‘Fourth Wing’ – Rebecca Yarros

A 4.5 rating, and while there are elements that I’d have liked to see developed this definitely did live up to the hype.

The story is fairly straightforward. Violet is the daughter of General Sorrengail. The family are riders, and though Violet has trained to be a Scribe – definitely influenced by her father – her mother is determined that her third child will also learn to ride dragons. Violet is not a likely candidate, and from the reaction every one she meets has it is painfully clear that nobody expects her to survive the experience.

Naturally, Violet surprises them all.

From the opening pages, as we see Violet start her trial, I found myself desperate to see how this would pan out. It reads like a lot of books of the genre and relies heavily on the elements you often expect. There’s the old friend/love interest who’s not quite what we think, the brooding lust interest, the plucky friends and the relentless need to show our main character has reserves hitherto untapped. While this felt like an opportunity missed, it keeps you turning the pages and definitely doesn’t hurt in terms of delivering a cracking story.

With it clearly being the opening of a series we know there’s more going on. There were twists here aplenty, some of which you could predict and others that were more subtle. I don’t mind admitting that I was left stunned by the closing section.
YA or New Adult…it’s categorised as both, and this does seem to suffer from trying to appeal to a very broad range of readers. Some of the dialogue had me cringing, but it didn’t stop me enjoying what was taking place. I loved the dragons and want more of them! The closing twist definitely sets up a very intriguing premise and I’m keen to see exactly how Violet’s father features in this tale.

I’ve already pre-ordered book two and think there’ll be more than one or two recommendations of this book taking place!

‘Weyward’ – Emilia Hart

Three Weyward women: Altha, Violet and Kate. Separated by time, but linked by blood. Both victims and survivors, these women share a bond.

Altha, a healer, was on trial for witchcraft. Violet, raped at sixteen by a family cousin and disowned by her father. Her only solace the insects that so fascinate her. Kate, in the present, escaping an abusive relationship. She flees to Crows Beck, a remote Cumbrian cottage left to her by her eccentric great-aunt Violet. Upon her arrival she starts to unearth her family history.

Multiple points of view can be distracting, but these blended almost seamlessly. With interwoven elements it was fascinating to read about each woman and to see their growing personalities as they each challenge the expectations of their time.

While it’s infuriating to see the ongoing issues women who do not conform to society’s expectations face, I feel that the author focuses on the developing strength of each woman and growing courage to stand firm in her own identity. I adored the way nature was presented here, in each time period.

This is part of a growing trend in books focusing on witches and exploring womens’ identity. While the character of Kate is presented as the one who is uncovering the family history and the one who may be seen by a contemporary audience as most sympathetically presented, I found Violet and Altha the characters who most caught my interest. Their stories, sadly, may have been common and I – like Kate – was eager to learn more about the two women who took on the patriarchy in their own ways.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this prior to publication.

‘Hex’ – Jenni Fagan

It’s 1591. Fifteen year old Geillis Duncan is imprisoned, several floors below Edinburgh’s High Street. Accused of being a witch, Geillis is about to be killed for the crime she has been accused of. During the course of her last night, Geillis is visited by Iris, a visitor in the shape of a crow who claims to be a woman from the future and sympathetic to Geillis.

Over the course of her last night we hear Geillis recount the story of how she came to be in prison. It is an age-old story of jealousy and persecution of something unknown/different. The story of her arrest, brutal torture and forced confession is appalling…and I felt incredibly angry reading it.

For such a slim book this packs a powerful punch. It is more powerful for the fact that hundreds of years later we see similar tales of persecution and injustice. A warning tale of the dangers of being ruled by fear, and I would love to see extracts used alongside ‘Macbeth’ to offer students another view of the supernatural and contemporary views of women in power.


‘The Ex Hex’ – Erin Sterling

At the age of nineteen Vivienne falls hard for Rhys, and is devastated when he tells her that his father expects him to marry someone of his choosing. Though she is a witch, she believes she has no powers and is amused by the curse she places on her ex.

Unfortunately, years later Rhys has to return to the town to carry out part of some ritual. Upon his arrival it’s clear that the strange accidents taking place around him are not something he has experienced before. The curse seems to have worked, but only if he’s in the town where Vivienne lives.

What follows is a rather mixed bag. They have to work together to defeat the curse, and along the way be honest about their feelings. We watch their attempts, some of which work better than others.

This was a romance with a little extra, but I’d hope that this element could be more developed.


‘Cackle’ – Rachel Harrison

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this in advance of publication. Cackle is not necessarily what I would deem horror (and I’m unsure why someone might regard it as such) but it does use witchcraft to explore the theme of friendship and it has plenty of good-humoured moments.

Our main character has been dumped by her boyfriend. She moves to a new town, where she knows nobody, and is befriended by Sophie. Sophie is beautiful, glamorous and everyone in the town seems in thrall to her (though some are happier about this than others).

As Annie settles into her new routine, she starts to feel more and more indebted to Sophie. She heard rumours about her new friend, and when she is gifted a spider as a housewarming gift we know there’s something odd about her.

The question soon becomes about how quickly Annie is prepared to accept these changes to her life. She veers between desperate to salvage her previous existence and determined to forge a bright new path. Ultimately something of a middle ground has to be found, but Annie learns what is important to her and what boundaries she is prepared to put in place to live her life.

‘The Weight of Blood’ – Tiffany D. Jackson

Carrie for the modern era, and what a read!

Maddy is a biracial teenager who has lived her life following the rules of her deeply religious father. She passes as white, but when she is caught in a storm during cross-country, her peers learn the truth about her identity. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but in their town it is.

The ingrained racism was tough to read about. This was a town where students were educated together, but any attempts to challenge racial stereotyping are ignored and separate events are held for teens of different backgrounds. While Maddy’s secret caused a fuss, it’s the bigger secret that she’s kept from everyone that is going to cause more of a scene.

Those familiar with Carrie will know the plot. Those who aren’t, may have to suspend their disbelief for the paranormal elements…but this was a solid retelling of a much-loved story.


‘The Last Graduate’ – Naomi Novak

I feel it’s fitting to have closed the pages on this instalment with only a week or two left until book three comes…because I would be going mad if I had to wait ages to find out what on earth happens after that.

El is in her final year at The Scholomance, and from the outset it seems things are being made tough for her. The school has given her more classes than anyone else, she’s being taught in rooms susceptible to attack and she quickly comes to realise that her lack of planning for the future could be problematic.

Every student knows just how hard it is to graduate. With so many students killed every year, El starts to wonder whether there might be something behind the punishing schedule. Could the school be trying to ask for help?

There’s no doubt El has power that could be very dangerous. She seems to want to use it to benefit others, and I’m curious to see if this remains the case.

Her relationship with Orion seems an distraction, and I did wonder quite what the point was. However, by the time we get to the end – and I really didn’t see that coming – it sets up a very interesting dilemma for what El does next.

So, now the clock is ticking for book three…


‘The House Across the Lake’ – Riley Sager

The House Across the Lake was a story I was so excited to get my hands on, and parts of it really were exciting. However, as a whole, it felt messy and just too much to take in.

Our main character is recently widowed actress Casey Fletcher who has been banished to her lakeside home (the place where her husband died) by her mother who wants her out of the public eye after one too many drunken incidents. In what felt like a Rear Window homage, Casey takes to watching the home across the lake from her…home to supermodel Katherine Royce and her media husband Tom.

Casey’s first meeting with Katherine is when she fishes her out of the lake and saves her from drowning. The tentative steps to a new friendship are forged, but Casey is convinced that things in the Royce household are not what they seem. Obsessive, alcohol-fuelled stalking events occur and it’s hard to workout whether Casey is deluded or if there’s some truth to her fears about Tom.

In the background of this bizarre situation is a local writer, an ex-cop whose wife died and three missing women. From the moment each element is introduced my brain went into overdrive trying to work out what was a red herring, what was plausible and what was a diversion. Casey lurches from one imagined scenario to the next and things ramp up once Katherine goes missing and Tom starts acting suspiciously.

It was at this point that the book went to a whole other level and I had to check if I was reading the latest Sarah Pinborough. I have no problem with the introduction of the supernatural to a story, but in this instance it felt like a gimmick. It served merely to offer a hitherto unthought-of reason for what was happening, but it also served as a diversion to another element of the plot. It felt as if bets were being hedged here as to what type of book was the ultimate aim, and the truth is that it feels as if we don’t get a satisfactory answer.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this before its scheduled July publication, but I’d have been so gutted to have waited for release date and spent the amount I’ve had to on previous Sager books to then get this. I’m afraid this didn’t work for me.

‘Gallant’ – V.E. Schwab

Our main character, Olivia, has always felt herself to be something different. An orphan, with no voice, Olivia is used to feeling unwanted and mocked…but she has always been able to console herself with the spirits she senses around her. This marks her out as an object of ridicule for the other students at Merilance School for Girls, but it clearly signifies there is more to Olivia than we might think.

Just as plans are being made for her to leave the school, a letter appears from her Uncle and Olivia is taken back to Gallant. She knows nothing of her family, but feels drawn to this place though her cousin seems resentful of her presence.

As Olivia settles into Gallant she learns a little more of the Prior curse and gets to learn a little more about her mother. While these questions make sense for anyone in Olivia’s position, it becomes clear quite early one that someone in particular has a vested interest in winning Olivia over.

Not knowing the secrets of Gallant places Olivia in a difficult situation. She is, without realising it, in danger and we can only watch as she throws herself headlong into her investigations without truly understanding their significance.

While the book itself reads very much like a middle grade/children’s story, the themes of loss and the paranormal setting mean there is much for older readers. The open-ended nature of the ending might frustrate some readers, but I liked the fact that Olivia was given a choice for the first time in her life.


‘Sundial’ – Catriona Ward

Sundial is a curious read, where I admit to feeling things were eluding me at key moments. This wasn’t a bad thing, but it was a mercurial read and I’m still not wholly certain that I fully understood some of the finer details of our characters’ situations.

Ward creates a delightfully menacing environment in which our characters exist, but there were too many instances in which I found myself puzzling over exactly what was happening to feel quite as enamoured of this as I did The Last House on Needless Street. However, it is a story that explores some troubling scenarios and definitely encourages us to consider how our environment shapes us.

Our main character is Rob, mother to two young girls – Callie and Anne. There are hints that she is in an abusive relationship and it appears that Callie has rather disturbing tendencies. As a means of trying to help her daughter, Rob takes her to Sundial…the home of her childhood.

Alongside the story of Rob and her family, we have flashbacks to Rob’s past. It soon becomes clear that Rob came from a less than healthy environment, and that there are plenty of questions about her family.

I found myself perplexed by the details given about Rob’s younger life. The horrors she experienced as a child seem to have been swapped for other awful things…and yet she seems drawn to the darker elements of her experience. Without giving crucial plot details away, I am still convinced that Rob is not who we think.

By the time we draw close to the end of the story it is obvious that there will be deeply unsettling revelations. There’s an attempt to misdirect us somewhat, but the details of Rob’s past hint at what might be happening. I liked that the ending remained ambiguous in some ways though I can’t help wishing we’d got other viewpoints.

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