‘Select Few’ by Marit Weisenberg

After rejecting the cult-like influence of her father’s family, Julia moves into a fancy hotel in downtown Austin. But she finds herself alone except for her boyfriend, John–and her fears. Once again she’s suppressing her abilities, afraid her family will come for John when they find out he’s been developing abilities of his own in her presence. The FBI is also keeping a close eye on Julia hoping she can lead them to her father, Novak, as he’s wanted for questioning in his former assistant’s death.

With tensions high, Julia and John agree to go separate ways for the summer, paving the way for Julia to reunite with Angus, fellow outcast. Together they set out on a road trip to California to find Julia’s mom and a way into Novak’s secret underground world. Along the way Julia will learn the Puri perhaps aren’t the only humans evolving into something different. . . and that maybe she’s the leader her people have needed all along.

This book has to be read after ‘Select’ but we pick up events quickly and are soon reminded of the situation Julia has placed herself in.

Having chosen to leave her family, life is difficult for Julia. Hiding out in a hotel, with people hunting her father, Julia is desperate for answers but also needs to avoid doing things that could mean any of Novak’s visions come true.

Though she loves John, her worries for what could happen to an outsider dominate the early stages of the novel. This becomes more concerning as John seems to be developing his own special talents.

Initially a little slow, there’s a lot of focus on Julia trying to get answers to questions about herself, her family and what might happen in the future. There’s a rather dramatic closing section, but the possibilities for the future are exciting and I’m intrigued to see where this goes next.

Scheduled for release in October 2018, I have to thank the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of this.

‘Stranger’ by Karen David

Astor, Ontario. 1904.
A boy staggers out of the forest covered in blood and collapses at the feet of 16-year-old Emmy. While others are suspicious and afraid, Emmy is drawn to him. Is he really the monster the townsfolk say he is?
Astor, Ontario. 1994.
Megan arrives from London for her great grandmother Emmy’s 105th birthday. It should be a happy family occasion, but Megan is nursing a broken heart and carrying a secret she fears might consume her.

These two stories don’t, at first, seem to make sense or link. One story concerns Tom, a young boy who is found in the woods in 1904, and the other focuses on Megan, a young English girl who goes to visit her grandmother at a particularly turbulent time in her life.

The stories of Tom and Megan are, of course, linked but we don’t establish how until quite late on.

Initially the story felt a little slow, but as we start to piece together events and identify links between the two timeframes I found it an absorbing story. Both stories explore themes of loss, motherhood and identity but in quite different ways.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication.

‘Dead Girls’ by Abigail Tarttelin

When her best friend Billie is found murdered, eleven-year-old Thera – fearless and forthright – considers it her duty to find the killer. 
Aided by a Ouija board, Billie’s ghost, and the spirits of four other dead girls, she’s determined to succeed. The trouble with Thera, though, is that she doesn’t always know when to stop – and sometimes there’s a fine line between doing the right thing and doing something very, very bad indeed.

I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of this, and it is definitely a book to recommend. I was rather stunned to get comment on my Goodreads feedback from the author, and can’t resist posting her comment below.

This is a book that really should come with some kind of trigger warning as it explores topics that are hard to read about (sexuality, mental health, paedophilia, rape and murder) and I’d hate for someone to pick this up without some fore-knowledge of the content. However, it also forces us to confront some of our assumptions about children, sexuality and gender issues in a way that cannot – and really should not – be ignored.

Our narrator, Thera, is eleven when her best friend, Billie, is murdered.
We are placed firmly in Thera’s head and we follow the girls on their last night together as they play in their seemingly idyllic rural home. But Billie never makes it home and we watch as Thera learns of her friend’s disappearance.

For reasons that she reveals as we follow her story, Thera blames herself and comes to believe that she has to avenge her best friend’s murder. The girls have experimented with a ouija board, and Thera has a fierce intelligence that is cultivated by her family but which is feared by her peers (though they can’t articulate it). When Thera becomes convinced that dead girls are talking to her and Billie’s spirit is guiding her to find the murderer, it’s hard to decide the extent to which we trust this narrator.

This is a character that is firmly straddling the adult and child worlds: with a wide vocabulary and very adult turn of phrase one moment, and then very innocent and naive the next. While I think this is deliberate, and it forces us to consider how we treat children of this age and the way they are influenced by events around them, it occasionally grates. Like many adult readers will probably be, I was not entirely comfortable hearing the characters’ views on sex and sexuality (though I found it realistically presented). However, I do think that the novel raises some crucial issues surrounding how we talk to our children about how they present themselves and the potential harm we may be doing to our children in trying to shield them from some of the less pleasant aspects of life.

There was a rather confusing element to the story that does become clear towards the end, but I was stunned by the direction in which this went. Dark, utterly gripping and very very scary.

In response to my feedback on Goodreads, Tarttelin posted: I was so pleased to see an early reader “getting” where I was going…Although I appreciate it can be tough reading, I wanted to try talking about this!

‘All We Can Do Is Wait’ -Richard Lawson

Sometimes a book just comes along at the right time. Perhaps on another occasion I’d have been irritated by the pacing of this or the endings for some of the strands, but at this point it felt like a rather cathartic experience.

Five teenagers end up in hospital in Boston after a major disaster. Nobody can do anything but wait. And as they wait, they talk and share stories about their lives. Each is caught up in their own story – with their own suffering – but there is a commonality to their experience that bonds them as the hours tick by.

The most obviously interesting characters were Alexa and Jason because of their shared past. Their story really examined loss and how we each deal with tragedy. Yet it was Megan who I was most intrigued by, and there was something fitting about her story ending.

In all, a raw and strangely uplifting book about loss in its many forms.

‘The Smoke Thieves’ – Sally Green

A princess, a traitor, a hunter and a thief. Four teenagers with the fate of the world in their hands. Four nations destined for conflict.

Four key characters, and we switch perspectives so it can seem slow on occasion. However, the story puts in place a promising idea for the next part in the series.
We are introduced in turn to Tash (a young demon-hunter who risks her life every time she goes out), princess Catherine (a young girl forced to marry someone she’s never met), March (a servant who is determined to avenge the suffering of his people) and the bastard son of the prince, Edyon (a common thief).

It takes some time for us to work out what’s going on, and the crux of the story isn’t revealed until very near the end so it could leave some readers a little disappointed. I felt it took time to establish the voices of the different characters, and the mix of viewpoints inevitably left me feeling they weren’t as fleshed out as I’d have liked.

That said, the world is reasonably presented and there is plenty here to get your attention. The rather obvious love triangle seems unnecessary – I’d hope Catherine will come into her own as the series continues – and I remain unconvinced by the attempts to depict a relationship that is not heterosexual. However, the premise of the story and some of the secondary characters more than make up for the areas that don’t seem so successful.

‘Seed’ – Lisa Heathfield

A deeply upsetting story.

Pearl has known no place other than Seed, the place she lives with her family. The cult is terrifying in the way it operates, and I found it highly effective that Heathfield chose to write about events from Pearl’s perspective. Her naïveté is concerning, but it offers a compelling insight into some of the methods used to keep people within such an environment.

It’s tempting to think nothing would have changed were it not for the arrival of Ellis and his family, but there are signs that Pearl was beginning to question what happened around her home.

I was pleased that we were not given graphic descriptions of what we assume was happening at this place. What we were told was enough. Much of my time reading this was spent feeling anger at the people who perpetuate such regimes.
While the ending did not resolve everything, it gave us opportunity to digest the events and dream about what might come next.

‘Olivia Twist’ – Lorie Langdon

This re-imagining of the classic is a clever twist on a familiar tale.

In the opening pages we are introduced to the orphan born in the workhouse. Only in this book, our orphan is female and gets given the name ‘Oliver’ as a means to try and prevent awful things happening to her as she grows up in the workhouse. Thankfully, Langdon doesn’t follow the story of the Dickens’ tale, but she moves the action to eighteen years later when Olivia Brownlow is part of Victorian polite society.

At the point our story really starts, Olivia is trying hard to fit into polite society but she has a soft heart and cannot quite give up her past. When she crosses paths with a familiar face from her childhood on the streets, Olivia is plunged into a terrible situation: should she do what is expected of her, or follow her heart?

From the beginning this is a book that had me admiring the structure and plotting. I loved the knowing nods to the source material while providing us with a story that was entertaining in its own right.

‘The Last to Let Go’ – Amber Smith

 

The Way I Used To Be was a book recommended to me that I read in equal parts horror and amazement. The Last To Let Go takes a similarly tough topic – though less talked about – and is equally challenging to read.

The explosive first chapter introduces us to our main character, Brooke, returning home to find police swarming her neighbourhood. Her mother has stabbed her father, with her little sister the only witness.

Suddenly everything Brooke thought she knew has been turned upside down. Nobody wants to acknowledge the hidden abusive side to her father, and the impact his behaviour had on the rest of the family. Her mother is in prison, and the three children are all struggling to live with what has happened.

What I found intriguing about this was Smith’s focus on Brooke and her life after this event. We see her coming to terms with her sexuality, developing her relationship with her siblings and taking tentative steps to develop her sense of identity.

‘Wicked Deep’ – Shea Earnshaw

A slow-build which thoughtfully explores love and relationships in a magical setting.

Over two hundred years ago the Swan sisters were accused of witchcraft and killed. In the modern day the town of Sparrow has little going for it, until the start of Swan season when the locals brace themselves for the annual attempt by these spirits to get revenge against the town that killed them.

Each year the spirits of the three wronged sisters take a life. Each year the tourists flock to Sparrow to witness these macabre events. Each year the locals brace themselves for the unease they feel necessary to atone for their ancestor’s past choices.

This year is different. Penny Thompson is determined that things need to change. When mysterious Bo arrives in Sparrow she has a difficult decision to make…save him, or save herself.

This was a magical read, and the interweaving of past and present kept me hooked in the events and keen to see how they would resolve themselves.