‘Second Chance Summer’ – Morgan Matson

Having lost a relative to this illness only a few months ago, there was always going to be an emotional investment in this for me.
Taylor is having to spend the summer with her family after they learn her father has pancreatic cancer. Setting aside the inevitable turmoil she feels at coping with such an event, Taylor also has unfinished business at the resort and this bothers her.
To cut a long story short, the novel is set in summer and nearly every interaction between Taylor and other characters links to the idea of second chances in some way.
The story allows us to take pleasure in the small moments, those moments it’s too easy to take for granted until you no longer have them. Matson explores the physical impact of illness with sensitivity and there were some genuinely moving moments (even if you’ve not been in a similar situation).
Alongside this we have Taylor learning to deal with her emotions and friendships. The romance is not overdone, and the growth Taylor experiences as a character felt realistic in its portrayal.
All in all, one of those books that got me far more emotionally invested than I was expecting.

‘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 Impossible Vastness of Us’ – Samantha Young

India Maxwell hasn’t just moved across the country—she’s plummeted to the bottom rung of the social ladder. It’s taken years to cover the mess of her home life with a veneer of popularity. Now she’s living in one of Boston’s wealthiest neighborhoods with her mom’s fiancé and his daughter, Eloise. Thanks to her soon-to-be stepsister’s clique of friends, including Eloise’s gorgeous, arrogant boyfriend Finn, India feels like the one thing she hoped never to be seen as again: trash.

But India’s not alone in struggling to control the secrets of her past. Eloise and Finn, the school’s golden couple, aren’t all they seem to be. In fact, everyone’s life is infinitely more complex than it first appears. And as India grows closer to Finn and befriends Eloise, threatening the facades that hold them together, what’s left are truths that are brutal, beautiful, and big enough to change them forever…

I love it when a book delivers more than you’re expecting.

When India’s mother drops her bombshell, she’s unsure how to feel. With one action she’s gone from being a popular girl to a nobody on the social rung of her new school. India’s new stepfather has money, lots of it, and lives in an environment where your name and reputation is everything.

India’s journey in this novel is an interesting one. She slowly learns there’s more to people than they always want to present to the public, and gradually learns to trust herself.

There’s a lot in here that you need to discover as you read. The characters India meets are not without their flaws, but combined it makes for a pretty explosive read. There are some views expressed here that are never going to be okay – and they are necessary for the credibility of the characters/plot but it doesn’t make them any easier to read.

‘The Taste of Blue Light’ – Lydia Ruffles

 

Since I blacked out, the slightest thing seems to aggravate my brain and fill it with fire’

These are the things Lux knows:
She is an Artist.
She is lucky.
She is broken.

These are the things she doesn’t know:
What happened over the summer.
Why she ended up in hospital.
Why her memories are etched in red.

‘The nightmares tend to linger long after your screams have woken you up …’

Desperate to uncover the truth, Lux’s time is running out. If she cannot piece together the events of the summer and regain control of her fractured mind, she will be taken away from everything and everyone she holds dear.

If her dreams don’t swallow her first.

There’s no doubt about it that this contemporary YA read – due to be published in early February 2018 – packs a powerful punch.

Initially, Lux was not a character to feel empathy with. Her unwillingness to engage with things and people made her hard to care about. The environment in which she cloisters herself is alien to many of us.

Yet as the story progressed I found myself falling under a spell. Desperate to know what happened, we do get answers, and they are far more topical than we might expect. All along I had an idea in which way the book was heading (which wouldn’t have been awful), but Ruffles goes for something much bolder and braver…and it pays off.

This is one book I feel it’s best to know little about before reading. It is not immediately seeking to attract your attention, but it sneaks up on you. Once I’d closed the pages I was desperate to read it again.

‘Splintered’ – A.G. Howard

Wonderland and Alice’s adventures are very appealing, but what would you do if these things were real? For Alyssa Gardner, that is not something she has to worry about.

Ever since she was younger she’s been aware of the fact that she has a bond with Wonderland. She’s been teased throughout school for the rumours that she’s a descendant of Alice Liddell…but what would her peers do if they ever learned the truth about why her mother doesn’t live with them?

There’s all sorts going on here, and initially it felt a bit of a struggle to get into. Alyssa hears voices from bugs etc talking to her, and seems totally paranoid that she may be going mad (like her mother). What is clear early on is that strange things are afoot for her.

Alyssa ends up going down the rabbit hole and finds herself part of a twisted plan to end the curse on her family/sort out who should be Queen. She recognises Morpheus, the friend from her childhood who certainly appeals to her passionate inner self. But Alyssa also has to consider the love of her life, Jeb, who ends up journeying with her.

A rather surreal experience. We recognise characters from the story but there’s a ghoulish element to them…I imagine this could be turned into a great movie.

‘Eliza and her Monsters’ – Francesca Zappia

On the surface, this is a clever book packed full of graphics and interesting text to support the main narrative. But, beneath the surface, it’s a story about finding yourself, coming to accept your strengths/limitations and – in part – addressing mental health issues and thoughts about the role the internet has in our lives.

Eliza has always been introverted. She feels she doesn’t fit in with her sporty competitive family, preferring to spend her time online. Here she is not the oddball she feels in real life; here, she’s Lady Constellation, creator of Monstrous Seas…a webcomic like no other.

When new boy Wallace joins her school, she finds an unlikely ally. The growing friendship between these two was well-handled, and I liked that Zappia showed us suffering can come in numerous ways and it’s all about how we deal with it.

Of course, not everything goes as smoothly as we’d like. There are bumps along the way, but Eliza comes through a pretty tough time…smiling. For those who like their reading a little different, this will be right up their street.

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.

‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’ – Mackenzi Lee

Is this worth reading? To quote one of the main characters, “Abso-bloody-lutely!”

From its opening pages to the climax, this is a rip-roaring read that I loved for many reasons:
1. The evident love of her subject the author shows. Following our characters on their Grand Tour was an experience, with little nuggets of historical information salted away throughout.
2. Felicity. A wonderfully strong female character with a droll sense of humour, intelligence, compassion and utter fearlessness in the way she transgresses the expectations of society.
3. The humour that was evident throughout. From the acerbic wit of Monty to the scenes involving the most hapless pirates ever, I couldn’t help but laugh aloud at many points in the book.
4. The positive depiction of Monty and Percy’s relationship. Whether this would have actually been credible at the time simply doesn’t matter. It was a privilege to watch their relationship unfold, and I was rooting for them.
5. The fact that it hooked me at the start, but just got better and better as the story unfolded.
6. The unexpected tender moments. Scipio recognising a kindred spirit in Monty, and teaching him to stand up for himself brought a tear to my eye.

Let’s be honest, there will be many who will dislike this book for the very reasons I loved it. More’s the pity!

For sheer exuberance this novel will be hard to beat, and it shared something of the spirit of some of the 18th-century novels I studied for my degree. Coupled with its modern sensibilities I think it’s a potent combination.

‘Indigo Donut’ – Patrice Lawrence

Indigo and Bailey…very different, with totally different backgrounds, but this story focuses on what they have in common.

Indigo is fed up of everyone thinking they know her. Sent from foster carer to foster carer, Indigo knows most people who meet her will immediately google her and discover she was found as a toddler by her mother’s dead body and her father was imprisoned for the murder.

When the mean girls at yet another new school pick up on this and start giving her grief, Indigo expects to go it alone. But then we have Bailey. A mixed-race kid known for his ginger Afro and his ‘cool’ social worker dad, Bailey can’t stand by and say nothing. After sticking up for Indigo on the bus one day Bailey starts to draw closer to her, and we’re left wondering about the identity of the mysterious homeless man who seems to be following her (and who knows more about her than he probably should) .

A moving tale that explores family and identity. I haven’t yet got round to reading  Lawrence’s debut Orangeboy, but after this it’s a definite addition to the TBR pile.

Thoroughly recommended, and a huge thank you to Hodder Childrens’ Books and NetGalley for the ARC.

‘The Chemist’ – Stephanie Meyer

This is one of those books that is not badly written, and there are some cracking scenes, but it seems to have attracted its fair share of hate from online reviewers.

We begin in very different territory to Twilight (thank goodness) with an adult main character who is very good at what she does, even if she is socially inept. She has come under threat on a number of occasions and her paranoia is justified when we learn more of her life.

The story focuses on the attempts by her ex bosses to get Julia (known for most of the novel as Alex) to find a suspect and torture him for information. The target, Daniel, is a teacher who seems to know nothing about the situations Alex wants information about. Okay, so no prizes for originality in how this scenario came about, but Meyer does deliver a pretty well-paced story. At least, initially.

There’s a patch during the novel where not much happens. While Alex and Daniel are left in the dark, we sit and wait…and wait some more…and then get another attempt at something action-packed.

You’ll spot the clunky moments, and the romance is just verging on cheesy, but I still found myself carried along by this. I also admit to being quite satisfied by the peek into their lives after these events (though it was not remotely necessary).

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review.