‘Let’s Go Swimming on Doomsday’ – Natalie C. Anderson

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this before its June publication. A harrowing story, but one that should not be ignored.

Our main focus is Abdi, a sixteen year old Somali boy, who – in order to protect his family – was asked by the Americans to infiltrate the jihadi terrorist group Al Shabaab. He vividly recalls the day that Al Shabaab boys came to his town and took his brother. Abdi was thirteen.

Our story is split between the now – when Abdi is being cared for by Sam, a worker for the UN – and then – the process that lead to Abdi being recruited by the group and the activities he was forced to take part in.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the subject matter is tough reading. The indoctrination of children to such groups, and the callous disregard for human life shown by such leaders, is graphically conveyed to us. However, making it clear that Abdi did not participate willingly, and that he is now in fear for his life, meant the book did not seem to glamorise such actions at all.

The details given about how the group operated were fascinating. What struck me, however, was the very real focus on the emotional impact on Abdi and others like him of such groups. There was an emotional honesty to this that is hard to ignore, and I cannot wait to see how it goes down with teen readers.


‘None Shall Sleep’ – Ellie Marney

None Shall Sleep was an unexpected read, and one that I am amazed I’ve not heard more about. It’s dark, rather terrifying in its entirety but utterly compelling.

Emma Lewis and Travis Bell are teens recruited into a new FBI program. This has been done before, but the characters of Emma and Travis were quite different. Emma is the one that got away…the ‘final bride’ of a serial killer. Travis is the son of a US Marshall who was killed in the line of duty, by a teenage serial killer. They are both – naturally – affected by their experiences but determined to play their part in protecting others.

Under the care of Agent Cooper they are tasked with interviewing teenage serial killers who have not complied with previous FBI profiling attempts. This leads them to Simon Gutmunsson, the Artist, and the young man who took the life of Travis’s father. Beguiling, but one to watch, Simon is intrigued by Emma and what she has endured. He drops hints about the profile and behaviour of the killer who has come to be known as the Butcher…and, very quickly, it becomes clear that Emma and Travis are getting results.

Ominously, they are drawn into a dark and tangled web. People are killed. They are in danger, and yet they are doggedly determined to do what they believe to be right – even it means working closely with someone they feel unable to trust.
There’s a deeply unpleasant level of detail in the crimes featured. We know we’re dealing with some incredibly dangerous people…but there’s something mesmerising about their behaviour too.

This will not be for everyone. Some scenes played straight out of the Lecter/Starling moments in The Silence of the Lambs but it always felt as if we were getting something a little different. I loved the presentation of our key characters and our closing scenes were deeply affecting. While I’m unsettled by how much I enjoyed this, I am genuinely keen to see what others make of it.


‘Survive the Night’ – Riley Sager

Another solid Sager read, where you suspect one or two of the details thrown your way and are just feeling quite satisfied when another detail is slipped in that throws a curveball. I’m not going to pretend all the film references worked for me, and there is a rather superior tone to this that occasionally had me feeling it was all about being just that bit cleverer than your readers, but I devoured this book. It’s a definite 4.5 stars for me, but I can’t go all in for reasons I’ll explain later.

A gripping read, that depends on some twists coming at you from the darkness so I don’t want to give away crucial details in this review.

We know the book centres on Charlie, a student who is struggling to come to terms with her part in the murder of her room-mate at the hands of the infamous Campus Killer. She is in a car with a relative stranger, Josh, who has offered a lift. Understandably nervous, Charlie cannot decide how much of her fear about Josh is in her head. As they drive, little details hint strongly that Charlie might be right to be afraid. Why won’t he let her see in the trunk? Why does his driving licence have a different name? Why does he follow her out of the diner when she tries to call her boyfriend?

The growing sense of unease as Charlie and Josh travel along quiet roads is palpable. Deliberately slow, but it reels you in. Just when we – and Charlie – think we’ve worked it out, there’s an abrupt shift.

Things pick up the pace after this point (almost too fast on occasion) and we soon find ourselves in a technicolour drama. Charlie’s obvious mental health issues and obsessive film referencing made it difficult to know to what extent she could be trusted at times. There’s a couple of moments where – when you’re not caught up in them – things seem just too convenient. While it was good to get some answers and be vindicated in some judgments, the big revelation rather came from nowhere.

I’m, once again, very grateful to have been given the opportunity via NetGalley to read this prior to publication.


‘One Last Stop’ – Casey McQuiston


I started this just after seeing a post on social media commenting on the fact that a member of the blogging community had expressed their dismay over this book and not been able to finish it…because it had lesbian characters. That, in a nutshell, seemed to sum up why such a book is needed.

This book had so much going on. While not all of the strands fully worked for me, it was a joyous read – and one that I could not help but feel happy to have read.
Our main character is a rather innocent young girl, who has moved to New York to try and finish college – and to move away from her mother’s attempts to get her to investigate the disappearance of a relative. She finds herself living in a rather strange apartment-share, with a mixed bunch of characters who quickly show themselves to be warm-hearted, caring and better than many families. She gets a job in a 24-hour diner, in spite of having no previous experience, and finds herself intrigued by the daily meet she has on the subway.

August is not particularly confident, but she is determined to try and make the best of situations she ends up in. When she finds herself meeting the same girl, Jane, on her daily commute it quickly becomes a crush she does not want to ignore.

This could have been the story and it would, probably, have worked. Seeing these two together was entertaining, and you cannot deny the attraction between them. However, we have a rather unusual twist…Jane is incapable of leaving the subway and – for reasons we are not quite sure of – actually lived in the 1970s.

I would heartily recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Red, White and Royal Blue though the tone/style is more reflective. As we drew towards the end I have to say I was nervous about reading on – just in case things didn’t quite go as expected.

‘When You Are Mine’ – Michael Robotham

Intense, full of twists, and definitely a book I found hard to put down. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.
Philomena McCarthy comes from a background that she is keen to escape. Her father, Eddie, was a criminal who was well-known for his exploits before turning ‘good’ and she recalls visiting her uncles in prison. While she has fond memories of him, Phil has turned her back on her family in order to train and serve as a police officer. This struck me as unlikely, but she has an exemplary record and things are looking good for her.
Until the day she is called to investigate a disturbance. She finds a young woman, beaten and bleeding. She arrests the man believed to be responsible…only he is a decorated police officer. From that moment on, Phil cannot let it lie. She pursues Goodall, convinced he is a serial abuser, even though it puts her at risk.
You really could not predict how bad things get. Suspended from work, at risk from the stifling presence of the woman she rescued, Phil ends up in a very dangerous situation. Though she resisted it, determined to uphold the law, she finds herself making use of her family connections to try and rescue herself from the depths.
From start to finish I was struck by the recklessness of this young woman. She does things for the right reasons, and you want her to succeed, but she is the proverbial bull in a China shop. Caught in a situation not entirely of her own making this has explosive consequences for her.

‘Namesake’ – Adrienne Young

Namesake picks up almost immediately after that rather frustrating ending of book one. Fable has been taken by Zola, and we are left to imagine what exactly he plans.

As we follow Fable we learn she is being taken to Holland. Though we haven’t seen her before, everyone fears her and it is suggested she is ruthless. However, over the course of the book she underestimates people time and time again and I wonder whether she is somewhat blinded by her familial ties. While it’s set up as something of a shock for those involved, Holland’s interest in Fable is obvious.

This book pits merchant against merchant. There’s the bigger picture of the wider community and how they are all affected by the dispute between Holland Saint. A lot of time is spent exploring the developing bond between West and Fable – though they are both so stubborn they forget that talking to each other is useful once in a while. We get a few diving scenes…and there’s more than one occasion for someone to spill their guts about their hopes and ambitions, and the plans they are putting in place to achieve them.

Once we’d got underway and I’d settled back into the rhythm of this I found myself racing through it. I enjoyed it immensely. However, things feel unresolved and I can’t help but wonder at the decision to leave some questions unanswered in something that is meant to be our closing chapter.

‘The Lucky List’ – Rachel Lippincott

Emily always felt lucky, and the bond she had with her mum was special. Unfortunately, Emily’s mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer, her luck ran out and Emily has not felt the same since.

When we first meet Emily she alludes to some of this trauma, and as the story progresses we learn more about her life and how losing her mum has affected her. We see her trying to come to terms with things changing…but this is, primarily, a story about one girl trying to figure out who she is.

The action takes place over the summer holidays. We see Emily finding a list written by her mum of challenges she set herself at the same point in her life. Emily decides – with a little push from her new friend – to carry out these challenges. As she ticks them off she starts to feel a little freer…but the biggest challenge is whether she will be honest with herself.

Emily was a very sympathetically presented character. She didn’t always make the best decisions, but it was rewarding to see her develop and gain the confidence to feel comfortable in her own skin.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

‘All Our Hidden Gifts’ – Caroline O’Donoghue


Maeve Chambers, the youngest of five children, is a fairly ordinary sixteen year old girl in many ways. She feels acutely conscious that she’s not as clever as her siblings, not as interesting as her peers and has no idea what she wants to do. She is fizzing with a desire to do something but doesn’t know what that something could be.

When she gets into trouble in school she is given a detention which involves clearing out an abandoned storeroom. While there she finds an old Walkman and a pack of tarot cards. So begins her new interest…

Maeve teaches herself to read the tarot cards and finds herself to have something of a knack for it. She likes the feeling she gets when she does readings for her schoolmates. Unfortunately, after she does a reading for Lily – the girl who used to be her best friend until Maeve abandoned her in an attempt to garner popularity – things go horribly wrong. Lily disappears, and Maeve is convinced (because of the presence of a mysterious card known as the Housekeeper) that she is responsible.

The mystery of what happened to Lily is at the heart of the book but never really examined, and glossed over later. It is inextricably linked to the rise of an ultra-conservative Christian group sowing discord and hatred amongst the community. No one escapes this.

There was a lot going on here, and it wasn’t always clear which strand was driving the book. Interesting idea, and certainly topical, but I didn’t really feel engaged enough by Maeve to care too much what happened to her and the characters I was intrigued by were often sidelined just when things could have been interesting.

‘Malibu Rising’ – Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Riva family are a force to be reckoned with, and Malibu Rising shows us this group at a key moment in their lives. The format is quite simple: 24hours focused on the time around Nina Riva’s infamous annual party.

Having loved the complexity of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo I can’t help but feel this was a gentler read. Though we watch moments of intense drama, it felt rather detached – as if I were watching some kind of documentary of the lives of the rich and famous (which we had, in book form).

The dynamics of this family group are everything. Part one introduces us to the family and build up to the party. We see Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit and learn a little about each of them/what they’re doing. These four have – after the death of their mother, June, and the well-documented abandonment by their father, pop star Mick – come to rely on one another.

Interspersed with the details of the four children we get the back story to Mick and June, and some elements of that were genuinely heart-breaking. Then we move to part two focusing on the hours of the party and how some of the strands resolve themselves in dramatic fashion.

While I really liked parts of this, the party scene was drawn out and exaggerated to the point of incredulity. It served to illustrate some aspects of the relationships between the family but it seemed to be about setting up a way of instigating a new start for certain characters. There were also some areas that were underdeveloped which I would have liked to see more of.

Closing the book I was struck by the sense of hope and optimism that ran through what was, for the most part, a book about very selfish people hurting each other. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I still enjoyed it.


‘True Crime Story’ by Joseph Knox


True Crime Story is a relatively familiar story – about the disappearance of a young female student at Manchester University – but its execution was clever, and certainly had me convinced its origins were in truth.

The book begins with a rather strange note from the publishers to Joseph Knox, the author, indicating that this book is problematic. Of course you want to know why.

We then hear about Evelyn Mitchell, the actual writer, and how she meets Knox. Both are trying to think of a great idea for their difficult next book and Evelyn thinks she’s hit upon a gem of a story…the disappearance of Zoe Nolan.

Last seen on the night of a party at Owens Park, Zoe went missing and has not been seen since. Police say her case remains open but they have no clue what happened to her. Family and friends of Zoe were interviewed at the time but to no avail.

After some years Evelyn decided this case is worth re-examining. Her interviews have, she insists, thrown up new information and suggest some aspects of the police investigation were not as thorough as they might have been.

From the outset I found myself invested in this. Having studied in Manchester it was a bit of a trip down memory lane to be reading about places that were so familiar…but what really endeared this book to me was its sense of self-awareness.

Knox inserts himself wholeheartedly into the story and this offered us something a little different in what was a story that, at its heart, moved forward little.

From start to finish we are offered insight into the Nolan family and the dynamics between the new group of friends starting their lives at Manchester University. Some of the characters are quite unlikeable. All of them have things they’d rather stay hidden, and I was constantly looking for clues as to what the missing pieces of the story might be.

I genuinely did not want to stop reading this once I’d started. There are twists and turns, and not all the scenarios are (if we’re being honest) wholly credible, but with the villains of the piece hiding in plain sight it was a lesson in keeping your eyes open and not trusting everything you’re told.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read this in advance of publication.