‘I Killed Zoe Spanos’ – Kit Frick

From the moment I saw this cover I couldn’t wait to read I Killed Zoe Spanos. With the focus being on a young woman who has confessed to a murder, and another who is determined to uncover the truth it promised lots.

When we first meet Anna Cicconi she is not in the best of places. We get told about excessive drinking, potentially dangerous hook-ups and blacking out with no recollection of events. As part of her attempts to get her life back on track she takes a summer job for a wealthy family in the Hamptons, acting as an au pair. Upon arrival she is somewhat taken aback by people commenting on her similarity in appearance to local girl, Zoe Spanos. This isn’t too strange, until we learn Zoe has been missing for months and nobody knows what has happened to her.

As the summer progresses, Anna meets a number of characters linked to Zoe, and she starts to have recollections that – by rights – she shouldn’t be having. She knows things about Zoe and her life that suggest she knew her. It becomes a case not of is Anna hiding something, but a case of will Anna work out what on earth is going on?

The timescale of this book lends to the air of confusion perfectly. As we learn more of the events of the summer, we also learn that Anna is being held having confessed to the murder of Zoe. Some think it’s an open and shut case, while others are convinced Anna might be innocent. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t tell where the author was going with this as there were a number of very plausible interpretations, any of which would have worked.

Definitely one to recommend for fans of Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series.

 

‘The Extraordinaries’ – T.J. Klune

The Extraordinaries has a rather unusual take on the super-hero story and I wasn’t totally sure whether we were meant to see this as genuine fantasy, fan-fiction comedy, or some weird hybrid. Elements of this were very funny, the hints of what’s to come in the bigger picture are definitely interesting but there’s a few elements that I feel will make this problematic.
Our main character is Nick Bell, son of a local cop. Nick has ADHD and is struggling since the killing of his mother. He has a close group of friends that he claims are the school outcasts, though their bond is close enough they don’t seem to take much notice of this. His ex, Owen, still hangs around and pushes his buttons – but seems very keen to see how Nick’s best friend Seth reacts. Nick keeps himself occupied by writing fan fiction about his crush on the superhero Shadow Star.
From the outset we see how important the superhero is to Nick. He ends up rescued by him, but then there’s the small matter of Power Storm, his nemesis. We don’t know quite what’s going on (although it doesn’t take long to figure some parts out) but the rapidly escalating violence between these two starts to cause problems.
The focus on Nick means we are, naturally, kept a little in the dark about some aspects of the world-building and events taking place. As Nick learns, so do we. Watching him bounce round causing chaos was funny, but not particularly helpful at times. However, once we get further details of the role certain characters play it certainly offered more interest- don’t want to give anything away, but the revelations about Nick’s mum right at the end certainly imply there’s more to this than we’ve got here.
Unfortunately, the humour and general lighthearted focus was marred by some of the details given and the characters’ reactions. As the son of a cop, Nick gets away with a lot. In light of current affairs and concern about police behaviour, to have him joking about such affairs seems in bad taste. We find out his dad was demoted after punching someone involved in a case. Few details are given, but it adds nothing to this story and seemed a poor decision to feature when so much is being talked about with regard to the behaviour of those in charge of maintaining law and order. I’ve seen a couple of reviews where this feature was picked up on and vociferously decried, so it’ll be interesting to see whether attention is paid to these advance reviews and whether any changes are made prior to publication.
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts.

 

‘Come When I Call You’ – Shayna Krishnasamy

Having just finished this I’m still not entirely sure I fully grasped every detail, but the overall impact was powerful. It’s the kind of story that happened in a blur, never really giving me the chance to pause and check details. We don’t have every little detail explained, and the end suggested certain events but I know I would struggle to tell someone with certainty what actually takes place.

The story opens with good girl Anna being asked to look after her younger cousin. There’s suggestions of something very odd going on but we never find out exactly what took place that night.

The action then shifts to a remote boarding school. We see Anna in her current setting. She has her good friend, Penelope, and crush, Ben, but things between the group are tense – not helped by the death of one of their classmates.

On the same day as this event, Anna’s mysterious cousin Lucia appears. She has run away from home and Anna promises to keep her safe.

Up to this point things were pretty easy to follow. Then we have a storm, the group set up a seance and I’ll admit to not knowing with certainty exactly what happened. Everything was described in detail, but no explanation was given so it felt like we were somewhat in the dark. There appeared to be a haunting, deaths and very odd events. The ending also hinted strongly that everything with Anna was not quite as it first appeared.

If you like your stories clear-cut, you’ll probably hate this. If you’re happy to be left somewhat in the dark you won’t be disappointed.

‘Good Girl, Bad Blood’ – Holly Jackson

Though I’d enjoyed book one a lot, it had a rather earnest quality to it that felt (on occasion) jarring. This one took a decidedly darker shift and it really had me hooked from the beginning.

I loved the fact that Pip summarised some of the events of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder right at the start because it gave me the requisite reminder without me having to reread the book. We can see from the outset the havoc that her investigations have wreaked on Pip, and how determined she is not to get caught up in something like this again.

You have to admire the reluctant hero figure who, against their better judgement, does what they know is the right thing. Having fought against her instincts, when Pip learns that her best friend’s brother has gone missing she tries to advise the family to go through the appropriate channels. Unfortunately, because Jamie is twenty-four the police don’t feel investigating his disappearance is a priority. As a result, Pip finds herself taking up the hunt.

What follows certainly boosts the ratings for series two of her podcast, but it leads Pip into dangerous territory.

We can see people aren’t always truthful. Sometimes adults get things wrong and, more often than not, the truth can be elusive.

Pip and Ravi’s dedication is commendable. As we move closer to learning what happened to Jamie we realise that Pip has got herself mixed up in a much bigger story. It wasn’t at all what I expected, and once all the pieces came together it was obvious just how well-planned this had been.

‘Love on the Main Stage’ – S.A. Domingo

Five music festivals . . . One unforgettable summer! A new clean teen romance from the author of Love, Secret Santa.

First things first, the main character in this would have to get an award for missing what is blindingly obvious to everyone reading (though seemingly no one else, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh). That gripe aside, this was a sweet wish-fulfilment romance with a summer of festivals, wonderful sounding food, great family and friends…

Entertaining read, which will definitely put a smile on your face and have you chuckling at the antics of best friend Gemma.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this prior to publication. A great summer pick-me-up that will go down a treat (the only thing that I’d love to see is recipes of some of those dishes!)

‘Five Total Strangers’ – Natalie D. Richards

 

A solid scare that ratchets up the tension, has some terrific jump moments but doesn’t go all-out with gore.

Our main character in this YA thriller is Mira, a girl travelling home for the Christmas holidays. Bad weather causes problems, and Mira needs to get home to be with her mother as it’s a year since a close relative died of cancer. So, even though the safest thing would be to wait it out, we have a plausible reason to explain what comes next.

Mira makes a plan to get a lift with Harper, the young woman she sat next to on the plane, and her friends. The journey begins smoothly enough, but the weather quickly becomes more threatening and as the journey progresses Mira realises that every single one in the car is a stranger to the others. Objects start going missing and before we know it every one of those in the car – and even some of those they encounter along the way – is a potential threat.

As we follow the journey we see the increase in tension. Fascinating to watch how they turn on each other as they gradually realise that someone is lying.

Interspersed with the narrative are excerpts from another voice – someone who has been watching Mira and who is determined that she’ll notice them. Naturally, this means we know Mira has good reason to feel uneasy, and we get caught up in the game of trying to work out just who is responsible before they get too close.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts. It might not stick with you, but in the moments you’re reading it’ll definitely get under your skin. Scheduled for release in October 2020, it’s a perfect read for those darker nights.

‘Harrow Lake’ – Kat Ellis

Lola Nox has always found it difficult to live her own life. Daughter of celebrated film director Nolan Nox, she has got used to someone watching her every move and not getting completely free choice over her actions. She knows there are secrets in her family, but when we first meet her it’s evident that Lola has secrets of her own.

The opening was not immediately engaging. Lola appeared to have had some kind of falling out with her father, her behaviour indicates daddy issues and she really was not very likeable. However, when she is taken home and finds her father bleeding in his study we can’t help but feel some sympathy for her.
Suddenly Lola is sent to Harrow Lake, her mother’s hometown and the setting for her father’s seminal movie. It’s a weird place, and the strange behaviour of certain characters does little to make Lola comfortable.

Before we know it there’s a creepy movie festival taking place, weird goings on and Lola is having all manner of odd occurrences. She knows that someone in the town may hold the key to what happened to her mother, but few are willing to divulge their secrets.

During the story, as Lola becomes more and more akin to one of the characters in one of her father’s slasher movies, we begin to piece together fragments of the stories being told. We learn about the darkness of Harrow Lake, the secrets Lola has and the events that have led her to this moment.

There’s a dark undercurrent to this, and though elements were undeveloped it was – on the whole – a creepy tale that will entrance horror fans.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication, scheduled for August 2020.

 

‘The Great Godden’ – Meg Rosoff

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication, and I’m curious to see what people make of this.

The Great Godden is a story about a turning point in someone’s life, where they foresee something will happen but feel powerless to resist it even though it will cause discomfort.

What stood out to me after finishing this was the ambiguity of the book. I read this as if the narrator was female, but I don’t think we’re ever actually explicitly told this. It doesn’t make any difference as the book really focuses on the reactions to events. What we do know, though, is the narrator comes from one of those families that seems to be bursting with life, setting up experiences but perhaps overlooking the damage caused by their lifestyle.

Our time span is a summer, a summer where everything shifts. Every year the family have gone to their beach home and effectively lived wild. There’s a fondness and whimsical quality to the writing. We focus on this specific year as this is the year that their cast is joined by Kit and Hugo, the Godden brothers.

Our first sighting of Kit reveals the depths of adoration he seems to inspire in others. He toys with those around him, and our narrator is warned about him by Hugo but to no avail. We watch as one by one those present fall under Kit’s spell, unaware of the chaos he will wreak.

While I loved the idea and style of writing there was a detached quality to this that made it hard to really engage with the story or characters.

 

‘Hideous Beauty’ – William Hussey

Even though one of the characters dies early on, this is a love story through and through. It’s the love story of Dylan and Ellis, but it’s also about the love between friends and the love we need to have for ourselves to really live.

The book opens with Ellis and Dylan making a big coming-out statement at their school dance. There’s a very positive vibe – until we learn this situation has been somewhat forced on them after someone anonymously posted a clip of them being intimate online. It seems they’ll overcome this – but as they leave the dance Ellis seems to be acting oddly. Something has upset him. He is distracted. Then, before we know it, they have crashed and plunge into a local lake. Ellis drowns, and Dylan is convinced someone rescued him but nobody seemed to be around when paramedics arrived at the scene.

Dealing with such grief would be awful at any age, but the doctor who treats Ellis makes a comment that shows even though things may still not be quite as accepting as they could be it’s still a huge improvement on the past. Perhaps not unexpectedly, Dylan struggles with his feelings after this – convinced someone left Ellis to die, so he determines to investigate and try to find out why.

Though there is an element of mystery to this, the fact we don’t really know what happened in the aftermath of the crash means we’re never sure what the mystery is to solve. Strange drawings turn up in Dylan’s mail and they seem to offer clues as to who might have played a part in Ellis’s abrupt change of behaviour.

As we watch Dylan piece together what happened I was very glad he had his best friend, Mike, looking out for him. An odd dynamic but, when it counted, they totally had each other’s back.

The last part of the book, where Dylan finally confronts the hideous truth about what happened to Ellis did come slightly out of nowhere. That’s not to say it didn’t ring true, but it was hard to reconcile the image we’d been given up to this point with the truth.

I liked the fact that Dylan was, eventually, able to start looking as if he would look back on his time with Ellis fondly. At times uncomfortable reading, but there was also a lot of positivity that I found quite uplifting.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

 

‘The Fascinators’ – Andrew Eliopulos

The Fascinators was one of those reads that I’m not quite sure what to make of.

The prologue opens by getting us to see young Liv picked up by a group that we know nothing about and hints at something awful happening before completely switching focus. The story then shifts to a trio made up of Sam, James and Delia. They practise magic and are definitely something of an oddity in their hometown. We don’t know where their magic comes from or why it’s such a big deal to them, and this lack of detail was part of the issue with the book for me.

These characters live in a world where magic is fundamental to the story unfolding for us, yet we are never shown how we come to this position. With the arrival of new guy Denver we can see there’s a shift in the dynamics but it’s unclear just why this comes about.

A key factor in this story is the focus on Sam coming to terms with his feelings for James and how this impacts on their group dynamic. There’s clearly been tension for some time before we encounter the group but we don’t really get to understand this until a lot later on, by which time we’ve probably decided our views on them all and what we want to happen.

In terms of plot, it’s actually quite straightforward – but without really getting a full picture of the world/attitudes to magic it was quite hard to really understand the significance of details until quite late on. Sam was infuriating at times, but the end result was actually quite positive and suggested that his relationship with James could have been held up to closer scrutiny.