‘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.

‘Only Ashes Remain’ – Rebecca Schaeffer

After the close of book one I wasn’t sure where this would take us…due for publication in September 2019, this is a sequel I was determined to read.

Having escaped the Black Market and decided to try and rely on Kovit’s help, Nita is determined to try and avenge what happened to her.

Not quite sure who to trust, Nita ends up having to make some tough decisions. She wants her life back, but with certain people desperate to treat her as a victim, she needs to do something drastic to rectify the situation.

This book has Nita hiding out in Canada, trying to establish who she can trust and to what extent. There’s hints of murky business regarding her father and the Zebra who killed him. Her mother reappears, but the substantial part of the story focuses on both Nita and Kovit trying to reconcile their personal interests with their belief they could be friends.

I wasn’t wholly surprised by the revelation about Fabricio. However, there was definitely unexpected tension brought into the story towards the end. I liked the fact that Nita could be challenged in this story and I am very very keen to learn how this will all slot into place in part three.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication in exchange for my thoughts.

‘Jinxed’ – Amy McCulloch

Lacey Chu is a fantastic engineer. She harbours dreams of working for MONCHA, a leading firm behind the concept of the baku – robotic companions that also act as phones. Unfortunately, it looks like her dream will fall at the first hurdle when she’s not accepted at the special school linked to the company.

With her dreams seemingly in tatters Lacey is not thinking straight when she tries to rescue her best friend’s baku and ends up finding something that many people are looking for. A heap of scrap metal, she thinks, but when she gets back to her workshop Lacey realises it’s a baku like no other.

Over the summer she does her utmost to get it working. In a kind of fantasy fulfilment, things work just fine and suddenly Lacey finds herself heading to the school and getting caught up in stuff she only dreamt of.

While this was set in North America, the whole concept and the battling felt like Pokemon had been brought to life and given personalities. That in itself was great fun, and the dynamics between Lacey and her new-found friends was entertaining. However, not everything is as it seems and there are definitely people suspicious of the skills Lacey and her baku exhibit.

I enjoyed this so much I’ve already pre-ordered Unleashed as I cannot leave this not knowing who on earth is behind what happened at the end. I also wonder whether we’ll learn a little more about the mysterious Mr Chu.
Huge thanks to NetGalley for putting me onto this one.

‘The Deathless Girls’ – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Gothic, intoxicating, feminist, darkly provoking and deeply romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

With a tag-line and cover like that, who could resist?

The myth of Dracula is fascinating, and to go beyond the main character is particularly interesting. In this story, Hargrave focuses on what happened to perpetuate the story of Dracula – the women behind the man, in a manner of speaking.

We begin our story with twins, Lil and Kizzy, seeing their home burned and their family slaughtered. The girls and children of the village are taken as part of a retinue to be sold to the various Counts who rule the land. As twins, Kizzy and Lil are in high demand.

We follow them as they’re taken to the castle,their new home, and put to training. The life is brutal, but even within these walls there are hints of potential happiness.

Sadly this is destroyed when Lil is betrayed. Kizzy is then taken and Lil begins a perilous journey to rescue her sister.

As she journeys across the country to the land ruled by the man known as the Dragon, Lil starts to understand some of the rumours circulating about him. She learns he is able to turn people into Strigoi, and that his skills go far beyond anything they are familiar with.

Much as she wants to rescue her sister, Lil doesn’t bank on how someone used to being manipulated might find the lure of power too promising to give up. And so we learn of the origins of the Brides of Dracula. Hargrave gives a very human face to characters that are always portrayed as inhuman.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for my thoughts.

‘All Eyes on Us’ – Kit Frick

All Eyes On Us focuses on two girls – Amanda and Rosalie – who seem very different, but who have a lot more in common than they realise…Carter Shaw, son of a local businessman.

Amanda is part of his social circle and their families have been pushing for them to be a couple since they were little. Amanda’s life is mapped out for her. College with Carter, a long engagement and then children, turning a blind eye to Carter’s indiscretions because that’s what’s expected of her. For years, she’s gone along with this but when Amanda starts to receive anonymous text messages she begins to question the wisdom of her life choices.

Amanda knows Carter has not always been faithful to her. She knows he is currently seeing Rosalie on the side. But what neither she nor Carter knows is that Rosalie is actually using Carter as a cover for the fact that she is a lesbian and her fundamentalist Christian parents can’t accept her choices. Forced to hide who she is, Rosalie decides to use Carter as her cover, while seeing her girlfriend in secret.

The messages that both girls receive are meant to be vaguely threatening, but there’s a limit to what people can do if you don’t succumb to their threats. Unfortunately, in the vein of the Pretty Little Liars characters, the girls in this respond to the messages and threats and start to let them rule what decisions they make. This is frustrating and leads them into quite unrealistic scenarios.

The book is a bit slow to get going as we establish the characters of Amanda and Rosalie. There’s a lot of focus on the parents of Amanda and Carter which makes little sense at first, but we do realise its significance eventually. My biggest gripe was with the character of Carter who was, in essence, a serial cheater and not a particularly appealing character.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my thoughts. This is a definite must-read for fans of the Pretty Little Liars books.

‘Take it Back’ – Kia Abdullah

Take It Back is a gripping courtroom drama, perfect for fans of Apple Tree Yard, He Said/She Said and Anatomy of a Scandal.

A compelling read, and I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me the chance to read this prior to publication.

When we first meet Jodie Wolfe, she’s walking into a Rape Crisis centre asking for help. At sixteen, and with extreme facial deformities, Jodie has become accustomed to abuse. As she relays her experience, the reader cannot help but feel sympathy for her. Her physical appearance is not the issue here, but when she starts to blame herself for what happened because she thought someone was physically interested in her you can’t help but wince.

The details of her attack by four of her classmates are – understandably – difficult to read. The courage someone in her position shows cannot be underestimated.
The way this story is told focuses most of our attention on ex-barrister, Zara, who is determined to support this young girl because she believes her. We follow Zara as she supports Jodie in preparing to go to trial, and the inevitable fallout this causes as the boys Jodie accuses are ‘good Muslim boys’, well-respected in their community, and Zara’s involvement is quickly seen as evidence of her turning against her faith.

The nature of the case means so much depends on the reliability of witnesses. Four against one. No matter how strong the case seems to be, these are hard odds to beat.

Our narrative swiftly turns to the trial and the various attempts to undermine credibility of witnesses. We also deal with growing unrest in the community, and some awful behaviours as so many people try to appropriate events to suit their own ends.

It’s crucial that you go into this not knowing where this is going. Nothing is what it seems. We get to learn the truth, but talk about a Pyrrhic victory. Few come out of this story well, but it’s a must-read in my opinion.

‘Infinity Son’ – Adam Silver

Silvera’s evident love of the fantasy genre is laid out for us in his intro, and is splashed all over the pages of this foray into the genre.
The story itself has some interesting elements. Definitely loving the phoenixes and the details linked to the idea of rebirth. There’s hints of some intriguing developments between the characters of Emil and Mirabelle, and Brighton’s story looks as if it’ll pick up and get a whole lot more interesting in the future. This was a quick read but it was not, unfortunately for me, the hit I was expecting and there’s a few reasons for this.
The main reason I found this not wholly successful was the lack of time taken to establish the world in which it was set. We were plunged straight in, and little was explained in a way that would have made sense to me. Some of the answers were given later, but there was a lot assumed about the world of the narrative and I really wanted more detail so I could understand how this situation had come about.
The next difficulty I had was with the characterisation. It took a while to feel any sense of difference between the characters of Emil and Brighton, and simply hammering the point home that one is obsessed by social media isn’t enough to do this. To suddenly find myself with another viewpoint – which wasn’t really set-up – also made it wobble slightly as I tried to keep track of who was doing what (though this may say more about me).
For some readers, the love interest that develops partway through will definitely get them excited. The feelings Emil has for Ness are hard to ignore, but they are really superficial (guess we have to start somewhere). The initial scene where their feelings were apparent felt like some kind of wish-fulfilment exercise, and Silvera’s comments about his reaction to Cassandra Clare’s series does explain this a little. It seemed they might be able to get into a more nuanced relationship but the events in the narrative make this difficult. No matter how he dresses it up (and perhaps his explanations will make people swoon over his resolve to hurt the one he loves to prevent someone else doing worse) I can’t quite get my head around the way Ness treats Emil. When you look at it in a more detached way it seems horribly abusive and not the basis for a good relationship. Granted, it’s early stages so perhaps this will develop in a slightly different way.
So, all in all, this was a story where someone got to revel in their love for a genre but I can’t help but feel things would be better if the style was a little less exaggerated, world-building was established and we weren’t in some whirlwind attempt to cram excitement onto every page to guarantee people reading on. Sometimes, less is more.
Due for release in early 2020, so it’ll be interesting to see how/if it changes by then. However, I’m really grateful to NetGalley for letting me read this so early in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘Lock Every Door’ – Riley Sagar

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Those words, spoken by Jules’s best friend, come back to haunt us as we work out exactly what’s going on.
There’s an interesting time frame to this story that allows us glimpses of the key events, while also showing the build-up to them. Jules has, by any standards, had a tough life. Her sister went missing years ago and her parents died in a house fire. When she loses her job she returns home to find her boyfriend having sex with someone else. So, putting all those things together it’s hardly surprising that she’s keen to respond to the advert she sees.

When Jules sees the advert requesting a house sitter for an apartment she thinks it’s the answer to her prayers. When she hears how much she’ll be paid, she is determined to see it out although the rules that are in place seem draconian.
From the moment Jules moves into The Bartholomew she’s fed crazy stories from her concerned friends, and her own paranoia starts to prey on her mind. She tries to avoid thinking too much about her concerns but as another of the house-sitters disappears, Jules can’t help but try to work out what’s going on.

The truth is far more terrifying than anything she could have imagined.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the other novels by Riley Sager, I am – again – grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘All The Things We Never Said’ – Yasmin Rahman

All The Things We Never Said is a book that aims high in terms of topics being explored. Abuse, depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, on-line bullying…all feature in some way, and at times I couldn’t help but feel anyone trying to deal with all these things would find life tough. For these reasons, this will be a book that some won’t like.

The story focuses on three characters – Mehreen, Olivia and Cara – who are paired together by an online suicide pact. They meet and are set a series of tasks to complete to help each other in their bid to end their lives. The unknown organisers of this site become increasingly manipulative and start to show their sadistic and damaging tendencies.

The concept behind the site and the way this panned out didn’t quite ring true. I can’t help but feel that if the police were aware of the existence of such a group that such vulnerable people would not be left to their own devices as they are here.

That gripe aside, the book was interesting for not shying away from some difficult topics. The friendship that developed between the three girls was well-depicted and it showed the importance of talking to those around you.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with access to this prior to publication.