‘The Grace Year’ – Kim Liggett

‘The things we do to girls. Whether we put them on pedestals only to tear them down, or use them for parts and holes, we’re all complicit in this. But everything touches everything else, and I have to believe that some good will come out of all this destruction. The men will never end the grace year. But maybe we can.’

At its heart, the above excerpt sums up the message of this book for me.

A brutal story, chilling in its execution, but utterly compelling. A must-read, and I’m so thankful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to its expected September publication.

From an early age girls in this dystopian world know that they are feared. It’s a commonly-held belief that they have the power to turn men mad with desire and to manipulate other women, driving them mad with jealousy. As a result, upon reaching sixteen the girls are forced to live apart from their community for a year in an attempt to rid themselves of their powerful magic, and prepare them to return and take up their places in the community.

We follow Tierney and her fellows Graces as they make their journey to the encampment. It’s a journey fraught with danger, but sometimes the greatest danger comes from within.

Watching the girls settle into their lives there was a sense of optimism. Under Tierney’s guidance, people started to make plans for the future and to prepare for the changing seasons. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with this scenario and things start to go badly wrong.

The harrowing account of the girls’ camp experience was akin to Lord of the Flies. Nothing more brutal than a girl scorned, and the desire the girls show to punish one another was discomforting. This is not a read you want to ignore, but there are so many moments I wanted to weep at the senseless cruelty that pervaded every action.

In spite of the horrors that seem to be at every turning, there are glimpses of hope. Watching Tierney slowly realise just what some of her past encounters truly signified, and fighting for her deep belief in what was right was stirring. Seeing her reassess everything she thought she knew about the poachers and her home world, gave a brief glimpse of what might be…if people were brave enough. Though some of our expectations were cruelly cut down, the turns taken in this story offer hope where it’s most needed.

‘The Dangerous Kind’ – Deborah O’Connor

A clever thriller that quickly drew me in.

Jessie is a presenter for BBC radio, her show focusing on those who’ve been convicted of a crime and looking at what could have been done to prevent their actions. As an ex-journalist she is obsessed with rooting out details and finding out the true story. When she is accosted by a woman on the street desperate for help working out what happened to her missing friend, Cassie, a thrilling sequence of events is set in place.

We shift from Jessie in the present to Rowena, a young girl in care, in 2002. Rowena is groomed and quickly ends up over her head in sex parties set up by paedophiles who are often meant to be part of the groups preventing such criminality.

Alongside this we watch Jessie struggle with the day-to-day problems of living with a teenage daughter who may or may not be having a relationship with an older man.

In spite of the subject matter I loved this story. It was told well, without unnecessary sensationalism but also encouraged us all to take a look at what extent we are all complicit in such events if we harbour suspicions but do nothing.

My only reason for not awarding the five stars I felt this deserved was that I did put two and two together and (for a change) made the links with the main story. However, it still surprised me with the subplot involving Jessie and her daughter and I can see this being a thriller that many will love. Thanks to the publishers via NetGalley for granting me access in exchange for my honest review.

‘All We Could Have Been’ – T.E. Carter

Lexie is used to running. Each year she starts a new school, under a new name, in an attempt to get away from the inevitable bullying when people find out about the awful thing her brother did.

We learn that when Lexie was twelve her brother forgot to pick her up from school. She walked home. She recalls blood, lots of it. And since that time her brother has not been part of her life – although his actions, and the consequences of those actions, permeate every part of her being.

So often in a tragic event, the focus is on those who were lost or the perpetrators. People are suspicious of the family members – how could they not know?

We watch Lexie try to deal in her own way with yet another new beginning. She starts to form tentative friendships and, eventually, makes the decision to tell people the truth. Sadly, not everyone reacts as she’d hoped.

This tried to explore how important it is to feel comfortable with your decisions, but it didn’t quite work for me. The group Lexie allied herself with didn’t seem like young adults (perhaps their petty immaturity was intentional), Lexie herself never really felt like a fully-developed character (again, she’s a work in progress so perhaps this was intentional) and it seemed to send a rather odd message that she only felt strong enough to start addressing some of her issues once she’d had sex.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me access to this in exchange for my thoughts. Based on other reviews I’ve read, this wasn’t really the book for me but I’m looking forward to reading his first one.

‘The Boy Next Story’ – Tiffany Schmidt

In this second book in the series there’s a sense of familiarity to some of the components, but the changing book focus and new characters stops it seeming repetitive.

In this story we focus on aspiring artist Aurora who’s had a crush on her next door neighbour Toby since she was five. Unfortunately, he seems to be in love with Aurora’s sister even though she’s unaware of it.

This could have been irritating beyond belief, and there were moments that I wanted to smack heads together because people were being so dense, but the warmth of Aurora and her friends Clara and Huck kept it entertaining. When the focus was on The Great Gatsby I was uncertain if this was the book for me – but after a false start a new book becomes the focus and this is much more pertinent.

This was no easy ride love story, but everything turned out nicely and kept me entertained along the way. A great bookish journey, and I must thank NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.

‘The Kingdom’ – Jess Rothenberg

Welcome to the Kingdom, a dazzling fantasy theme park where ‘happily ever after’ is not just a promise, but a rule . . .

The Kingdom is a place where technology helps dreams come to life. Formerly extinct species roam the park, and seven beautiful ‘Fantasists’ – half-human, half-android princesses – entertain visitors and make wishes come true. But this fairytale ends in murder, and now Ana, one of the seven Fantasists, is in the dock after finding herself experiencing emotions and romantic feelings against all her programming . . .

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this. Having completed it, I can say it was definitely one that got my attention and I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me access to this prior to publication. Ultimately, there were elements of the backstory and the world-building that didn’t quite answer all my questions.

Ana is a Fantasist. Essentially a machine, she is programmed to bring happiness to those she interacts with. She lives, along with her sisters, in the Disney-style theme park known as The Kingdom and she is programmed to behave within a strict set of parameters. Her focus is to provide happiness to the guests she interacts with, though she can’t feel emotions…or so we’re led to believe.

Early on, we are given details of a transcript of a trial. Through this we learn that Ana has been accused of the murder of a park worker. She maintains she didn’t do anything, and that she cannot lie.

I was fascinated by the concept, though I also found myself wanting to dig deeper into the park and its set-up. Frustrating, perhaps, but there was plenty here to get the reader’s attention.

‘Dead School’ – Laura Gia West

Tina Crocker is not a character we really get to know during this. Initially I felt some sympathy for her as she suffers with nerves, and the one time she pushes herself out of her comfort zone she ends up dead.

With Tina’s death at a school show we then come to learn this is the latest in a long line of attempts to pass Dead School. The character we know as Tina has a reputation as a failure. For whatever reason she is not allowed to take on a specific role; she has to go back to learn how to guide another through death.
Following Tina in her mission to help social misfit Anna, we also get to see Tina develop.

Unfortunately, though I liked the sound of this it really jumped all over the place. There wasn’t sufficient detail given to set up the concept, and the interesting idea of the school actually became a background detail. The characters weren’t really fleshed out enough to care unduly about them, and the ending seemed to arrive from nowhere.

I was so keen to read this when I saw it on NetGalley, but it seems to be one of those books that isn’t quite being pushed in the right place.

‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’ – Holly Jackson

Nancy Drew for the modern era…and the kind of book that will have you desperate to solve crimes and right wrongs.

Pip is a model student, hard-working and resourceful. She’s also determined that in her little town someone has, literally, got away with murder.

Andie Bell and Sal Singh are names that everyone in the town knows. Andie was the good girl murdered by her jealous boyfriend, who then killed himself because of his guilt, denying family the chance to mourn Andie properly. Pip, however, recalls Sal and can’t reconcile the view of him she has with what people say about him. She is determined to find out what really happened and prove Sal’s innocence.

Nothing prepares her for what she uncovers in the course of her investigation. Her doggedness, however, makes for great reading.

Most people would run a mile at the situations Pip finds herself in. She seizes them and battles through some pretty scary stuff to show what really happened. The truth is far darker than you’d imagine.

Pip was foolish at times, but a great story and I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me access to this prior to publication.

‘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.