‘Tunnel of Bones’ – Victoria Schwab

Having survived her trip into the veil last time, Cassidy’s parents are – understandably – concerned for her welfare. They urge her to take care, but this is Cassidy Blake so we know things aren’t going to remain settled.

This time round the family are visiting Paris for their show. Unfortunately, Cass disturbed the spirit of a young boy who starts to cause trouble for her. After her usual attempts to help the spirit move on fail, Cassidy realises she has to do more.

The quest to work out how to remove the poltergeist ensures Cassidy encounters some unexpected events and finds herself seeing a very different side to Paris.
We have the usual account of her parents’ show but I loved that we get to learn a little more about Jacob.

The story was well-paced and just the right side of scary. What I particularly enjoyed was the ending, with the mysterious figure causing a very unusual reaction in Cassidy which – I’m hoping – we’ll be told more about in book 3.

‘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.

‘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.

‘Slayer’ – Kiersten White

A Slayer is born into every generation…for people of a certain age, you know what’s coming next…and this is the start of what can best be described as a Buffy spin-off series.

Athena and Artemis are twins. When we first meet them they are young girls, caught up in a fire and only one of them is saved. We only see this event through the eyes of the mysterious Hunter figure. Someone who we know is close to the girls, someone who wants to carve out their place in history by destroying a prophecy and someone that we only hear from periodically throughout the book.

Much of the book focuses on Nina (as Athena prefers to be called) learning that she has – after the hellmouth was closed – been given the power of a Slayer. She’s not happy about this as it goes against everything she believes in as a healer. She takes it upon herself to start investigating the appearance of demons, kill the odd hellhound and generally get caught up in all manner of strange events. All while suffering angst over her crush on old friend Leo, now returned as her watcher.

There’s no escaping the obvious love and respect for her source material that White has. There’s numerous references to events fans of the show will remember, and some wonderful characters/dynamics. I was struck by the action of the novel, and couldn’t help but laugh out loud at some of the moments.
There were also moments of exquisite sadness. You’ll know them when you come to them, and the ending certainly had me cheering for our Slayer. Not quite Buffy…but something new, and something exciting.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts.

‘Select Few’ by Marit Weisenberg

After rejecting the cult-like influence of her father’s family, Julia moves into a fancy hotel in downtown Austin. But she finds herself alone except for her boyfriend, John–and her fears. Once again she’s suppressing her abilities, afraid her family will come for John when they find out he’s been developing abilities of his own in her presence. The FBI is also keeping a close eye on Julia hoping she can lead them to her father, Novak, as he’s wanted for questioning in his former assistant’s death.

With tensions high, Julia and John agree to go separate ways for the summer, paving the way for Julia to reunite with Angus, fellow outcast. Together they set out on a road trip to California to find Julia’s mom and a way into Novak’s secret underground world. Along the way Julia will learn the Puri perhaps aren’t the only humans evolving into something different. . . and that maybe she’s the leader her people have needed all along.

This book has to be read after ‘Select’ but we pick up events quickly and are soon reminded of the situation Julia has placed herself in.

Having chosen to leave her family, life is difficult for Julia. Hiding out in a hotel, with people hunting her father, Julia is desperate for answers but also needs to avoid doing things that could mean any of Novak’s visions come true.

Though she loves John, her worries for what could happen to an outsider dominate the early stages of the novel. This becomes more concerning as John seems to be developing his own special talents.

Initially a little slow, there’s a lot of focus on Julia trying to get answers to questions about herself, her family and what might happen in the future. There’s a rather dramatic closing section, but the possibilities for the future are exciting and I’m intrigued to see where this goes next.

Scheduled for release in October 2018, I have to thank the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of this.

‘Wicked Deep’ – Shea Earnshaw

A slow-build which thoughtfully explores love and relationships in a magical setting.

Over two hundred years ago the Swan sisters were accused of witchcraft and killed. In the modern day the town of Sparrow has little going for it, until the start of Swan season when the locals brace themselves for the annual attempt by these spirits to get revenge against the town that killed them.

Each year the spirits of the three wronged sisters take a life. Each year the tourists flock to Sparrow to witness these macabre events. Each year the locals brace themselves for the unease they feel necessary to atone for their ancestor’s past choices.

This year is different. Penny Thompson is determined that things need to change. When mysterious Bo arrives in Sparrow she has a difficult decision to make…save him, or save herself.

This was a magical read, and the interweaving of past and present kept me hooked in the events and keen to see how they would resolve themselves.

‘The Empty Grave’ – Jonathan Stroud

I was so impatient for this, and found myself desperate to finish it while being reluctant to get to the end. No more? There’s options, and I’m certain we could dip further into Lockwood & co and what happens to them following this book…yet there’s something bittersweet about knowing that there could still be a story to tell and not getting it.

We open fully aware that this is going to be a humdinger of a case. Lucy admits that this case is their biggest yet, and it has far-reaching consequences.
The dynamics between Lockwood, Holly, George and Lucy remain fresh and funny. They are quickly caught up in an investigation into possibly the biggest upset of the series…the exact situation regarding Penelope Fittes. I didn’t see this coming, and it was ripe for exciting scenes on the other side, battles and ghostly goings-on.

For me, there were two strands that were focused on in this book that just caught me by the heart-strings and tugged over and over again. It may be a story about ghosts, but I wanted Lucy and Lockwood together. Their attraction was even more obvious here, and I was excited to see how he opened up to her. His backstory and the details surrounding his family were just what was required, and though it’s been all too obvious how they feel about each other I like that Stroud has kept this under the surface.

Oddly the love story that has most impact for me in this series is that surrounding Lucy and the skull. From the moment she could hear its vile mutterings we’ve known Lucy and the skull share a special bond. He is a character crucial to events but the kind of character who entertains and infuriates in equal measure. His comments towards Lockwood certainly show his feelings for Lucy, and this book was all about whether she’d trust him. How can a spirit character who spends his time chained to a jar be the character I’m most engaged by? Simple…his actions later in the book were just beautiful. That glimpse on the windowsill at the end is just enough for me to hope that his actions weren’t in vain.

‘Witchtown’ – Cory Putman Oakes

When I saw this on NetGalley I, along with many others I would imagine, was expecting lots of details about witchcraft and perhaps some focus on exploring how it impacted on people’s lives in this imagined future. I got it, but not quite in the way I expected.

Macie and her mother, Aubra, move into his safe Haven called Witchtown. It is a safe community for those ostracised from the rest of the world when their talents become known. Sadly, it’s the latest mark in this pair’s thieving trail. Only this time, things are different.

Macie has always felt rather reliant on her mother. As a Void (someone with no magic) Macie has depended on her mother’s Natural ability to protect her. This leaves her vulnerable as she can rely on no-one. Yet we are told that in their last residence Macie did exactly that, and it started off what can best be described as an unstoppable source of tension.

Macie is a character who comes into her own in this, with the help of new friends Talya and Kellan. She learns more about who she is, what she wants from her life and what it might cost her to achieve it. Even though her mother is depicted in a rather caricature fashion, there’s something rewarding about watching Macie take a stand against what she’s been told her entire life.

Though there’s some interest in watching Macie learn the truth about herself (which we suspect from quite early on), there’s a lot that just doesn’t add up and this is, ultimately, frustrating.

Relentless trilogy – Karen Lynch

Sometimes, when looking for books to fulfil an online group reading challenge, you come across something that you wouldn’t normally think of picking up. This trilogy is one of those reads.

‘Relentless’ was a book that I wasn’t convinced by initially. It introduces us to Sara Grey who found her father, murdered, and has always been determined to find out what happened to him. She hasn’t got far in her quest, but since his murder she has established she can do things nobody else can and there’s a few odd things going on around her. Everything is thrown at us in this book and, initially, it all seemed a bit formulaic. There’s vampires, Mohiri, trolls, dangerous humans, werewolves, fae…a snarky main character who finds it hard to trust people and a brooding male who you just know is going to be more than we expect. However, as things unwind it became a whole lot better than I was expecting. Elements of the story were interesting, but I felt there were some plot-holes and something of a lack of control over the environment which just stopped this from being a really good read.

In ‘Refuge’ we kick off with Sara in her Mohiri stronghold, undergoing training to try ad keep her safe from the Master vampire who’s determined to find her. She gets to learn a little more of her skills-and find new allies. We didn’t, thankfully, have to wait too long for Nikolas to return and the heat between these two was ramped up – while all being very chaste. Our key focus here is the developing power Sara has, and the realisation that a certain someone will stop at nothing to get what he wants. I got a new favourite character of Desmund, and I really liked how we start to learn a little more of Sara’s potential. I’m certainly pleased to say this left me keen to read the final book in the trilogy.

‘Glass Houses (The Morganville Vampires #1)’ – Rachel Caine

Originally published in 2006, this was a book I picked up as part of an online reading challenge. It’s part of a fifteen book series (which, in itself, suggests it won’t maintain my interest for more than a few books) focusing on Claire Danvers, a young student who moves to Morganville for college and discovers that the town has some mysterious links to vampires.

There’s an awful lot to gripe about here.

Claire, our young academically gifted student, is beyond stupid at so many points in the book. When the book opens she is being mercilessly bullied by her peers. We’re not talking the kind of attacks you might brush off – acid being thrown at her, pushing her down stairs etc – and she insists on staying! Her parents leave her at college after several attacks; we have a town run by vampires that humans let get away with killing off people and doing nothing about it; there’s no attempt to explain some of the characters’ situations; they’re hunting for a book that vampires have spent years looking for, and just happen to stumble across it…and I could go on.

The fact is, Morganville is not a particularly well-constructed place. The story twists abruptly if it fits what’s needed, which can cause some confusion. The main character is pretty infuriating.

And yet I found myself carried along by this.

Superficially entertaining, and I did enjoy this (as long as I don’t think too closely about it). I’ll try one or two more because, as is often the case, you become slightly invested in what happens to these characters.