‘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.

‘Woman in the Water’ – Katerina Diamond

Detectives Adrian Miles and Imogen Grey are now in a relationship, though that’s not common knowledge at work. However, on this case things come too close to home and it has serious repercussions for both.

On his way into work Miles stops as some women think their children saw a body in the water. Upon investigation, it is a woman…and she’s alive. Someone wanted her dead, but there’s no signs of robbery or sexual assault. It becomes a matter of some urgency to work out what on earth happened when the beaten body of a young man is also found nearby.

Before we know it we’ve been pulled into a very dark place. This isn’t a ‘whodunnit’, but a trying to pull it together to prove they did it kind of story.
We focus on Angela Corrigan, the much younger wife of local businessman Reece. Nobody will speak out against him, and though we’ve strong reason to believe he’s been up to all sorts of things nobody will talk, and there’s no evidence.

It’s testimony to the bullishness of these two Detectives that we get anywhere. However, it comes at awful personal expense.

Adrian Miles suffers in the course of this investigation in a way that you cannot begin to imagine. It’s brutal, totally demeaning and the disgust I felt as we learn the extent of the wrongdoings against not just him but so many others was upsetting.

While it was a dark story that was not, in any way, enjoyable to read, I am intrigued at the potential for where this might go next.

Thanks to Diamond and NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts, prior to its publication in November 2019.

 

‘Believe Me’ – J.P. Delaney

The title of this immediately brought to mind the Simon Armitage poem ‘I am very bothered’ since we’re never 100% certain of the narrator’s honest thoughts.
Our story focuses on a young English actress, Claire Wright, who’s trying to earn her living in America by trying to entrap men whose wives think they’re being unfaithful. She cannot ever proposition them, and she doesn’t have sex with them but she promises it and films the men so that their wives have evidence of infidelity. She has a great success rate, until she’s asked to proposition Patrick Fogler.

Later that evening we learn that Patrick’s wife, Stella, has been found murdered. There’s a definite suspicion that a serial killer is on the loose, but Claire is also under suspicion. And so begins a very strange sequence of events.

Claire is asked to work with the police to try and gather evidence to ascertain the likelihood of Fogler being their killer. She enters a dark and potentially dangerous place as she throws herself into her latest role.

While I enjoyed this thoroughly, the artifice surrounding Claire made it hard for me to really engage with her situation. I wasn’t sure how reliable her interactions were, so I felt quite removed from things as I looked for loopholes or things that cropped up unexpectedly.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication in exchange for my thoughts.

 

‘We Used to Be Friends’ – Amy Spalding

The title pulls no punches. This is all about the break-up of all break-ups, and though it’s upsetting on occasion I couldn’t help but warm to both James and Kat.
James and Kat were paired together in kindergarten and have been best friends since. Our story opens with them about to go to college, and things are no longer looking as rosy as they were.

The premise itself is quite straightforward. Two friends are developing and their relationship is shifting. They’re dealing with family issues, evolving relationships and the movement into adulthood. So, what’s special about this?

For me, it comes down to the innovative structure of the novel. We get alternating viewpoints, which allow us to see both perspectives, and then there’s the construction of those views. James’s story begins with her about to start college, reflecting on the last year and examining just how her relationship with her best friend came to such a place. Kate’s story opens at the beginning of senior year, full of promise and excitement as she begins a new relationship and slowly comes to learn some of her flaws.

Both characters were flawed. Kat was highly dramatic and self-obsessed, while James was reticent to discuss emotions never mind deal with them. Cutting between time/situation lent a fascinating air to this. We could see how it would end up, and the signs were obvious but both seemed unable to do anything to salvage it.

Though I enjoyed the style of telling, and grew to feel some compassion for both characters, I’m not entirely sure what the message of this book is. Relationships change. Sometimes people aren’t what you thought. Too much introspection is a bad thing. Too much self-obsession is a bad thing.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for granting me access to this in exchange for my thoughts. This might be one to return to upon publication (scheduled for January 2020).

‘Stepsister’ – Jennifer Donnolly

When I first started Stepsister I was hesitant, wondering quite where the story would go.

We begin with a well-known scenario, that of the prince trying to find the owner of the glass slipper. We watch a mother desperate to secure safety for her children force not just one but two of her daughters to mutilate themselves in an attempt to win the prince’s hand. Each time, their deception is uncovered. Yet in this story we see that the two sisters are unwilling partners in this deception. They succumb to their mother’s wishes because it’s what is expected of them. As in the fairytale, our forgotten put-upon stepsister gets her prince and leaves.
In this story, however, we remain with those left behind.

The characters of Tavi and Isabelle do not fit the conventional view of a woman. Tavi is obsessed with knowledge, and desires nothing more than to discover something. Isabelle has rather lost her way, knowing only that she wants something that society deems she cannot have. Bound by the expectations of others she subjugates her wishes in an attempt to do the right thing by her family.

I found myself amazed by the very sympathetic portrayal given to characters we’re encouraged to dislike. This feeling only grew as the story unravelled.
Though I was perplexed by this element initially, we have the characters of Fate and Chance playing their own game. Meddling with the lives of Isabelle and her family, each wants to leave their mark.

Without giving anything away, this was a story that showed us a girl full of character slowly learning to love herself and resolve to have confidence in her own desires. Dressed up as a fairytale retelling this was a dark feminist call-to-arms that I would strongly recommend.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts. I’m still gushing!

‘Impossible Causes’ – Julie Mayhew

This is a tricky one to review, and it is certainly a book that was difficult to really get into for some time. However, by the end I was gripped and can certainly see the parallels with something like The Crucible.

Our story takes place on the remote island of Lark. We focus on the narration by Leah, a teacher on the island, who is privy to many of the secrets of the island but who seems rather detached from everything. This sense of ‘otherness’ does become important later on, as it explains why Leah acts as she does.

The island of Lark is cut off from the mainland, physically unreachable for six months of the year. So it is of great interest when an outsider, Ben Hailey, comes to the island to teach.

He – and, as a result, we – comes to learn of the superstitions regarding what are referred to as the Eldest Girls. There are three girls aged 16 who, now, are given what seems like carte blanche to act as they like. There is talk of witchcraft and odd behaviour, but it is what has always been and people turn a blind eye. The inclusion of new girl Viola seems to act as a catalyst for the behaviour to escalate.
Before too long we get told of a dead body and people start to talk about what is happening. As things become more personal for Leah, the ‘new arrivals’ force the villagers to confront what is happening under their eyes.

Initially this seemed to be going in one direction and it was a little hard to follow. Details were vague, but as we learn the truth of Lark it seems there is a reason for this vagueness. By the end, when the true horror of Lark’s dark secret was revealed, I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. Chilling, and definitely worth a look. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read this prior to its scheduled November publication.

‘Crossfire’ – Malorie Blackman

I still recall the excitement I felt when I first picked up Noughts and Crosses. Five books in, some familiar faces, and it still had me gripped. Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this before publication.

Crossfire focuses on some pretty hard-hitting events while also allowing us to get a little closer to our characters.

We have Callie, now 30, a lawyer preparing to be a judge. She still regrets her behaviour as a teenager when she let jealousy get the better of her. Her feelings for her boyfriend Tobey were complicated, but even more so now. Tobey is about to become the first Nought Prime Minister, but he is accused of murdering a well-known businessman thought to have underground links. He wants Callie to represent him.

Tied into this story are the characters of Libby and Troy. Libby has lived her life surrounded by hatred and contempt. She gets some rather unexpected news, but isn’t prepared for what that brings. Troy is Callie’s much younger brother. His family links also place him in danger. When the two students are kidnapped we can’t help but wonder how much family ties will bind people to a decision.
Set against a background of rising racist behaviour, we get a stark reflection of contemporary society. As always, this series tells some unpalatable truths.

‘SLAY’ – Brittney Morris

Thank you NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read something way out of my comfort zone, which I can see having a pretty big impact when it’s released towards the end of September 2019.

Kiera is an honours student and seems pretty certain where things are going. She and her boyfriend have plans for college and the future. But she has a secret that she doesn’t feel comfortable sharing. She has designed and co-created a digital world where members can form a community…a game called SLAY.

Fed up with the abuse she suffered playing other on-line games, Kiera has taught herself what’s needed to create a whole new world. In this world, black game players don’t have to worry about online trolling and racist abuse. The moves they can use are part of black culture, and Kiera sees this as her safe space. Somewhere she can explore who she is, without being worried she is being judged.

Though the game seems to have come from a well-intentioned place, events somewhat take over and it’s suggested that Kiera has been a little naive. A young boy who plays her game is killed in real life and at the heart of his killing is an in-game dispute. Kiera feels responsible, and so many voices start to point the finger.

When someone hiding behind the handle ‘DRED’ finds their way into the game, Kiera has to come up with something special to show her intent. An interesting way to explore race and attitudes to race. I didn’t really get all the gaming talk, but the issues it examined were definitely compelling.

There’s no easy answers to some of the questions posed in the book, but it serves as another attempt to initiate discussion and certainly a different way into it.

‘The Frozen Sea’ – Piers Torday

Scheduled for release in early September 2019, this sequel to The Lost Magician picks up the Narnia vibe so prevalent in that story. Ever since I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child I loved the idea of another land waiting to be discovered. To have such a land ruled by Readers…combining the two best things…a recipe for a great story.

Even if you haven’t read book one this story makes sense and captures the imagination perfectly.

Jewel is often singled out for being different to her peers. When we first see her being chased out of school by those bullying her, we know just how desperate she is to find her place in the world. Stumbling into a mysterious bookshop, Jewel finds herself reading an unusual atlas – one that seems to bring the world around her to life. Before we know it, Jewel and her hamster Fizz have been transported to Folio and are assigned a mysterious quest.

The links to book one are explained clearly, which keeps new readers up to date. One of the original four has found their way back to the world of Folio and set in motion a chain of events with potentially dire consequences. Jewel is charged with helping rescue her aunt Evie.

So begins a series of adventures and Jewel’s knowledge of stories stands her in good stead to navigate this scenario. Naturally, we learn some not wholly unexpected news and Jewel learns plenty about herself.

Framing the story of Jewel’s adventure are the mysterious excerpts from official documents suggesting there’s more to come in this story.

Great fun, capturing perfectly the power of imagination.

‘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.