‘We Are Not Okay’ – Natália Gomes

This story by Nataliá Gomes is of the moment, and it certainly delivers a clear message to teen readers.

We focus on four teenage girls: Lucy, Ulana, Trina and Sophia. Though they are all the same age, they have very different experiences and lives. However, each has a secret that they want nobody to know about, and they’ll do anything to ensure it stays secret.

Of the four girls I felt a lot of sympathy for Trina. She has a lot of people talking about her, and ends up in a situation over which she has no control. As a result she makes some difficult decisions which have pretty extreme consequences. Ulana faced a very real fear, but a lot of it seemed to be about her doubting herself and her family. Ultimately, things worked out okay (or at least looked as if they would). Sophia gets caught up in something that, increasingly, seems to be felt to be a normalised experience – and we see her just how damaging it can be. Lucy was the character I found it hardest to empathise with because so much of her story revolved around situations she had instigated. You don’t wish harm on anyone, and the way the others interacted with her did give a positive message eventually.

There was a lot happening here. It seemed as if most topical scenarios were explored here, and not all were given quite as much detail/exploration as they might have been. I felt one such incident (concerning Sophie) seemed to come out of nowhere and I had to reread a section wondering if I’d missed something.

Ultimately this was a book that made me very very relieved to not be a teenager of the social media generation, and determined to try to encourage people of this age to be as open as possible about their experiences. Everyone plays their part in this bullying culture, and the sooner we take responsibility for it the better.

Thanks to NetGalley and HQ Young Adult for allowing me access to this prior to publication.


‘The Sky is Mine’ – Amy Beashel

Due for release in February 2020, I’m pretty convinced that this will be a hit read.

Plunged straight into the life of our main character, Izzy, it takes a while to establish quite what’s going on. We see Izzy get drunk at a party and she is threatened by someone in her college who vows to send round an embarrassing picture from the party unless she does what he asks her to. There’s no doubt that Izzy would be perfectly in her right to ignore this and call him out – but we see how insidious such attitudes are, when even his mates try to justify his behaviour by calling it ‘banter’. As a parent this horrified me, and I am really scared that anyone could ever think such behaviour is okay.

Izzy finds herself in a difficult situation. She fears just what this boy could do, so she goes to his house. He rapes her – no matter what name he gives it – and continues to try and threaten her into doing what he wants her to through her fear of what others will say.

Izzy says nothing. This is totally believable – however much you wish it weren’t. Against the backdrop of Izzy’s home-life it becomes even more relatable. She sees her once vibrant mother as a shell of herself. Her step-father controls everything and we are, slowly, given details that chronicle a horribly abusive relationship.
Eventually Izzy’s mother leaves, and Izzy gets the opportunity to reflect on her experiences and how to move on from them. Some elements of this are easier than others.

There was a lot packed into this read, but I am sure it will strike a chord – in some way – with many readers. Though elements of the story felt resolved far too easily, there were some positive outcomes that did inspire hope.

This is just another example of why NetGalley is such a great thing – getting to see new books before publication.


‘How Not to Disappear’ – Claire Furniss

Our memories make us who we are. So, what does this mean when we start to lose our memories?

This story focuses on two characters-Hattie and Gloria. They have never met, but find each other at just the moment that each needs the other. Worlds apart in many ways, yet there are striking similarities between them.

This is a great coming-of-age story that also encourages its readers to empathise with the other characters encountered (even if from a distance).

Hattie is pregnant by her best friend, Reuben. He’s disappeared to France while her other friend, Kat, has gone to Scotland with a new girlfriend. When Hattie is contacted about an elderly relative in the grip of early onset dementia she decides to visit her.

What follows is a road trip with a difference as Hattie takes Gloria on a trip back through time.

Told with unflinching honesty this is a moving exploration of family, memories and learning to accept the decisions you make.


‘Mix Tape’ – Jane Sanderson


Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an unexpectedly entertaining read.
Alison Connor has a pretty miserable life as a student in Sheffield. She finds herself a boyfriend, Dan Lawrence, and their shared love of music is just one thing they have in common.

Unfortunately Alison’s life is far from good, and on the day some of the worst things you could imagine happening take place she leaves Sheffield.

Years later she’s married, a successful author and living in Australia. Dan is a music journalist and happy. Then they get in touch…and their fondness for sharing music reawakens something they thought was lost.

I don’t begin to understand why they act as they do, but in the context of the novel it’s plausible. The love of music was a definite bonus, and it certainly gets you wondering what if.

‘Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl’ – Jeannie Vanasco

This was a fascinating, if depressing, book.
Jeannie is a creative writing lecturer who specialises in memoir writing. She recounts a number of students who tell her stories of rape. Some of those have ended badly. But all of them share the common experience of someone taking away an individual’s right to control what happens to them.
There’s no doubt this is a book that will strike a chord with many readers. Some will feel anger, others will empathise…but, I imagine all will feel a sense of amazement at the way this experience is recounted.
We follow Jeannie through a very unusual experience. She decides to write about the man who raped her fourteen years ago. At the time he was a good friend, but they’ve not really spoken since. He is not the only person to have assaulted Jeannie, and he wasn’t the first, but she gets in touch with him to try and talk to him about the experience.
The story itself was not one you’d expect to find pleasant reading, but I was absorbed to follow her process as she creates this book. Sometimes the narrative felt muddled, yet this reflected the subject/feelings with which she was struggling.
I’m still undecided how I feel about the perpetrator of this crime, or her decision to engage with him. However, reading about her experience and the way she/those close to her respond to this was compelling stuff. There’s no easy way to view such crimes when we see who might do such things/see how common it seems to be, but it certainly stops such things being swept under the carpet and blaming victims for their experience.
Thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.


‘The Bone Houses’ – Emily Lloyd-Jones

A wonderfully atmospheric and, above all, hopeful read.

Ryn has always felt herself to be a little different to her neighbours. As one of the daughters of a gravedigger she doesn’t fear death, but her people are superstitious and when things start to change around the village it causes fear.

There have long been stories of the need to keep others happy, of the need to make offerings to those that dwell in the woods in exchange for peace. It would be easy to dismiss this as nonsense – as many do – but Ryn has seen the bone houses. She has killed them, doing her best to protect those she loves.

As with so many mysterious quests, one day an unknown visitor arrives in their village. The mapmaker Ellis seems harmless, but some fear he’s a spy. Ryn is asked to help take him to the mountains to plot his maps. She hopes that this trip will give her answers as to what happened to her father.

What follows is a slow journey as we discover a little more about the world Ryn inhabits, and a developing relationship.

I got drawn into this, and found the latter part quite moving. It was definitely a read that encourages you to reflect on yourself and your interactions with others. At times this felt like a read better suited to the younger end of the market, but I think there’s plenty here to keep readers happy.


‘The Woods’ – Vanessa Savage

This was one of those strangely compelling reads that unsettled from the off.

Tess is haunted by memories of her sister. She was the only witness to her sister’s death, but has no recollection of it. Tess is convinced the death was no accident, but has been trying to put events behind her. Unfortunately, her fear of the woods surrounding her old family home prevents her from visiting and it is not until her father calls desperate for help that she feels she can put it off no longer.

Details are slow to come by. Tess is shown to be struggling with her mental health from the outset, and we’re never quite sure what she recalls accurately and what is deliberately being concealed.

When she is given the news that her stepmother is close to death Tess knows she should visit. But her fear of what she remembers is a huge barrier. What we do know is her family is not a cohesive unit. She has had a problematic relationship with her stepbrothers for years, and her reluctance to look into what happened definitely makes us wonder what she’s hiding.

At its heart this was a story of complex relationships. There are numerous secrets and it’s only as we unravel them all that we can establish exactly what happened all those years ago when two girls went into the woods and only one came out.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts, and I look forward to seeing what is made of this when it come out in January 2020.


‘Love, Secret Santa’ – S.A. Domingo

A heart warming, Christmas-themed romance that will not fail to have you smiling.

Angel Green is a serious young lady. Determined to become a doctor, she is about to sit an exam to get a scholarship to study further, but she can’t help but worry that things may not be so simple.

Angel is busy with school and helping to fundraise for her school committee. They decide to raise funds for the Bluebell Hospice, the place Angel’s mum works. Unfortunately, Angel is paired to work with her old friend Caspar Johnson – publicly charming and talented at pretty much everything he turns his hand to, but notoriously unreliable.

Though this infuriates Angel, she is keen to try and reestablish their friendship. She doesn’t want to admit it, but there’s sparks between her and Caspar. So it’s lucky that she has her mysterious Secret Santa gifts to keep her occupied.

Whoever her Secret Santa is, they know her well. The home-made Advent Calendar pushes Angel to try new experiences and just open herself to thinking in a different way. This mystery person clearly knows her well, but as the gifts become more thoughtful Angel starts to wonder whether there might be more to it…

For a clever girl, Angel is a little short-sighted. Key details are rather obvious from early on, and yet she’s the kind of character you find yourself rooting for things to go as we predict. For things not to have worked out as you predict them to would have totally ruined the Christmas spirit here.

On occasion there’s just a little too much going on, but it all adds up to a quite entertaining read. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts.


‘Someone Else’s House’ – Jessica Vallance

Sometimes you don’t see how you’re being manipulated, and sometimes the most abusive relationships are those that start so positively.

Our main character in this, Lauren, is introduced to us when she makes the momentous decision to dump her long-standing boyfriend because of his moodiness and emotionally abusive behaviour. She’s, naturally, not immediately at ease with the situation so jumps at the chance to go on holiday with her best friend.

Rather oddly a new friend tags along. They seem to get along okay, but there are little signs that things might not be quite what we expect. Odd things start to happen, and we can’t quite work out how things are going to go.

Without giving too much away, Lauren’s past is important.

Once we start to learn a little more of her past then we can see that certain events have a more sinister feel. The question is not just who is messing with her, but why.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts.


‘Ninth House’ – Leigh Bardugo

Having seen so many comments about trigger warnings for this book, and people upset at the leap into adult fiction, I was nervous about reading this. I also have to admit that it took a while to get into the rhythm of things. Both these factors make it difficult to give a 5 star rating, though I enjoyed the book a lot and can’t wait to see what comes up in part two.

Our main character is Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern, a young woman who has not lived the easiest of lives. She’s always been able to see what are known as Grays, the spirits of the deceased. At times these have caused real upset to Alex, and nobody can see them so she’s always been regarded as a little odd. Having then got into drugs Alex is used to finding her own way/being regarded as a problem.

It takes a while for her back story to come out, and this made it difficult to really empathise with her initially. Our focus to start is on her current status as a student at New Haven, assigned to investigate and maintain order over the eight different societies that operate within Yale. Full of high profile students, potentially powerful people, Alex is shocked to learn of their dabbling in the occult and quickly begins to feel out of her depth.

Alongside the mystery of her missing mentor, there’s the issue of a number of unsolved murders and some very dubious goings-on amongst certain groups.
While I was intrigued by the details of the House activity, and was curious to see to what extent we’d see magic at play, I did find it difficult to work out exactly what was going on and really identify with Alex.

There was a point at which things clicked and then I was gripped. A very intriguing ending which bodes well for book two, but I do wish this step-up a gear had come a little sooner.