‘The Burning’ – Laura Bates

The Burning is one of those books that I think all teenagers, parents and teachers should be made to read as it covers such relevant and necessary material.

It tells the story of Anna Clark who has recently moved to Scotland following an awful experience at her old school involving cyber bullying and the sharing of an intimate picture. With her mother she’s determined to get a new start, but is it ever possible to escape your online presence?

Anna’s story is told alongside the story of Maggie Moran, a young woman accused of witchcraft when she refuses to lie about a nobleman raping her.

A rather bleak story in that we get to see throughout time women have been made to suffer for other’s thoughts and beliefs.

I would, personally, have liked to know a little more about what could happen after such an event. It’s still a relatively new phenomenon and one that everyone needs to stand up to.

It’ll be interesting to see how this stands the test of time, but it’s certainly an interesting thought-provoking read. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy to review.

‘Wolfhunter River’ – Rachel Caine

I was wondering how, with her husband dead, we would get another book out of this scenario…and it really is like a new story with the same characters (perhaps setting up options for more?).
This time round Gwen is struggling to keep a lid on things. She has been acquitted of any crime, but there are still people who are convinced of her guilt. Some of those people are very dangerous – they have money and the means to cause problems. She doesn’t want to leave Stillhouse but with a film-crew shadowing them, there’s potential for things to go very wrong.
The opening story doesn’t immediately seem relevant, and it takes some time before the pieces come together.
The family are healing, slowly, but things happen that cause flashbacks and serve as dangerous reminders of what they have endured.
When Gwen takes a call from a scared woman she sees it as nothing out of the ordinary. Then her daughter calls with the news that her mother is dead, and people are coming for her. As a witness to this (albeit over the phone), Gwen is asked to give a statement.
Heading to mysterious Wolfhunter it soon becomes clear that this town has its share of dark secrets and awful events. Gwen, Sam and the kids are soon caught up in an awful scenario that goes way beyond the worst things you can imagine.
Seriously odd and unpleasant, and this family really are being out through the wringer for our entertainment. When it’s this good, though, it’s fine.
Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication in exchange for my honest review.

‘The Boy Who Steals Houses’ – C.G. Drews

The Boy Who Steals Houses was a thoughtful read, which didn’t preach but made me so mad because of the events it described.
Sam is only fifteen. His mum left some years ago and his father is a violent man who regularly beats up Sam’s elder brother, Avery, because of his autism. We are told this back-story in fits and starts, and it is tough to take. Dumped on an aunt, the boys are beaten and vilified by an adult who really should know better. They slip through the cracks – because nobody cares enough to look – and end up running away.
We follow Sam as he drifts in and out of other people’s houses. He’s aware that what he’s doing is, technically, theft, but he is more keen to pocket a key from each place he enters so that he develops a feeling of security/of belonging somewhere.
One day he enters a home that feels like somewhere he could belong. It’s messy and yet there’s a sense of homeliness to it. When Sam ends up asleep upstairs when the family return, it’s the kind of unimaginable situation that you could only get away with in fiction. However, in this chaotic household, everyone seems to thinks am is a friend of someone else so he joins them. Over the course of a summer he stays with the De Lainey family and gets closer to Moxie, who has her own issues.
It’s clear from the beginning that Sam is hiding something. We don’t know exactly what, but guess it’s bad.
As Sam tries to run away from the events that have been building, things get a lot worse.
While this is pretty bleak, there’s a sense that Sam might – with care and hard work – make it to a better place. Much as I’d like to know, there’s something really nice about where we leave Sam at the end of this novel.
Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

‘Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee’ – Jeff Zentner

Delia and Josie…best friends…stars of their own rather odd TV show…rather off-the-wall characters, but they got under my skin.

The plot is not actually that appealing. We watch them preparing their show. Delia is struggling with being abandoned by her dad and Josie is under pressure to do something more purposeful with her life. Through a rather random meet, Josie gets a boyfriend. The girls want to meet with a well-known producer to try and boost their show, so the three go on a road trip. They come home and start moving on with their lives.

This is the kind of book that I’ll really struggle to tell people about, particularly if they’re all about the plot.

As I was reading I found myself really envious of the friendship between these two. They’re struggling with their own demons, but have the kind of friendship I’d bite your hand off for. Silly jokes and random conversations won’t appeal to everyone, but there was a genuine love of the quirkiness these two exude.

Progressing through the book there were moments that I felt detracted a little from events (the very surreal ‘meet’ and restaurant scene) but then there’d be these quite beautiful moments snuck in that made me pause, smile wryly and just feel as if Zentner got it (whatever it was).

Definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it blended humour and seriousness just right.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in advance of publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘Meat Market’ by Juno Dawson

Jana Novak. For ages, known as the tall one that people thought could be a guy. Then she’s discovered at a theme park, and launched into the fashion industry.
Not simply told she has potential, she is seventeen and in the big time. She’s the name everyone wants.

We follow Jana through her first experiences, and really get under her skin. Slowly, we pick up warning signs that this industry is not quite as good a thing as people believe.

I wasn’t particularly interested in the fashion stuff, but really enjoyed reading Jana’s story – even the awful bits that just make you recoil at the way so many are complicit in some awful things.

Dawson creates a compelling character, and certainly picked an opportune time to explore some of these ideas.

Thank you to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication

‘All the Invisible Things’ – Orlagh Collins

Vetty is taking time to work out how she feels about all sorts of things. It was easier when she was younger: her mother was alive, her best friend knew her instinctively and she didn’t have to worry about people trying to label her.

For the last few years they’ve lived in Somerset with her aunt, struggling to come to terms with losing mum. Now the family are moving back to London and Vetty is trying to pick up where she left off.

Some of the initial interactions we watched Vetty have were very self-conscious. It was hard to know how we felt about her and her friendship with Pez. As the two talk, it’s evident that Vetty has feelings for boys and girls and is going to have to think about what’s important to her.

I felt Vetty was a really engaging character. She didn’t always get things right, but it was easy to identify with her uncertainty.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me early access to this in exchange for my review.

‘On the Come Up’ – Angie Thomas

Firstly, thank you Angie Thomas for introducing us to another wonderful character in Bri. Secondly, thank you for not writing another THUG. Some crossover issues, but there’s never a moment when you feel this has already been done. Thirdly, thank you for writing about something I don’t have any experience of (rapping) and making me actually care about it.

Focusing on sixteen year old Bri, daughter of a much-loved rapper shot by gang members, On the Come Up places music at its very heart. Showing us the power of words and the way music can, literally, save us also means Thomas has to confront some of the less appealing elements associated with this genre.

At the outset Bri is rather brash, quick to rile and say what she thinks. This means she’s labelled as ‘aggressive’ and people expect trouble. Immediately confronting attitudes to race when Bri is thrown to the floor by school security there’s a lot happening here.

Alongside the school issues/general social exploration, there’s a real focus on the family and how our relationships affect us. Bri’s mum and brother leave her out of things – perhaps out of a desire to protect her – but this leaves a Bri open to suggestions she may not have considered in a misguided attempt to help ease her family’s experiences.

Friendships are tested as Bri sets out to get her ‘come up’ – her chance to change things. She battles with words, she is set-up to play a role but ultimately she has to figure out who she is and whether she’s important enough to look to do things her way.

Again, I’m sure all too soon we’ll see this adapted into a movie. Vibrant, thought-provoking and powerful.

‘The Vanishing Stair’ – Maureen Johnson

So, last time round Stevie was investigating the Ellingham mysteries and getting herself into places/situations she ought not to have. In the interim we are led to believe her parents have pulled her from school, worried because one of the students has died and another has gone missing (fair point, I think).

Initially I felt the book was (sorry) a little slow to get going. Starting with Stevie moping round her home town pointing out all the things she missed about school and generally not doing much was too reminiscent of that awful scene with Bella in the chair, doing nothing as the seasons change around her.

Thankfully the mood becomes less maudlin before it gets too much to take. David’s dad steps in and, effectively, bribes her to return to school and keep an eye on his son. Stevie settles back into school but – as you’d hope – she cannot forget the elusive Ellingham case and continues her investigations.

The last thing you want is to know any of the details of this. Suffice to say, Stevie gets closer to unravelling some of these mysteries but also – as in many of the best mysteries – there are new strands woven in.

Towards the end I was really quite frantic with trying to work out what was going to happen. Johnson is toying with readers by leaving it where she does. I have so many questions…

‘Internment’ – Samira Ahmed

One to introduce important ideas to younger readers, and it explores timeless concepts, though its blunt approach feels unnecessarily heavy-handed.

Set in a not-too-distant future America we are put in the situation where we watch Layla and her parents taken to a camp specially set up to house Muslims. There they are subject to appalling racism and inhumane treatment simply because of their religion.

We read open-mouthed as people are separated by skin colour, beaten for refusing to follow camp rules and ‘disappeared’ for daring to challenge the Director. We hear of external disagreement with what’s happening, but nobody seems keen to challenge orders from up high.

Layla is a rather immature teen at the start. She becomes a rather more interesting character as she’s forced to confront her new reality and consider the extent to which she’ll challenge it. She decides to (risking) place her trust in one of the guards and there’s hints of romance that get subsumed by the need to advance the plot.

I’d love to say the Director was a caricature; that nobody would believe someone so blatantly racist, sexist and generally unpleasant would ever exist. Sadly, that’s not the case.

And it is the parallels we might draw between contemporary events and those of the book that show just why this is a necessary thing. Personally I’d have liked a more nuanced read, with some focus on the build-up to these events and the reactions of those on the outside. However, for what it is the story is paced well and delivers its message with force.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to read in exchange for my review.

‘The Secret History’ – Donna Tartt

For what feels like years I’ve been told I should read this modern classic. The rave comments on the cover were enough to make me reluctant to read it…and now I can say I have, indeed, read it though I can also safely say it won’t go down as one of my favourite reads.

I like the fact that, from the beginning, we know that a key character ends up murdered. This lends a creeping tension to the pages showing the build-up to this event and yet I couldn’t help but feel slightly non-plussed once I’d finished.

Our narrator is Richard, a young man on scholarship who ends up studying in a rather out-of-the-way college. He becomes infatuated by a rather eclectic group of students. They keep themselves to themselves, studying under a rather odd professor of Classics. In this group they read and converse in Greek, examine little-known texts and seem to bask in their own sense of superiority.

None of the group are likeable. Henry is a bully; Charles and Camilla (yes, really) are twins who also have an incestuous relationship; Francis is a closet homosexual, determined not to let his family know the truth about him, and Bunny (the man who ends up dead) is a boorish character who spends everyone else’s money and finds himself a lot more appealing than he is. I can’t understand why Richard is so keen to ingratiate himself with this group or why, on the numerous occasions he has to walk away from them, he remains entangled in their mess.

My overwhelming sense with this was of a writer trying very hard to be clever, writing about people who like to show their superiority at any opportunity and then crumble once they realise they have to live with the consequences of their actions.

Once we’ve learned why the murder comes about, we then focus on the decline and fall of this once great group. It takes a long time. We know it’s coming, but have to watch every slow and painful moment. As the fall-out becomes more brutal I couldn’t help but think we’d have been spared a lot if they’d been a little less selfish in the beginning.

I know my comments may seem harsh. There was a lot about it that I liked, but just not enough to offset the things that irritated me. Now I just have to ‘fess up to those friends who rave about this and have been encouraging me to read it…