‘Dinner Party: A Tragedy’ – Sarah Gilmartin

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this in advance of publication.
Dinner Party focuses on food and the role it plays in our lives, binding us to others and being part of celebrations as well as something that can be used to cause pain. Our main character is a young woman who it becomes clear has an eating disorder and who is struggling to cope with the death of her twin. Kate is a difficult character to engage with. There’s a veneer of hardness to her, and it always feels rather as if she’s keeping others at a distance in order to manage her emotions. We learn little about her and I’m sure this is deliberate, but it meant I found my attention wandering rather.
The story was written in a way that I could recognise as having quality, but – honestly – my overwhelming feeling as I read was of anticipation, waiting for something to happen to suggests purpose to the events described. Nothing did.
As the focus shifts in time and we see fragments of Kate’s interactions over time it always felt as if something was being held back. While her brothers were sympathetically portrayed they were weak in the face of their manipulative mother. This was not a family that I warmed to and it was frustrating that so much of my attention during reading was trying to establish what, if anything, might happen.
I’ve been lucky enough to be included in the blog tour for this, so I won’t post my review until the day of my scheduled involvement.

 

‘You’ll Be the Death of Me’ – Karen McManus

For readers of an age to have actually been around for Ferris Bueller in his original incarnation that’s something of a lure. A vibrant character playing on their luck and exploiting everyone they interact with in order to have a fun-filled day…of course, that’s going to appeal. Unfortunately, for the target audience of this book the reference may be rather meaningless…

Our main characters are Ivy, Cal and Mateo. Three students who used to be great friends, who’ve barely spoken to each other in years and who are all – for reasons we don’t learn entirely – having a tough time. They turn up at school one day, decide to ditch and have an attempt to recreate their magical moment.

Even before they set off it’s clear this isn’t going to go well. They end up following another student from their school who is also truanting…and when he is found dead in a room they decide that they should run away and try to investigate this crime themselves, rather than let the police know what they’ve seen and sort things out.

The start of the book requires that we suspend our disbelief and follow them as they make up their minds what to do next. There’s a bit of wandering round, some unnecessary faffing about to establish that each of them has things they’re trying to hide and that others around them may be more than a little keen to keep things quiet. Eventually we get some details about what might be behind this death.

Once we learn a little more about the death, we are taken to a realm of quite ridiculous scenarios. These three behave in ways I can’t imagine, but I still found myself sucked in and desperate to piece it together.

We do, eventually, get our answers. Some were less obvious than others, and some of the predicted curveballs never got thrown in. It was quite preposterous, but entertaining and will definitely have its share of fans.

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

 

‘Following Frankenstein’ – Catherine Bruton

 

Frankenstein has always had a special place in my reading experience, so as soon as I saw the title I was hooked.

Maggie Walton is the daughter of a man obsessed with Frankenstein’s creation, a man who has brought the family to nothing in his pursuit of the infamous monster. Maggie and her pet mouse, Victor, have grown up with stories of the search for Frankenstein’s creation. So, when her father decides to try one last time to find him, Maggie decides to stow away.

Her journey involves characters from many literary tales. Each plays their part in guiding Maggie to a journey that could not be believed in her wildest imaginings. A journey that involves the son of Frankenstein’s creation.

This was a story that took us through numerous landscapes, and which had – at its heart – the message to look beyond superficial differences and to value people for who they are. For a Frankenstein fan it was a real treat, but I think it could inspire new readers to dip their toes into Shelley’s world.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this before publication.

‘The Whistling’ – Rebecca Netley

The Whistling is a hauntingly atmospheric story, set on a remote Scottish island and harnessing all the elements of Gothic tales to create a richly satisfying read.

Elspeth is a young woman, left upset after the recent death of her sister, who has come to a remote Scottish island to look after a young girl called Mary. From the moment she arrives she hears strange tales of the house and its inhabitants, the seeds of distrust are sewn and we watch as Elspeth tries to uncover exactly what is happening.

Her young charge is mute and suffers extreme nightmares. Elspeth quickly succumbs to the charms of feeling useful and developing a bond with this young girl who has not spoken since the death of her brother. No one can establish what has happened, but rumours circulate the island and the sense of oppression and menace grows.

As the story progresses we focus on the background to some of the characters, and the development of the suitably eerie island they call home. Unexplained events and strange noises are made to seem quite terrifying, and yet I admired the strength of character shown by Elspeth as she tries to navigate this place.

Perhaps this is to be expected, but our heroine makes mistakes and her own shortcomings are exploited perfectly by those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The final stages of the book shifted in a not wholly unexpected direction, though I have to say the actual revelation was deftly handled.

This was a book I found myself immersed in, and I’m grateful to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read it prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.

 

‘Chloe Cates is Missing’ – Mandy McHugh

Chloe Cates is Missing has all the ingredients for a perfect thriller: dysfunctional family; a death; an abduction; secrets from the past and an alarming focus on social media and the extent to which it influences our lives. From start to finish it was a book I couldn’t put down, and the ending was delightfully ambiguous in a way that will torment readers long after the story ends.

The book focuses on Chloe Cates, the teen sensation of an internet blog. Thirteen year old Abby Scarborough has known no life other than a life played out on screen. Her every move is crafted and filtered, and the whole family depend on the revenue the blog created around her on-screen persona brings in. When she was a child Abby complied with her mother’s demands, but as she matures she becomes increasingly reluctant to have her key life moments played out for the entertainment of others.

One seemingly normal weekend morning, the Scarborough family have their lives turned upside down when they realise Abby is missing. Detectives are called in and, conscious of this girl’s online presence, they take this threat seriously. Detective Emelina Stone is heading up the investigation, but she soon realises she has a closer link to the family than she’s comfortable with. The secret Emelina is keeping had me on tenterhooks, and I was desperate to see how it would be relevant. This secret isn’t given up easily, but it is VERY relevant to the events in the present.

As the investigation progresses, a body is found. Suddenly, there seems to be a link between the disappearance of Abby and the murder of this missing girl. Trying to work out exactly what had happened drove me crazy, but I loved reading the way this unfolded in front of me.

Without giving away important details, this was such a clever thriller. You could never be sure who was hiding what, and though my reading of the ending may not be accurate I like to think that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree on this. Nobody comes out of it well, but it made for such an entertaining read.

I’m grateful to the publishers for allowing me the opportunity to read this before its scheduled January 2022 publication.

 

‘Breathless’ – Amy McCulloch

Be bothered…this is the mantra that our main character has taken to heart. Be bothered to check your equipment. Be bothered to take note of your surroundings. This mantra could well save her life.

Cecily Wong is known in the press as the Snowdon hero. The woman who stayed with a climber who fell, who guided emergency services to the site. But sometimes what happens on the mountains isn’t clear-cut and Cecily knows that better than anyone.

When Cecily is promised an exclusive interview with mountaineer Charles McVeigh it’s on the understanding that she makes the summit of one of the world’s highest mountains-his final climb in his quest to climb the fourteen highest mountains without oxygen or fixed lines.

To anyone with climbing experience this man would seem pretty incredible. To anyone without climbing experience you might think this man is slightly mad. Is either response justified?

Cecily is determined to overcome her own fears in order to get this interview. Once on the mountain she is struck by some unusual circumstances and is convinced someone might be out to cause harm. Altitude-induced paranoia, or a creeping sense of unease that she would be wise to listen to?

This is a thriller that you cannot fail to get caught up in. Twists and turns aplenty, some breathtaking mountain descriptions and some utterly terrifying scenarios that had me desperate to see how things would resolve. The talk of the thriller of 2022 might well be justified, and I’m so grateful to NetGalley and the publishers for allowing me to read this early.

 

‘The Prank’ – L.V. Matthews

A prank is defined as being a bit of harmless fun. But what do you do if someone else’s fun causes another person pain? At what point should an innocent bystander intervene? And is it ever right to have such moments of humiliation recorded publicly?
El has been a different person since her father committed suicide. She knew he had depression, but had repressed her memories of the build-up to his death after finding his body. However, when a famous TV exec – who just so happens to be the producer of an infamous reality show called Pranksters – is served in her restaurant, El starts to remember things. She recalls her father being deeply affected by a prank that meant he felt responsible for the death of a young man. She eventually remembers the link between her father and this show.
Determined to avenge her father, a rather elaborate plan is hatched. El wants revenge, but is – as many of us would be – wholly clueless. She is not suspicious when an online search results in a friendly reply from someone calling themselves Horsehead who wants to help her. Alarm bells rang from the off, but it was great fun watching El worm her way into Jim’s life and start her preparations to bring him down…wholly unaware that someone else was pulling the strings all along.
The story was well-plotted and I loved the fact that nobody was quite what they seemed. Dig a little and it seems many people have something to hide, but there was a grim sense of satisfaction from watching how events unfolded.

 

‘The Missing Hours’ – Julia Dahl

The Missing Hours is a book that will infuriate many readers. Though it is a book focused on a deeply triggering topic, our character takes action and this could seem a positive step. However, by the end it’s fairly evident that little has changed for our main character and such an incident could easily reoccur.

The book opens with a graphic account of our main character, Chloe Castro, waking up the night after an evening out. From the description of her it’s clear she’s been attacked, but we’re not given the full horror until later. Chloe is a girl who, on the surface, seems to have it made. She’s from a wealthy background, is friendly and doesn’t have to worry about much. But, the Chloe we meet at the start of the book is one who is very far from okay and who you cannot help but feel sorry for.

The attack that took place on Chloe was perpetrated by people she knows, a guy she dated in the past and a new acquaintance from college. One raped her, the other forced her to perform oral sex and they filmed it. This sickening act is described a number of times as one of them sends the video to Chloe and a couple of her friends.

I found the way this incident was treated fascinating. Chloe’s initial reaction is to hide away and though she deals with some of the practical issues arising from such an incident, the emotional impact is ignored. Once the video is released, family members try to step in and prevent anyone learning of it…and the focus is very much on damage-limitation. I struggle to understand how anyone could see such a film, know a criminal act had been committed and not do anything to challenge it.

Certain people within the book blame Chloe and there are some distressing moments that clearly indicate why so many victims never bother to report such events. Chloe is in the position that many might envy…she has the money and means to do something about her attackers.

Vengeance is a key element of the book. While Chloe’s actions cannot be condoned, they are understandable and those impacted are such unpleasant characters that you almost feel like turning a blind eye.

This is a murky read, nothing is clear cut and I liked the way we are presented with the facts and left to judge for ourselves. However, it still felt as if the victim was to blame for things and I found it hard to deal with the lack of closure by the end.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication and it’s one I would, with caution, recommend.

 

‘My Heart is a Chainsaw’ – Stephen Graham Jones

My Heart is a Chainsaw is a story that had me perplexed for substantial parts…and this may have been deliberate on the part of the author as we struggle to work out what is happening.

Our narrator is Jade, a horror-obsessed teen who is convinced that there is about to be a slasher style killing spree in her town. It starts with the deaths of two tourists, and then Jade maintains events will unfold in a very specific way. In amongst her retelling of events, we have her supposed papers for school credit detailing her obsession with the horror genre and its various tropes. Having only a passing acquaintance with the genre I couldn’t say how accurate Jade’s prophecies were…but the knowledge and sense of dark humour really made me react to this more positively than I was expecting.

At around the midway point I really struggled to tell what was in Jade’s head and what was happening. She, it is clear, is suffering her own trauma and the events she’s involved in certainly link to this. I wish this had been more apparent earlier as I almost stopped reading, uncertain what was happening.

However, as we build to Jade’s dramatic moment there’s a grim inevitability to events that made me feel compelled to keep reading.

This will delight horror fans. There’s some gruesome scenes and, yet again, elements of supernatural crossing into our reality. Perplexing, and probably not to everyone’s tastes, but I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this prior to publication.

 

‘The Bewitching of Aveline Jones’ – Phil Hickes

Summer holiday, and Aveline is with her mum in a remote cottage in a little village in the middle of nowhere. Boring…or at least it is until Aveline befriends one of the local girls who isn’t quite what she seems.

We can tell where this is going a mile off, but the story is engaging and offers some genuinely creepy moments. If you loved book one, this delivers another similarly engaging read.

Hazel and her desire to be friends with Aveline could have gone very differently, but we sense things will resolve themselves.

A quick read, giving just the right amount of creepy vibes. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this before publication.