‘Goodbye, Perfect’ – Sara Barnard

Not due for release until early 2018, I am grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication, although I can see it being a book that will split opinion.
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room first of all…this book focuses on a teacher/student relationship which means it is not ever going to be an easy book to recommend. Though we learn about Bonnie’s relationship through her friend, Eden, there’s no escaping the fact that we’re likely to judge things even before we start reading. I can’t see my way past this, and think the subject will put a lot of readers off without them picking up the book. This would be a shame as I felt the book was more about Eden and her growing character.
‘Goodbye, Perfect’ opens with Eden finding out that her best friend has run away. There’s been some talk of an older boyfriend, but Bonnie hasn’t shared details and this struck me as odd. If you are best friends, the only reason you don’t want to tell someone about it is because you know there’s something inappropriate. Very quickly, Eden learns that this mysterious boyfriend is actually the girls’ music teacher. From this point on we’re in strange territory.
Eden has always been the friend most likely to cause trouble. Adopted as a young child, Eden has made her share of mistakes. Perfect she is not. But her best friend, Bonnie, fits the stereotype of perfect pupil. Straight A student, head girl, positive…we get the idea. So, is Bonnie a victim of grooming or a deluded teen desperate to break free from the constraints and expectations placed upon her?
Barnard takes us through the process of investigating Bonnie’s disappearance. We see a little of how the police work and we are encouraged to consider behaviour of adults and those in authority as Eden and those left behind try to come to terms with what has happened. We are offered numerous reasons to try to explain why Bonnie might have fallen for her music teacher. However, because we are never given the view of those involved directly it is difficult to feel we are being given a satisfactory reason for these events to have happened.
The initial part of the book seemed rather slow if I’m being honest. As a reader, I felt I’d already decided there was nothing to justify what was happening and it frustrated me that Eden didn’t immediately try to take the course of action I would have hoped for. However, I really enjoyed seeing the growth in this rather prickly young woman as she comes to realise what’s important to her, and overcomes her own barriers to try and forge her own life. The latter part of the book picked up the pace and became a story that will certainly engage readers.

‘Tarnished City’ – Vic James

Thank you to NetGalley for authorising me to read this. Number two in the series is another cracker, though there are signs that things are changing (and not always for the better).

I admit to being a little scared I would have forgotten details, as it felt a long time since I’d read book one. However, I felt I was quickly taken back to the world and didn’t feel too many details were missing from my mind.

There is a lot of alternating between Luke and Abi following the events of Gilded Cage. Neither is in a good place, but they at least have something to fight for. The Equals we observe are also in pretty dire situations, but some have more of a chance of escape than others.

I felt Tarnished Cage was bold in its attempts to explore the more morally dubious characters. I can’t say I liked many of the characters/ideas we come across, but James portrays them with skill. It was interesting to see their motivation, but there’s still an awful lot we’re not being told.

In many ways this was bleaker than Gilded Cage, but I got a sense of how events were moving on. I’m very excited to see where we go in the final part of the trilogy.

‘Purple Hearts’ – Michael Grant

Hats off to you, Michael Grant, for writing what I hope will become a must-read trilogy for anyone.

I’ve just finished this surrounded by articles in today’s press about the furore over whether or not to wear a poppy in remembrance of those who fought in war. From this remoteness, even though we can read of atrocities committed throughout the world at the touch of a button, it’s all too easy to forget about the sacrifices of those who went to war. We should never forget.

In this final instalment of the trilogy we follow our favourites Rainy, Rio and Frangie through the last push. We focus on battles that might sound familiar, but the details we’re given here vividly bring the events to life.

At times this was hard to read. Senseless brutality, questionable moral decisions being taken and a no-holds barred account of what happened. Some of it may have been imagined, and some of it may have been far worse. But it’s important not to ignore…how else will you encourage people to stand up for what is right?

Thank you NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication (scheduled for January 2018). It was a privilege to read…and I’ve pre-ordered my physical copy.

‘Mistletoe and Murder’ – Robin Stevens

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong return…and I can’t fault it. I’ve got rather a soft spot for these two, and i’m pleased to say that Mistletoe and Murder offers more of what I love about this series. This time the girls go to spend Christmas with Daisy’s brother, Bertie. Unfortunately, the girls’ habit for getting involved in murder and mayhem continues apace as they find themselves embroiled in another investigation.

The relationship between the two is somewhat akin to Holmes and Watson, and there’s a certain charm in the recreation of 1930’s Cambridge. I also admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the Christmas setting which creates a fairly cosy feel for a book involving a number of deaths.

In case you hadn’t grasped this yet, I love these books and this is yet another great addition to the series. I liked the involvement of our second Society, though I fear Alex and George’s involvement is going to cause issues later.

‘Turtles all the Way Down’ – John Green

I started this book a number of times and just wasn’t ‘clicking’…but I’m glad I got in the right place for this eventually. It’s a slow-burner, definitely, and I think I’d gone into it with a certain expectation. When this wasn’t there, I was a little non-plussed.
Basic story revolves around sixteen year old Aza and her best friend, Daisy. Aza has quite debilitating mental health issues. We watch these two girls go about their daily lives and there’s a side story involving a boy from Aza’s past, Davis, their fledgling relationship and the disappearance of his father.
At moments this felt very much like things I’d read before. The story about Davis’s father felt like a framework, and there was a real sense of episodes that we were bearing witness to rather than a cohesive story.
Those comments make it sound really negative, but that’s not the feeling I got from this read. The plot itself was fairly so-so; I wasn’t unduly bothered what happened. However, what I found absorbing was the inner workings of Aza’s mind.
This is a girl suffering. She’s very absorbed in herself, and constantly questions her actions. She is the kind of person who might be utterly draining to actually be around, but the attempt to get into her mind was fascinating. This will strike a chord with so many because of the way it explores mental health, and for that reason alone it’s a book I’d be happy to recommend. I cannot get the image of the spiral out of my mind, and I think the way the book ended offered hope without being saccharine-sweet and incredible. This doesn’t have quite the appeal of The Fault in our Stars, but I found it more satisfying as it forces you to confront your own misconceptions/views on mental health.

‘Nevermore:The Trials of Morrigan Crow’ – Jessica Townsend

A recent visit from my sister-in-law had us talking books – and she was raving about a book she’d heard about from several friends. She said it was flying off the shelves in Australia, and the buzz about this book was amazing. It was only later on that she remembered the title…Nevermoor.

Having been granted an ARC by NetGalley, I was so disappointed that the digital copy I received was nearly impossible to read. I persevered through chapter 1, and loved it, but didn’t feel up to the task of reading the whole book in that way…so I made myself wait until publication to be able to read it properly.

Film rights for this have already been snapped up, and it has – perhaps inevitably – drawn comparisons with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. However, it struck me as a much more assured story, darker in some ways and more universal.

Nevermore tells the story of Morrigan Crow, a young girl who is cursed. She was born on Eventide (the unluckiest day of the year), and is destined to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. Throughout her short life, her father has apologised for her existence, and she is used to being blamed by those around her for everything that goes wrong.

At this early stage in the book you can’t help but wonder where this is going, but then Morrigan is given a way out…the rather strangely titled Jupiter North offers to act as her patron. He wants her to become part of the Wundrous Society, a prestigious organisation that admits few members. In order to become part of this elite, Morrigan has to successfully pass four trials, competing against some of her country’s most talented peers. With no discernible talent, Morrigan is up against it.

The world-building in this story is magical. Morrigan’s new home of the Hotel Deucalion and the magnificent Magnificat, Fen, were enchanting. There’s an evident cinematic quality to this, and a rather whimsical tone to the writing. The settings are easy to picture, and I really can’t wait to see how this goes down with my youngest son who’s just about the right age to – I hope – be entranced by this.

My only gripe is that now there’s another series that I’m desperate to read…

‘Everless’ – Sara Holland

It’s at times like this that I really cannot sing the praises of NetGalley enough…this isn’t due for release until early 2018…but I’ve read it…and it’s a book that I can see marking a very exciting series.

The story is intriguing. In the land of Sempera, blood is currency. Time is extracted from blood and mixed with iron to enable people to use it as payment. The wealthy, such as the Gerling family, use this process to tax the poor. It’s certainly a dangerous world, but particularly so for our main character Jules.

When we first meet Jules she is worried about her father. Determined to do what she can to support him, Jules plans to return to Everless – the palatial estate owned by the Gerlings where Jules used to live as a child – as they are offering time as payment. Her father is unhappy about this prospect, and it’s not until much later on that we get to understand why.

Watching Jules return to the place she seems to feel is home was interesting. She clearly still harbours feelings for Roan, the Gerling boy she remembers playing with as a child, and there are little clues dropped that Jules might have a part to play in events beyond the walls of Everless.

As with many books in this genre, it’s not until we have been given all the details that we start to see just how well it has been plotted. Jules’s resolve to meet the Queen and solve what she thinks is the key problem carries us happily through most of the book. We watch Jules get taken under the wing of Ina Gold, the Queen’s heir, and it was definitely interesting to watch her piece together details of her past and start to work out just who she is. At the point that we were told one or two hitherto unknown details everything clicked. It was a shock, but it made sense…it’s just a shame it happened so late on and is clearly setting us up for where Jules goes next.

I can’t wait!

‘Hunting Prince Dracula’ – Kerri Maniscalco

After the events of Stalking Jack the Ripper Audrey and Thomas are in need of respite and she flees the country, determined to win a place to study at the renowned forensics academy in Romania.  Unfortunately the academy is in the home of the man known as Count Dracula, and things do not go smoothly.

The journey is fraught with tension, and the discovery of  a body drained of blood sparks their curiosity. Rather than turn a blind eye, Audrey is determined to prove her worth and work out what is going on.

As the body count is hiked up, Audrey and Thomas are thrown into increasingly dangerous situations. Their developing relationship is a wonderful blend of humour and tension, and while we might not be wholly convinced by the reality of the predicaments in which they find themselves it makes for great reading.

Personally, I cannot wait for book three and can’t wait to find out what situation they will find themselves in when they journey to America.

‘Satellite’ – Nick Lake

Satellite is one of those reads that had some wonderful moments but which also left me feeling rather flat. A tough one to review, and this will be one that I think splits views.

In this novel Lake focuses us on Leo, a young boy born in space who is desperate to ‘go home’, to earth. It’s a journey he and his two companions, Libra and Orion, have been looking forward to for as long as they can remember.

Our story is split into distinct parts. We watch the teens in space, planning their lives on earth. We see them journey to earth and look at their experiences. Then, perhaps most oddly, we return from whence we came.

Leo’s voice is distinctive. Overcoming the writing style will be a big factor in your response to the story. It’s written in what seems to mirror the language of the transmissions that Leo and the others are used to communicating in, and clearly marks Leo out as ‘other’ – an alien in his environment. However, if you can look beneath this you’ll probably find yourself quite taken with these kids.

As we learn more about Leo’s family, and get a sense of just where he’s come from, it’s hard not to fall a little under his spell. Seeing the experience of life on earth from the view of someone who’s not physically prepared for it is intriguing. Watching the relationships Leo has develop is pretty compelling.

Unfortunately, much as I liked Leo and grew to care for him I felt the latter stages of the novel took us so far into the realms of incredibility that I really didn’t enjoy it as I’d hoped to.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for my thoughts.

‘The Empty Grave’ – Jonathan Stroud

I was so impatient for this, and found myself desperate to finish it while being reluctant to get to the end. No more? There’s options, and I’m certain we could dip further into Lockwood & co and what happens to them following this book…yet there’s something bittersweet about knowing that there could still be a story to tell and not getting it.

We open fully aware that this is going to be a humdinger of a case. Lucy admits that this case is their biggest yet, and it has far-reaching consequences.
The dynamics between Lockwood, Holly, George and Lucy remain fresh and funny. They are quickly caught up in an investigation into possibly the biggest upset of the series…the exact situation regarding Penelope Fittes. I didn’t see this coming, and it was ripe for exciting scenes on the other side, battles and ghostly goings-on.

For me, there were two strands that were focused on in this book that just caught me by the heart-strings and tugged over and over again. It may be a story about ghosts, but I wanted Lucy and Lockwood together. Their attraction was even more obvious here, and I was excited to see how he opened up to her. His backstory and the details surrounding his family were just what was required, and though it’s been all too obvious how they feel about each other I like that Stroud has kept this under the surface.

Oddly the love story that has most impact for me in this series is that surrounding Lucy and the skull. From the moment she could hear its vile mutterings we’ve known Lucy and the skull share a special bond. He is a character crucial to events but the kind of character who entertains and infuriates in equal measure. His comments towards Lockwood certainly show his feelings for Lucy, and this book was all about whether she’d trust him. How can a spirit character who spends his time chained to a jar be the character I’m most engaged by? Simple…his actions later in the book were just beautiful. That glimpse on the windowsill at the end is just enough for me to hope that his actions weren’t in vain.