‘After the Silence’ – Louise O’Neill

A somewhat puzzling read from Louise O’Neill here, but I think that’s because I was expecting the focus to be more on the mystery.

Keelin Kinsella is a local girl, who has a seemingly successful second marriage to Henry. They are wealthy, and renowned for their shows of wealth. Locals on the island have never fully accepted Henry, and when one of the young triplets feted on the island is found dead after a wild party at the Kinsella’s people assume the hosts were involved. Ten years on, nobody has been charged with her death. People talk. Someone knows what happened, but it seems to be a mystery that will remain unsolved.

A couple of documentary makers come to visit the island and see if they can unearth new evidence. At the request of her husband Keelin befriends them and tries to influence the picture given. Of course we want to know why, and what she’s hiding.

While I spent a fairly substantial part of the book waiting to learn the truth about this event, it was evident that the focus was on those involved and uncovering the truth of their reality. From the relationship between Henry and Keelin and the details of their past, it was clear that this was not a healthy relationship. O’Neill deftly explores the reality of domestic violence and the ways in which those affected by it might respond/reflect on it.

When we eventually got to the uncovering of the evening in question, I had suspected that our obvious candidate was not the one responsible. It was evident that a number of those at the party knew the truth and chose to cover it up. However they justify their actions, there was a part of me that was so disgusted by the behaviour/attitude shown by certain characters that I was rather disappointed when we learned the truth.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in advance of publication. It certainly gave me food for thought.


‘Rumblestar’ – Abi Elphinstone

The time it took me to listen to this on audio is, in no way, a sign of my feelings about the book. I am pretty new to using audiobooks and find certain conditions/settings make it easier for me to follow the story when I don’t have the physical text in front of me.

This is a great adventure, with characters that you can’t help but admire, want to succeed and which made me feel a lot braver just reading about them. Eleven year old Casper likes routine and his life is led by his timetables. Unfortunately, these timetables mostly consist of helping him to avoid the school bullies determined to make his life awful.

One day Casper finds himself hiding in a clock to escape them, and is transported to a magical world. Rumblestar is a strange place, full of whimsy, but the characters he meets as he tries to prevent the evil taking over the world. From Arlo the dragon to his first proper friend, Utterly Thankless, these characters were full of life.

There was a great blend of fear and humour, and our character’s journey was inspirational. Huge thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for letting me listen to this prior to publication.


‘The Whole Truth’ – Cara Hunter

Scheduled for release in March 2021, I was so excited to receive the invitation from the publishers via NetGalley to read and review this early. I thought All the Rage took the DI Fawley series to a new level, but it’s safe to say that in The Whole Truth things are better than expected in terms of storytelling.
There are three stories being told in The Whole Truth, each of which challenges our expectations and assumptions.
In the first instance we have Caleb Morgan, a young student who has come forward to his university making an allegation against one of his professors about a sexual attack. The professor concerned, Marina Fisher, is not quite what you might expect and from the outset this story challenges a lot of preconceptions. Almost certainly influenced by the #MeToo movement, this was a murky ever-shifting story where it was never quite clear what had happened, where each of those involved seemed to be hiding something and which, ultimately, led to me feeling very sorry for any officer ever involved in investigating any kind of sexual assault.
The second and third strands of the story are more closely linked than we might initially have predicted. There’s the disappearance of a young professional called Emma Smith. Her body is, eventually, discovered so this becomes a murder investigation. Unfortunately, the investigation uncovers some rather damning evidence which has serious implications for DI Fawley. The third strand of the story focuses on the Fawley couple. Alex is pregnant, and increasingly fearful that the man convicted of the attacks (one of which she survived) is determined to engineer revenge on them for manipulating the evidence that led to his conviction. Many think she’s paranoid, but the podcast researching this trial and conviction certainly offers enough to suggest Alex is right to be fearful…and, eventually, offers some very useful information to help those investigating the death of Emma (who was, in fact, a close friend of Alex Fawley).
Without giving too much away, once we start to see these strands interweave this became very hard to put down. Every part of this story was gripping, and it was fascinating to experience so many of the inevitable frustrations that must come from investigating such cases. Some of the characters definitely come out of this better than others, and though we are encouraged to remain convinced of the innocence of some key players, some of the truths that are revealed at the end most definitely left a rather unsavoury taste.


‘The Island’ – C.L. Taylor

As a teen I can recall an annual skiing holiday taken by my parents and their group of friends. Every year we’d spend a week abroad, the families, and be forced together. The parents would relish their time to unwind but for the kids tagging along it was a strange thing. We had little in common, but a shared experience. Each year brought the same thing, but with little differences in our interactions that reflected the fact we weren’t really friends.
Reflecting on this immediately made me empathise with the group in this story. They seemed to have closer bonds, but it is evident that they harbour secrets and that not everything is as rosy as it seems on the surface.
Our setting is a remote holiday resort…and then our group of almost-adults is packed off together to a deserted island. Unfortunately, their guide has a stroke and dies. Then they discover the starter cord to the boat has been cut and they are trapped. Their immediate plan is to hunker down on the island and wait for their parents to be alerted to their non-return before being rescued.
Unfortunately, things aren’t quite so predictable. Strange things start happening. The groups’ fears start to become reality…and they’re soon in a nightmare scenario, fighting for their lives.
Throughout, it was clear things were being manipulated but it was good fun trying to guess who was behind it. Clues were there, but the revelation – when it came- was a little odd. We knew enough to realise different behaviour in the build-up could have led to a different story. It was plausible, but not quite the tension-packed thing I was expecting.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this before publication.


‘The Haunting of Aveline Jones’ – Phil Hickes

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are starting to come down and we’re almost into October…so this was a perfect time to curl up on the sofa and read this ghost story.
Aveline Jones is a serious young girl, used to spending time alone and she loves nothing more than to read ghost stories under the covers. As her half-term approaches, Aveline is upset to be forced to spend the holiday with her aunt in the Cornish seaside town of Malmouth.
From the moment she arrives Aveline senses something odd about the place – from the remote setting to the strange child-shaped mannequins that decorate many of the houses. Her aunt’s home makes strange noises and for a child used to living in the city this is a place where her imagination can run riot.
Aveline finds herself pushed into visiting the local bookstore. There she finds a friend in its chatty owner and his nephew, but she also discovers a mysterious book telling some of the local stories.
The setting is perfect for this quite charming story. Everything is quickly put in place, and though we have an idea that something scary is going to happen (which is, naturally, linked to the book Aveline has bought) there’s a reassuring adult presence to stop it being too scary for its intended audience. Aveline is a determined and resourceful character, whose imagination is to be lauded but there’s a resilience to her that I couldn’t help but admire.
A must-read for those who like to be scared without being terrified, and the illustrations were perfect for setting the mood of each chapter.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this before its release…and I can’t be the only one excited to see there’s a second book to come.

‘Influence’ – Sara Shepard and Lilia Buckingham

If you thought Pretty Little Liars was set in a far-fetched world, then you’ll love Influence. It’s a world so far removed from reality for many that it really is hard to comprehend people living like this. However, Shepard’s co-author in this is a real-life influencer, so I trust much of this is based on her reality.

The story focuses on four influencers – Delilah (relatively new to the scene), Scarlet (the original mean girl), Jasmine (a child star desperate to reveal who she really is) and Fiona (the funny girl hiding her own secret). We follow them as they live their picture-perfect lives and quickly realise that the reality of their existence is quite different from the image they present.

Much of the interest for me came from the insight into a way of life that is so alien to my experience. It struck me as crazy, a mental nightmare waiting to happen and yet something that holds a dangerous allure. When one of the group is found dead, there is a determination to uncover some of the secrets people have been hiding as they work out what’s happened.

Strangely, the actual murder and subsequent investigation really didn’t register much. There was an attempt to make it dramatic, but the truth was – if I’m honest – rather out of place and seemed more of a manipulation of events to prove a point about the potential pitfalls of this type of world.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication (expected January 2021), and though it wasn’t really my thing I can see this being a big hit with the target audience.


‘Hollowpox: the Hunt for Morrigan Crow’ – Jessica Townsend

What an October treat this will be for many readers, and I’m thrilled to have been given the opportunity via the publishers and NetGalley to read it before publication (and desperate for my pre-order to arrive so I can read it again).

For a book targeting younger readers, our third instalment takes a dangerous turn that brings darkness to Nevermoor. The threat comes in the form of a virus (I did wonder if Townsend had the ability to see into the future!) called the Hollowpox that infects wunimals and forces them to act in self-destructive and dangerous ways. The infection rate is small, initially, but quickly takes hold and rises to the level that means it cannot be ignored. Restrictions are imposed and fear of what is to come spreads.

Alongside this very real threat hovers the fear Morrigan has of Squall, the link they seem to share and what it will mean for her to be a Wundersmith. Now in her next year of studies Morrigan is granted the opportunity to study more of the craft that few seem to understand, many fear and yet which offers real potential. Through some inventive teaching methods she gets to learn more about Wunder and how she can manipulate it. It also means she gets to see more of Squall, and comes to see him as human.

Throughout the book the focus is on the Hollowpox and its impact. However, Townsend seamlessly blends this bigger picture with the emotional journey of Morrigan and some cracking scenes that really had me racing through the pages. The writing, throughout, is vibrant and there are several moments (you’ll know them when you get there) that really had me guessing in which direction this was going to go.

I can safely this was a read that I’d highly recommend.


‘Anxious People’ – Fredrik Backman

Anxious People is a book that sneaks up on you somewhat…but it is one that I would urge people to read.

The narrative focuses on a hostage situation, taking place just before New Year, when a group of prospective buyers in an apartment are taken hostage by a bank robber needing to escape quickly after their planned raid goes wrong. Though the scenario around which this story revolves sounds dramatic, the story itself is gentle and far more emotional than I was expecting.

Backman shows us – through this scenario – the threads that bind us, though we may not realise them initially, and encourages us to explore our own interactions with others.

Piece by piece, we are shown what led to this most unusual situation. We gradually learn little details about the hostages within the apartment, see the thought process of the police responding to this crime and come to understand some of the decisions that lead our characters to the point in time at which we meet them.

I never thought I would find myself feeling sympathy for so many characters. From the bank robber doing the wrong thing for what could be argued are good reasons to all of the hostages, Backman reveals details about their lives that I could not help but react emotionally to. The hostage-taking scenario aside, there are no grand gestures here but this was a gentle – at times, very funny – look at loneliness and how we can, sometimes, lose control of things around us.

As always, Backman’s style draws you in. There’s a genuine warmth for the minutiae of people’s lives and the little details that can affect our choices. Interspersing the story with the transcriptions of the police interviews allowed us to learn little details to help our understanding, but which also allowed us to understand how we arrived at the final destination.


‘Cemetery Boys’ – Aiden Thomas

This is a review I had to return to as when I finished the book I had tears in my eyes and couldn’t think straight. Emotional with some great comic moments, and characters that jump off the page with their vibrancy. A tale of love, acceptance and a healthy dose of sass with some magic thrown in…will be recommending this to so many!


Yadriel is part of a family who can see the dead. Their talents have been nurtured over many years, and Yadriel is desperate to be part of the Brujx community. What we quickly learn is that Yadriel’s family are reluctant to accept him into the rituals because he is trans, and it goes against their traditions. A conflict that, for me, came to represent the challenge that seems to be common to many…that need to be accepted for who you are, and perhaps validated by those you love (even if they don’t seem wholly supportive of you).

Yadriel and his best friend, Maritza, definitely forge their own way. Determined to find a way to prove their skills, Yadriel carries out his own ritual when his cousin Miguel goes missing. There’s no sign of a body – but when Yadriel brings back another dead boy, Julian, he gets more than he bargained for!

From their first meeting Julian and Yadriel are great together. They have an instinctive need to support one another and they can’t always articulate what they’re feeling, but it’a a bond to treasure. It’s hardly surprising that Yadriel is not wholly pleased at the prospect of having to send Julian’s body to the afterlife.

The book follows Yadriel and Maritza in their journey to learn what has happened to Miguel and Julien. Eventually they get answers, though they’re not what they would have wanted. This culminated in a dramatic moment that had me crying, but the aftermath mopped things up nicely and left me with good feelings (albeit with tears in my eyes).

I can’t wait to recommend this to people and discuss it.

‘Sweet Harmony’ – Claire North

In Sweet Harmony North has created a monster, a monster I initially felt some empathy for but who – ultimately – learns nothing from her situation.

A succinct yet damning indictment of our obsession with youth, physical health and the ‘quick fix’ solution. Sweet Harmony tells the story of one very normal woman living in a world where everything can be fixed…at a price.

Harmony has upgrade after upgrade to keep her body looking its best. Nothing needs to be worked at in the traditional sense and all is good, if you can pay for it. Our only clue that something is not right is that Harmony has a spot…and before we know it we see the full truth of her situation exposed.

Faced with spiralling debt we see Harmony slowly shutting down. Around her, difficult choices have to be made. The reaction to her plight when she shares it shows the casual callousness that we seem to take for granted in so many circumstances.

Until the closing stages part of me felt Harmony was a victim, and I felt sympathy of sorts for her predicament. However, the decision she makes at the end made me feel that she was rather more complicit in her demise than I’d been prepared to accept. I closed the story feeling somewhat tainted, angry that such a situation could come about but also miserable to recognise so much of the mindset prevalent in the book as being all around us now.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication.