‘Swipe Right’ – Stephie Chapman

Thank you to NetGalley, Hera books and Stephanie Chapman for giving me that warm fuzzy feeling where you don’t dare hope for that ending…but really really want that ending.

Our two main characters are Ollie and Fran. Both go for an interview. It’s clear, from the off, that these two have a spark. But will it ever be more? When they both end up working in the company we do wonder. Everyone around them seems to think they make a great couple – but each has a partner.

For seemingly ages Fran and Ollie walk the line of friends who quite fancy each other. It’s all very When Harry Met Sally without the annoying leads, a lot more alcohol and no fake-orgasm scene.

There’s a warmth between the two characters that seems very genuine. They open up to each other in a way that you can’t help but envy…but nothing happens.

Hang fire. Don’t get disheartened. Sometimes you just need to wait for the right time to put everything in place. Of course, it might not happen – but that really would have been a miserable read.


‘Different Seasons’ – Stephen King

There’s something reassuring about King and though, on occasion, he veers into something off-putting this was a sublime collection of novellas that hooked me from the start.

The Shawshank Redemption immediately had me recalling the movie, which really is so well done. The voice of the narrator draws you in. We’re shown some awful things but you are unlikely to ever feel anything other than admiration for these figures. The gradual revelation of what Andy did to escape prison defies belief…but there was a definite part of me that really admired him for this. Such a small thing, but the optimistic ending about him finding his key to freedom in a hayfield near Buxton always makes me smile (more now I’m living in Hayfield, only a few miles from Buxton). Coincidence? I like to think not.

Apt Pupil begins with a seemingly clearcut American hero. Yet behind Todd’s golden boy facade lies a darkness that is utterly terrifying. This young boy ingratiated himself into the life of an old man…but the man is not quite what he seems. The old man in this story is a former Nazi camp officer who has evaded justice. Todd wants stories. What drives someone to do such horrific things? We’re never sure, but this goes to awful places. Very uncomfortable reading, but fascinating.

The Body is perhaps best known for the child stars that acted in the movie adaptation of the story. When they learn that the body of a missing child has been left on nearby train tracks the group decide to set out on a journey to see it for themselves. A story truly evoking a bygone era. The sense of children crossing into maturity is carefully presented here.

The last story focuses on a bizarre gentleman’s club that few are invited to. They meet regularly and are entertained by a regular telling of stories. We follow our main character through his first experience at the club, and then come to a most unusual story…that of a young woman who, disregarding social convention, is determined to give birth no matter what her personal circumstances.


‘Keep Him Close’ – Emily Koch

Keep Him Close is one of those books that will get under your skin, and make you re-evaluate yourself and your interactions with others.

After a dramatic opening that establishes something deeply upsetting has taken place, but offers little further, we focus on an almost mundane everyday experience – a mother preparing for one of her sons to leave for university, and a growing fractiousness with her younger son who seems to be growing apart from her. The conversation in the loft hints at problems and secrets, but we go no further. Then we learn that one of the boys doesn’t come home that night.

Alongside this family horror we have another mother, one who has to come to terms with the fact that her only son has been charged with murder.

The question of what actually happened the night Lou died does eat away at us. Was he pushed? Did he fall? Why was he fighting with his brother’s friend? Why were they on the third floor of the car park anyway?

There’s no quick answers. Some of them are hinted at early on, but we’re never entirely sure how the snippets of information link.

What intrigued me about this was the shifting perspectives. We see the viewpoints of both mothers, and a rather odd set of circumstances that lead to them working together to get the answers they so desperately crave.

While our main story is resolved fairly neatly, there are so many things left unsaid. This, no doubt, is deliberate but it left a rather unsettled feel to things.
Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.


‘Special Topics in Calamity Physics’ – Marisha Pessl

Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics is an unforgettable debut novel that combines the storytelling gifts of Donna Tartt and the suspense of Alfred Hitchcock: a darkly hilarious coming-of-age tale and a richly plotted suspense story, told with dazzling intelligence and wit.

There’s something about precociously intelligent narrators caught up in bizarre events centred around schools and a small clique with a charismatic leader that seems to cause division amongst readers. Like Tartt’s Secret History, I felt similar feelings as I read this.
Our narrator, Blue, is a rather average looking girl who has a fierce intelligence, yet who watches from the sidelines. Used to moving around when her father gets another teaching job, Blue has had a rather eclectic education. Unfortunately, her intelligence is something she tries to force on us – and it doesn’t always work.
The book focuses on Blue’s arrival at a new school where, under the guidance of the Film Studies teacher Hannah Schneider, she is taken into the fold of a special group. They clearly don’t like her, the teacher veers between inspiring and unhinged…and it’s very obvious that something odd is going on.
Drifting through her senior year and the various events taking place, Blue grows up. She starts to separate from the relationship with her father – and when the events start to actually happen (and it took a while) she is disturbed by the truths she learns.
I couldn’t say this was a book I hated, as there were aspects to it I liked, but it felt messy and in need of tightening up a little.


‘The Small Crimes of Tiffany Templeton’ – Richard Fifield

The Serpent King meets Girl in Pieces in this moving and darkly funny story about a teenage girl coming of age and learning how to grieve in small-town Montana.

Initially, I found this hard to warm to. I couldn’t work out why Tiffany was regarded so negatively, and I found it difficult to really develop much interest in events following on from her release from juvenile detention. Slowly, however, as we peeled back the layers of this small town and learned more about Tiffany I came to have a healthy respect for her.

I think the first thing I have to say is that the town of Gabardine really does – on first impressions – seem like the kind of place you’d want to leave and never return to. It’s dying on its feet and the characters who’ve found themselves living there are rather small in their outlook. Nobody seems to have anything marking them out in any way, but that small-town closed mentality actually came to make sense. As we learn more about the people around Tiffany it almost feels like we’re being encouraged to pay homage to the fighting spirit of people who know there’s little point to what they’re doing, but do it anyway.

Tiffany is a girl who you warm to. There’s a softness under this brash exterior, and she has a curiosity about her that suggests she’s smart enough to escape this place – but if she stays it’ll be out of love for those around her. Finding out about her ‘small crimes’ and what each actually represents was a fascinating process. While her brother and mother had a certain grotesque element to them, by the end there was a definite shift in Tiffany’s thoughts about them.

In some ways this reminded me of something by Steinbeck, but with more modern issues. It might not be to everyone’s tastes but I found myself quite charmed by it.

‘Supernova (Renegades 3)’ – Marissa Meyer

A fitting end to this superhero series, where we get a lot of what we expected but not everything is as straightforward as it seems.

Picking up after the events of book two, Nova is all too aware that it is only a matter of time before her double identity is revealed. While she is in love with Adrian and has come to respect the Renegades, the years preparing her have ensured she is hard to sway from her intended course of action. Determined to rescue Ace, Nova takes greater chances and there were times where I wondered if this was really the same girl we’d seen through the previous two books.

Regardless of our views on Nova’s behaviour, she is plunged into the thick of the action here. Some are determined to make her pay for her actions, but there are others prepared to look beyond what they’ve been told – who think there’s a chance of a different approach.

Nova is placed in some difficult circumstances here. Not everyone behaves honourably, and yet there’s support for Nova where we might not have foreseen it. If you’re in this for the action you won’t be disappointed, and there was a clear attempt to answer some of the questions we’ve had about these characters and their lives.

You need to know that not everyone survives. Everyone is changed, in some way. And there’s a wonderful reveal at the end – which we had been given little clues about – that hints there could be more to come.


‘Girls with Razor Hearts’ – Suzanne Young

Girls with Razor Hearts focuses on our group, led by Mena, after they leave their elite school, determined to bring down Innovations. We know they’re capable of extreme violence, but get the impression it’s something that happens as a consequence of the way they’re treated rather than an innate character trait.

The girls find an old student, and they are given help to enrol in a new high school as they attempt to bring down the company that made them by going after the investors.

The story focuses on their experiences in this everyday high school, and their reaction to the commonplace misogyny in evidence. We see boys being trained for their powerful roles, and the girls being primed for their role on the sidelines.

Things don’t quite go to plan. There’s always a sense of someone being just that one step ahead – which I presume sets us up well for part three. The girls are great in their love for and support of one another. They mean well, but it seems the odds are stacked against them which is a rather cynical message to convey.


‘Nightshade’ – Anthony Horowitz

With Alex Rider you come to expect the unexpected. Nightshade, the twelfth in the series, is a fast-paced explosive read that delivers in so many ways.

Although he’s trying to get back to normal life, nothing is ever going to be straightforward for Alex. He is, once again, contacted by the new head of MI6 when one of their agents is attacked. The person responsible for the attack was a fifteen year old boy…and Alex may well be the best hope they have of learning more about the boy known as Freddy who killed five of Brazil’s most dangerous police force.

Having already been mistaken for Julius Grief, Alex is shipped out to the facility from which he is thought to have escaped. The psychologist there is the only one who knows the truth about Alex, and it’s up to Alex himself to find a way in to befriend Freddy.

What follows is an adventure beyond your wildest imaginings.

Once again Alex finds himself relying on his wits and his very special set of skills. This time round he’s up against the mysterious Nightshade group who are planning a lethal attack on London. Alex has to learn the truth and find a way to stop what could, potentially, be the most dangerous event in British history. Business as usual – except this time MI6 have been shut down, Alex is on his own and there’s a leak from within.

An audacious scheme, plenty of opportunities for it to go wrong and – at its heart – young Alex being pushed to his limits. There’s a depth to this that hasn’t always been in the Alex Rider novels with the personal revelation about Mrs Jones…and the most ominous ending suggesting that things are not over.


‘Tweet Cute’ – Emma Lord

I’m perhaps in a minority here, but I wasn’t totally won over by this in the way other readers seem to have been.

It’s a fairly stereotypical romance, with Jack and Pepper seemingly very different then spending time together and realising they quite get on. At the same time they’re developing a close relationship via an anonymous app, so it’s fairly standard that we’d expect them to get together eventually.

What’s being touted as the thing that sets this apart is the Twitter background. To cut a long story short, Pepper’s mum is behind a highly successful burger chain that has gone big after humble beginnings. Jack’s parents run a deli in New York that’s been in the family for years. Both serve a grilled cheese sandwich and it sparks a Twitter war. The whole scenario is preposterous, and it was so unrealistic that it frustrated me beyond belief.

It’s a shame I got sidetracked by this part of the story because the characters themselves and the way they were presented was appealing. I liked them and hoped things would work out, but the attempt to make it more than it was (as a way of tying up some loose ends regarding their parents later) just made it all too much.


‘Wilderness’ – B.E. Jones

A dark and fast-paced thriller with a definite psychological edge…and one that might have you watching your nearest and dearest very closely indeed.

The story seems fairly straightforward in some ways. Young married couple move to America. Husband has an affair with a co-worker. Wife finds out and decides to forgive him…but then organises a road trip to give her errant husband the chance to show he’s changed. Things aren’t going well, and it seems the wife is going to take the opportunity to remove her husband from the situation. But things don’t quite work out like that.

Our narrator, Liv, is definitely cut from a very special kind of cloth. Initially, I felt every sympathy for her and the situation she finds herself in. However, as we learn more about her actions over time, I couldn’t believe she was still walking round free. A dangerous woman, but the level of her danger doesn’t really become clear until the end.

This is certainly a story it’s best not to know too much about before reading. It’s a fast-paced story and one that was unsettling once we knew a little more detail about the characters and the events. There’s a lot of coincidences within the story, but it was still a good read.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication.