‘Chaos Theory’ – Nic Stone

Chaos Theory is the story of two very different young people who randomly meet, and who find themselves irrevocably changed by the encounter.

Andy has a drink problem. As a top student and son of a woman running for Congress, image is everything. But what people don’t know is what is hidden behind closed doors. As the story progresses we learn about Andy and what has led him to be driving drunk and crashing into a tree.

Shelbi knows of Andy but has few friends in school and keeps herself to herself, for good reason. When she lets people close, she gets hurt.

In spite of the barriers between these two, Andy and Shelbi get to know one another. Their friendship is something of a lifeline for each of them, and it was touching to see the way they tried to control things that were hard to control.

I don’t want to say more, as learning about these two and their situations as we progress through the story was instrumental in my enjoyment of the book. There were strands of the story that felt rather limited, though I can see how they filled their purpose. The insight into what both these teens experience is important, and it certainly encourages you to consider your own stance on how we treat people who are having issues with their mental health.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this before publication.

‘Imogen, Obviously’ – Becky Albertalli

Due for release in May 2023, thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this in advance of publication.

There’s no doubt that this is a very personal story. Albertalli offers some insight into her own situation before the book opens, but the whole book examines issues around identity and the process of working out your sexual orientation.

Our main character is Imogen, someone who has always thought of herself as an ally. Her sister is gay, her best friend is gay and they’ve always been so certain of their identity. Imogen has always thought of herself as straight – and her friend Gretchen is quick to affirm this – so is somewhat taken aback when she goes to visit her best friend Lili at college and finds herself falling for another girl.

From start to finish this felt rather earnest. There’s no doubt that Imogen is prone to overthinking and while those around her are generally supportive, it’s also easy to see how sometimes those around us can also be part of the problem. I found Gretchen infuriating, and spent the majority of the time feeling hopeful that Imogen would get the space to work things out for herself.

‘Lost in the Moment and Found’ (Wayward Children #8) – Seanan McGuire

This time round the story focuses on Antoinette, known as Antsy because she’s always moving. When we first meet her she is only five and suffers the tragic loss of her father while they are shopping. From that moment on, her life is changed.
When Antsy’s mum finds a new boyfriend, Tyler, she has a visceral reaction to him. She can’t explain why, but feels there is something very wrong with him. To begin with he claims to want to fit in with her mother’s life, but we quickly see his true colours.

The first part of the book illustrates why Antsy was right to trust her instincts. Tyler’s manipulation of the situation and the gaslighting was triggering…all too believable, and every instinct had me wanting Antsy to find a way out before it was too late. On the evening that he visits her alone in her room at night, Antsy makes the decision to leave.

A petite eight year old walking along the streets at night should be cause for concern. Antsy is alone…until she finds a door saying ‘Be Sure’. In her head, she is sure. She cannot go home, so takes the option available to her.

Inside this door is a talking magpie and a room of lost things. Antsy feels comfortable here, and is tempted by the wonderful worlds and experiences offered to her. Unfortunately, they come at a price and Antsy eventually learns the true cost to these travels.

Eventually, Antsy finds her way back and I liked the fact that she got some closure before making the decision to return to the world she felt indebted to.

I began reading this series a while ago, and really must catch up with the others. Every journey offers something different.

‘If I Let You Go’ – Charlotte Levin

If I Let You Go is a story that quietly worms its way under your skin, gradually revealing the details of its protagonist’s life. 

Janet Brown is a woman used to not standing out. She cleans offices for a living, has few friends and lives with an emotionally abusive husband. We gradually learn some of the details of her life, and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her.

When Janet wakes in hospital with a head injury, she is thought to have been involved in a serious train crash. She can remember little of the evening, but footage emerges of her helping to rescue the daughter of a local celebrity. Before you know it, Janet is being interviewed on national TV and hailed as a hero. She can’t be certain, but Janet is convinced the details aren’t quite right. And how do you tell anyone of your fears when you’re trapped in your situation?

Though she does a thing that I find awful to consider, Janet is painted in such a way that it’s hard not to hope things work out for her. As we learn the true story of that night, and see the damage caused by the death of Janet’s daughter years earlier, it became harder to see this story in black and white terms. Grief is destructive, and we see how damaging it can be for all concerned.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this before publication.

‘Strange Sally Diamond’ – Liz Nugent

This really is a book that I can see being much talked about on its March release, and I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to meet Sally Diamond before she ventures into the world.

From the opening chapter I was desperate to find out more about our main character. Socially isolated, Sally has lived in rural Ireland with her father since her mother’s stroke. She has her routines, does her best to avoid talking to people and follows her father’s wishes when she burns him as part of the household rubbish following his death.

It’s clear from the opening that Sally is unconventional. Her actions bring about unexpected interest…and reveal that Sally was not who she thought and that her past is a more troubled one than you could have imagined.

I don’t want to reveal any of the details that we learn about Sally, but my heart broke for her as she learns the truth about her experience and finds herself dealing with situations that are so far removed from her comfort zone.

This was an ambitious book. How realistic the portrayal of the characters and their situations is, I wouldn’t dare to comment on, but I can’t see anyone being unmoved by the story that begins with Strange Sally.

‘Last Night at the Telegraph Club’ – Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a story of forbidden love, set at a time fraught with danger for numerous reasons. It tells the story of Lily, a young Chinese American, and her growing understanding of what it will take for her to be happy.

Set in 1950’s America, the attention to detail seems thorough. Against a backdrop of fear at the threat of Communism, acknowledging a difference such as being homosexual would seem subversive. Set against this rigid and conventional background we watch Lily gradually realise she has feelings for girls, find a safe space and love interest but then be placed in a situation that forces her to consider her duty to her family.

As a love story, this had appeal. However, Kath was a vague character who only really seemed to be there as a catalyst for Lily to figure out her feelings. The side characters we meet at The Telegraph Club were intriguing, but also only there to offer hope for Lily and to highlight the bigotry surrounding her. The pacing of the book was frustrating, with things taking a long time to get established and then feeling glossed over at the end. However, I’m sure this will still win its fans.

‘Promise boys’ – Nick Brooks

A pacy mystery, focusing on the murder of Principal Moore and the prejudices at play as his murder is investigated.

Promise School was founded as a place to support those boys who have difficulty fitting in elsewhere. The book opens with its focus on the school and the strict environment created to control its students. Our main focus is three boys – Trey, JB and Ramon – who are all in detention on the evening Moore is shot. In the frame for his murder, they have to overcome their own prejudices to work together and find out what really happened.

The story is split into clear moments building up to the crime and afterwards. We see the different viewpoints of the boys, and it soon becomes clear that someone is trying to set them up.

The identity of the one responsible was not quite the surprise you might have thought. Unfortunately it says a lot about the kind of environment created for these boys and the way society often exploits our inner fears for others’ gain.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this before publication.

‘I Have Some Questions for You’ – Rebecca Makkai

Bodie Kane recalls her time at Granby School with little fondness, her years there marred by the death of her roommate and the years she spent feeling an outcast. Now an adult, and a successful podcaster, Bodie is asked back to the school to teach a class. It’s not long before her focus returns to the case that so many know of.

Thalia Keith was loved by many. There were rumours about her behaviour, but when she was found dead in the school pool the investigation soon found the school’s athletic trainer guilty. Few questioned the conviction at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight some – Bodie included – wonder whether they knew more than they realised and whether the wrong person was convicted.

We follow Bodie as she settles into her life at the school. One of her students asks to investigate Thalia’s case. Without giving key details away, Bodie oversees their work while also finding a chance to try and pass on the information that she feels should have been given at the time.

The precise details of the crime are never fully outlined. While frustrating, it highlights just how easy it is for femicide to take place and the way we as a society view those impacted by it. I found myself increasingly irritated by the way crimes against women were referred to here. Yes, there’s lots. Yes, there’s people in positions of power who abuse that power and get away with it. Yes, many in society look to blame the victim. It’s all awful, makes my blood boil, and yet I couldn’t help but feel I wanted something more from the book.

My expectations were high going in, perhaps too high. It’s an engaging read, and yet it doesn’t really offer anything different. Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this before publication.

‘Come Home Safe’ – Brian G. Buckmire

The background to this book is fascinating, and it’s both informative and engaging. I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this, but deeply frustrated that it still seems so necessary.

No matter what happens, as a parent you want your child to come home safe. This is even more important (it seems) for parents of children of colour in the US who may be victims of profiling, or who may be subjected to unnecessary force simply because of someone else’s prejudices.

The story focuses on siblings Reed and Olivia. Their father is a lawyer who has had numerous conversations with them about how to interact with officers of the law in order to ensure they are treated appropriately. These kids know their rights and are well-versed in how to manage themselves. But when they are dealing with this in reality – when they are stopped on a subway because Reed fits the profile of some kids the police were looking for – fear takes over and they don’t remember every lesson. 

From the moment they are stopped my heart sank. At fourteen and twelve they should not have to be remembering not to resist when the police are forcing them to the ground before handcuffing them. They should not have to be recording every moment of the interaction so that if they need the evidence later it is indisputable. They should not have to be victims of assault simply because someone assumes something because of their skin colour. 

Sadly, this remains relevant. It is written in a way that has emotional impact while also educating readers. A book that really should be read.

‘How to Sell a Haunted House’ – Grady Hendrix

How to Sell a Haunted house takes us on a journey that forces us to confront our fears. While there is an emphasis on horror – with some scenes horribly visual – I felt the primary focus of this book was to examine grief and how we deal with it.
Louise is called to her parents’ home when they are both killed. Forced to interact with her brother, Mark, we quickly see that this family has been used to keeping secrets. Though neither wants to admit it, they need each other if they are to be in with a chance of selling the house.

When Louise returns to her childhood home she has to confront her fear of her mother’s puppets. Taking up every spare space these puppets remind her of all the elements of their relationship that she disliked. There is one puppet however that needs to be dealt with if they are ever going to free themselves of the things hanging on. This puppet seems vengeful and determined to punish them. The question is, can they survive the experience?

How to Sell a Haunted House was not a book I could say I enjoyed reading. The puppet element unsettled me, and the sad history of the family made it very clear that so much of the horror they faced was of their own making. Whether you are terrified by the graphic events as they fight this spirit will be decided by the extent to which you believe the concept is feasible. Regardless, you cannot help but be affected by the way this family are touched by grief.