‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ – George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue covers so many areas, but I would urge people to read it, even if you don’t see it as having direct relevance to you.

Part memoir, this series of reflections offer an insight into the author’s life as a child and growing up (as he calls himself) black and queer. We journey from an early memory of having his teeth kicked in at five years old to dealing with the death of a close friend at college and, along the way, get to hear about family members and the various events that he recalls shaping him as he grew up.

I was struck, more than anything, by the love and strength gained from family. Things may not have always been articulated, but there’s a clear sense that when it counted they would have your back. You might be held to account, but you would always be loved – and it strikes me that this may well be the best gift you can give someone.

So many of the memories were tinged with sadness and made me feel angry that they had to be experienced, but if all of us were to pinpoint moments that shaped us I’m sure that not all of them would be positive. As so eloquently written in the latter stages of the book, reading about the experiences of others can help us define ourselves and for this reason alone I would recommend this book. While so much was nothing like my own experiences, that search for yourself and the need to find your family will resonate with most readers.

I’m in awe of Nanny and the devotion she has so clearly inspired. I feel privileged to have been allowed to see inside our author’s head, and grateful to have been given this opportunity.


‘The Girl in Red’ – Christina Henry

The Girl in Red was a book I picked up to read as part of the PopSugar 2021 Challenge. I didn’t know anything about the author and I wasn’t sure quite how you could set up a reimagining of a tale as well-known as that of Little Red Riding Hood. Having finished the book today, I can safely say this was a surprise hit.

The story behind this really does feel as if it could be written for our times. We don’t know how or why, but the world within this book has been hit by something known colloquially as the Cough. Those who become infected may show no symptoms, but this airborne virus spreads quickly and can leave people dead within days. They cough up copious amounts of blood, and there appears to be no vaccine available to cure them.

Cordelia, or Red as she prefers to be known, is something of a heroine to admire. She lives with her brother and parents in a rural town. Fascinated by science she has been worried about the things she has heard, and has been making plans for how to survive should the worst happen. Determined not to be forced into a camp (where many seem to think they will be safe) Red has been tramping the woods for days, carrying everything she thinks she will need to keep alive. Admirable for anyone, but given that Red has a prosthetic leg I could not help but admire the fact she was determined to do what was needed to keep alive.

We follow Red as she travels across country, determined to avoid roads and potential threats, in her journey to get to her grandma’s cottage.As she travels we are given flashbacks to explain how she comes to be travelling alone.

There’s no denying this has its gruesome moments. The details of the mutation and how it impacts on people was scary. The things she has obviously gone through to get to this point are not for the faint-hearted. However, there are moments that show how even in the darkest moments we can be hopeful, and there will always be the potential to create a better future.


‘Last One to Die’ – Cynthia Murphy

When Niamh heads to London for a summer drama programme she could not have imagined the events that she’d get caught up in.

Upon her arrival at the rather grotty hostel she’s due to stay in, a young woman asks if she’ll swap rooms. Niamh does. Later that night the girl in her original room is killed. On her first day, a student tries to befriend her. That night, she’s attacked. And so begins a pattern of accidents/attacks…their one common strand is that the girls all look like Niamh.

Naturally, this is a creepy situation. Unlike most, Niamh doesn’t head home the moment these weird things happen – instead, she tries to get on with her course and the work placement at a Victorian museum.

Without giving anything away, what Niamh uncovers is a story that started a long time ago. In the cold light of day, it’s all preposterous…but you can (with a little will) overlook this as you’re reading.

Focusing on Niamh’s perspective means we don’t get to join all the dots quite in time. Some elements really do stretch the bounds of credibility, and our resolution felt like a bit of a damp squib after a bold start.


‘The Last Girl’ – Goldy Moldavsky

Thanks to the publishers for granting me access to this via NetGalley prior to its scheduled April 2021 release.

The Last Girl is a must-read for horror fans…a lovingly crafted homage to movies that revel in gore, jump-scares and violence. Even readers like myself (who can only read horror stories during the day and who can conjure up threats from the merest hint of shadows and strange noises) will find themselves sucked into this story.

Even knowing the rules doesn’t always help. Sometimes you are up against something for which it’s hard to be prepared.

Our story focuses on new girl Rachel who’s started at an exclusive school where her mum teaches. She is not naturally sociable, and the trauma of killing a masked invader to her old home is something Rachel does not want to share with anyone. She is befriended by Saundra who is desperate to fill her in on the school gossip, but then Rachel finds herself part of a secret club.

Like Fight Club, the rules around this club are tight. Members cannot associate with one another, and nobody should talk about it. The Mary Shelley Club has a seemingly innocent aim, to gather and share a love of horror movies. Another aspect of the Club is the challenge that each member faces…to scare someone.
Initially, like Rachel, we see the Club as harmless – but there are signs that’s not the case. Before long we have a decidedly more dangerous scenario, and the question is whether Rachel will survive this experience.

Not to be taken too seriously, and not something you’d ever want to experience in reality, but self-aware enough to feel the author was having just as much fun writing it as I did reading it.


‘People We Meet on Vacation’ – Emily Henry

Due for release in May 2021, I was thrilled to be invited by the publishers to read this prior to publication.

Without giving too much away, this is a book where everything seems as if it should go horribly horribly wrong but it works so well.

Our main characters are Poppy and Alex, two very different people, whose first meeting seems as if it will quickly become the kind of meeting that you talk about in years to come with a sense of having escaped something. They are unlike each other in so many ways, and everything one likes the other dislikes. They have little in common – their only shared ground discovered in their first meeting is that they both have an irrational hatred of anyone who calls boats ‘she’. Yet that first meeting sets in place a relationship like no other.

Poppy and Alex spend years on the outskirts of each other’s lives. A remnant of their college years, they spend time each summer on a vacation. Their only stipulation that it should give them the chance to experience something new.

Over the years they’ve had some memorable trips…and we get to catch up with a few of them, learning as we go just what a place these two have for each other.
Alongside learning about their past, we see them in their present. Poppy writing for a travel magazine and based in New York; Alex teaching at his former high school, in the town Poppy couldn’t wait to escape. Still very different, but with a history whose reach is hard to ignore.

It didn’t surprise me to see what happened by the end. That always seemed likely, but it was great to see how they got to this point in their lives.


‘A Vow So Bold and Deadly’ – Brigid Kemmerer

When I first started reading Book One I had quite a strong view of how I imagined things might eventually be resolved. As the series continued it was clear that might not be an option, but starting this I was hopeful we’d get some answers.

As the book opens we are in a horribly fractured place. Rhen has – for many – committed an act of betrayal in his treatment of Grey. He vows to do the best for his people, but he seems to be struggling with himself as to exactly what this will entail. Grey is finding it hard to win over the army he is now expected to help lead. Lia Mara is determined to rule with compassion, but for those accustomed to her mother’s violence it is seen as a sign of weakness. Harper is somewhat relegated to the sidelines for much of this as everyone knows she’s no princess and yet her counsel seems to be the only thing that can get through to Rhen.

For much of the book we’re dealing with fractured relationships and people trying to do their best to lead without being fully aware of every eventuality. It’s a bit of a mess, and once we know Lillith has returned I started to doubt we’d get anything resolved.

Focusing on different viewpoints throughout did help to allow us time to understand the motivations of each character, but it does rather hide the fact that for a substantial part of the book nothing is actually happening…it’s all about what might happen or how things could be. Maybe this is a sign of lockdown fatigue, but when things are so uncertain how can you plan?

Once we shifted to the moments following Lillith’s bold move it was obvious we were going to have a big episode. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I do think it fits within the series and nicely resolves some elements. Though this is released as the final part of the trilogy, the new elements that get introduced certainly don’t rule out the possibility for a return to this world at some point.


‘Piranesi’ – Susanna Clarke

Piranesi was a shifting, mercurial delight of a story.
I was lucky enough to be granted access to an ARC of the audiobook narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and I found myself carried along by it. There were moments where I found meaning elusive, and we’d be given hints of what was happening but could never be quite certain. Normally this would frustrate me beyond belief but in this story it is a very necessary part of the experience.
Piranesi, our narrator, journals avidly and spends his days curating the house in which he lives. Twice a week he meets with The Other and discusses the things he observes within the many rooms he journeys to. There are allusions to a sixteenth person, and the perceived threat from an unwelcome visitor.
Suffice to say, nothing is quite as it seems.
Once I came to the end I found myself full of longing to return. This is a world that you will fall in love with.


‘Lore’ – Alexandra Bracken

I am grateful to NetGalley and the publishers for granting me access to this prior to publication.

I had to have two attempts to read this – first time round I wasn’t clicking with it at all. Second time round, I found the start equally frustrating but it did improve…only to end in a bit of a whimper.

Lore was a character who both intrigued and irritated me. The relentless flashbacks helped us to gain an understanding of her past, but until we were some way in they just seemed intensely annoying. She was descended from gods, but was mortal…yet she was needed by the gods as they appeared for their regular seven day fight.

The whole book felt a bit like being at a party when everyone around you is having fun and you’re not quite feeling it. Nothing was actually wrong with what I was reading, but I regularly found myself having to push through to keep reading and find out what happened.

Once we developed a little more understanding of Lore’s past and started to piece together the relationship between the characters it became more engaging. There were a few dramatic moments that took me rather by surprise, but I didn’t feel they were enough. Throughout, I had a sense of waiting for a big reveal and wanting to learn exactly what Lore was hiding…but the moment when it came was all a little sudden.

This, sadly, wasn’t really for me.


‘The Upside of Falling’ – Alex Light

This was an unbelievably quick read, and though it was good fun for the most part I can’t help but feel that some elements of the story were a little rushed.

Becca Hart has got used to living alone with her mum. When her dad left them Becca lost faith in the power of love. She closed off a little, and vowed never to fall in love because it would only mean getting hurt. Of course, that makes her ripe for the situation that develops in the book.

Within the early stages we see Becca being criticised for her rather unspoken opinions on love. She is rescued by popular guy, Brett, the boy who seems to have the perfect life and for whom love is something to believe in.

So begins a rather unlikely scenario – the fake dating where both Becca and Brett decide they have something to gain from convincing their peers that they are in a relationship. Naturally, they spend time together and it soon becomes clear that the boundaries are getting blurred and things aren’t quite as fake as they first thought.

The whole story rattles along at some pace. It’s hard not to like Becca and Bret, but I was struck throughout by their naivety and the speed with which they went from disinterested in a relationship to confessing their love for one another.
There’s a little blip on the way, but we know exactly how it’s going to end up.


‘The Project’ – Courtney Summers

The Project certainly encouraged me to think about some of the issues within, but it wasn’t quite the story I expected and I felt rather ambiguous about the ending.
Our story focuses on one group and their charismatic leader. Many outside the group regard it as a cult, and our main character Lo is one of those people. Working for a respected journalist, Lo dreams of writing an expose about the group, and getting answers to the questions she has about her sister.

I found it odd that the story begins from the viewpoint of Bea (the older sister) and how she became linked to Lev and the group. We see her as a teen dealing with the deaths of her parents and the aftermath of the crash that claimed their lives. It’s not really a surprise to learn that not long after Bea left to live in the group.

We then switch focus to Lo and her watching as she witnesses a suicide. Hard by any standards, but very odd to learn that the young man who killed him self recognised her and was linked to The Project. It’s not surprising that
Lo is then determined to find a way to expose Lev and what the group practises.
While it was interesting to see how the group operated and the subtle ways in which they exerted their beliefs on others, I found myself surprised that so few would challenge them or be prepared to counter their claims.

I felt uncomfortable watching Lo get sucked into what was evidently an unhealthy environment. The details were interesting, but never really seemed to make sense. Though we got answers, they came very much later and this meant I wasn’t quite as engaged throughout as I might have been.