‘And the Stars Were Burning Brightly’ – Danielle Jawando

 

Beautiful.

Set against a backdrop that many find less than pleasant, this story covers so many emotional highs and lows…and forces us to confront some pretty unpalatable truths about people.

Our main focus is Nathan, the younger brother of Al. Al was a straight A-grade student who killed himself. Nathan found him. Nathan is also having to come to terms with the guilt he feels over ignoring a call from his brother on the night he hung himself.

Alongside Nathan we have Megan, a friend of Al that few people knew about. They shared an Art class. They were close, but Megan didn’t feel able to go against her ‘cool’ friends and show Al that their friendship was important to her.

There’s no doubt this story just as I’ve recounted it would have made for a tough read. However, as Megan and Nathan become friends and start to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding Al’s last moments things move up a gear.

This book made me sad, so sad. It made me angry, unbelievably angry. But it also filled me with hope.

Thank you so much to Danielle Jawando for using her own personal situation to bring to life such a compelling read, and to NetGalley for letting me read it prior to publication (expected in March 2020).

 

‘Follow Me, Like Me’ – Charlotte Seager

 

A timely reminder that what we do online has consequences in the real world, and a rather terrifying warning to watch what you post and who you ‘friend’ as an online profile might not tell you the full story.

Our story focuses on two perspectives. First, there’s popular teen, Chloe, who accepts a message from someone online and then finds herself with a ‘friend’ she’s never met whose behaviour causes a lot of discomfort. Second, there’s social misfit Amber who yearns for popularity and whose obsession with a personal trainer at her gym soon gets her into a situation that she wasn’t expecting.

The story is quite straightforward, and both girls are involved (to some degree) with the same character.

If I’m being honest, I felt the attitude of the friends, school and police were not wholly accurately presented. Given the concerns about this topic, the attitudes felt a little behind the times.

The story itself was quite obvious, but it did offer some opportunity to get under the skin of some characters you may or may not empathise with.

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

‘The Queen of Nothing’ – Holly Black

Jude is, rightly so based on previous experience, uncertain where she stands with Cardan. Exiled, she can only dream of what might have been.

This time round we see Jude forced into a situation over which she has very little control. She feels indebted to her twin, and finds herself taking a huge risk to try and help.

Inevitably, nothing is quite what you’re led to believe and we quickly see Jude caught up in the political machinations facing the land of Faerie.

Once I’d started reading this I found time slipped by remarkably quickly. There was plenty of action, and I couldn’t wait to see how things would resolve themselves.

Not everything goes smoothly (as you’d expect), but this is definitely a good way to round things off. Of course, a little more of some elements would have been nice – what is it about bloodthirsty hags that is so appealing? – but I’m pretty happy with how things turned out.

 

‘Capturing the Devil’ – Kerri Manascalco

A deadly game of cat-and-mouse has Audrey and Thomas fighting to stay one step ahead of the brilliant serial killer—or see their fateful romance cut short by unspeakable tragedy.

After something of a sidestep, Audrey and Thomas are back in more familiar territory for the finale. We have journeyed with them to New York, and the signs are clear that someone on the ship with them has been killing. For what purpose, we don’t know, but the killings bear the marks of someone close to them.

From our earlier encounters, we know that Nathaniel – Audrey’s brother – who is thought to be the Ripper is dead. They haven’t shared this news with anyone else, but as soon as certain similarities appear it seems that perhaps Nathaniel wasn’t working alone.

While this shadow looms over them, the young couple are forging their own way. They are determined to marry and Audrey’s father journeys to meet them. Everything is going well – so much so that Audrey finds herself in a potentially life-shattering scenario. Unfortunately, Thomas’s father seems to have his own ideas of what kind of match is appropriate for his son.

Difficult decisions, and we get a clear sense of the social conventions playing on these characters. Determined to be true to themselves, the couple head to Chicago, in order to try and solve the mystery of the killer who has come to be known as the White Devil. 

There are some great characters who appear that I wish we’d met sooner. Their appearance fleshes things out a little. I was quite surprised at the obvious flouting of conventions that we see, but it fits with what has already happened.

The most recent escapade leads to some truly awful scenarios, and there are some heart-in-mouth moments where you’re never quite sure we’re not going to be horribly disappointed. We see more focus on the social dynamics, and I think this was a fitting end to the series.

 

‘The Toll’ – Neal Shusterman

It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver.
In this pulse-pounding conclusion to New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.

That certainly doesn’t tell you much, and having invested so much in the series you can’t help but be determined to find out how it resolves itself. Taken as a whole series, I can’t help but recommend this. Our final chapter slots certain scenarios into place and it fits together perfectly.

I don’t want to give spoilers, but we are set three years after the sinking of Endura. Certain characters have engineered themselves into new situations, while others are taking their time to find people. Everyone is desperate to know what the ultimate plan is, but the Thunderhead will talk only to the Toll, Grayson. A new world, a dead spot, has been created and Goddard goes to new lengths to try and control those around him. Eventually we see the chances for a new beginning, and are left with a very positive image that harks back to earlier times.

While I can see just how good the series is as a whole, I didn’t enjoy the experience of reading this as much as I’d hoped. I always felt a step behind as it wasn’t clear who was doing what, and for what reason. At times it felt longer than it needed to be, but the final section certainly pulled it together.

 

‘The Night Country’ – Melissa Albert

Plunged back into the world of The Hazel Wood, it was a real experience to follow Alice once she’s been saved from her story.

The characters who’ve escaped from the Hinterland are all marked in some way, and they can see when they look at each other some of these marks. It could, theoretically, be possible for these ex-stories to live on earth peacefully. Unfortunately, someone has other ideas.

In the opening chapter Alice talks about their changed circumstances when she refers to them being prey rather than predators. Their vulnerability is evident, and when ex-Hinterlanders start appearing with body parts missing it is evident that someone is trying to recreate their own story.

Alongside this focus on Alice and just who/what she is, we also get to see Finch travelling through worlds to try and salvage his own story.

The stories are interleaved and I was left guessing exactly how they’d link until quite late on. My sympathy for Alice definitely grew as the book progressed and I loved the ending.

Though I’ve pre-ordered my copy – and can’t wait to read it again – I’m grateful to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

 

‘Tower of Dawn’ – Sarah J. Maas

There’s no excuse for having taken so long to get round to reading this, and now I’ve finished it I can say it seems a fitting interlude.

Chaol may not be a character many feel much investment in, but in this we can see a most intriguing man. For so much of the series he’s been there, in the thick of things, but we never really see beneath the surface. Tower of Dawn allows Maas to really show us the man.

We follow Chaol and Nesryn as they journey to try and garner support for Aelin. We hear rumours of what is happening elsewhere (which I’m hoping will be the focus of Kingdom of Ashes), and there’s a clear sense of a people teetering on the edge of destruction.

Much of the story centres on Chaol and the attempts by the healer Yren to cure his paralysis. A number of stories merge here, and nothing happens smoothly.
Learning a little more of the Valg and just what horrors might be to come didn’t make for a book full of excitement. It wasn’t dull, but it felt like a necessary story to develop our understanding and shape things in anticipation of what is to come. The inevitable romances kept things entertaining, and it certainly got me back in the mood for tackling the last instalment.

 

‘The Name of the Star’ – Maureen Johnson

 

The Name of the Star is a light-hearted historical-based story. We focus on American teen Rory who moves from the US to study in the UK.

Her arrival coincides with a series of gruesome murders inspired by Jack the Ripper. Bodies are turning up on the sites of the Ripper murders, with similar names to the Ripper victims and they’re killed in the same way. Fear spreads through the town where Rory has come to study.

Initially I thought this would be a straightforward thriller,but then we learn of something unusual.

Rory appears to have seen someone that nobody else could. She is then followed by a team of extra-special police that few know about. They see ghosts – and their paranormal ability will be important in solving this mystery.

While the Ripper murders form the backdrop to the story, the real focus is the ability that Rory and the team share. Fraught with danger, and there’s real. Risk to the characters, but I loved the way the ending hints at what’s to come in book two.

 

‘Foul is Fair’ – Hannah Capin

With its focus on murder and a quest for power, Macbeth is an easy story to tap into. The determination to have sway over others, and the corrupting influence it has on you, is a feeling so many can understand – even if they wouldn’t act on it. While the supernatural element of the witches is a harder thing to transpose to the modern day, the influence these characters have is something we can fear.
With Capin’s ‘Foul is Fair’ we are brought straight into the modern era and given some very topical scenarios to wrestle with.

Our main character, Elle, starts the book heading out with her close group of friends to a party held by a student at a local school. The night of the party sets in motion a rapidly darkening series of events, that we just know is going to end badly. On the night of the party Elle is drugged and assaulted by a group of students. Their leader, Duncan, is the main person she blames but each and every one involved in the attack does – in Elle’s eyes – deserve to pay for their actions.

Intent on revenge, Elle enlists her friends (the coven) to research this group and find a way in. She enrols in St Andrews ( her parents’ willingness to transfer her to the school attended by the attackers is one of the main issues with this) and begins her campaign to bring down those responsible for her attack.

Elle picks out Mack, the boy who knew enough but wasn’t involved, to be the one to help her gain what she wants. She seems to fall for him, but it was clear he didn’t stand a chance. Elle wants payback, and the way she goes about it is ruthless and – maybe – just a little bit admirable.

This is graphic. Capin spares nothing and we see the demise of the group members in full glorious technicolour. While I didn’t like this, I definitely felt I was encouraged to sympathise with Elle and look beyond the callousness of her vendetta.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication, and I can’t wait to see how students who are studying Macbeth react to this once it’s out.

‘Dread Nation’ – Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene is a gutsy young woman, and thank goodness because she ends up in all manner of awful situations and her special set of skills and bullish nature come in very useful.

When we first meet Jane she is training, learning how to be an Attendant keeping white people safe from the threat known as the shamblers. We’re in a world like no other – an historical setting but overrun with zombies. She has a love/ hate relationship with fellow student Katherine (whom she delights in calling Kate because it annoys her) and there is something she is keeping secret about her friendship with Jack.

Unfortunately, many no longer believe the shamblers are a real threat now. When this is shown to be foolish, some are determined not to give up their privileged position. The Mayor and one of the school assistants engineer a situation where Jane and Kate are sent away.

Told they are going to help patrol and keep the new town safe, the girls have to use their wits to stay alive. They are – quite rightly – suspicious of what is going on. As more and more secrets are uncovered, Jane has to come up with increasingly risky plans to ensure their survival.

The setting for this world is a strange mix of historical and modern. Jane is a great main character and there are some really interesting details given about her mother to suggest that what comes next will be good.