‘D.O.G.S’ – M.A. Bennett

This series doesn’t seem to have grabbed everyone, but I enjoyed the first part of the series (however ridiculous the scenario seemed) and this more than delivered.

Trying to come to terms with her role in Henry’s death, Greer is back at S.T.A.G.S and needing something to bolster her chances of getting into Oxford. She doesn’t question the timing of events, but we are very suspicious when the first Act of a lost Ben Jonson play is put under her door. Greer is intrigued by the idea of putting on something thought to be so dangerous that it closed the theatres.

Before we know it we are following the preparations for this play, and – of course – things are inextricably linked to Longcross and Henry’s family. We know someone has secrets, and we can’t help but wonder just how this play fits with our current story.

I loved the feeling of a story within a story, and yet we still have a sense of Greer’s story developing in ways that perfectly blend a sense of threat with excitement. It wasn’t clear just who was hiding what, and even at the end there’s a murkiness to this that suggests our understanding of the Order and the threat they pose has more layers to reveal.

I can’t wait to read the final part.

 

‘The Stolen Sisters’ – Louise Jensen

When we meet the Sinclair Sisters – Carly, Leah and Marie – they are fairly typical kids. However, they are about to undergo a traumatic experience, one that will shape them for the future. Carly resents being left to babysit her younger sisters, but her only thought is to protect them when they are abducted from outside their house.

Told in split narrative we see that the girls survived their experience, and the story focuses on us learning how this has affected them. We follow them as they deal with both their past and present.

The style of writing was absorbing, and there were plenty of hints about secrets being held – meaning plenty of chances to hypothesise and try to work out exactly what was being covered up. While some elements were quite obvious, there were one or two surprises that meant some parts of the story didn’t feel resolved until later.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this prior to publication.

‘The Graveyard Book’ – Neil Gaiman

 

The Graveyard Book opens by plunging us into the horror surrounding a young toddler. His family are murdered by a sinister man known only as Jack, but he is saved by his curiosity because earlier in the night he escaped his cot and made his way outside and to the graveyard at the top of the hill near his house. Marked from the very start as a rather unusual character, our young toddler is saved by the Owenses…who just happen to be dead.

From his unlikely beginning our young toddler – Nobody Owens – is granted the right to live in the graveyard and to learn their ways. He is very much alive, but is given these magical skills to enable him to escape detection. His guardian, Silas, protects him and ensures someone is always available to look after him.

We watch Bod grow. He makes a tentative friendship, examines the world around him and is privy to many of the mysteries surrounding the dead. His curiosity develops as he learns about the world around him – and all too soon he shows a dangerous (yet very understandable) desire to learn how to navigate the land of the living.

Going to school causes problems. Bod can’t help but draw attention to himself, and so we watch the noose tighten as those who started by trying to kill him return and attempt to finish their task.

There was a wistful tone to this as we know Bod has to live his life, but his life with the dead was so positive it felt awful that he had to make this step.

‘The Cousins’ – Karen McManus

Scheduled for release in December 2020, I don’t have to stress how excited I was to get approval for this on NetGalley. McManus has quickly become one of those authors that seems a guaranteed winner for a story that draws you in and leaves you feeling more than satisfied with what you’ve read. Having just finished The Cousins earlier this morning, I can safely say that she’s onto what I think will be another hit.

Having raced through the previous books by McManus, I was struck by the relatively slow-paced start to this. We are in a very different world, but one in which characters are just as duplicitous and where we are waiting for the secrets to be unearthed from the moment we start reading.

Our main characters are Aubrey, Millie and Jonah – cousins who are not close, and who haven’t really seen each other in years. But when they each receive a letter asking them to go and work for their grandmother’s resort for the summer you can’t help but be curious. Even more so when we realise that the cousins have no relationship with their grandmother, and that she cut off her children years earlier (after the sudden death of their father) and has refused contact with them since.

Each of the characters has their own reasons for deciding to agree to this mysterious demand. Once they arrive at the resort, however, it is evident that their grandmother had no idea they were coming. Her best friend seems determined to keep the cousins away from her, and an old man in town – the family doctor – drops a hint that there is more to this story than anyone has been prepared to let on.

Once we get our teeth into the mystery things pick up. We have sections of the story from years earlier, giving details of the original children and their interactions, which offer little clues as to what might have happened and how it might be resolved in the present. As our main characters start to piece together the events leading to the family break-up, the pace really cranks up…until I found myself racing to finish and find out exactly what had happened.

By the time I got near the end I was already knowing this would be a read I’d heartily recommend to others. Rather unexpected, and it offers some resolution of a potential issue with the book, but it also offers a delightful hint that we might not be fully done with this world just yet.

 

‘Heartbreak Bay’ – Rachel Caine

 

If this is to be the last in the series (and I fervently hope not) then what a story to end on. From the moment I picked this up I was desperate to find out exactly how the pieces fit together, and hoping against hope that things would not be too bleak for Gwen.

The story begins with a mother driving her two baby girls into a lake. We don’t know why, and we don’t know what happens to her after. What we quickly learn is that this is, in some way, linked to Gwen.

Gwen and Sam are starting the book in a relatively happy place. He officially adopts the kids, they’re settling into their new home and they seem to be moving forward after the events of the last few years. But for some reason the internet trolls are back out. Someone is determined that Gwen will pay for her past and engineers some increasingly dangerous scenarios in order to force her to confess to what they believe.

The pace of this is quite relentless once the pieces start shifting into place. It takes a little while for the various scenarios to start drawing together, but once they do it really is a white-knuckle ride.

With danger at seemingly every corner, not everyone makes this. On more than one occasion I feared reading on just in case someone I’d grown to like as a character was cut down. I was kicking myself at not fully appreciating one or two key moments at the time, but I was so desperate to find out how things would end that I could overlook this slight feeling of manipulation. For a series featuring a serial killer we’ve become used to some graphic violence, but this really forced me to confront some quite unpalatable moments. The need to question ourselves and our decisions runs throughout, and I was pleased that some of our characters acted with the integrity I expected of them in spite of monumental pressure.

I’m so excited to have been given the chance to review this prior to its publication, and grateful to NetGalley for the opportunity. I’m sincerely hoping Rachel Caine will succeed in her personal battle and be able to offer more stories about these characters as I don’t feel quite ready to give up on them yet.

‘The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow’ – Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch

 

One for Sorrow is the first in a series set in an exclusive boarding school, where secrets are kept and nobody can be sure who to trust.

At Illumen Hall students are used to behaving in a certain way, and making the most of the privileges they are afforded. New girl Audrey is harbouring her own reasons for moving from America to attend the school, but she’s in no hurry to share her secrets. She’s required to share a room with one of the students who seems to be on the inside, Ivy.

The summer before our story starts one of the students is found dead. People suspect there’s more to the story, though the police claim the death of Lola was an accident. Someone is determined to push this, and a podcast is set up aiming to investigate the crime. A clear aura of mistrust springs up, and of course Audrey and Ivy end up teaming up to try and get some answers about what’s going on.

As the investigation continued, elements of the story were a little rushed. Some definite suspicious elements got overlooked because it didn’t suit the narrative the students were wanting to put forward. One or two elements were clearly on the way, and then not developed in any way to show why they’d been set up.
By the end we had some clues, but not a lot of answers as to what happened. Everything hinges on the mysterious Magpie Society…and I’m pretty sure the next book will start to look more at Clover and her significance.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.

‘After the Silence’ – Louise O’Neill

A somewhat puzzling read from Louise O’Neill here, but I think that’s because I was expecting the focus to be more on the mystery.

Keelin Kinsella is a local girl, who has a seemingly successful second marriage to Henry. They are wealthy, and renowned for their shows of wealth. Locals on the island have never fully accepted Henry, and when one of the young triplets feted on the island is found dead after a wild party at the Kinsella’s people assume the hosts were involved. Ten years on, nobody has been charged with her death. People talk. Someone knows what happened, but it seems to be a mystery that will remain unsolved.

A couple of documentary makers come to visit the island and see if they can unearth new evidence. At the request of her husband Keelin befriends them and tries to influence the picture given. Of course we want to know why, and what she’s hiding.

While I spent a fairly substantial part of the book waiting to learn the truth about this event, it was evident that the focus was on those involved and uncovering the truth of their reality. From the relationship between Henry and Keelin and the details of their past, it was clear that this was not a healthy relationship. O’Neill deftly explores the reality of domestic violence and the ways in which those affected by it might respond/reflect on it.

When we eventually got to the uncovering of the evening in question, I had suspected that our obvious candidate was not the one responsible. It was evident that a number of those at the party knew the truth and chose to cover it up. However they justify their actions, there was a part of me that was so disgusted by the behaviour/attitude shown by certain characters that I was rather disappointed when we learned the truth.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in advance of publication. It certainly gave me food for thought.

 

‘The Whole Truth’ – Cara Hunter

Scheduled for release in March 2021, I was so excited to receive the invitation from the publishers via NetGalley to read and review this early. I thought All the Rage took the DI Fawley series to a new level, but it’s safe to say that in The Whole Truth things are better than expected in terms of storytelling.
There are three stories being told in The Whole Truth, each of which challenges our expectations and assumptions.
In the first instance we have Caleb Morgan, a young student who has come forward to his university making an allegation against one of his professors about a sexual attack. The professor concerned, Marina Fisher, is not quite what you might expect and from the outset this story challenges a lot of preconceptions. Almost certainly influenced by the #MeToo movement, this was a murky ever-shifting story where it was never quite clear what had happened, where each of those involved seemed to be hiding something and which, ultimately, led to me feeling very sorry for any officer ever involved in investigating any kind of sexual assault.
The second and third strands of the story are more closely linked than we might initially have predicted. There’s the disappearance of a young professional called Emma Smith. Her body is, eventually, discovered so this becomes a murder investigation. Unfortunately, the investigation uncovers some rather damning evidence which has serious implications for DI Fawley. The third strand of the story focuses on the Fawley couple. Alex is pregnant, and increasingly fearful that the man convicted of the attacks (one of which she survived) is determined to engineer revenge on them for manipulating the evidence that led to his conviction. Many think she’s paranoid, but the podcast researching this trial and conviction certainly offers enough to suggest Alex is right to be fearful…and, eventually, offers some very useful information to help those investigating the death of Emma (who was, in fact, a close friend of Alex Fawley).
Without giving too much away, once we start to see these strands interweave this became very hard to put down. Every part of this story was gripping, and it was fascinating to experience so many of the inevitable frustrations that must come from investigating such cases. Some of the characters definitely come out of this better than others, and though we are encouraged to remain convinced of the innocence of some key players, some of the truths that are revealed at the end most definitely left a rather unsavoury taste.

 

‘The Haunting of Aveline Jones’ – Phil Hickes

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are starting to come down and we’re almost into October…so this was a perfect time to curl up on the sofa and read this ghost story.
Aveline Jones is a serious young girl, used to spending time alone and she loves nothing more than to read ghost stories under the covers. As her half-term approaches, Aveline is upset to be forced to spend the holiday with her aunt in the Cornish seaside town of Malmouth.
From the moment she arrives Aveline senses something odd about the place – from the remote setting to the strange child-shaped mannequins that decorate many of the houses. Her aunt’s home makes strange noises and for a child used to living in the city this is a place where her imagination can run riot.
Aveline finds herself pushed into visiting the local bookstore. There she finds a friend in its chatty owner and his nephew, but she also discovers a mysterious book telling some of the local stories.
The setting is perfect for this quite charming story. Everything is quickly put in place, and though we have an idea that something scary is going to happen (which is, naturally, linked to the book Aveline has bought) there’s a reassuring adult presence to stop it being too scary for its intended audience. Aveline is a determined and resourceful character, whose imagination is to be lauded but there’s a resilience to her that I couldn’t help but admire.
A must-read for those who like to be scared without being terrified, and the illustrations were perfect for setting the mood of each chapter.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this before its release…and I can’t be the only one excited to see there’s a second book to come.

‘Influence’ – Sara Shepard and Lilia Buckingham

If you thought Pretty Little Liars was set in a far-fetched world, then you’ll love Influence. It’s a world so far removed from reality for many that it really is hard to comprehend people living like this. However, Shepard’s co-author in this is a real-life influencer, so I trust much of this is based on her reality.

The story focuses on four influencers – Delilah (relatively new to the scene), Scarlet (the original mean girl), Jasmine (a child star desperate to reveal who she really is) and Fiona (the funny girl hiding her own secret). We follow them as they live their picture-perfect lives and quickly realise that the reality of their existence is quite different from the image they present.

Much of the interest for me came from the insight into a way of life that is so alien to my experience. It struck me as crazy, a mental nightmare waiting to happen and yet something that holds a dangerous allure. When one of the group is found dead, there is a determination to uncover some of the secrets people have been hiding as they work out what’s happened.

Strangely, the actual murder and subsequent investigation really didn’t register much. There was an attempt to make it dramatic, but the truth was – if I’m honest – rather out of place and seemed more of a manipulation of events to prove a point about the potential pitfalls of this type of world.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication (expected January 2021), and though it wasn’t really my thing I can see this being a big hit with the target audience.