‘Tunnel of Bones’ – Victoria Schwab

Having survived her trip into the veil last time, Cassidy’s parents are – understandably – concerned for her welfare. They urge her to take care, but this is Cassidy Blake so we know things aren’t going to remain settled.

This time round the family are visiting Paris for their show. Unfortunately, Cass disturbed the spirit of a young boy who starts to cause trouble for her. After her usual attempts to help the spirit move on fail, Cassidy realises she has to do more.

The quest to work out how to remove the poltergeist ensures Cassidy encounters some unexpected events and finds herself seeing a very different side to Paris.
We have the usual account of her parents’ show but I loved that we get to learn a little more about Jacob.

The story was well-paced and just the right side of scary. What I particularly enjoyed was the ending, with the mysterious figure causing a very unusual reaction in Cassidy which – I’m hoping – we’ll be told more about in book 3.

‘Maybe This Time’ – Kasie West

Nine events throughout the year. How much difference can a person make in that time? Is it enough to allow someone to fall in love? It’s a Kasie West romance, so you know it’s a pretty safe bet that the answer is yes.

One of our main characters in this is Sophie: a small-town girl with big dreams. Her hackles raise when she comes across Andrew, son of a celebrity chef signed up to help her best friend’s father turn his catering business around. They have quite an obvious attraction but wind each other up.

Throughout the year we spot their interactions at key moments in their town calendar. Sophie spends these occasions determined to avoid the inevitable, but also showing chinks in her defensive armour. Alongside watching her bumble through these at times humorous exchanges, we watch as Sophie has to learn a little about herself and her relationships with those around her.

This was a cute romance, which is rather obvious, but the interaction between the characters is amusingly relayed. Good cast of supporting characters and I liked the fact that not everything got resolved by the end.

‘Stepsister’ – Jennifer Donnolly

When I first started Stepsister I was hesitant, wondering quite where the story would go.

We begin with a well-known scenario, that of the prince trying to find the owner of the glass slipper. We watch a mother desperate to secure safety for her children force not just one but two of her daughters to mutilate themselves in an attempt to win the prince’s hand. Each time, their deception is uncovered. Yet in this story we see that the two sisters are unwilling partners in this deception. They succumb to their mother’s wishes because it’s what is expected of them. As in the fairytale, our forgotten put-upon stepsister gets her prince and leaves.
In this story, however, we remain with those left behind.

The characters of Tavi and Isabelle do not fit the conventional view of a woman. Tavi is obsessed with knowledge, and desires nothing more than to discover something. Isabelle has rather lost her way, knowing only that she wants something that society deems she cannot have. Bound by the expectations of others she subjugates her wishes in an attempt to do the right thing by her family.

I found myself amazed by the very sympathetic portrayal given to characters we’re encouraged to dislike. This feeling only grew as the story unravelled.
Though I was perplexed by this element initially, we have the characters of Fate and Chance playing their own game. Meddling with the lives of Isabelle and her family, each wants to leave their mark.

Without giving anything away, this was a story that showed us a girl full of character slowly learning to love herself and resolve to have confidence in her own desires. Dressed up as a fairytale retelling this was a dark feminist call-to-arms that I would strongly recommend.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts. I’m still gushing!

‘Impossible Causes’ – Julie Mayhew

This is a tricky one to review, and it is certainly a book that was difficult to really get into for some time. However, by the end I was gripped and can certainly see the parallels with something like The Crucible.

Our story takes place on the remote island of Lark. We focus on the narration by Leah, a teacher on the island, who is privy to many of the secrets of the island but who seems rather detached from everything. This sense of ‘otherness’ does become important later on, as it explains why Leah acts as she does.

The island of Lark is cut off from the mainland, physically unreachable for six months of the year. So it is of great interest when an outsider, Ben Hailey, comes to the island to teach.

He – and, as a result, we – comes to learn of the superstitions regarding what are referred to as the Eldest Girls. There are three girls aged 16 who, now, are given what seems like carte blanche to act as they like. There is talk of witchcraft and odd behaviour, but it is what has always been and people turn a blind eye. The inclusion of new girl Viola seems to act as a catalyst for the behaviour to escalate.
Before too long we get told of a dead body and people start to talk about what is happening. As things become more personal for Leah, the ‘new arrivals’ force the villagers to confront what is happening under their eyes.

Initially this seemed to be going in one direction and it was a little hard to follow. Details were vague, but as we learn the truth of Lark it seems there is a reason for this vagueness. By the end, when the true horror of Lark’s dark secret was revealed, I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. Chilling, and definitely worth a look. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read this prior to its scheduled November publication.

‘Little Darlings’ – Melanie Goulding

Little Darlings is a curious read, and I don’t know whether to describe it as a psychological thriller or a paranormal mystery. It’s ambiguity leaves the reader rather nonplussed at the end, but it’s a read that forces you to keep going to try and puzzle it out.

Lauren Tranter has just given birth to twins. Sleep deprived, without a support network and full of doubt, she is struggling. While in hospital she thinks she hears a woman singing to twins. However, her children are the only twins in the hospital. Another night she believes the same woman has tried to abduct her twins. She locks herself in a hospital toilet and calls the police. There’s no evidence of anyone else having been in the hospital.

Eventually let home Lauren retreats into herself. She stays at home, full of doubt about her capabilities. Her husband is beyond rubbish – insisting on catching up on sleep during the day as the twins have kept him awake, and begrudging Lauren asking for a drink – and complains that she’s not taking control of stuff. Concerned for her welfare, or sulking because he actually isn’t the most important thing in her life? We’re not sure.

After a week or so, Lauren decides to try and get out for a walk. Things seem to be going well. Then she sits at a bench, falls asleep and wakes to find her babies missing. After a frantic police hunt the twins are found, by a woman who seems to have been having a relationship with Lauren’s husband, and Lauren is convinced her twins have been exchanged.

Interspersed with this narrative we have Harper, a member of the police who goes above and beyond to work out what’s happening. Her approach was unlikely, and yet it offers credence to the paranormal element of this story.

By the end there were signs that there was nothing mysterious about this at all. Lauren simply had a deeply immature and unpleasant husband, and she was mentally ill. The resolution of the narrative didn’t offer much hope, and left me feeling rather short-changed.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this and offer my thoughts in exchange for an ARC.

‘Crossfire’ – Malorie Blackman

I still recall the excitement I felt when I first picked up Noughts and Crosses. Five books in, some familiar faces, and it still had me gripped. Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this before publication.

Crossfire focuses on some pretty hard-hitting events while also allowing us to get a little closer to our characters.

We have Callie, now 30, a lawyer preparing to be a judge. She still regrets her behaviour as a teenager when she let jealousy get the better of her. Her feelings for her boyfriend Tobey were complicated, but even more so now. Tobey is about to become the first Nought Prime Minister, but he is accused of murdering a well-known businessman thought to have underground links. He wants Callie to represent him.

Tied into this story are the characters of Libby and Troy. Libby has lived her life surrounded by hatred and contempt. She gets some rather unexpected news, but isn’t prepared for what that brings. Troy is Callie’s much younger brother. His family links also place him in danger. When the two students are kidnapped we can’t help but wonder how much family ties will bind people to a decision.
Set against a background of rising racist behaviour, we get a stark reflection of contemporary society. As always, this series tells some unpalatable truths.