‘Breathless’ – Amy McCulloch

Be bothered…this is the mantra that our main character has taken to heart. Be bothered to check your equipment. Be bothered to take note of your surroundings. This mantra could well save her life.

Cecily Wong is known in the press as the Snowdon hero. The woman who stayed with a climber who fell, who guided emergency services to the site. But sometimes what happens on the mountains isn’t clear-cut and Cecily knows that better than anyone.

When Cecily is promised an exclusive interview with mountaineer Charles McVeigh it’s on the understanding that she makes the summit of one of the world’s highest mountains-his final climb in his quest to climb the fourteen highest mountains without oxygen or fixed lines.

To anyone with climbing experience this man would seem pretty incredible. To anyone without climbing experience you might think this man is slightly mad. Is either response justified?

Cecily is determined to overcome her own fears in order to get this interview. Once on the mountain she is struck by some unusual circumstances and is convinced someone might be out to cause harm. Altitude-induced paranoia, or a creeping sense of unease that she would be wise to listen to?

This is a thriller that you cannot fail to get caught up in. Twists and turns aplenty, some breathtaking mountain descriptions and some utterly terrifying scenarios that had me desperate to see how things would resolve. The talk of the thriller of 2022 might well be justified, and I’m so grateful to NetGalley and the publishers for allowing me to read this early.


‘The Prank’ – L.V. Matthews

A prank is defined as being a bit of harmless fun. But what do you do if someone else’s fun causes another person pain? At what point should an innocent bystander intervene? And is it ever right to have such moments of humiliation recorded publicly?
El has been a different person since her father committed suicide. She knew he had depression, but had repressed her memories of the build-up to his death after finding his body. However, when a famous TV exec – who just so happens to be the producer of an infamous reality show called Pranksters – is served in her restaurant, El starts to remember things. She recalls her father being deeply affected by a prank that meant he felt responsible for the death of a young man. She eventually remembers the link between her father and this show.
Determined to avenge her father, a rather elaborate plan is hatched. El wants revenge, but is – as many of us would be – wholly clueless. She is not suspicious when an online search results in a friendly reply from someone calling themselves Horsehead who wants to help her. Alarm bells rang from the off, but it was great fun watching El worm her way into Jim’s life and start her preparations to bring him down…wholly unaware that someone else was pulling the strings all along.
The story was well-plotted and I loved the fact that nobody was quite what they seemed. Dig a little and it seems many people have something to hide, but there was a grim sense of satisfaction from watching how events unfolded.


‘The Missing Hours’ – Julia Dahl

The Missing Hours is a book that will infuriate many readers. Though it is a book focused on a deeply triggering topic, our character takes action and this could seem a positive step. However, by the end it’s fairly evident that little has changed for our main character and such an incident could easily reoccur.

The book opens with a graphic account of our main character, Chloe Castro, waking up the night after an evening out. From the description of her it’s clear she’s been attacked, but we’re not given the full horror until later. Chloe is a girl who, on the surface, seems to have it made. She’s from a wealthy background, is friendly and doesn’t have to worry about much. But, the Chloe we meet at the start of the book is one who is very far from okay and who you cannot help but feel sorry for.

The attack that took place on Chloe was perpetrated by people she knows, a guy she dated in the past and a new acquaintance from college. One raped her, the other forced her to perform oral sex and they filmed it. This sickening act is described a number of times as one of them sends the video to Chloe and a couple of her friends.

I found the way this incident was treated fascinating. Chloe’s initial reaction is to hide away and though she deals with some of the practical issues arising from such an incident, the emotional impact is ignored. Once the video is released, family members try to step in and prevent anyone learning of it…and the focus is very much on damage-limitation. I struggle to understand how anyone could see such a film, know a criminal act had been committed and not do anything to challenge it.

Certain people within the book blame Chloe and there are some distressing moments that clearly indicate why so many victims never bother to report such events. Chloe is in the position that many might envy…she has the money and means to do something about her attackers.

Vengeance is a key element of the book. While Chloe’s actions cannot be condoned, they are understandable and those impacted are such unpleasant characters that you almost feel like turning a blind eye.

This is a murky read, nothing is clear cut and I liked the way we are presented with the facts and left to judge for ourselves. However, it still felt as if the victim was to blame for things and I found it hard to deal with the lack of closure by the end.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication and it’s one I would, with caution, recommend.


‘My Heart is a Chainsaw’ – Stephen Graham Jones

My Heart is a Chainsaw is a story that had me perplexed for substantial parts…and this may have been deliberate on the part of the author as we struggle to work out what is happening.

Our narrator is Jade, a horror-obsessed teen who is convinced that there is about to be a slasher style killing spree in her town. It starts with the deaths of two tourists, and then Jade maintains events will unfold in a very specific way. In amongst her retelling of events, we have her supposed papers for school credit detailing her obsession with the horror genre and its various tropes. Having only a passing acquaintance with the genre I couldn’t say how accurate Jade’s prophecies were…but the knowledge and sense of dark humour really made me react to this more positively than I was expecting.

At around the midway point I really struggled to tell what was in Jade’s head and what was happening. She, it is clear, is suffering her own trauma and the events she’s involved in certainly link to this. I wish this had been more apparent earlier as I almost stopped reading, uncertain what was happening.

However, as we build to Jade’s dramatic moment there’s a grim inevitability to events that made me feel compelled to keep reading.

This will delight horror fans. There’s some gruesome scenes and, yet again, elements of supernatural crossing into our reality. Perplexing, and probably not to everyone’s tastes, but I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this prior to publication.


‘The Bewitching of Aveline Jones’ – Phil Hickes

Summer holiday, and Aveline is with her mum in a remote cottage in a little village in the middle of nowhere. Boring…or at least it is until Aveline befriends one of the local girls who isn’t quite what she seems.

We can tell where this is going a mile off, but the story is engaging and offers some genuinely creepy moments. If you loved book one, this delivers another similarly engaging read.

Hazel and her desire to be friends with Aveline could have gone very differently, but we sense things will resolve themselves.

A quick read, giving just the right amount of creepy vibes. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this before publication.


‘Not Here to be Liked’ – Michelle Quach

A topical yet entertaining story, that delivers a sweet romance while exploring some pretty big ideas.

Our main character, Eliza, is a rather serious young woman. Her parents want her to succeed in school so she has a choice for her future career. Eliza is desperate to be editor-in-chief for her school paper and it seems she’s a guarantee for the role. But she hadn’t banked on new writer, Len, applying for the role…and when he gets it she is disappointed.

Eliza throws herself into venting her thoughts, blaming his success on the misogyny at play. When her vent is published it sparks a school-wide movement…but things get complicated when Eliza is forced to work with Len and finds herself developing feelings for her purported enemy.

The enemies to lovers thing isn’t new, but I liked that we get to see both views here and are not expected to see everything simply. The focus on parental expectations in certain family environments was interesting, and it was good to have characters that were a little more nuanced than we might have expected for a group of teens.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to access this before publication.


‘Stranded’ – Sarah Goodwin


Stranded is a book that surpassed my wildest dreams…it went far beyond what I expected, and had a haunting quality that will stay with me. This is a book I expected to like, but it was so well-written that I can’t wait to recommend it to others.

The story focuses on eight very different people, cherry-picked by a team of producers to take part in a new reality TV show. They are to be taken to a remote island off the coast of Scotland where their every move will be recorded as they have to live in a new community for a year. As is made clear, something goes terribly wrong and not everyone survives this experience. Of course, we want to know what happens and how, but we are made to wait!

Our main character is Maddy. Something of a loner she wants to participate in the show as a way of escaping her reality after the death of her parents. Fitting in with new people doesn’t come naturally to her, so we are placed in the enviable position of watching things through Maddy’s eyes…outsiders, monitoring the interactions of the group and left to second-guess the motivations of others based on what Maddy tells us about them.

The other group members have – it’s clear – been picked as a way of generating conflict. Things begin positively enough, but it doesn’t take much to set off a deterioration in the group dynamic. All too soon we’re in a Lord of the Flies-style hell, with each of the group fighting for survival.

There was a certain tension that came from knowing that Maddy survived and was being interviewed about her experience. I feared this knowledge would mar the reading experience, but it actually heightened the tension for me since I was desperate to see exactly what had happened and how she’d managed to escape when things looked so very bleak. I also found the introduction of the supernatural at key moments a positive as it illustrated the extreme mental duress she was under.

I can’t thank the publishers and NetGalley enough for allowing me to read this before publication. A truly exciting book…

‘The Man Who Died Twice (Thursday Murder Club 2)’ – Richard Osman

In our second adventure with the members of the murder club we are treated to an outlandish crime, numerous twists, murders aplenty and the kind of healthy disregard for the rules that I assume you might acquire when you reach a certain age.

The Thursday after the events of book one, the club is meeting and we have set in place a most unusual scenario linked to Elizabeth’s past. It involves a rakish ex-husband, twenty million pounds worth of diamonds, the mafia, local shady businesspeople and an ever-increasing number of bodies as events play out.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim are on fine form once again. Pitting their wits against those who have made a life out of crime the group are terrier-like in their focus and determination to solve this particular puzzle. Bogdan comes into his own, and the involvement of Chris and Donna allows for some amusing side action (though it doesn’t say much about the efficacy of the police). There’s a lot of diversionary wordplay but this does keep the feeling of a cosy mystery when they’re actually confronted with something that would be terrifying.

Great fun, and I’m grateful to the publishers for letting me read a copy in advance of publication.

‘It’s Behind You’ – Katherine Foxfield

A reality TV show that is losing viewers is about to start filming what could be its last series. The producers want to ensure it packs a punch so they plan to send the five contestants into a series of caves that are rumoured to be haunted by The Puckered Maiden, a supernatural entity who eats the hearts of her victims. All they have to do is survive the night, and whoever lasts until morning wins £10,000.

Our five contestants are – naturally – not all they claim to be. From the outset we know that some of those involved are hiding things…the question is, how relevant are these secrets to what is happening in the caves during the course of the show?

While the characters themselves are irritating on occasion, things get wrapped up far more quickly than I felt made sense and I HATED the fact that the epilogue was left so open-ended, I can’t deny that this was the kind of pacy YA thriller that cannot fail to entertain. From the first ‘accident’ we know there is more to this show than seems to be the case. Like Lex, we can tell these events have their foundation in something that happened in the caves years earlier. The book manages to walk the fine line of horror and thriller well – awful things are happening around them but the characters’ sense of knowing produces what are often amusing responses.


‘The Fell’ – Sarah Moss

Living in the environment in which this is set, The Fell seemed as if it would encapsulate so much of my own feelings/experiences that I hoped this would be a book I found myself falling in love with. I wasn’t disappointed.

The story is deceptively simple. A mother, Kate, finding the restrictions of lockdown mentally challenging is struggling with the demands of a period of enforced self-isolation. Though it’s illegal, one afternoon she takes her backpack and walks out onto the hills of the Peak District. She doesn’t tell her teenage son she is going, a neighbour sees her leave and says nothing, but when she doesn’t return and night is drawing in the choice is made to call out Mountain Rescue.

Fragments of thoughts and we get a range of perspectives as the hunt for Kate goes through the night. We read the thoughts of Kate, her son, the neighbour – Alice, and mountain rescue volunteer Rob. It was surprisingly easy to read about the thoughts and feelings of each towards the lockdown of November 2020. The nuances of each characters’ reactions to events was well-captured, and though much of the focus tended to the mundane I felt it was an approach that allowed us to reflect on the ideas explored. Where this book won me over was with the descriptions of an environment which I deeply love, but also respect…knowing just how easily it can go wrong.

Thank you to Picador and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this in advance of publication. I’ve already reserved a physical copy and can see myself re-reading this.