‘The Taking of Annie Thorne’ – C.J. Tudor

The Taking of Annie Thorne opens in suitably horrific fashion. A teacher with a history of mental health issues bludgeons her son to death and writes Not My Son on the walls in his blood before killing herself. To the residents of Arnhill it’s another, albeit tragic, example of a life cut short.

Then we shift our focus to Joe Thorne. For reasons we’re not sure of he wheedles his way into a teaching job in his old school. There’s definite history with Joe, but we’re not told much until we have to be.

Slowly, we learn Joe – along with his friends of the time – is hiding a secret. Something to do with the disappearance of his sister, and an old pit that appears to be imbued with some kind of supernatural power.

Alongside this, we have a story about Joe’s gambling issues and his attempt to get out of debt while trying to avoid some pretty ruthless people.

While the story was a good read, it felt like it had been done before. There wasn’t enough information given about the scenario we’re asked to believe in, so it was built into something creepy without really building it up sufficiently. I really got irritated by the unnecessarily prejudiced attitudes towards autism and mental health issues. There’s also the rather implausible reveal regarding Joe’s ‘issue’ – surely there’d have been one or two clues before that point?

‘The Sharp Edge of a Snowflake’ – Sif Sigmarsdottir

I really dislike the term ‘snowflake’ and its suggestion of people not coping with life’s events. In this instance, the snowflake definitely shows its sharp edges.

Imogen Collins is a social media influencer. She’s also someone who had to abandon her degree studies as she struggled to adjust to life after a sexual assault. Caught up in her own plan to bring down the man who was responsible, she ends up embroiled in some very dubious events.

Hannah is determined to be a journalist and fed up that she has to go and live with her father in Iceland. On the day she arrives their journey home is disrupted by the sight of the police collecting a dead body that was dumped in a ravine.

Naturally, the two girls’ stories merge and we get a pretty tense thriller.
The setting was interesting, though there were elements of the characters/story that didn’t quite pull together for me.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this prior to publication.

‘What She Found in the Woods’ – Josephine Angelini

‘Be like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t’ – the advice given to Macbeth by his wife before he commits the murder of King Duncan definitely sprang to mind as I was reading this. Everyone is hiding something, and it’s not clear who to trust.

What She Found in the Woods is a pacy thriller, focusing on the story of a young girl with mental health issues who finds herself caught up in events beyond your worst imaginings.

Magda has – we know – done some awful stuff. She’s heavily medicated and comes from a life of privilege. When she is forced to live with her grandparents she finds herself drawn to the woods, where she spends her time hiking. There she meets Bo, a young man whose family live in the woods.

There’s a bit of everything in here, and yet it works. We quickly become invested in Magda’s story and curious to see how the strands come together. Some of the reveals were quite heavily hinted at, but there was plenty to leave us doubting the reliability of our narrator.

‘The Rest of the Story’ – Sarah Dessen

A coming-of-age story that explores family bonds, grief, friendship and romance…and even has time for a major event…

Emma Saylor is (dare I say it) rather bland as a character. Since her mother’s death she’s always been protected by her father and, at seventeen, leads quite a sheltered life. When plans for her to stay with a friend fall through, she is determined to do whatever it takes to ensure her father and stepmother go on their honeymoon. So she agrees to stay with her grandmother, the one she hasn’t seen since she was four, at the lakeside resort her mother lived in.

A rather slow beginning as Emma gets to know who’s who in the family she never knew. We have quite stereotypical reactions from Emma as she learns some of the truths about her mother that others have tried to hide. However, through these stories she also learns about herself.

There’s no major revelations, just a gradual self-awakening. But it was portrayed quite realistically and did leave me with a bit of a smile on my face.

‘Good Omens’ – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Always lovely to read a Terry Pratchett novel and to lose yourself in the madness.

This time around I had half an idea what to expect, having watched endless adverts for the adaptation currently showing on Amazon Prime. I also confess to being highly tickled at the number of people who’ve signed a petition to have the series cancelled for its blasphemous content.

From the opening pages it’s clear that we are in rather unusual territory. There are plans afoot to swap a human child with the Antichrist but they get it wrong, and the child is adopted. They are taken to live in a rural village where nothing ever happens…until the onset of the Apocalypse.

However, there are certain entities determined to prevent the Apocalypse. It’s in their interests to prevent the end of the world. Unfortunately, when they realise they’ve misplaced the Antichrist it is a rather difficult job to work out what to do next.

I always find it hard to review novels by Terry Pratchett because the joy for me is not in the story, it’s in the random links and associations made and the rapid jumps from one idea to the next.

‘My Name is Venus Black’ – Heather Lloyd

Venus Black is not at all what you expect her to be.

Our first meeting with her is when she’s being taken away by the police and about to be charged for killing her stepfather. She’s a grade A student, chatty and personable but she doesn’t deny what she’s done. Which version of Venus Black is accurate?

Little details are revealed and it’s clear that there’s more to the story. However, Venus is charged and detained in the juvenile system. While she’s incarcerated, her little brother Leo is kidnapped.

Over the course of the story we shift viewpoint. We learn a little more about Venus as she hits nineteen and tries to start a new life on the outside. We follow Leo’s story as rather unusual events transpire around him.

The book is a touching one about friendship, family and forgiveness. There’s a darkness to it, but there remains a sense of hope at its heart.

The way certain events go seem rather of their time, and you’d hope things have moved on a little. However, what it shows about making bonds with people is timeless.

‘To Best the Boys’ – Mary Weber

Following the story of Rhen and her desire to make a difference, this is a tale to fire up your spirit. For Rhen lives in a world where some believe women should stick to their role…and that they don’t possess the attributes needed to do anything more. It was great fun watching Rhen prove them wrong.

The initial set-up felt a little more dragged out than strictly necessary. However, once Rhen took it upon herself to try her hand in Holm’s labyrinth then we were in a very different story.

Inspiring ideas, and a cracking story.

‘I Hold Your Heart’ – Karen Gregory

From a distance, everyone thinks they can spot the signs of an abusive relationship.

From a distance, you think you know that some actions are just not what forms part of a healthy relationship.

But when you’re the one in that situation, how easy is it to tell?

When Gemma first meets Aaron she’s confident and outgoing, has a part-time job, dreams of singing and is just starting A-levels. Within weeks of meeting Aaron things are shifting. She starts giving up things that meant so much to her. Is it because Aaron loves her, or is there a more sinister angle?

Reading this knowing what the story focused on meant I was on alert throughout, looking for signs that it was heading that way. But the way the story developed felt very natural, and it’s easy to see just how easy it could be to end up in a situation you’re not entirely comfortable with.

An emotional journey, which may not ring true for everyone, but it will certainly get people talking.

The link to the e.e. cumming’s poem has now given a much more sinister vibe to what always seemed such a heartfelt sentiment. The power of words.

‘How to Make Friends with the Dark’ – Kathleen Glasgow

The kind of experience that you’d hope nobody ever has to go through at such a young age, but you know it happens frequently. Grief isn’t something you’re ever really prepared for. Knowing how to feel when someone close to you dies isn’t always possible, and when you’re just a child it could so easily be over-whelming.
Grace – known as Tiger – is close to her mother, but she finds her restrictions hard to accept at times. They have a huge argument. Something that happens daily for some. But for Grace, this becomes a key moment…as later that day her mother dies suddenly.

At 16 Grace becomes a ward of the state and everything she knows has gone. We follow Grace through her time in foster care; her sudden learning of a previously unknown family member who becomes her guardian, and her brief foray into the depths of her darkness.

The story itself felt disjointed at times. So many strands were unresolved or left open in a way that felt a little frustrating. However, there were some wonderful characters helping a Tiger through her experience, and the eloquence with which Glasgow captures the grieving process was to be applauded.

Everyone’s experience of grief will be different, but this allows a brief insight into some of the things that might affect people and how they can deal with them.

‘Can You See Me?’ – Libby Scott and Rachel Westcott

Can You See Me? is a definite one to recommend.

We focus on the story of Tally, a young girl just starting Year Seven. She tries very hard to be ‘normal’ and to fit in but doesn’t always find it easy because she is autistic. While her experience might not be the same for everyone, it certainly offers a glimpse into her life and offers the reader a chance to walk in her shoes a while. However, it goes beyond sharing just her experience as an autistic child; focusing on how many of her peers also feel about the experiences they face.

I loved the authentic feel to Tally’s voice, and the perceptive comments about how those around her react to her/her ‘meltdowns’ and the quirks that make her who she is.

A great cross-over read for primary/high school students.