‘A Heart So Fierce and Broken’ – Brigid Kemmerer

With rumours circulating about the rightful heir to Emberfall and his magic, there’s a palpable tension to the opening. Grey has gone, and nobody knows where he is, and Rhen is left with growing dissent among his people. Action is needed, but it’s hard to know what course of action is for the best.
Having spent so much time with Rhen and Harper it felt odd to have so little focus on them at first. We jump from their concern to our new character, Lia Mara (the daughter of Karis Luran who is not destined to be queen) and follow Grey in his attempts to hide. Intriguing stuff, but not really what we were expecting.
Before too long we start to see more of what’s going on. We are privy to some key information before other characters, but the real focus is the development of new alliances and certain characters coming to accept who they are and the role they will play in the future.
There’s no denying that some of the actions of key characters felt rather dictated by the plot. It was hard to reconcile certain actions with what we had already been told of them. That gripe aside, we learn a little more about some characters and the potential for where this might go has definitely got me curious. While we were left with a lot of positives I was rather taken aback by the reveal at the end regarding someone we thought would have little future influence. It doesn’t bode well for the future, but I am keen to see where this goes.

 

‘The Hand on the Wall’ – Maureen Johnson

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

What can I say? At the same time as Stevie believes she’s solved the crime of the century, there are three mysterious deaths at Ellingham…are they linked? We get answers, finally, and not all of them are what we might have desired but they most certainly tie things up well.

After her somewhat unexpected return to Ellingham, Stevie is doggedly determined to find out the truth. She, along with the other students, is clearly upset by the deaths of the students, but if Stevie can finally piece together the clues that are in front of her she will get her peace of mind.

Unfortunately, there’s still unexplained issues and the net seems to be drawing in around Stevie. When a storm is forecast Stevie and her small group of friends come up with a daring plan to remain in Ellingham. Their main aim is to support David in his attempts to bring down his father, but Stevie recognises her opportunity to finally resolve the case of Alice Ellingham.

The story involving Stevie and her friends sweeps along. Occasionally they do things that are, to say the least, dangerous but when even your friends call you Nancy Drew it isn’t completely unbelievable. The nods to Agatha Christie were fun to spot, but there was always a modern element that kept this feeling relevant.

What I really enjoyed about this was the snippets of the story from 1937. Learning the truth about what happened and how it links to the modern day was fascinating. It offered some interesting ideas about certain characters, and definitely made it fun to watch others trying to make the links we’d been alerted to.

 

‘Starsight’ – Brandon Sanderson

Having been so invested in Spensa’s life after book one it felt a little strange to plunge into a much broader scale for this instalment.

After a relatively swift update on what our team have been doing, we are disrupted by the events taking place on a much larger scale. We learn of the dangers facing Detritus and the determination Spensa has to learn more about why the Krell keep attacking them.

Events conspire to send Spensa and M-Bot on a risky mission…to infiltrate Starsight and learn about their technology, with the aim of eventually stealing the secret of hyper travel.

This was a more ambitious scale of world-building. We’re introduced to different groups and learn a little more of their past and their interactions. It’s necessary, and was well done, but it meant we lacked the pace of book one.

Without giving away details, we quickly learn that Spensa is a pawn in someone else’s game. She has to challenge her own prejudices and decide to what extent she will use the teachings of her grandmother.

There’s more flying. There’s a lot of information about the characters and the way their historical beliefs have shaped their current behaviour. There’s some intriguing developments regarding Doomslug and M-Bot, and a rather momentous end-scene that has me curious to see what comes next.

 

‘The Unadjusteds’ – Marisa Noelle

Now that’s what I call an exciting YA fantasy…full of action from start to finish, and with a great cast of characters.

In this world people are used to adjusting their appearance through the taking of nanites, an advanced technology that alters a person’s physical appearance and capabilities. Silver Melody’s parents invented the technology, but she has always been vehemently anti-nanite. Having watched close friends die, she is understandably nervous about the implications.

From the opening drama, which succinctly outlines Melody’s perspective, we’re plunged into a nightmare scenario. There are plans to force anyone ‘unadjusted’ to take nanites, so Melody and her father are forced to flee.

Unfortunately, there are people in power who are very keen to get their hands on Melody and her father.

What follows is a fraught battle. Melody is forced to develop skills she never knew she had, and rely on a very mixed group to help her.

While I enjoyed the ending, it left me with an awful lot of questions. I can’t help but wonder whether we haven’t heard the last of Melody Silver…

 

‘Chosen’ – Kiersten White

 

Back to the world of the Slayer, and since Nina got her powers returned nothing has felt quite right. She’s reluctant to tell anyone about it and also has to keep quiet about her sister Artemis’s actions.

For reasons that we do, eventually, learn we are kept rather in the dark here. There are all manner of odd events taking place, and Nina is feeling the strain. She fears the final prophecy, knows she has to keep people safe but doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes made by others.

There’s some tongue-in-cheek humorous moments, enough fear of the hell-mouth to satisfy the toughest reader and demons aplenty. We learn a little more about certain characters, and just when we think it’s going one way we have the proverbial rug pulled from under our feet.

It’s good to be back…

 

‘Scared little Rabbits’ – A.V. Gieger

Nora has yearned for her opportunity to get involved in the Winthrop Academy summer program. She has the opportunity to show her coding knowledge, but little does she know that this is going to be the kind of experience nobody could predict.

In spite of her lack of social presence, Nora finds herself caught up in new relationships. She develops a huge crush on a fellow student called Maddox and thinks the feeling might be mutual, but Maddox seems to have a complicated relationship with Eleanor Winthrop.

We immediately work out that something odd is happening, but characters throw us off-track with alarming regularity. There’s hints of problems between a number of characters and there are always going to be problems with keeping tabs on people who are skilled at finding their way round security protocol.

It’s hard to imagine someone so capable would find themselves caught up in such a mess. However, it’s not completely implausible. The resolution did throw things up in the air a little, though in light of the whole story you are given some clues.

‘A Curse so Dark and Lonely’ – Brigid Kemmerer

With the release of book two I decided it was high time I got round to this Beauty and the Beast retelling.

This time round our Beast is Prince Rhen, cursed to relive his eighteenth year time and time again. The only thing that will save him is to have someone fall in love with him. Unfortunately, over the three hundred plus seasons Rhen has tried this it has failed. When he turns into a monster Rhen has killed his family and is, slowly, destroying his people.

Our Beauty is Harper, a young girl from DC. We first meet her as she’s looking out for her brother, desperately hoping they can do what is needed to pay off their father’s debts and keep their mother safe. When Harper sees a man attack a young girl in the street she pursues him…and before we know it Harper is spirited away to Emberfall.

Not off to a good start the two characters are prickly towards each other from the start. Each has their own situation to try and resolve, and in our minds there’s a focus on the curse. However, their characters certainly play a huge part in the choices they make and how this impacts on them.

Rhen’s commander, Grey, is a great character from the start. Spirited but strangely loyal, he also develops a close friendship with Harper. At one point I wondered if this would be a cliched love triangle, but the role Grey plays is a much more interesting one.

Over the course of the book we see Harper and Rhen develop their relationship, but also develop as individual characters. We have the manipulative Lilith, the enchantress who has cursed Rhen, and political machinations as those around Rhen try to take advantage of the circumstances.

While the latter stages of the story are, in some ways, quite predictable I was struck by the developments around certain characters that suggest where this might go. I’m looking forward to reading book two soon.

 

‘One of Us is Next’ – Karen McManus

Much as I’d enjoyed One of Is is Lying I was a little unsure of the idea of a sequel. What else was there to tell us? When the book opened with an introduction to our new characters I started to think this was just going to be a derivative of its predecessor, and prepared to be less than keen. It’s testimony to McManus’s writing skill that what I feared would be a hurdle didn’t end up an issue at all.

The story opens by introducing our key characters: Maeve, her friend Knox and Phoebe. While we got to know a little more about our cast this time round, I liked the fact that McManus also filled us in on what had happened to the original Bayview Four and shown us some of the effects of Simon’s scheme.

Very early on we get told of a new game…Truth or Dare. For a school so rocked by the events described in book one I was surprised at how easily this caught the imagination. Our first date is a seemingly innocuous prank involving adding something extra to the roof decoration of a local diner. Relatively good-humoured, not seeming to hurt anyone and offering a chance for people to gossip. When our next ‘victim’, Phoebe, refuses to play it’s like Simon has returned…scurrilous gossip starts to do the rounds and people desperate to keep their secrets take on the dare. The dares become increasingly humiliating and, all too soon, we’re left with a dead student.

The game served as a handy backdrop to show a little more of the social background of Bayview. It was the mystery of who was behind it and their motives for starting things in the first place that formed the real focus…and this is where Maeve came into her own.

While the scenario itself might, ultimately, be more than implausible I was keen to read on and find out the truth of what was going on. Unearthing the secrets and establishing the links between odd snippets of information was definitely the high point of the novel for me. It quickly built up to a suspenseful sequence of events with a rather explosive conclusion, and I was left with the feeling that we haven’t heard the last of some of these characters.

 

‘The Familiar Dark’ – Amy Engel

 

Eve is no stranger to a tough life. Brought up by a mother renowned for her hard words and tough love, Eve has tried hard to move on. However, sometimes – as Eve points out – you need to pick your poison and when misfortune strikes Eve has to decide whether to let her mum back in.

When she fell pregnant at school Eve was determined to do a better job for her child. She couldn’t give Junie a room of her own, but she had love and the knowledge that her mum was on her side. Was it enough?

Quite early on in the story Eve is horrified to learn that her twelve year old daughter, along with her best friend Izzy, has been murdered.

Nobody seems to have any idea who was responsible. But it’s apparent that it’s someone known to those in the area. Eve can not wait for the law to take its course so she does her own digging. She tries every contact, past and present, and along the way uncovers a lot of unpleasant secrets.

A brief story that packs a lot in. There were some wholly unexpected revelations, and I may not like what Eve did but it’s completely understandable.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me access to read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘Are You Watching?’ – Vincent Ralph

A fast-paced thriller for the social media age. Like Nerve, it has its flaws but it hooks you in, draws you in, twists and turns until spitting you out at the end.

Jess has lived for years defined by the events that happened when she was seven. Her mother was brutally murdered in an alleyway less than a minute from her home. She was the first victim of the killer who has been dubbed The Magpie Man. A solitary magpie has always been seen as bad luck, but this moniker stemmed from her father’s attempts to protect his daughter and make sense of something brutal – he told Jess his mum was taken because she was beautiful and magpies like to collect shiny things.

Now, Jess is determined to step out from the shadows. She wants to find the killer…he has thirteen victims to his name so far, and Jess believes it’s only a matter of months until he tries to find another victim.

So Jess signs up to take part in a reality TV show streamed on You Tube. Each person chosen is filmed one day a week for a month. Whoever gets the highest views will then be watched for a further three months. Jess is determined to take her chance to catch her mother’s killer.

What follows is highly improbable. Jess does some very stupid things. People who should know better allow stupid things to happen. But it all adds up to a jumpy tension-filled story. Highly enjoyable.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my review.