‘Capturing the Devil’ – Kerri Manascalco

A deadly game of cat-and-mouse has Audrey and Thomas fighting to stay one step ahead of the brilliant serial killer—or see their fateful romance cut short by unspeakable tragedy.

After something of a sidestep, Audrey and Thomas are back in more familiar territory for the finale. We have journeyed with them to New York, and the signs are clear that someone on the ship with them has been killing. For what purpose, we don’t know, but the killings bear the marks of someone close to them.

From our earlier encounters, we know that Nathaniel – Audrey’s brother – who is thought to be the Ripper is dead. They haven’t shared this news with anyone else, but as soon as certain similarities appear it seems that perhaps Nathaniel wasn’t working alone.

While this shadow looms over them, the young couple are forging their own way. They are determined to marry and Audrey’s father journeys to meet them. Everything is going well – so much so that Audrey finds herself in a potentially life-shattering scenario. Unfortunately, Thomas’s father seems to have his own ideas of what kind of match is appropriate for his son.

Difficult decisions, and we get a clear sense of the social conventions playing on these characters. Determined to be true to themselves, the couple head to Chicago, in order to try and solve the mystery of the killer who has come to be known as the White Devil. 

There are some great characters who appear that I wish we’d met sooner. Their appearance fleshes things out a little. I was quite surprised at the obvious flouting of conventions that we see, but it fits with what has already happened.

The most recent escapade leads to some truly awful scenarios, and there are some heart-in-mouth moments where you’re never quite sure we’re not going to be horribly disappointed. We see more focus on the social dynamics, and I think this was a fitting end to the series.

 

‘The Name of the Star’ – Maureen Johnson

 

The Name of the Star is a light-hearted historical-based story. We focus on American teen Rory who moves from the US to study in the UK.

Her arrival coincides with a series of gruesome murders inspired by Jack the Ripper. Bodies are turning up on the sites of the Ripper murders, with similar names to the Ripper victims and they’re killed in the same way. Fear spreads through the town where Rory has come to study.

Initially I thought this would be a straightforward thriller,but then we learn of something unusual.

Rory appears to have seen someone that nobody else could. She is then followed by a team of extra-special police that few know about. They see ghosts – and their paranormal ability will be important in solving this mystery.

While the Ripper murders form the backdrop to the story, the real focus is the ability that Rory and the team share. Fraught with danger, and there’s real. Risk to the characters, but I loved the way the ending hints at what’s to come in book two.

 

‘Dread Nation’ – Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene is a gutsy young woman, and thank goodness because she ends up in all manner of awful situations and her special set of skills and bullish nature come in very useful.

When we first meet Jane she is training, learning how to be an Attendant keeping white people safe from the threat known as the shamblers. We’re in a world like no other – an historical setting but overrun with zombies. She has a love/ hate relationship with fellow student Katherine (whom she delights in calling Kate because it annoys her) and there is something she is keeping secret about her friendship with Jack.

Unfortunately, many no longer believe the shamblers are a real threat now. When this is shown to be foolish, some are determined not to give up their privileged position. The Mayor and one of the school assistants engineer a situation where Jane and Kate are sent away.

Told they are going to help patrol and keep the new town safe, the girls have to use their wits to stay alive. They are – quite rightly – suspicious of what is going on. As more and more secrets are uncovered, Jane has to come up with increasingly risky plans to ensure their survival.

The setting for this world is a strange mix of historical and modern. Jane is a great main character and there are some really interesting details given about her mother to suggest that what comes next will be good.

 

‘The Beautiful’ – Renée Ahdieh

 

 

Thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to its publication in October 2019.

When we first meet Celine she is on her way to America having fled France. We learn she killed a man who tried to rape her, and she is desperate for a fresh start. Her journey is quite uneventful, but she befriends a couple of girls that go with her to live in a convent.

Upon their arrival in New Orleans Celine cannot help but feel she has come home. She loves the vibrancy of her new home, but there is a definite sense of threat – made worse by the murder of a young girl soon after their arrival.

There’s no doubt that Celine is not your stereotypical young lady. She’s happy to defy conventions, but this does lead her into rather difficult circumstances.

The majority of the story focuses on the mysterious Sebastian who has a group of very close friends that don’t seem quite human. Celine is in turn entranced and infuriated by Bastian – so it’s inevitable there’s a spin-out hint of a romance.

There’s some interesting ideas here, but there’s a lot that seems to work against the story. We’re never given enough information about the two groups to explain the dynamics between them. We know they’re vampires, yet there’s little detail about quite how this group works. Someone close commits a pretty awful act of betrayal, yet we don’t really get to know why. There’s also a hint of someone thought dead actually being part of this, but we know so little about them it would have been easy to ignore the significance.

This is not a book that I found hard to read or unexciting, but there were a lot of unanswered questions which I found infuriating.

‘Out of the Easy’ – Ruta Sepetys

Immersed in 1950s New Orleans, this was a great read.

Seventeen year old Josie Moraine is the daughter of a prostitute. For years she’s looked after herself, and is desperate to make something of her life.

Helped by Willie, the local brothel madam her mother works for, and a number of other characters Josie tries to break out of the chaos brought to her life by her mother.

There was a warmth to this that really shone through. Josie was a determined character who was dealt a pretty tough time, yet she tried her best to rise above it. Her mother was not a caricature villain, but her behaviour was appalling.
The main thrust of the story is Josie trying to do the right thing by the people she interacts with, while learning about herself. She dreams of a better life, and yet at every opportunity this seems to elude her.

While the ending might not be quite the one she planned for herself, it brought things full circle and really showed the relationships she invested in to be positive and beneficial.

Sepetys is fast becoming a go-to author for me.

 

‘The Liars of Mariposa Island’ – Jennifer Mathieu

A very different book from Jennifer Mathieu, but I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication (scheduled for September 2019).

The ARC I received has the simple title ‘The Liars’ and this definitely indicates more characters could be given this title than the family of three we predominantly focus on.

The majority of the story focuses on 17 year old Elena, and her desperate attempts to force a life for herself in spite of her mother’s controlling behaviour. Her older brother, Jouqain, is allowed to work and go out at night but he recognises their mother’s behaviour is abusive. With nobody else to support him though, Jouqain doesn’t know what to do to improve their situation, although he does what he can to improve the situation for Elena.

Alongside the story of these two and the summer that starts to signal change, we get the background to their mother’s life. It is jarring at first, but the details about her wealthy home in Cuba and the change in lifestyle when she’s sent alone to America do explain – at least in part – some of her actions.

Nothing is really resolved by the end of the book for Elena, but the circumstances around Jouqain do give some hope that things might change in time.

‘Top Marks for Murder’ – Robin Stevens

A welcome return to Deepdean. A murder witnessed from afar becomes the focal point for the Detective Agency this time around, but they are up against it as nothing is quite what it seems.

Daisy and Hazel are changing (as you’d expect) and the setting echoes the sense of growing turmoil. They have a rather predictable response to returning to school and finding things have changed a little in their absence, but quickly things settle into their usual routine.

Their friend witnesses a murder so the girls decide to investigate. Nobody is found, so as parents descend on Deepdean for the anniversary celebrations the girls decide to monitor things carefully. It’s not long before they have witnessed an actual murder, so the race is on to learn exactly who is behind this crime.

We have the usual red herrings and a bit of sidetracking with other events. All too soon, though, the girls piece things together and end up solving the crime.
The usual great fun, and it’s lovely to see the characters growing and developing. I love this series!

‘The Nickel Boys’ – Colson Whitehead

There’s no doubting that this is a story some would prefer not told, and though it’s a story that won’t take long to read it is one that will remain with you for a long time.
Our story is about Elwood, a young black boy who grows up conscious of his differences but determined to try to hang onto the things that he has in common with others. From an early age, Elwood showed a fierce determination to better himself and to do the right thing. His desire to learn finds him accepting a lift from someone, and because it’s a stolen car Elwood is sent to the Nickel Centre.
It’s meant to be a juvenile facility but the boys are segregated and, from early on, we see that beatings and abuse are prevalent. Nobody challenges this established order, and it becomes ever harder for Elwood to maintain belief in the words of Dr King.
When he is hospitalised after his first beating (so severe he passes out and is unsure how many times he was hit), Elwood is befriended by Turner. They develop as close a friendship as possible in such an environment, and Turner goes against everything he believes in when Elwood is threatened with being taken ‘out back’.
The two boys run.
What happens next is hard to believe, but this is a story that has to be heard. How such behaviour could be condoned for so long is appalling, and I can understand why Whitehead felt this story needed to be told.

‘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.