‘The Hand on the Wall’ – Maureen Johnson

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

What can I say? At the same time as Stevie believes she’s solved the crime of the century, there are three mysterious deaths at Ellingham…are they linked? We get answers, finally, and not all of them are what we might have desired but they most certainly tie things up well.

After her somewhat unexpected return to Ellingham, Stevie is doggedly determined to find out the truth. She, along with the other students, is clearly upset by the deaths of the students, but if Stevie can finally piece together the clues that are in front of her she will get her peace of mind.

Unfortunately, there’s still unexplained issues and the net seems to be drawing in around Stevie. When a storm is forecast Stevie and her small group of friends come up with a daring plan to remain in Ellingham. Their main aim is to support David in his attempts to bring down his father, but Stevie recognises her opportunity to finally resolve the case of Alice Ellingham.

The story involving Stevie and her friends sweeps along. Occasionally they do things that are, to say the least, dangerous but when even your friends call you Nancy Drew it isn’t completely unbelievable. The nods to Agatha Christie were fun to spot, but there was always a modern element that kept this feeling relevant.

What I really enjoyed about this was the snippets of the story from 1937. Learning the truth about what happened and how it links to the modern day was fascinating. It offered some interesting ideas about certain characters, and definitely made it fun to watch others trying to make the links we’d been alerted to.

 

‘The Memory Wood’ – Sam Lloyd

Confusing beyond belief, horror piled on horror and – throughout- there’s a blurring of the line between dream/nightmare and reality. While the content is deeply unpleasant, the end result is a story that is very hard to put down.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this prior to publication in exchange for my thoughts.

This won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a book that I’m sure will be talked about.
The majority of the story takes place in somewhere called The Memory Wood.

Elijah, one of our main characters, has been there a long time and Elissa, a somber yet highly resourceful thirteen year old chess fan, has just arrived. The pair seek solace in each other’s company, though we’re never entirely sure who to trust.

Alongside the experience of Elissa realising she has been abducted and incarcerated, we follow the detective put in charge of the investigation. We learn – eventually – exactly who Elijah is and how he fits into the story.

What is uncovered is beyond your worst imaginings. We’re shown the very worst of people, but we also uncover some good. Unsettling, but strangely compelling.

 

‘Three Hours’ – Rosamund Lupton

I have only just closed the last page on this extraordinary book, and I think this is one I’ll return to time and time again.

The subject is horrifying, but it is a story that ought to be shared.

A school in the Somerset woodlands, full of children of all ages going about their daily lives. A noise is heard in the woods. Most think it’s a harmless prank, fireworks, but refugee Rafi recognises that it’s a bomb. The Headmaster is shot and he, along with older students, takes refuge in the library and surrounding classrooms. A group of students is in relative safety in the school theatre, rehearsing Macbeth, while a group of primary children are with their teacher in the pottery room.

Spread out as they are, this is an incredibly tense situation.

As we switch views and timings, we learn more about what is happening. We follow these incredibly brave children trying not to give in to their fear. We see teachers stepping into roles nobody should have to take on. We see the police procedure as they desperately try to resolve what quickly becomes a terrifying scenario. We watch in horror as we see the role media and the wider public world have in events. And we also get fleeting glimpses of desperate parents trying to find their children.

The events of this book take place over three short hours. Every moment of that time was depicted so clearly, and as events build to their chilling climax I was physically affected by my reading.

While I might, over time, feel more manipulated by certain revelations/events, I have to rate this based on my reaction as I was reading. Nobody should have to face anything like this. It’s a horrific time when such hatred is shared widely, and nobody challenges it. This book is testimony to what I’d like to feel is a common decency and determination not to give in to this hatred.

 

‘The Clockwork Sparrow: The Sinclair’s Mysteries’ – Katherine Woodfine

This first in The Sinclair’s Mysteries series is certainly of a type, but for fans of Robin Stevens this is a must.

Our main character, Sophie Taylor, has not in the most auspicious of circumstances. Her mother died when Sophie was little, and her father has recently been killed at War. For reasons which are never fully explained, Sophie’s home has been sold from under her and she is now responsible for herself. Sophie is clearly resourceful and has secured a position as a milliner’s assistant in Sinclair’s store – a wonder of the time.

Unfortunately, on the night before the grand opening a mysterious object – the clockwork sparrow – is stolen along with a number of valuable jewels. Sophie is accused of the theft, but we know – from the events we’ve watched – that this is not the full story.

From the outset we are plunged into a world of espionage, where young adults get to show they are cleverer than established detectives. There’s the occasional red herring and we are kept in the dark with certain characters/links.

While I was frustrated by some of the mysteries remaining hidden, there was enough there to make me think the Baron will be a recurring feature of these novels – and I wondered if he would end up being a little closer to home than Sophie is prepared for.

 

‘A Good Man’ – Ani Katz

Thomas Martin defines himself as a good man. Outwardly successful, earning a good wage, caring for his mother and sisters, and taking an interest in his wife and daughter. We see snippets of their life through Thomas’s eyes, and initially everything seems so straightforward.

Ever so slowly we get prickles of unease. Little details hint at something off-kilter about Thomas and his background. There’s suggestions of abuse at the hands of his father and the behaviour of his sisters seems symptomatic of those who’ve experienced neglect or abuse. But Thomas calls himself a good man and paints a picture of someone on top of their game. Why would we doubt him?

The memories of his early relationship with his wife appear fond. Then we learn that her family avoid them, and the details about her behaviour ring pretty vivid alarm bells.

As we move into the sphere of work it seems Thomas isn’t painting the full picture. This is never satisfactorily explained, but we do know he loses his job and never admits this.

Thomas’s mental decline seems to happen rapidly, but I think this was some time in the making. Before we know it we move towards a highly charged situation. Set against a beautiful winter setting we watch the most extreme events unravel. Even as I was getting over the situation between Thomas and his wife, I was not remotely prepared for the closing scene. Chilling.

A Good Man? It’s safe to say Thomas has one view of himself that is at odds with our view. How he went so long without being aware of this is hard to see, and I’m rather curious to know what he does next. This was certainly a different read, and I’d like to thank NetGalley and the publishers for offering me the opportunity to read it prior to publication.

 

‘Djinn Patrol on the Northern Line’ – Deepa Anappara

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with the chance to read this prior to publication.

In this transporting debut novel, three friends venture into the most dangerous corners of a sprawling Indian city to find their missing classmate.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is the kind of story that only really shows its significance once you reach the end.

Our main character, Jai, is a rather innocent nine year old. He watches too much tv, is obsessed with real-life crime stories and plays cricket. He spends his time with his friends doing the kinds of things many nine year olds will do. Then children in the area he lives start to go missing.

Seen through Jai’s eyes as he and his friends try to investigate these disappearances, I was struck by the lack of regard given to these cases. The writer’s journalistic background may have led to this determination to write about the number of children in India that go missing, but because we observe events through Jai’s eyes we can’t help but notice the absence of action.

I found the book a little slow at times in terms of action. The description was powerful, and the story as a whole I found unsettling. I definitely felt it became more impactful once Jai’s reasons to investigate become more personal.

‘Scared little Rabbits’ – A.V. Gieger

Nora has yearned for her opportunity to get involved in the Winthrop Academy summer program. She has the opportunity to show her coding knowledge, but little does she know that this is going to be the kind of experience nobody could predict.

In spite of her lack of social presence, Nora finds herself caught up in new relationships. She develops a huge crush on a fellow student called Maddox and thinks the feeling might be mutual, but Maddox seems to have a complicated relationship with Eleanor Winthrop.

We immediately work out that something odd is happening, but characters throw us off-track with alarming regularity. There’s hints of problems between a number of characters and there are always going to be problems with keeping tabs on people who are skilled at finding their way round security protocol.

It’s hard to imagine someone so capable would find themselves caught up in such a mess. However, it’s not completely implausible. The resolution did throw things up in the air a little, though in light of the whole story you are given some clues.

‘One of Us is Next’ – Karen McManus

Much as I’d enjoyed One of Is is Lying I was a little unsure of the idea of a sequel. What else was there to tell us? When the book opened with an introduction to our new characters I started to think this was just going to be a derivative of its predecessor, and prepared to be less than keen. It’s testimony to McManus’s writing skill that what I feared would be a hurdle didn’t end up an issue at all.

The story opens by introducing our key characters: Maeve, her friend Knox and Phoebe. While we got to know a little more about our cast this time round, I liked the fact that McManus also filled us in on what had happened to the original Bayview Four and shown us some of the effects of Simon’s scheme.

Very early on we get told of a new game…Truth or Dare. For a school so rocked by the events described in book one I was surprised at how easily this caught the imagination. Our first date is a seemingly innocuous prank involving adding something extra to the roof decoration of a local diner. Relatively good-humoured, not seeming to hurt anyone and offering a chance for people to gossip. When our next ‘victim’, Phoebe, refuses to play it’s like Simon has returned…scurrilous gossip starts to do the rounds and people desperate to keep their secrets take on the dare. The dares become increasingly humiliating and, all too soon, we’re left with a dead student.

The game served as a handy backdrop to show a little more of the social background of Bayview. It was the mystery of who was behind it and their motives for starting things in the first place that formed the real focus…and this is where Maeve came into her own.

While the scenario itself might, ultimately, be more than implausible I was keen to read on and find out the truth of what was going on. Unearthing the secrets and establishing the links between odd snippets of information was definitely the high point of the novel for me. It quickly built up to a suspenseful sequence of events with a rather explosive conclusion, and I was left with the feeling that we haven’t heard the last of some of these characters.

 

‘The Six’ – Luca Veste

A serial-killer story with a difference.

Growing up often means leaving childish dreams behind. When Matt and his friends head to a festival for one last weekend of fun before settling down, nobody could know just how these events would change them. When Stuart is attacked in the night, the group pitch in to help him. They end up killing a man. Who knows why they do what they do next, but they bury the body and vow never to tell anyone.

Unfortunately, their kill wasn’t the only one that night. As they leave the woods, they find another body. This one seems to have been killed by someone who knew what they were doing.

One year on we can see the guilt is affecting them. Their friendship has been altered and yet they seem to have got away with murder.

Then comes the twist.

A series of unlikely events is set in motion with the apparent suicide of Stuart. Those left behind are now convinced that someone must have seen them and wants revenge.

What follows defies belief. However, I was turning the pages quickly, desperate to watch the strands pull together. I was surprised by the reality of the situation, but there’s still something of a twist at the end.

 

‘The Familiar Dark’ – Amy Engel

 

Eve is no stranger to a tough life. Brought up by a mother renowned for her hard words and tough love, Eve has tried hard to move on. However, sometimes – as Eve points out – you need to pick your poison and when misfortune strikes Eve has to decide whether to let her mum back in.

When she fell pregnant at school Eve was determined to do a better job for her child. She couldn’t give Junie a room of her own, but she had love and the knowledge that her mum was on her side. Was it enough?

Quite early on in the story Eve is horrified to learn that her twelve year old daughter, along with her best friend Izzy, has been murdered.

Nobody seems to have any idea who was responsible. But it’s apparent that it’s someone known to those in the area. Eve can not wait for the law to take its course so she does her own digging. She tries every contact, past and present, and along the way uncovers a lot of unpleasant secrets.

A brief story that packs a lot in. There were some wholly unexpected revelations, and I may not like what Eve did but it’s completely understandable.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me access to read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.