‘Medusa’ – Jessie Burton

This is a story that deserves to be told, and is wholly relevant now. Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this before its expected October publication.

Medusa is a character so many feel they know. But in Jessie Burton’s reimagining we get another version of Medusa, one that it’s hard to ignore.

Merina, as she calls herself, has spent the last four years secreted away on a deserted island. She is accompanied by her immortal sisters and her dog. Though she is reasonably content, there is no denying the fact that Merina is lonely and bitterly upset by her treatment at the hands of others.

One day she hears a young boy arrive on the island. Though she doesn’t feel she can meet him in person, she takes the time to talk to the boy and learn his story. She trusts him, and even harbours hope that he may be someone who can overlook her physical appearance. But the young boy, Perseus, has his own story.

While this narrative focuses on Medusa it paints a more sympathetic picture and seeks to encourage us to look beneath the judgments of others. It reminded me of the Carol Ann Duffy poem ‘Medusa’ in its feminist focus on the myth we think we know.

I loved the illustrations in this as they captured the spirit of Medusa, particularly towards the end. The writing was poetic and yet the thing that will remain with me is the haunting depiction of a young girl trying to find her own way in the world.

‘The Pariah’ – Anthony Ryan

The Pariah is my first experience of reading anything by Anthony Ryan, and I can safely say it won’t be my last. Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this prior to publication, and to the author for delivering a book that would seem to be the first in what promises to be an exciting trilogy.

Our main character is Alwyn Scribe, and events are narrated through his eyes. This means there are some details about him and his past that we don’t get answers to, but it does allow us a clear focused look at events Alwyn is caught up in. There’s a lot crammed into this, but the book is so well-structured that it doesn’t feel too much.

I have to say that first impressions were not immediately favourable. I made the mistake of trying to read this while reading another book alongside. The style/world-building was so dense that it felt difficult to engage with when not giving it my undivided attention…however, once I focused solely on this, I immersed myself in it and could not wait to see what came next.

Alwyn begins the story as an outlaw, part of a group under the leadership of one of the King’s illegitimate children. He is not above committing awful acts, but he exhibits a keen moral compass and shows himself willing to do the right thing. When the group is attacked (which is definitely suspicious) Alwyn is captured and taken prisoner. In some ways he is lucky as he survives some awful experiences, and the other characters he meets along the way give us the opportunity to see him in a slightly more rounded way.

From the outset I was struck by the attention to detail. It’s descriptive, but not in a way that seems unnecessary. Every event and setting was captured in a way that vividly brought them to life. Alwyn, in some ways, leads a charmed life but there are numerous hints that there may be more to him than has been revealed in this book.

I enjoyed the way this was put together, with Alwyn shifting from outlaw to prisoner to soldier…and to then find himself in familiar territory at the end, but with a clearer objective in mind that seems to be part of a bigger picture. Some of the characters will linger longer in my mind, but I remain convinced that there is a lot more to this man than we’ve been told about so far. I can’t wait to see how this story picks up in book two.


‘This Poison Heart’ – Kalynn Bayron

This Poison Heart is the first in what promises to be a most exciting series. I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication, and am genuinely wondering what will happen next.
Our focus for this story is Briseis, a character with a most unusual talent. She has an affinity with plants and is able to bring anything back to life and help it bloom. This skill comes in very handy in the florists her mums run, but the fact she has seemingly no reaction to poisonous plants suggests there’s more to this than Bri realises.
Introducing us to Bri’s talents early on is a great way to get our attention, but her lack of knowledge about what she can do means many of our questions are not answered. We are given time to get to know Bri and her mums. Their relationship and interactions are warm and caring, and spending time with them means we genuinely care when we learn of the financial pressures they are under.
Bri is adopted, and when she is told that an aunt has bequeathed her an estate just outside New York we – like Bri – have questions. They travel to what can only be described as a spooky mansion, to find over-run vegetation, mysterious people hanging round their property and a run-down apothecary filled with strange ingredients. People turn up requesting help, and it is soon obvious there is more to this arrangement than we might expect.
Naturally curious, Bri wants to find out more about her family. She unearths letters from her aunt and learns that she appears to have immunity to deadly poisons. There is talk of her lineage being traced back to the ancient Greeks, and though this would be exciting enough…there’s more.
Bri meets all manner of people in her new town. Her position lends her some respect, but it also brings great danger. For what is clear is Bri’s natural family have been guarding a great secret…something that some will stop at nothing to learn.
From the beginning I found myself really caught up in this. I loved Bri and her characterisation. The introduction to mythology lent an interesting element to the story, and there are a few characters that definitely pique your interest as you try to figure out their link to Bri and the repercussions for any friendship developing.
My only criticism of the book was how the pace picked up in the last quarter and was then relentless. We had a lot of info thrown at us, and – on occasion – it didn’t feel as if it made sense. The dramatic end to this book was, naturally, not an end at all and that is highly frustrating…but a very good incentive to have me racing to pick up book two when I can.

‘The Book of Stolen Dreams’ – David Farr


When things are tough, you want those around you to be people you can trust. In the world we encounter at the start of this wondrous story, that is not necessarily the case. Under the rule of Charles Malstain life is dreary, and anyone who does not do as he requests is made to disappear. This is a time of dark secrets, where family are suspicious of each other and where things are about to get worse.

We don’t know why this has happened, but Farr immediately sets up a tense and unsettling atmosphere. We are introduced to our protagonists, Robert and Rachel Klein, when they accompany their father to the lending library where he works. This journey is done at night, and nobody is told about it so we know it is dangerous. All we know is that it has something to do with The Book of Stolen Dreams that Felix Klein steals – rumours are that it is scheduled to be destroyed – and charges his children with protecting until they can hand it over to a man called Solomon.

The children escape, but have to watch their father beaten by Malstain’s forces. They are subject to intimidation in their home as those under Malstain search desperately for the Book that the children vow to protect, though they don’t really know why.

As we follow Rachel and Robert in their task, they are placed in extreme peril. They suffer in the way that only young children in stories can. The odds are against them. They are pitched into a battle they might not win…but their determination to do the right thing and their bravery makes for a gripping story.

Along the way we meet a host of characters – at both ends of the spectrum. Malstain is a shadowy villain, orchestrating terrible deeds for his own selfish reasons. Opposing him are a motley crew, and not all are guaranteed to do the right thing when asked.

From the outset this was a book that delighted. Due for release in September 2021 I can’t wait to see the buzz it generates, and I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read it early.

‘Twelve Secrets’ – Robert Gold

While NetGalley had me as auto-approved for this, I couldn’t (for reasons I haven’t worked out) access a copy. Secret Readers had it as one of their prospective reads and having heard such good things about it, my choice was clear. Thank goodness…and this is a book I’ll be urging people to read when it is eventually released.

I often find a point in most thrillers where I’ve guessed who is responsible or started to put details together. With Twelve Secrets there was a lot going on, so even though I’d answered a couple of questions there were still some surprises. This was refreshing, and definitely one of the many things it had going in its favour.

The story centres on Ben Harper, a journalist of some repute, who is known by many in his town as the younger brother of someone who was brutally murdered. With an anniversary approaching, the press are keen to find out how those impacted by the murders of Nick and Simon by two teen girls are coping. Ben is reluctant to be involved, but when one of the killers is found murdered it seems that there may be more going on than was originally thought. Someone is keeping secrets, and these secrets are going to be very dangerous.

As the story progresses we start to uncover some of the secrets being kept in this small town. Some were deeply upsetting and some made me angry for those affected but they all served a clear purpose in helping to bring together a compulsive read.

I’m hoping this is going be the start of a relationship with the character of Ben Harper…he definitely has more stories in him.


’56 Days’ – Catherine Ryan Howard

A book set in the early days of lockdown is, while we are still living with the virus that pre-emptied such circumstances, always going to be tricky to read.

Thankfully, COVID is a backdrop to the very specific set of circumstances taking place at this point in the story we watch unfold. It certainly does not unduly affect the narrative that we’re concerned with.

From the start we know that a body has been discovered in an apartment in Dublin. Little information is given initially, other than the body seems to have been there for a few weeks. Of course, anyone would have questions.

The narrative then shifts to 56 days ago, when new to the city Ollie meets Ciara. The pair talk briefly, seem to hit it off and decide to go on a date. With a fledgling relationship happening at the precise time that lockdown is announced, it could go either way. The pair decide to take their chances and move in together.

We are shown the events from both the viewpoint of Ollie and Ciara. We are alerted to the fact that both are keeping secrets. Other information is imparted on a strictly need-to-know basis, and sometimes done in such a way as to send you scurrying down the wrong route. When you become aware of these little bits of misdirection, you’ll kick yourself but then be desperate to see exactly what happened.

As the pieces fell into place I pitied those caught up in investigating the crime. Suffice to say, nothing is as it seems…and it certainly shows how your past can – no matter how careful you have been – catch up with you.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in advance of publication.


‘The Dollhouse’ -Charis Cotter

The Dollhouse is a wonderfully atmospheric read, which blends seamlessly the ghostly with everyday life.

Our main character is Alice, a young girl whose parents are talking about getting a divorce. Alice is obviously in a state of upheaval, so it takes some time to establish what is happening and what is a reaction to those events. When her mother takes Alice to her new job – caring for the elderly recluse Mrs Bishop – Alice is struck by the strangeness of the home she has come to, but she puts her initial unease down to the lingering effects of the concussion she received in a train crash on the way down.

Mrs Bishop is suitably cantankerous, and Alice – understandably – is curious about this rambling home she has been brought to. When she discovers secret passages and locked rooms, of course she wants to know more.

The first part of the book sets up the characters well. There then felt to be a rather lengthy period where Alice is experiencing strange events linked to the dollhouse she finds in the locked attic. This part of the book was slow, and it seemed quite obvious what was happening. However, as we move further along it started to feel rather more ominous, and there was a noticeable creepiness to some of the events taking place.

All in all this was rather predictable in parts, but it was genuinely entertaining and well written. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this before publication.


‘The Taking of Jake Livingston’ – Ryan Douglass

Jake Livingston is one of the only black kids in his school. The other is his popular older brother. Jake is reserved, finds it hard to interact with others and when a lot of your time is spent seeing dead people I imagine it’s hard to deal with the real world. This alone would make Jake’s high school experience a challenge, but Jake is also having to come to terms with being gay, and when we later learn about how his now-absent father responded to this years earlier his reticence is understandable.
From the outset we were encouraged to get into Jake’s head and try to understand his experience. We watch the micro aggressions in school, and we see how these are affecting him. This seems quite familiar territory, but the book is very far from familiar.
With its focus on spirits and the main character being a medium, this was always going to be something a little different. Alongside Jake’s experiences, we are also given chapters by a character called Sawyer. This is a character who is receiving treatment for potential depression and who seems to have little support around him. We may be tempted to feel some sympathy for him, particularly later in the book when he experiences some deeply concerning events, but he was a character I found it hard to feel anything positive about as he is so skewed in his attitudes to others. As we also have Jake’s experience alongside we learn that Sawyer is – in the present – actually a ghost, a malevolent force who in life gunned down several of his peers, killed himself and now appears to be haunting those who survived.
Learning that Sawyer is determined to cause trouble, and Jake is going to be the vessel through which he achieves this, lent a much darker tone to the book than I expected. When we get into scenes of possession, I admit to being not only spooked by the events described but also very very confused. There were considerable sections where I really could not say with certainty what was happening.
I may be wholly off in my reading of this, but the spirit possession and the scenes towards the end seemed (at least they did at the time of reading) to be some form of symbolic representation of Jake’s struggle to come to terms with his self-identity. Perhaps this was not the case, but by the end I did feel Jake had found some clarity about himself and how he might be in the future.


‘Ski Weekend’ – Rektor Ross

Ski Weekend takes what could be a very ordinary event and, through a combination of bad luck and poor judgment, turns it into a thrilling adventure where you know not everyone is going to survive but hope it won’t be as bad as you fear.

The book opens with six teens heading on a ski weekend. Sam and her younger brother, Stuart, and his best friend, Gavin, along with three other classmates and Gavin’s dog. The mood at the start is fairly typical – lighthearted joking with a bit of sniping – but when they learn the road is closed their decision to take a little-known shortcut brings about a horrifying set of circumstances.

Nine times out of ten, their actions would have ended just fine. This time, there’s a crash and they are stranded in the wilderness with a storm approaching and no way of contacting anyone. They settle down to sit out the time until someone comes to save them, but all too soon they realise that nobody knows they’re lost and they cannot guarantee anyone coming to rescue them.

After an initial attempt to scout for potential help, Stuart is injured. He gets sick, and as the storm draws in it is clear they are not all going to make it out alive.
While the characters involved are not all bound to survive, the way they are presented means we get to know them pretty well and find ourselves caring about them more than you might expect. The creeping sense of unease is ramped up until, finally, we know a difficult decision has to be made. Some of the details are a little more graphic than I’d have liked, but I was pleased that some of my fears about what could have happened to them did not come to pass.

Overall, this was a story that I found myself far more caught up in than I expected. I could certainly see this making a great movie, and I enjoyed the fact the characters were more fleshed out than is often the case in this kind of thriller/horror survival story.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this in advance of publication (expected October 2021).

‘The Upper World’ – Femi Fadugba

An epic read, VERY difficult to put down and I cannot wait to see how this transfers to the screen in its upcoming adaptation for Netflix. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me the chance to read this debut novel before publication in exchange for my thoughts.

The Upper World is a place alluded to by a number of people. Nobody is convinced of its existence, and those who talk of it are not of the best mental health. The Upper World is a place that seems to exist outside our reality, where time effectively stops and where there is always the chance to affect events in the real world.

Set in Peckham, this story is mind-bending in the best possible way. It unashamedly revels in its nerd-factor, delights in the depiction of its teen characters and their lives, and yet the thing I found more challenging to read and understand was the language used between some of the characters. With the help of my own teenage sons, the finer points were explained and I could focus on working out – as best I could – the details of the story.

The main focus is Esso in the present, and then Rhia sixteen years in the future (who ends up meeting an adult Esso). These two characters are linked in a way that means they need each other for their stories to play out.

Our first meeting with Esso sets up a story like no other. After being involved in a car crash, Esso is convinced he has experienced a world where he starts to see snatches of the future. On the brink of expulsion, caught in a dangerous situation with someone he has known since childhood, he is desperate to do what he has to in order to protect someone close to him. To do this he needs Rhia…a young girl in care (in 2035) who has her own questions about her past…and who is similarly desperate to protect those close to her.

That is as much detail as I can give. Trust me, this is a cleverly-plotted and engaging story that picks you up and spits you out once it’s all over.