‘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.

‘The Land of Neverendings’ – Kate Saunders

The stories I remember loving when I was younger were those where the real work exists in a shadowy form, and a more vibrant place becomes the reality for the characters.

In this charming story, Emily is coming to terms with the death of her sister. She misses her terribly, so when old toys start to come to life around her Emily is more than happy to investigate this world more carefully.

With the help of her older next door neighbour, Ruth (whose teenage son died unexpectedly), Emily tries to work out how to get to the world of Smockeroon and save the toys from the spread of unhappiness.

Definitely one I want to read with my youngest son, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he makes of it.

‘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

‘The Raven’s Tale’ – Cat Winters

Cat Winters is one of those authors who seems to delight in the macabre and unusual…I’ve enjoyed every one of the novels by her that I’ve written, and this is another hit in my mind.

Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

Following the life of Edgar Allan Poe, this is clearly based on meticulous research but with a wonderfully macabre style that pays homage to Poe’s writing.

Poe at seventeen is about to head to university. He wants to write, but is discouraged by his foster father. Poe tries to ignore his dark muse, Lenore, but we see him struggle with his passions and interests as he adjusts to life as a student. Spiralling debts burden him and Poe cannot bear to abandon the one thing that gives him pleasure though it leaves him open to criticism.

For those familiar with his writing/life I imagine this will add another rich layer, but it’s a fascinating story regardless.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me access prior to publication and to Cat Winters for her quirky imaginative style being let loose on such a rich topic.

‘Monsters’ – Sharon Dogar

1814: Mary Godwin, the sixteen-year-old daughter of radical socialist and feminist writers, runs away with a dangerously charming young poet – Percy Bysshe Shelley. From there, the two young lovers travel a Europe in the throes of revolutionary change, through high and low society, tragedy and passion, where they will be drawn into the orbit of the mad and bad Lord Byron.
But Mary and Percy are not alone: they bring Jane, Mary’s young step-sister. And she knows the biggest secrets of them all . . .
Told from Mary and Jane’s perspectives, Monsters is a novel about radical ideas, rule-breaking love, dangerous Romantics, and the creation of the greatest Gothic novel of them all: Frankenstein

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me access to such a complex and fascinating read.

Some of the stories surrounding Frankenstein are well-known, and I admit to finding the book at its most absorbing when it focused on the events of this time. However, in this we have an imagined account of the life of Mary Goodwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley and a character I’d never heard of – half-sister Jane/Claire.

Initially the book felt slow in approach. A meticulous and, at times, off-putting focus on the build-up to the relationship between these evidently fascinating characters. There’s a clear sense of the time and beliefs around these characters being brought to life. It was definitely interesting to see how their lives may have intertwined and linked.

While the story was fascinating, I found myself intensely irritated by Shelley and the selfishness with which he acted. The attempt to show his appeal and positive traits is clear, but it didn’t quite succeed.

‘Girls Made of Snow and Glass’ – Melissa Bashardoust

A feminist re-imagining of the Snow White tale and, though a little slow to draw us in, it was a beautifully told story.

We’re told this story from alternating perspectives – Mina (a girl whose heart is made of glass and who’s shunned by everyone because of her magician father) and Lynet (a princess made of snow who is destined to rule, but who wants nothing more than to be loved) – and this allows us to develop an understanding of each character, lending a subtlety to their portrayal that I felt was intriguing.

Initially it takes a bit of time to establish the time-frame for each character. Mina, however, becomes stepmother to Lynet and it was lovely to see how they learn to trust themselves and each other.

I was a little unsure of my feelings towards this initially, but as the characters come into their own I was rooting for each and hoping for a better outcome than that which seemed inevitable.

‘Bone Talk’ – Candy Gourlay

More than a hundred years ago, a boy named Samkad thinks he knows everything about the world. He knows the mountains he lives in. He knows his people. He knows his blood enemy, the Mangili. And he wants to become a man, to be given his own shield, spear and axe to fight with. His best friend, Luki, wants all the same things – but she is a girl, and no girl has ever become a warrior.
But everything changes when a new boy arrives in the village. He calls himself Samkad’s brother, yet he knows nothing of the ways of the mountain. And he brings news of a people called ‘Americans’, who are bringing war and destruction right to his home . . .

Another book that I picked up with little knowledge, other than it’s on the long-list for the Carnegie 2019 Award.

Gourlay talks of trying to bring to life her own Philippine history, and it is certainly a story that encourages us to walk in someone else’s shoes awhile and to consider the impact our presence might have on others.

A brief yet compelling read, which will certainly generate discussion about some of the issues covered.