‘The Ravens’ – Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige

 

The first in what promises to be an exciting series, exploring witches in the modern era and chucking in a strong dose of college-based life too.

Vivi has always felt different. Used to moving regularly she is fed up of living with her mother and her fascination with tarot cards and predicting the future. Vivi is set to go to college where she can finally be who she wants to be. But what if the things her mother talks about aren’t complete nonsense?

Vivi arrives at her new college and immediately feels out of her depth. Yet she ends up invited to a party at the most exclusive sorority group…and is invited to join them. The girls are known across campus for their poise and strong bond…but what if there were more to this?

What Vivi quickly learns is that the group she has joined are witches. They have power the likes of which you can only imagine-and, of course, Vivi has strength she was unaware of. She has to come to terms with the responsibility this new power brings, and with learning her mother isn’t quite what she thought.

During a tense time it’s clear that someone is desperate to get their hands on a powerful talisman. They’ll stop at nothing to get it, and the girls are all at risk unless they can trust themselves to do the right thing.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this, and I think this sets up for an intriguing series.

‘Girl A’ – Abigail Dean

Girl A is not an easy read, but it’s a fascinating one – and on e I will recommend people get their hands on when it’s published (due January 2021).

At the age of fifteen our main character, Lex, fled her home – dubbed the ‘House of Horrors’ by the press – and then people learn the shocking truth about her home life. Now a successful lawyer, Lex has some understandable issues and things she does to protect herself from the trauma she lived through. These become more apparent when she is asked to be the executor of her mother’s will.As Lex deals with the realities of managing an estate of someone who was complicit in her suffering years of neglect and abuse, we see her fracture.

Alongside the focus on Lex in her present, we also learn of the gradual decline in her family situation which, ultimately, resulted in the deaths of some of her siblings and their enduring mental and emotional scars. It’s hard to feel sympathy for the adults in this, but there is an attempt to help us to understand the way this situation developed and to get into the head of the main perpetrators.

I was pleased that the author chose to not dwell on the abuse hinted at. Seen through Lex’s eyes it seemed to be a way of trying to come to terms with her feelings for those she’s interacting with now. While I came to admire Alex’s resolve and courage, it was clear that she was a long way from okay. Her relationship with her older brother, Ethan, was a difficult one and only felt more fragile once we learned of his role in events.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for granting me access to this in advance of publication, and while it’s not a pleasant read it is definitely highly recommended.

‘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 Searcher’ – Tana French

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication. A very different, slower-paced, read to those by French that I’ve read before but it has a curious charm. It took me a while to attune myself to its rhythms, but once caught up it was hard to not want to learn more.

Our main character, Cal, is an American ex-cop who’s moved to a remote Irish village. He wants a peaceful life, but finds himself caught up in a situation he can’t walk away from.

Young Trey comes from a local family not known of for their good decisions. Trey’s brother went missing earlier in the year, and Cal is curious enough to do some searching. Of course he gets himself caught up in some strange shenanigans, and those around him harbour a few secrets of their own.

We do get answers, though not quite what we expected. Cal makes some curious decisions and in spite of the bleak subject, there were some positives to this. Rural idyll it might not be, but it certainly showed a charm of its own…

‘Kingdom of the Wicked’ – Kerri Maniscalco

 

From the moment Emilia and her twin sister, Vittoria, are introduced to us at eight years old we know the amulets they wear are significant. These are girls whose family are part of a hidden group, witches who work in secret and who are well-versed in prophecies. However, no matter what knowledge they have they could not be prepared for what transpires here.

Early on, Vittoria is murdered, her heart ripped out and her body left for Emilia to discover. Understandably, Emilia wants to find out what happened and for whoever is responsible to pay. But nothing comes easily here and Emilia ends up in a situation that heralds great danger.

To cut a long story short, Emilia decides to take matters into her own hands, and to summon a demon. The one she ends up summoning is Wrath, one of the seven Princes of Hell. Determined to get answers and avenge her sister’s murder, Emilia ignores much of what she has heard and enters a bargain – the possibilities of which are only hinted at here.

Maniscalco creates an interesting character in Wrath. Obviously intent on a higher purpose it is blindingly obvious that he is not to be trusted. Yet there is something hinted at under the surface, something that definitely suggests Emilia has got under his skin and offers something he wasn’t quite prepared for. While I’d have been quite content if we’d seen this side through to its conclusion, I actually liked the fact that Wrath kept his eye on the main goal and set up a much more intriguing scenario (which I imagine we’ll see in the sequel). I can’t wait to see what happens now Emilia has her own endgame in sight.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

‘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.

 

‘Rumblestar’ – Abi Elphinstone

The time it took me to listen to this on audio is, in no way, a sign of my feelings about the book. I am pretty new to using audiobooks and find certain conditions/settings make it easier for me to follow the story when I don’t have the physical text in front of me.

This is a great adventure, with characters that you can’t help but admire, want to succeed and which made me feel a lot braver just reading about them. Eleven year old Casper likes routine and his life is led by his timetables. Unfortunately, these timetables mostly consist of helping him to avoid the school bullies determined to make his life awful.

One day Casper finds himself hiding in a clock to escape them, and is transported to a magical world. Rumblestar is a strange place, full of whimsy, but the characters he meets as he tries to prevent the evil taking over the world. From Arlo the dragon to his first proper friend, Utterly Thankless, these characters were full of life.

There was a great blend of fear and humour, and our character’s journey was inspirational. Huge thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for letting me listen to this prior to publication.