‘Kingdom of the Wicked’ – Kerri Maniscalco

 

From the moment Emilia and her twin sister, Vittoria, are introduced to us at eight years old we know the amulets they wear are significant. These are girls whose family are part of a hidden group, witches who work in secret and who are well-versed in prophecies. However, no matter what knowledge they have they could not be prepared for what transpires here.

Early on, Vittoria is murdered, her heart ripped out and her body left for Emilia to discover. Understandably, Emilia wants to find out what happened and for whoever is responsible to pay. But nothing comes easily here and Emilia ends up in a situation that heralds great danger.

To cut a long story short, Emilia decides to take matters into her own hands, and to summon a demon. The one she ends up summoning is Wrath, one of the seven Princes of Hell. Determined to get answers and avenge her sister’s murder, Emilia ignores much of what she has heard and enters a bargain – the possibilities of which are only hinted at here.

Maniscalco creates an interesting character in Wrath. Obviously intent on a higher purpose it is blindingly obvious that he is not to be trusted. Yet there is something hinted at under the surface, something that definitely suggests Emilia has got under his skin and offers something he wasn’t quite prepared for. While I’d have been quite content if we’d seen this side through to its conclusion, I actually liked the fact that Wrath kept his eye on the main goal and set up a much more intriguing scenario (which I imagine we’ll see in the sequel). I can’t wait to see what happens now Emilia has her own endgame in sight.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

‘The Cousins’ – Karen McManus

Scheduled for release in December 2020, I don’t have to stress how excited I was to get approval for this on NetGalley. McManus has quickly become one of those authors that seems a guaranteed winner for a story that draws you in and leaves you feeling more than satisfied with what you’ve read. Having just finished The Cousins earlier this morning, I can safely say that she’s onto what I think will be another hit.

Having raced through the previous books by McManus, I was struck by the relatively slow-paced start to this. We are in a very different world, but one in which characters are just as duplicitous and where we are waiting for the secrets to be unearthed from the moment we start reading.

Our main characters are Aubrey, Millie and Jonah – cousins who are not close, and who haven’t really seen each other in years. But when they each receive a letter asking them to go and work for their grandmother’s resort for the summer you can’t help but be curious. Even more so when we realise that the cousins have no relationship with their grandmother, and that she cut off her children years earlier (after the sudden death of their father) and has refused contact with them since.

Each of the characters has their own reasons for deciding to agree to this mysterious demand. Once they arrive at the resort, however, it is evident that their grandmother had no idea they were coming. Her best friend seems determined to keep the cousins away from her, and an old man in town – the family doctor – drops a hint that there is more to this story than anyone has been prepared to let on.

Once we get our teeth into the mystery things pick up. We have sections of the story from years earlier, giving details of the original children and their interactions, which offer little clues as to what might have happened and how it might be resolved in the present. As our main characters start to piece together the events leading to the family break-up, the pace really cranks up…until I found myself racing to finish and find out exactly what had happened.

By the time I got near the end I was already knowing this would be a read I’d heartily recommend to others. Rather unexpected, and it offers some resolution of a potential issue with the book, but it also offers a delightful hint that we might not be fully done with this world just yet.

 

‘Heartbreak Bay’ – Rachel Caine

 

If this is to be the last in the series (and I fervently hope not) then what a story to end on. From the moment I picked this up I was desperate to find out exactly how the pieces fit together, and hoping against hope that things would not be too bleak for Gwen.

The story begins with a mother driving her two baby girls into a lake. We don’t know why, and we don’t know what happens to her after. What we quickly learn is that this is, in some way, linked to Gwen.

Gwen and Sam are starting the book in a relatively happy place. He officially adopts the kids, they’re settling into their new home and they seem to be moving forward after the events of the last few years. But for some reason the internet trolls are back out. Someone is determined that Gwen will pay for her past and engineers some increasingly dangerous scenarios in order to force her to confess to what they believe.

The pace of this is quite relentless once the pieces start shifting into place. It takes a little while for the various scenarios to start drawing together, but once they do it really is a white-knuckle ride.

With danger at seemingly every corner, not everyone makes this. On more than one occasion I feared reading on just in case someone I’d grown to like as a character was cut down. I was kicking myself at not fully appreciating one or two key moments at the time, but I was so desperate to find out how things would end that I could overlook this slight feeling of manipulation. For a series featuring a serial killer we’ve become used to some graphic violence, but this really forced me to confront some quite unpalatable moments. The need to question ourselves and our decisions runs throughout, and I was pleased that some of our characters acted with the integrity I expected of them in spite of monumental pressure.

I’m so excited to have been given the chance to review this prior to its publication, and grateful to NetGalley for the opportunity. I’m sincerely hoping Rachel Caine will succeed in her personal battle and be able to offer more stories about these characters as I don’t feel quite ready to give up on them yet.

‘A Deadly Education’ – Naomi Novik

 

A Deadly Education had me hooked from the moment it mentioned a school where strategy was all…where you graduate or die. I was expecting something dark, and wasn’t wholly disappointed.

This was a school like no other, where danger lurks round every corner (and on the ceiling and behind doors) and if you make it through the year you either have power of the magnitude others should be scared of or you have friends in high places. Our main character is El, daughter of a renowned healer, who is not particularly sociable or likeable, who has skills she wants to keep hidden and who is sick to death of being rescued by the school hero Orion.

From the opening I liked El. Rather abrasive but well-meaning, she is easy to empathise with. Watching so much from the sidelines, she is a rather reluctant main character who realises that sometimes you have to adopt a different strategy to win the long game.

In their final year the power being shown by the dark creatures attacking them is of concern. Orion is doing what he can to keep people safe, but our unlikely alliance offers a different approach. It felt strange to have a book set in a school where there is little adult presence, and where we can see the stakes are so high.

The story itself built as expected. Slowly we see the rising threat and watch as they work out how to tackle it. I was more intrigued by the message from her mum at the end warning her to stay away from Orion – a little late, and of course I want to know what is in store for them in what I imagine will be a dangerous senior year.

‘The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow’ – Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch

 

One for Sorrow is the first in a series set in an exclusive boarding school, where secrets are kept and nobody can be sure who to trust.

At Illumen Hall students are used to behaving in a certain way, and making the most of the privileges they are afforded. New girl Audrey is harbouring her own reasons for moving from America to attend the school, but she’s in no hurry to share her secrets. She’s required to share a room with one of the students who seems to be on the inside, Ivy.

The summer before our story starts one of the students is found dead. People suspect there’s more to the story, though the police claim the death of Lola was an accident. Someone is determined to push this, and a podcast is set up aiming to investigate the crime. A clear aura of mistrust springs up, and of course Audrey and Ivy end up teaming up to try and get some answers about what’s going on.

As the investigation continued, elements of the story were a little rushed. Some definite suspicious elements got overlooked because it didn’t suit the narrative the students were wanting to put forward. One or two elements were clearly on the way, and then not developed in any way to show why they’d been set up.
By the end we had some clues, but not a lot of answers as to what happened. Everything hinges on the mysterious Magpie Society…and I’m pretty sure the next book will start to look more at Clover and her significance.

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

‘After the Silence’ – Louise O’Neill

A somewhat puzzling read from Louise O’Neill here, but I think that’s because I was expecting the focus to be more on the mystery.

Keelin Kinsella is a local girl, who has a seemingly successful second marriage to Henry. They are wealthy, and renowned for their shows of wealth. Locals on the island have never fully accepted Henry, and when one of the young triplets feted on the island is found dead after a wild party at the Kinsella’s people assume the hosts were involved. Ten years on, nobody has been charged with her death. People talk. Someone knows what happened, but it seems to be a mystery that will remain unsolved.

A couple of documentary makers come to visit the island and see if they can unearth new evidence. At the request of her husband Keelin befriends them and tries to influence the picture given. Of course we want to know why, and what she’s hiding.

While I spent a fairly substantial part of the book waiting to learn the truth about this event, it was evident that the focus was on those involved and uncovering the truth of their reality. From the relationship between Henry and Keelin and the details of their past, it was clear that this was not a healthy relationship. O’Neill deftly explores the reality of domestic violence and the ways in which those affected by it might respond/reflect on it.

When we eventually got to the uncovering of the evening in question, I had suspected that our obvious candidate was not the one responsible. It was evident that a number of those at the party knew the truth and chose to cover it up. However they justify their actions, there was a part of me that was so disgusted by the behaviour/attitude shown by certain characters that I was rather disappointed when we learned the truth.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in advance of publication. It certainly gave me food for thought.

 

‘Rumblestar’ – Abi Elphinstone

The time it took me to listen to this on audio is, in no way, a sign of my feelings about the book. I am pretty new to using audiobooks and find certain conditions/settings make it easier for me to follow the story when I don’t have the physical text in front of me.

This is a great adventure, with characters that you can’t help but admire, want to succeed and which made me feel a lot braver just reading about them. Eleven year old Casper likes routine and his life is led by his timetables. Unfortunately, these timetables mostly consist of helping him to avoid the school bullies determined to make his life awful.

One day Casper finds himself hiding in a clock to escape them, and is transported to a magical world. Rumblestar is a strange place, full of whimsy, but the characters he meets as he tries to prevent the evil taking over the world. From Arlo the dragon to his first proper friend, Utterly Thankless, these characters were full of life.

There was a great blend of fear and humour, and our character’s journey was inspirational. Huge thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for letting me listen to this prior to publication.

 

‘The Whole Truth’ – Cara Hunter

Scheduled for release in March 2021, I was so excited to receive the invitation from the publishers via NetGalley to read and review this early. I thought All the Rage took the DI Fawley series to a new level, but it’s safe to say that in The Whole Truth things are better than expected in terms of storytelling.
There are three stories being told in The Whole Truth, each of which challenges our expectations and assumptions.
In the first instance we have Caleb Morgan, a young student who has come forward to his university making an allegation against one of his professors about a sexual attack. The professor concerned, Marina Fisher, is not quite what you might expect and from the outset this story challenges a lot of preconceptions. Almost certainly influenced by the #MeToo movement, this was a murky ever-shifting story where it was never quite clear what had happened, where each of those involved seemed to be hiding something and which, ultimately, led to me feeling very sorry for any officer ever involved in investigating any kind of sexual assault.
The second and third strands of the story are more closely linked than we might initially have predicted. There’s the disappearance of a young professional called Emma Smith. Her body is, eventually, discovered so this becomes a murder investigation. Unfortunately, the investigation uncovers some rather damning evidence which has serious implications for DI Fawley. The third strand of the story focuses on the Fawley couple. Alex is pregnant, and increasingly fearful that the man convicted of the attacks (one of which she survived) is determined to engineer revenge on them for manipulating the evidence that led to his conviction. Many think she’s paranoid, but the podcast researching this trial and conviction certainly offers enough to suggest Alex is right to be fearful…and, eventually, offers some very useful information to help those investigating the death of Emma (who was, in fact, a close friend of Alex Fawley).
Without giving too much away, once we start to see these strands interweave this became very hard to put down. Every part of this story was gripping, and it was fascinating to experience so many of the inevitable frustrations that must come from investigating such cases. Some of the characters definitely come out of this better than others, and though we are encouraged to remain convinced of the innocence of some key players, some of the truths that are revealed at the end most definitely left a rather unsavoury taste.

 

‘The Island’ – C.L. Taylor

As a teen I can recall an annual skiing holiday taken by my parents and their group of friends. Every year we’d spend a week abroad, the families, and be forced together. The parents would relish their time to unwind but for the kids tagging along it was a strange thing. We had little in common, but a shared experience. Each year brought the same thing, but with little differences in our interactions that reflected the fact we weren’t really friends.
Reflecting on this immediately made me empathise with the group in this story. They seemed to have closer bonds, but it is evident that they harbour secrets and that not everything is as rosy as it seems on the surface.
Our setting is a remote holiday resort…and then our group of almost-adults is packed off together to a deserted island. Unfortunately, their guide has a stroke and dies. Then they discover the starter cord to the boat has been cut and they are trapped. Their immediate plan is to hunker down on the island and wait for their parents to be alerted to their non-return before being rescued.
Unfortunately, things aren’t quite so predictable. Strange things start happening. The groups’ fears start to become reality…and they’re soon in a nightmare scenario, fighting for their lives.
Throughout, it was clear things were being manipulated but it was good fun trying to guess who was behind it. Clues were there, but the revelation – when it came- was a little odd. We knew enough to realise different behaviour in the build-up could have led to a different story. It was plausible, but not quite the tension-packed thing I was expecting.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this before publication.

 

‘The Haunting of Aveline Jones’ – Phil Hickes

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are starting to come down and we’re almost into October…so this was a perfect time to curl up on the sofa and read this ghost story.
Aveline Jones is a serious young girl, used to spending time alone and she loves nothing more than to read ghost stories under the covers. As her half-term approaches, Aveline is upset to be forced to spend the holiday with her aunt in the Cornish seaside town of Malmouth.
From the moment she arrives Aveline senses something odd about the place – from the remote setting to the strange child-shaped mannequins that decorate many of the houses. Her aunt’s home makes strange noises and for a child used to living in the city this is a place where her imagination can run riot.
Aveline finds herself pushed into visiting the local bookstore. There she finds a friend in its chatty owner and his nephew, but she also discovers a mysterious book telling some of the local stories.
The setting is perfect for this quite charming story. Everything is quickly put in place, and though we have an idea that something scary is going to happen (which is, naturally, linked to the book Aveline has bought) there’s a reassuring adult presence to stop it being too scary for its intended audience. Aveline is a determined and resourceful character, whose imagination is to be lauded but there’s a resilience to her that I couldn’t help but admire.
A must-read for those who like to be scared without being terrified, and the illustrations were perfect for setting the mood of each chapter.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this before its release…and I can’t be the only one excited to see there’s a second book to come.