‘Innocent’ – Erin Kinsley

A book with so many shades of grey it really was hard to know where this was going to end.

Our story begins at a lavish summer wedding celebration. Our focus is on the guests, one of whom is a well-known celebrity. Tris Hart is the presenter of some familiar shows, and something of a local hero in Sterndale, the quiet town he lives in with his second wife, Izzy, and their young daughter. We see Tris playing his role well during the evening celebrations, and there is a little concern when he is accosted by someone he knows who wants to discuss their past. Next thing we know Tris is found injured near the hotel pool and is rushed to hospital where he’s taken to intensive care.

From the outset we know we’re dealing with a story that is about finding out who tried to kill Tris. During the course of the investigation we learn some of the secrets that the people of Sterndale have been hiding. It seems there are many with something they would rather people didn’t find out, and as the police dig deeper we start to build our own picture.

We do get our answers, but there’s a lot of misdirection and extra detail to burrow through in order to learn our truth. The sheer size of the cast, and the number of strands involved, did lessen the impact slightly for me but I enjoyed the fact that we built up a fuller picture of our flawed main character and came to understand them better as details were revealed.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest opinion.


‘They Wish They Were Us’ – Jessica Goodman


Fairly standard fare here, which is a shame as this had potential to be so much more.

Jill Newman is about to start her Senior year at the exclusive prep school she has a scholarship to. She is one of the group known as the Players, a hand-picked group of eight that are chosen each year to carry on the tradition. Weekly tasks and challenges to prove your group spirit…and, in exchange, a free pass to tests and advice/shortcuts for life. These are privileged kids for no reason other than someone chose them.

It would be too easy to despise Jill and the group for getting everything handed to them on a plate while those around them work. So the author takes great pains to emphasise Jill is clever, a grafter, and needing her scholarship to set her big plans in motion. She also happens to have been best friends with Shaila, a student who was killed a few years ago. Sympathy vote checked, but that isn’t really enough to overcome the easy pass she and her friends have.

The book focuses on Jill’s internal struggle with what this life offers her. She feels pressure to act a certain way but, deep down, hates everything she represents. How can she move forward if she’s held captive by her present?

The dilemma is solved by Jill’s decision to help an old classmate. Rachel is the sister of the young man who got put away for Shaila’s murder. She is convinced her brother’s innocent and so Jill decides to do the right thing and help try to uncover the truth.

There’s an attempt at a red herring straight out of Pretty Little Liars territory. Fairly early on I had my suspicions as to who might be responsible. Sadly I was proven right and after the ease with which the girls got the confession I can only hang my head at the pitiful job the police did at the time.

This will have its fans. I liked the message it tries to give about working for your successes, but there was just too much that didn’t work for me to really fall under the spell of this one.

‘Thirteens’ – Kate Alice Marshall

Kate Alice Marshall’s first foray into middle grade books…and it is a beauty!

The town of Eden Eld is a quiet, prosperous town where nothing really happens. Eleanor (always known as Elle to her mum) has just moved there to live with her aunt after an awful incident. She feels ill at ease, and is definitely not made any more comfortable by the strange things she sees and hears around her.

On her first day at school Elle is befriended by Otto and Pip, two larger than life characters who can also see these strange creatures. They try to help Elle settle in, but it quickly becomes apparent that these three have been brought together for a reason.

The reason is linked to a mysterious book of fairy tales that Elle remembers her mother reading to her. The stories talk of a character called Mr January who struck a bargain with the inhabitants of Eden Eld…that every thirteen years he would take three children, all born on Halloween, and they would never be heard of again. In exchange the town would prosper.

Naturally, our three new friends learn that they’re the intended targets for this year’s sacrifice. We follow them on their quest to break the curse.
As the mother of a child born on Halloween I couldn’t resist this. The story is slight fully quirky – dark and yet not overly scary. I love the hints of more to come…wouldn’t it be great to see them again and see whether they succeed in their new aim?


‘The Unexpected Everything’ – Morgan Matson

Our main character, Andie, is used to being organised. With a father involved in politics she’s used to watching what she says and does, and having things planned keeps her in control when she’s not really. Her close group of friends do pretty much everything together and she’s looking forward to her summer on her organised program.

Unfortunately, when we see Andie her father is having to step away from his job because of some issues with his team. As a result of this her letter of recommendation is withdrawn, she loses her summer program place and is set up for a summer where she is not in control of anything.

Of course, this is the summer that Andie gets to work a lot of stuff out. She gets a job walking dogs, and one of those on her round is Bertie…who happens to be linked to a young man called Clark that Andie finds very interesting.

No surprises, it’s a contemporary romance so we know we’re going to see Clark and Andie get together. What we’re not told initially is that Clark is actually a famous fantasy writer and his presence here is to allow him the summer to get over his writer’s block and sort out his final book of the trilogy. Andie finds herself trusting him, and learning to dial back on the organisation thing. She learns a lot about herself, her family and her friends.

There’s the inevitable bumps along the way – some of which we can see coming very early on – but everything works out okay in the end. At times it felt the story could have been cut a little, but for anyone who loves this kind of thing you won’t be disappointed.


‘The Octopus’ – Tess Little


The Octopus is one of those novels that I have to say felt elusive as I was reading. I’m grateful to the publishers and NetGalley for letting me read it before publication, but having just finished it my thoughts are muddled to say the least.

My overwhelming thoughts after finishing this focus on the character of Richard. This is the character who is found dead the morning after his fiftieth birthday, seemingly of a drug overdose, where only eight people were in attendance. One of them must have been responsible, but who? As we learn more about Richard and his character, I think I can safely say every single one of them had reason to want the guy dead. He was a bully, lauded by Hollywood but vile to everyone around him unless they danced to his tune. Parallels with some real-life characters are clear, and while we are told his childhood was not particularly happy it doesn’t garner enough sympathy to excuse his general unpleasantness.

The construction of this book kept us somewhat in the dark regarding the true nature of the character of Richard. We begin with the party and the slow introduction to the people invited. We see things primarily through the eyes of Elspeth, Richard’s ex-wife, but it isn’t long before we start to realise that she has her own complicated story – and this is certainly intriguing, but we’re made to wait for it.

The party scene is elaborate, allowing us the chance to see how Richard interacts with each of the characters. Also introduced at the party is the character of Persephone, Richard’s pet octopus, who seems to represent his desire for control over others. The way he admires her and flaunts her to others exemplifies his attitude to those in his life. At one point Elspeth considers the octopus could have been the killer – what happens to this creature later in the novel certainly made me consider the cost to all involved of their relationships with this odious man.

This is a crime that does get solved, but in the process we uncover other more unsettling crimes that have been overlooked, ignored and even enabled by the reluctance of others to voice their concerns.

The Octopus is a book that did not leave me with many positive feelings at the end. I found it absorbing, but it was certainly not one I could say I enjoyed as it made me so angry at times.

‘Chelsea High’ – Jenny Oliver


The first thing I have to do is apologise for starting this in the expectation that I was going to get a fluffy cute read that would entertain me for a while and that I would probably then forget about. The cover and blurb had me begin it thinking one thing, when what we got was more than that.

The basic story is straightforward. Our main character, Norah, has a somewhat bohemian lifestyle living with her parents on a houseboat and living in a very close-knit community. She helps her mum run a vintage clothes stall and is, generally, pretty happy with her lot. Her big dilemma here is that her father has got caught up in a money-making scam that has resulted in many people losing their savings. He is about to face trial, and the family are being uprooted. That would be unsettling…but we learn that her father’s family are very wealthy and come from a background of privilege. They are paying for lawyers and are paying for Norah to attend the exclusive Chelsea High.

Our story is about Norah coming to terms with her father’s actions and the impact it will have on their family and friends, but it’s also a ‘fish-out-of-water’ story as Norah has to navigate this new environment and the people within it. There’s the stereotypical mean girl queen, Coco, who is just as insecure as any teenage girl could be but is better able to hide it with her money and influence. There’s the hangers-on in Coco’s group who have to decide whether to follow what they’ve always done or to act for themselves. Of course there’s a love interest, and there’s the expected dramatic scenes so beloved of this kind of story to help people grow and develop.

While there’s a lot in this book that can be found in other books/films, the development of Norah was more subtle than I expected. She made mistakes, but she wasn’t too stubborn to admit them. The adult characters were also more intriguing than I expected, and I definitely think there’s more stories to come.
I was excited to see there’s a second part to come for this, and I look forward to catching up with Norah and cast in the not too distant future. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication.

‘Little Creeping Things’ – Chelsea Ichaso


In spite of one of the creepiest covers I’ve seen in a while, Little Creeping Things was a pleasure to read.

Our story is that of Cassidy who, when she was little, was rescued from a fire in which her best friend died. Since that time, people in her small town have seen her as something to fear…her nickname Fire Girl ensures she’s not seen as a survivor of an awful event, but the perpetrator of a callous crime. She doesn’t recall many details of this accident, but it has shaped her life in the years since.

Cassidy’s elder brother, Asher, does his best to look out for her, and her best friend Gideon sees beyond the rumours. Unfortunately, when one of the girls who has tormented her most goes missing Cassidy knows things could get difficult…particularly since she was in the woods on the night Melody disappeared, and someone had taken her notebook in which she jokingly made comments about how she could carry out Melody’s murder. She wants to do the right thing, but can she bear the personal cost involved?

Our story focuses on the aftermath of the discovery of Melody’s body and the hunt for who did it. We watch Cassidy under extreme duress, and though we have a number of twists/deceptions we do, eventually, get answers.
Huge thanks to the publishers, Sourcebooks Fire, and NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication.

‘Lies Like Poison’ – Chelsea Pitcher

What a tangled web of lies and deceit these pages revealed…thank you to the publishers, Simon Schuster, and NetGalley for letting me read this prior to its October publication.

Poppy, Lily and Belladonna are our focus for this story and everything hinges on their relationship to Raven, their best friend. It isn’t immediately clear how this group formed or the reason for the dynamics between them – but we know they have a shared history, and would do anything to protect each other.

Our story opens with a body, that of Raven’s stepmother, being found. She has been poisoned with leaves of belladonna placed in her tea. There’s a recipe, written in fourteen year old Bella’s handwriting, on the table next to her that outlines the perfect poison. It would seem that Bella came good on her vow to protect her best friend Raven from his abusive stepmother.

It all seems clear-cut, but then things start unravelling. Poppy – who now calls herself Jack – claims Bella was with her on the night of the murder. The police don’t believe her as Poppy was the one who first went to the police years ago with claims that Raven’s stepmother was hurting him. She is told to go away and think about her story…and determines to work out what happened.

We have our story split into three distinct parts – the truth according to Bella, Jack and then Lily. As we read each story we unpick the various deceits these characters (and those around them) have told, and learn more about the complex background of each.

There was a fairytale quality to this story, and while it focuses on murder it also charts the journey each character has towards acceptance of themselves and their situation. Mercurial in tone, constantly shifting and leaving us with a sense of uncertainty, this was a story that delivered a lot more than it promised. I can’t wait to see what others make of it.


‘Deadly Little Scandals’ – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Picking up after book one Sawyer is still reeling from certain revelations…and struggling to work out how she fits into her new family unit.

We begin this book with the girls being invited to become part of a secret society – the White Gloves. They are forced to go through a rather bizarre initiation process, and all while trying to unearth yet more secrets.

As one of the characters says later on – they could become a porn star and still not be the most scandalous thing in their family. Whatever we think of the craziness here, there’s no denying that these families have a lot of secrets. I wasn’t quite prepared for just how far back these secrets go, or just how wide-reaching their influence was.

While not everything comes out as we might like, there’s plenty of action, we get answers to most of our questions and there’s hints of more exciting things to come.



Describing this as a thrilling read is something of a misnomer, but it is most certainly the kind of clever story that reveals itself slowly and which had me hooked from the outset.

We’re told that a mathematician, Grant McAllister, published an article that explored a clear set of rules to which detective stories must adhere. Based on this idea he published a book called The White Murders, a series of seven short stories examining these theories, but has not written anything since. A recluse, living on a remote Mediterranean island, so it is naturally exciting to learn that an editor is visiting Mr McAllister with the view to publishing a new copy of his work.

Our editor, Julia Hart, is the character who frames this story. We’re told she is sent to help Mr McAllister to edit his work so she reads each story aloud to him before they discuss it. The repetitive structure to this shouldn’t work, but it does…and is central to the success of The Eighth Detective.

What we learn after the first story reading is that each of these seven stories includes some unusual detail. It doesn’t necessarily affect the story, but there is something in each that seems incongruous- and we know it’s important, though we’re not sure to what.

As we listen to the individual stories and Julia’s discussion of them with the author, it is clear that each inconsistency is a clue. I was desperate to work this out and found myself eagerly taking apart each of the stories within the story to try and establish which element had been altered.

I was expecting something odd – and we can tell from quite early on that the title of the book is important (both the fictional book and the book we’re reading) – but I felt like the author had performed an amazing sleight of hand when we finally had the reveal.

This was a clever book, and one which would certainly stand up to rereading and closer examination. I enjoyed it immensely and even though some of the coincidences/tricks used were not wholly plausible and I would have liked to see the characters within our present story fleshed out a little more fully, I enjoyed this so much it has to be a five star rating.

I’m very grateful to the publishers, Michael Joseph, and NetGalley for letting me offer my thoughts on this prior to publication and I will certainly be getting my own copy of it to reread in the not too distant future.