rene Denfield

A book whose impact will be felt long after the story is finished.

Our main character, Naomi,  finds missing children. Sometimes they are alive, sometimes they are not. What matters is that she, like the parents, never forgets. Her determination to do her best by these children is compelling, but we learn early on that it stems from her own experiences. We’re never told exactly what happened to Naomi, but it’s all too obvious that it drives her…completely.

In this novel Naomi is asked to investigate the disappearance of Madison, a young girl who disappeared three years ago when her parents drove out to the mountains to cut their own Christmas tree. Most people are convinced the child, who was five at the time, died that day in the woods, but we know different.

I was initially nervous that this would be a bloody, violent read. How do you write a book about what happens to a missing child without being crass? Inevitably, the matter of how to write about abuse and Stockholm syndrome is one that has to be contended with. This is where the character of Naomi is so important.

The book switches from Naomi’s investigation to Madison’s experience trapped in a deserted cabin. Yes, there are inevitably details that you wish weren’t there but – amazingly – we are caught up in a cycle of awful experiences and all the characters involved are treated respectfully (perhaps too much so in the case of B).

The Child Finder will not be to everyone’s tastes, but this was a dark tale that felt it needed telling. Thank you NetGalley for providing me with the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘Shadow Weaver’ – MarcyKate Connolly

Emmeline has a skill, one which terrifies those around her. She can talk to Shadows, and manipulate them to her own purposes. Since she was little this has been a source of comfort to her, though it scares everyone in her house. When her family prepare to let her be taken to the mysterious Lady Aisling who says she can cure such children, Emmeline believes she has to run.

We follow Emmeline on her adventure as she journeys away from her home. She meets Lucas, a young man with his own talent. The question, however, is who can Emmeline trust?

I had suspicions throughout the story and there’s no getting away from the fact that you get what you are expecting. In spite of the reader probably guessing that Emmeline will be betrayed in the worst possible way, the story is well-told and I think younger readers will empathise with Emmeline’s situation.

Thank you NetGalley for sending the advance copy in exchange for my review.

‘How Will I Know You?’ – Jessica Treadway

Thank you NetGalley for this ARC. Something of a slow read, creating a small cast of characters and revealing, bit by bit, how they may or may not be instrumental in the death of Joy Enright, a high school senior.

When Joy’s body is found it is first thought to be a tragic accident. But then police reveal she was strangled and it becomes a murder investigation.

Her parents are devastated, but the experience raises awkward questions about the state of their family affairs and their interpersonal relationships. Alongside the immediate family we have Tom, a jack-of-all trades who was one of the last to see the girl alive and who is the son-in-law of one of the investigating police officers. The Detective is not portrayed positively – seen through the eyes of someone he does not have a good relationship with – and questions are raised as to whether he subverted the course of justice in his quest to become Chief of police. Added into the mix is talented artist, Martin, who had been having an affair with Joy’s mother.

There were times I found my attention drifting here. The split perspectives means it’s hard to really become invested in anybody. It meant the characters never became particularly likeable, and once we had the insight into Joy’s story at the end it was frustrating because it was clear to see how just one different action could have sparked a very different chain of events. Ultimately, though, that is part of the book’s charm.

‘The Cruel Prince’ – Holly Black

An unexpected treat, and very different to the Magisterium series. Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication (scheduled for January 2018).

As you may expect from Black, there’s plotting, intrigue, darkness and something otherworldly. I was uncertain at the beginning simply because it took a while to get into the character of Jude. However, as we pick up pace and start to see more of what’s going on it becomes more and more intriguing.

From the outset it seemed inevitable that the characters we thought we could trust might not be quite what they seem. There’s plenty of little details spread throughout the book that we only see the significance of later. I loved the premise of this, and the blending of fae and mortal worlds was deftly done.

Typically, we’re left with many questions for part two but this was a cracking start to the series. I’ll post a more detailed review/update after publication.

‘The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ – Stuart Turton

The rules of Aiden Bishop’s incarceration are simple. Every night at 11.00pm Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed. You have eight hosts, from whose perspective you will see the day re-run, and eight days in which to solve the murder. Once you reveal the name of Evelyn’s murderer you’re free to leave Blackheath.
That is all you are told before starting, so there’s enough to pique your interest but you’re left alone to find out the extent to which Aiden is manipulated through the course of the day.

There was a wonderful cast of characters in this. As we follow Aiden through his time, and start to learn a little of what he is required to do, we really get under the skin of these people. Not all of them were pleasant, but there was something compelling about seeing events through the different perspectives.

For me, the appeal was the twisting structure of this. I’ll admit it required focus on occasion to try and draw events together, and to keep track of the bodies into which Aiden was thrown. However, for a devoted fan of Quantum Leap this was like pulling on a cosy jumper and being let loose in a familiar setting.

I couldn’t trust anyone, and I even doubted Aiden’s sanity at times. The linking of this event to a murder many years previously was a master stroke, though it does make sense once we’re in possession of some key details.

Hugely entertaining, and an intriguing idea (which you’ll be desperate to talk about once someone’s read it) that deserves to become a book to be talked about.
Thank you NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review.