‘D.O.G.S’ – M.A. Bennett

This series doesn’t seem to have grabbed everyone, but I enjoyed the first part of the series (however ridiculous the scenario seemed) and this more than delivered.

Trying to come to terms with her role in Henry’s death, Greer is back at S.T.A.G.S and needing something to bolster her chances of getting into Oxford. She doesn’t question the timing of events, but we are very suspicious when the first Act of a lost Ben Jonson play is put under her door. Greer is intrigued by the idea of putting on something thought to be so dangerous that it closed the theatres.

Before we know it we are following the preparations for this play, and – of course – things are inextricably linked to Longcross and Henry’s family. We know someone has secrets, and we can’t help but wonder just how this play fits with our current story.

I loved the feeling of a story within a story, and yet we still have a sense of Greer’s story developing in ways that perfectly blend a sense of threat with excitement. It wasn’t clear just who was hiding what, and even at the end there’s a murkiness to this that suggests our understanding of the Order and the threat they pose has more layers to reveal.

I can’t wait to read the final part.

 

‘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 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.

 

‘The Whole Truth’ – Cara Hunter

Scheduled for release in March 2021, I was so excited to receive the invitation from the publishers via NetGalley to read and review this early. I thought All the Rage took the DI Fawley series to a new level, but it’s safe to say that in The Whole Truth things are better than expected in terms of storytelling.
There are three stories being told in The Whole Truth, each of which challenges our expectations and assumptions.
In the first instance we have Caleb Morgan, a young student who has come forward to his university making an allegation against one of his professors about a sexual attack. The professor concerned, Marina Fisher, is not quite what you might expect and from the outset this story challenges a lot of preconceptions. Almost certainly influenced by the #MeToo movement, this was a murky ever-shifting story where it was never quite clear what had happened, where each of those involved seemed to be hiding something and which, ultimately, led to me feeling very sorry for any officer ever involved in investigating any kind of sexual assault.
The second and third strands of the story are more closely linked than we might initially have predicted. There’s the disappearance of a young professional called Emma Smith. Her body is, eventually, discovered so this becomes a murder investigation. Unfortunately, the investigation uncovers some rather damning evidence which has serious implications for DI Fawley. The third strand of the story focuses on the Fawley couple. Alex is pregnant, and increasingly fearful that the man convicted of the attacks (one of which she survived) is determined to engineer revenge on them for manipulating the evidence that led to his conviction. Many think she’s paranoid, but the podcast researching this trial and conviction certainly offers enough to suggest Alex is right to be fearful…and, eventually, offers some very useful information to help those investigating the death of Emma (who was, in fact, a close friend of Alex Fawley).
Without giving too much away, once we start to see these strands interweave this became very hard to put down. Every part of this story was gripping, and it was fascinating to experience so many of the inevitable frustrations that must come from investigating such cases. Some of the characters definitely come out of this better than others, and though we are encouraged to remain convinced of the innocence of some key players, some of the truths that are revealed at the end most definitely left a rather unsavoury taste.

 

‘The Island’ – C.L. Taylor

As a teen I can recall an annual skiing holiday taken by my parents and their group of friends. Every year we’d spend a week abroad, the families, and be forced together. The parents would relish their time to unwind but for the kids tagging along it was a strange thing. We had little in common, but a shared experience. Each year brought the same thing, but with little differences in our interactions that reflected the fact we weren’t really friends.
Reflecting on this immediately made me empathise with the group in this story. They seemed to have closer bonds, but it is evident that they harbour secrets and that not everything is as rosy as it seems on the surface.
Our setting is a remote holiday resort…and then our group of almost-adults is packed off together to a deserted island. Unfortunately, their guide has a stroke and dies. Then they discover the starter cord to the boat has been cut and they are trapped. Their immediate plan is to hunker down on the island and wait for their parents to be alerted to their non-return before being rescued.
Unfortunately, things aren’t quite so predictable. Strange things start happening. The groups’ fears start to become reality…and they’re soon in a nightmare scenario, fighting for their lives.
Throughout, it was clear things were being manipulated but it was good fun trying to guess who was behind it. Clues were there, but the revelation – when it came- was a little odd. We knew enough to realise different behaviour in the build-up could have led to a different story. It was plausible, but not quite the tension-packed thing I was expecting.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this before publication.

 

‘The Search Party’ – Simon Lelic

I love it when a book surprises you with something that you just don’t see coming…

In The Search Party we have, essentially, a mystery to solve. But, as one of the detectives in the book says, there’s more than one thing going on and Simon Lelic definitely keeps us guessing on more than one occasion.

What we know at the start is that a young girl, Sadie, has gone missing. Many people in the town assume her boyfriend killed her while others think she’s run away. The police have found her bag near the local river but no sign of a body. The pressure is on. Bizarrely, Sadie’s friends decided to head out into the local woodland to search for Sadie and it would seem another of their group has been killed. It seems someone has something to hide, and Detective Fleet – who has his own history with the town – is under pressure to work out what happened.

Cutting between the stories from the teenagers involved as they’re talking to the police and the view of Detective Fleet, this is really cleverly constructed. We slowly piece together some of the mysteries surrounding the missing girl and subsequent events. We have a character in Fleet that we can’t help but empathise with, and a resolution that nobody would have desired but which shows certain characters in a very different light to the one we’ve seen them in.

Huge thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, Penguin, for brightening up my day with this read.

‘They Wish They Were Us’ – Jessica Goodman

 

Fairly standard fare here, which is a shame as this had potential to be so much more.

Jill Newman is about to start her Senior year at the exclusive prep school she has a scholarship to. She is one of the group known as the Players, a hand-picked group of eight that are chosen each year to carry on the tradition. Weekly tasks and challenges to prove your group spirit…and, in exchange, a free pass to tests and advice/shortcuts for life. These are privileged kids for no reason other than someone chose them.

It would be too easy to despise Jill and the group for getting everything handed to them on a plate while those around them work. So the author takes great pains to emphasise Jill is clever, a grafter, and needing her scholarship to set her big plans in motion. She also happens to have been best friends with Shaila, a student who was killed a few years ago. Sympathy vote checked, but that isn’t really enough to overcome the easy pass she and her friends have.

The book focuses on Jill’s internal struggle with what this life offers her. She feels pressure to act a certain way but, deep down, hates everything she represents. How can she move forward if she’s held captive by her present?

The dilemma is solved by Jill’s decision to help an old classmate. Rachel is the sister of the young man who got put away for Shaila’s murder. She is convinced her brother’s innocent and so Jill decides to do the right thing and help try to uncover the truth.

There’s an attempt at a red herring straight out of Pretty Little Liars territory. Fairly early on I had my suspicions as to who might be responsible. Sadly I was proven right and after the ease with which the girls got the confession I can only hang my head at the pitiful job the police did at the time.

This will have its fans. I liked the message it tries to give about working for your successes, but there was just too much that didn’t work for me to really fall under the spell of this one.

‘Little Creeping Things’ – Chelsea Ichaso

 

In spite of one of the creepiest covers I’ve seen in a while, Little Creeping Things was a pleasure to read.

Our story is that of Cassidy who, when she was little, was rescued from a fire in which her best friend died. Since that time, people in her small town have seen her as something to fear…her nickname Fire Girl ensures she’s not seen as a survivor of an awful event, but the perpetrator of a callous crime. She doesn’t recall many details of this accident, but it has shaped her life in the years since.

Cassidy’s elder brother, Asher, does his best to look out for her, and her best friend Gideon sees beyond the rumours. Unfortunately, when one of the girls who has tormented her most goes missing Cassidy knows things could get difficult…particularly since she was in the woods on the night Melody disappeared, and someone had taken her notebook in which she jokingly made comments about how she could carry out Melody’s murder. She wants to do the right thing, but can she bear the personal cost involved?

Our story focuses on the aftermath of the discovery of Melody’s body and the hunt for who did it. We watch Cassidy under extreme duress, and though we have a number of twists/deceptions we do, eventually, get answers.
Huge thanks to the publishers, Sourcebooks Fire, and NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication.

‘One Step Behind’ – Lauren North

One Step Behind is one of those books that promises a lot, but doesn’t quite live up to its promises. It was fine, but it didn’t strike me as particularly memorable.

Our main character is Jenna, a doctor, who is clearly unsettled as she believes someone has been stalking her. She’s been receiving strange emails and calls, and odd gifts have been left on her doorstep. She has contacted the police, who’ve advised her to record any incidents. She catches odd glimpses of the person she believes is responsible, but nothing sufficient to enable the police to arrest him.

One day she is on duty when the man she’s seen following her is admitted into hospital after seemingly being pushed in front of a bus. He’s gravely ill, yet Jenna treats him professionally. She could have let him die, but she didn’t. However, while he’s in hospital Jenna is determined to do whatever is needed to stop this harassment. Finally, I remember thinking, something will move this on.

Unfortunately, what follows was drawn out far longer than really was necessary. It was clear that Jenna was struggling. There were obvious issues with her family and support network, and once we’d established the link between her stalker and someone she knows it was definitely far too transparent to keep us waiting for so long before things finally started to unravel.

Eventually things come to a head. We learn that there’s a lot of messed up people, and most of them don’t really seem to learn anything from this experience.
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my honest review.

 

‘The Heatwave’ – Katerina Diamond

I’ve loved the Imogen Grey series so far, so was keen to read this standalone by Diamond. It’s a tricky one to review, as there is a lot going on.

Our main character is someone with something to hide. She catches a news report of a girl going missing in Sidmouth, and though she lives in the Lake District she says she has to travel down to sort out things from her past that she thinks are connected to this disappearance. We know no more than that, but we definitely want answers.

Once she arrives in this picturesque town we get a real sense of something hidden, though not enough to help us piece things together with any certainty. I found it odd that people were so keen to spill details of this missing girl to someone they either didn’t know or only vaguely recollected.

While it offered us insight into the narrator, it felt weird to have the split narrative talking about her time in the town as a teenager. We learnt about her friendship with Felicity, the strange events surrounding her teacher and the mysterious Tim who was befriended by her parents though the reasons for this aren’t clear.

As the story progresses it’s apparent that the events of the past are the ones we should be concerned with. If we learn what happened, then the links to the present day will be clearer. When we eventually reach this point it did feel rather abrupt, which jarred a little. It offered some resolution but not quite as I’d hoped for.

The book itself is a read I’d recommend, and I’m grateful to the publishers for letting me read it in advance of publication, but I was hoping for something a little different.