‘I Know What I Saw’ – Imran Mahmood

I Know What I Saw is one of those rare treats, where you will convince yourself you’ve worked it all out…only to then be slipped a little detail that makes your theory untenable. This mercurial element comes from the shifting details provided by our narrator.

Our main character, Xander, is homeless and we follow him through what can best be described as a bewildering sequence of events. Attacked for invading another homeless man’s patch, Xander is forced to seek shelter one evening. He finds an open doorway, and keen to escape heavy rain he enters a house. While trying to dry off he falls asleep, and is woken by voices. Crouched behind a sofa he hears an argument and sees a woman being murdered.

When Xander goes to the police they have no evidence of a crime being committed. He is charged with wasting police time, and they are convinced his mental health is impacting on his ability to engage with his environment.
As we follow Xander through this experience, we learn more about his past. There’s clear signs of trauma, and indications that events in his life have impacted badly on him.

When the police reveal that Xander’s recollections of the crime match an unexplained accident that took place thirty years previously, he is charged with murder. His freedom depends on him being able to recall facts his brain does not seem able to process.

Once we’d got underway I found myself engrossed, desperate to work out what had happened. Not every question was answered, and there were clear signs that even by the end not everything had been tidily resolved. Xander remains something of an enigma, but this was still a great read.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this before publication in exchange for my review.


‘The Outrage’ – William Hussey

Imagine a world where to be gay or trans is a crime. You’re a degenerate and treated as sub-human by members of The Protectorate, the leaders of this new world charged with keeping order and keeping everyone safe. This is the awful world in which Gabe lives.

Our main character is forthright, angry and prone to making some really stupid choices. But he’s also loyal and loving, and determined to stick up for what he believes is right – no matter the cost.

Gabe and his friends – who charmingly call themselves The Rebels – know they are different, and that people are threatened by them. They want nothing more than to be themselves, to be proud of who they are and to live their lives.

Unfortunately, Gabe is also in love with Eric Dufresne, the son of someone high in the ranks of The Protectorate. When they are caught trying to remove a banned disc, showing that dangerous movie ‘Love, Simon’, things quickly escalate and what became an idealistic aim becomes a fight for survival.

Hussey creates a truly shocking environment-strangely not at all incredible given some of the situations and events we see happening around us. While the representation may not please everyone, it’s an evolving process to encourage people to consider their place, their personal beliefs and their role in history.

I’m looking forward to seeing what people make of this, and I’m so grateful to NetGalley for granting me early access.



‘The Obsession’ – Jesse Q. Sutanto

I cannot even begin to imagine where the author will take this story in book two, but I found myself surprisingly captivated by Dee who is (without a doubt) the real focus of our story.
The story is told from two points of view – of Logan, a star lacrosse player, and Dee, a new student at the school. From the beginning my senses were tingling in overdrive at Logan and his earnest creepiness. Nobody seemed suspicious of him, but his internal monologue as he talks about a past student and his relationship with her gives off very worrying vibes. When he sees Dee across the school site, he is convinced they are destined to be together and so begins his one-sided pursuit of this quiet young girl who is definitely not what she first appears.
Dee has her own secrets. Some of which are more serious than others, and some of which certainly took me rather by surprise. What we know from very early on is that Dee is suffering at the hands of her abusive stepfather…but as he’s a policeman she and her mum believe they’re on their own.
Splitting between the two views means some of the plot details are not revealed quite as quickly as you might like. Logan is convinced he has the upper hand in his relationship with Dee, and I can’t begin to imagine how terrifying it would be to find yourself faced with a stalker who’s under the delusion that you are as committed to the relationship as he is. However, we also learn pretty early on that Dee has a resolve to her that is positively scary.
Reading this became a tense cat and mouse style chase, where we knew someone would come out of this badly but we genuinely don’t know who it will be. We know we haven’t seen the end of this setting/characters, and I am very curious to see how things develop as they leave the safety of high school.


‘The Boyband Murder Mystery’ – Ava Eldred

I’ve never found myself being so enamoured with a boyband that I could fully understand the mentality of those who find themselves immersed in the fandom. I know it happens, but there’s something inherently worrying for me that people can become so attached to a construct that they come to define themselves by it. The friendships forged in the name of such fandom can, I’m sure, be intense…and perhaps my lack of understanding for such a situation is why I found myself not quite as engaged with this as I hoped to be.
The Boyband Murder Mystery sounds as if it should have all the ingredients for success. A world-famous boyband, a close friend, an inter-group relationship and something alarming that happens which threatens to rock the band to its core should make for an interesting story, but there were times within the story where I found myself not being quite sure what I was reading.
Our main character is Harri, a nineteen year old in her first year at university, who has spent the last five years defining herself by the friendships formed around her love of the boyband Half Light. For Harri, the boys (Frankie, Kyle and Jack) are everything and she – along with the other millions of girls like her – is convinced she knows everything about the boys, would do anything to save them and can’t live without them.
When Frankie is arrested on suspicion of murdering his best friend, Evan, nobody can quite believe it. Harri and her best friend Jas – who she has never met, and doesn’t really know – are determined that they will use their knowledge of the group to do whatever it takes to prove Frankie’s innocence.
Now, a far more interesting story might have been if such a person had murdered someone…but the focus is really on the girls, so we assume he is innocent and watch as they carry out their own investigations – without ever coming across a police officer – and try to work out who is responsible for setting him up.
There’s no doubt this was entertaining. The story itself, however, felt crazily far-fetched and I found myself quite irritated by Harri and her inability to interact with anyone in the flesh – but it was a good way to while away a few hours. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this before its publication.

‘Dangerous Women’ – Hope Adams


Dangerous Women is a fictionalised account of an historical voyage, and it sweeps you up in the intricacies of the lives of the women involved.

One hundred and eighty women are taken on board the ship that will be their home for the next fifteen weeks as they sail from England to Van Diemen’s Land, the place that will be their new home. All very different, but every one of the women has something in common…they have been convicted of a crime, and this is their opportunity to start anew. Though we don’t learn the identity of the person involved until very late on, one of the women should not be there. She has killed someone, and has done what was necessary to take her place on the ship in her desperation to hide her past.

Our story slowly reveals details of the past lives of some of the women, but for the most part we focus on their interactions during the journey. Some of the women are invited to become part of a group run by Kezia Taylor, a woman from a wealthy background who is convinced her presence can help these women change their situations.

While the book is, for substantial periods, quite gentle there is an undercurrent of menace. When one of the women in the group is stabbed, everyone is suspicious. Investigations are started to establish the truth…and we soon learn that those who are most dangerous are not always most visible.

A tale of hope and redemption, in the bleakest situations. The stifling atmosphere of the ship is perfect for allowing events to unfold, and I was most relieved when they ended by setting their sights on new land – their chance to start over.

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this before publication in exchange for my review.

‘The Yearbook’ – Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne does it again, with a timely reminder that school is not – for everyone – the best time of their lives.

The dramas, the traumas, the rumours – it’s time to expose it all… The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Mean Girls in this scathingly funny and relatable high-school takedown from the queen of UKYA.

After a fairly slow start that had me unsure if this was quite what I expected, the story finds its stride and culminates in a positive message that will inspire hope (even if it might not seem wholly credible).

Paige Vickers has got used to seeing herself as a nobody. She’s so used to living under the limelight of her brother and managing the fallout of a toxic home life that she tends to hide in school. Quiet, but highly observant and genuinely amusing, Paige is the voice for all those who wish they had the chance to tell it like it is.

When the school Mean Girls posse – who have spent years systematically bullying anyone deemed unworthy – take over the Yearbook preparations we can see there’s something big brewing. Paige watches in horror as she sees them prepare to leave their legacy…a book full of falsehoods. But, is it up to Paige to call them out?

With the confidence from finally being heard – a side story romance that is straight from the silver screen in its adorable factor – Paige decides it’s time to tell her truth.

Thank you so much Holly Bourne for another must-read for me to recommend to students, and to the publishers and NetGalley for letting me read this prior to its May release.


‘What Beauty There Is’ – Cory Anderson

The tale of Jack and Ava is bleak, but you can’t help but fall under their spell.
Each of them knows what it’s like to have a secret. They’ve spent years learning to hide the reality of who they are. They each know how others judge them because of their family.

Jack’s father is in prison for his involvement in crime. His mother has given up, and when Jack finds her hanged in her room, he vows not to let his younger brother down. He buries his mother, then sets about trying to do whatever he can to find the money his father is rumoured to have hidden and look after his brother.

Unfortunately, his father’s ex partner (who also happens to be Ava’s dad) and others are determined to get their hands on the money. Jack is at risk and he has to trust someone who has the capacity to hurt him greatly.

We follow the boys as they search for a way to escape what looks inevitable. We see the growing closeness between Jack and Ava, and we see our two main characters forced to make difficult choices as they determine how they want to live life for themselves.

I can’t begin to understand the background of either of these two, but their grit and determination was admirable. I’m curious to know more about the sheriff who ultimately helps them out, and the ending certainly implies we’re not done with this story yet.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.


‘Such Pretty Things’ – Lisa Heathfield

Heathfield’s adult debut is definitely in the vein of Henry James, and the emphasis on creepy dolls is enough to send chills down my spine. It offers thrills aplenty and yet didn’t always work for me.

After an accident involving their mother, Cara and her brother Stephen are sent to live with their aunt and uncle. They’ve never met, and yet are thrust into the bosom of their mother’s childhood home. Things are different, and though each looks forward to the experience it soon becomes clear that things will not go as either side hoped.

A rather languid start sets up the oppressive atmosphere in the new home. Cara and Stephen are expected to follow their aunt’s rules. Though she desperately wants them, nothing prepares her for the reality of children. The noise, the capriciousness and the conflict from someone trying to assert their own will on a situation. They never meet their uncle, but his presence is felt through the rules enforced.

Cara fights their new reality. She becomes increasingly upset. Stephen, desperate for a mother’s love, is more willing to adapt his behaviour.

As the children adjust to their new home we are given details that indicate that their aunt is struggling with her mental health after suffering with the miscarriages/deaths of her five pregnancies.

After what seems like a long time, we start to see things unravel in spectacular fashion. Genuinely creepy at this point, and it would have been great to have seen this element introduced earlier/perhaps offering a little more background to their lives. By the time we’re privy to what’s happening, it’s too late to do anything other than look on in horror and wonder how such a thing could happen without anyone being alerted to the oddness of the situation.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.


‘The Last House on Needless Street’ – Catriona Ward

Immediate response on finishing…wow! Not at all what I expected when I picked it up. Wrong-footed, completely, but I like that. Fascinating subject, encouraging me to feel empathy for characters I was resistant to feel positively towards. Hard to review without giving details away…highly recommended.
I’d seen some cracking reviews of The Last House on Needless Street, and there is a definite buzz developing about this book. Sometimes, that puts pressure on a book to live up to your expectations…but in this case, I think it surpassed all thoughts I had about it.
We’re told little about the story. It’s a story about a serial killer, with part of the story narrated by Olivia who happens to be a cat. Olivia lives with Ted, a man who harbours secrets and who happens to live near a lake where a young girl disappeared years earlier. The young girl’s sister, Dee, is convinced that someone knows more about her sister’s disappearance than was revealed at the time. Thanks to her own investigations, she ends up moving next door to Ted, who she thinks is key to discovering the truth.
From the opening pages it’s clear we’re dealing with some characters who are keeping secrets. I was convinced that we were dealing with something quite straightforward…and I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Within a short space of time I found myself captivated by what I was reading. At times, I found myself second-guessing events and desperate for answers as things didn’t go as I expected. As the story developed and we learned further details I found myself developing a highly emotional reaction. It was all too apparent that things were not at all as they seemed.
I really did not expect to have such a sensitive portrayal of such a dark and disturbing subject. This was masterfully presented, and informative in a way that cannot be underestimated. As soon as I’d finished I found myself wishing desperately to be in the enviable position of starting the book again with no idea of what I was about to encounter. I’m insanely jealous of everyone who gets to pick this up for the first time, and I can’t wait to discuss this with others.