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‘The Grace Year’ – Kim Liggett

‘The things we do to girls. Whether we put them on pedestals only to tear them down, or use them for parts and holes, we’re all complicit in this. But everything touches everything else, and I have to believe that some good will come out of all this destruction. The men will never end the grace year. But maybe we can.’

At its heart, the above excerpt sums up the message of this book for me.

A brutal story, chilling in its execution, but utterly compelling. A must-read, and I’m so thankful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to its expected September publication.

From an early age girls in this dystopian world know that they are feared. It’s a commonly-held belief that they have the power to turn men mad with desire and to manipulate other women, driving them mad with jealousy. As a result, upon reaching sixteen the girls are forced to live apart from their community for a year in an attempt to rid themselves of their powerful magic, and prepare them to return and take up their places in the community.

We follow Tierney and her fellows Graces as they make their journey to the encampment. It’s a journey fraught with danger, but sometimes the greatest danger comes from within.

Watching the girls settle into their lives there was a sense of optimism. Under Tierney’s guidance, people started to make plans for the future and to prepare for the changing seasons. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with this scenario and things start to go badly wrong.

The harrowing account of the girls’ camp experience was akin to Lord of the Flies. Nothing more brutal than a girl scorned, and the desire the girls show to punish one another was discomforting. This is not a read you want to ignore, but there are so many moments I wanted to weep at the senseless cruelty that pervaded every action.

In spite of the horrors that seem to be at every turning, there are glimpses of hope. Watching Tierney slowly realise just what some of her past encounters truly signified, and fighting for her deep belief in what was right was stirring. Seeing her reassess everything she thought she knew about the poachers and her home world, gave a brief glimpse of what might be…if people were brave enough. Though some of our expectations were cruelly cut down, the turns taken in this story offer hope where it’s most needed.

‘Beauty Sleep’ – Kathryn Evans

Laura and her brother are suffering with a particularly rare form of cancer, and they are given the opportunity to trial an experimental treatment. Her last memory is of sticking a picture of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson into a scrapbook. When she next wakes, having been successfully ‘frozen’ until her cancer can be treated, it’s forty years in the future.

The initial focus on Laura waking up was done really well. Her confusion about interacting with the world around her was fascinating to read. As she learns about how the world has moved on since the 1980s it highlights just what rapid changes there have been, taking them to a quite logical future position that – if I’m being honest – is quite scary.

We spend a lot of time with Laura in the clinic where she was treated. The clinic’s founder, Miss Lily, has built her wealth on the back of a society obsessed with appearance, and there are hints that there may be more to this from early on.

Laura becomes something of a phenomenon – this real-life Sleeping Beauty – but the focus is on her settling into life at school as she begins to make contact with her best friend (now middle aged) and try to determine who is telling her the truth about the events that led to her being in this position.

As Laura pushed for answers I couldn’t help but feel some of her behaviours became unlikely. I found it hard to believe that people in possession of the kind of technology they had would not have realised sooner what was going on. And the actual revelation of what had been happening and the role Laura played in it didn’t quite feel as seamless as it might have.

A bold story which raises some very interesting questions about our contemporary attitudes to so many things. I can’t wait to see what some of those of the age intended for readership make of it.

‘The Devouring Gray’ – Christine Lynn Herman

On the edge of town a beast haunts the woods, trapped in the Gray, its bonds loosening…

An unusual read that started off slowly, and built its way up to an explosive finish.

Uprooted from the city, Violet Saunders doesn’t have much hope of fitting in at her new school in Four Paths, a town almost buried in the woodlands of rural New York. The fact that she’s descended from one of the town’s founders doesn’t help much, either—her new neighbours treat her with distant respect, and something very like fear. When she meets Justin, May, Isaac, and Harper, all children of founder families, and sees the otherworldly destruction they can wreak, she starts to wonder if the townsfolk are right to be afraid.

When bodies start to appear in the woods, the locals become downright hostile. Can the teenagers solve the mystery of Four Paths, and their own part in it, before another calamity strikes?

A town centred around the four founding families. They each have a power, but their secrets are kept close as they try to protect their town from the beast imprisoned in the space know as the Gray. Our story focuses on the younger generation of the founding families as they battle to try to right the wrongs of the past and protect their future.

For a long time only three families have remained. When Violet and her mother return after the death of her sister, we start to learn a little more of the secrets each family holds, and how the elements combine to be of significance.

Without doubt, my favourite character was Isaac. His significance isn’t really picked up until later, but he was a fascinating character and the ending heavily hints that he’ll be pretty important to book two. I defy anyone to not get goosebumps at the closing scene!

The story itself didn’t offer much new, but it did it well. I’m particularly keen to know more about the background to the events described here, so we’ll see what happens next time.

‘Finale’ – Stephanie Garbar

 

Well, as I close Finale for the last time it is true…the games are over. What a ride!

In this third of the series the decision was made to focus on the point of view of both Scarlett and Tella. This made the story a little disjointed on occasion, but it really was necessary to help us understand the actions of each of the characters.
There’s some events/scenarios in here that felt odd as I was reading, and yet once I’d completed the story they made sense.

Without giving actual events away, in Finale we focus on the feelings Tella has for Legend and Jacks; the relationship between Scarlett and Julian, and his role in managing certain other characters; the growing power of the Fates and the relationships certain characters have/had which set in place earlier events.

While the ending has a bittersweet sensation (I really didn’t want it to end), I can’t help but feel it was inevitable and am now wondering whether a reread of the series would hint at some of these resolutions.

Caraval itself may be over, but I have a feeling the games will continue.

‘A Question of Holmes’ – Brittany Cavallaro

A bittersweet feeling reaching the end of this series as the Holmes and Watson partnership moves in a new direction.

Having graduated they end up going to Oxford for a study programme. Holmes, as only she could, is roped into an investigation concerning an amateur dramatic group and the mysterious disappearance of one of their members. All too soon, they’re caught up in another mystery.

There was a definite sense of battle-hardened warriors to Holmes and Watson here. It’s no surprise with what they’d gone through over the last three novels, but it felt hard to read at times.

Without giving any of the story away, this was an intriguing read but it was the Holmes/Watson partnership that I really enjoyed. It didn’t pan out exactly as I thought, but it was certainly moving in the right direction.

‘The Dangerous Kind’ – Deborah O’Connor

A clever thriller that quickly drew me in.

Jessie is a presenter for BBC radio, her show focusing on those who’ve been convicted of a crime and looking at what could have been done to prevent their actions. As an ex-journalist she is obsessed with rooting out details and finding out the true story. When she is accosted by a woman on the street desperate for help working out what happened to her missing friend, Cassie, a thrilling sequence of events is set in place.

We shift from Jessie in the present to Rowena, a young girl in care, in 2002. Rowena is groomed and quickly ends up over her head in sex parties set up by paedophiles who are often meant to be part of the groups preventing such criminality.

Alongside this we watch Jessie struggle with the day-to-day problems of living with a teenage daughter who may or may not be having a relationship with an older man.

In spite of the subject matter I loved this story. It was told well, without unnecessary sensationalism but also encouraged us all to take a look at what extent we are all complicit in such events if we harbour suspicions but do nothing.

My only reason for not awarding the five stars I felt this deserved was that I did put two and two together and (for a change) made the links with the main story. However, it still surprised me with the subplot involving Jessie and her daughter and I can see this being a thriller that many will love. Thanks to the publishers via NetGalley for granting me access in exchange for my honest review.

‘All We Could Have Been’ – T.E. Carter

Lexie is used to running. Each year she starts a new school, under a new name, in an attempt to get away from the inevitable bullying when people find out about the awful thing her brother did.

We learn that when Lexie was twelve her brother forgot to pick her up from school. She walked home. She recalls blood, lots of it. And since that time her brother has not been part of her life – although his actions, and the consequences of those actions, permeate every part of her being.

So often in a tragic event, the focus is on those who were lost or the perpetrators. People are suspicious of the family members – how could they not know?

We watch Lexie try to deal in her own way with yet another new beginning. She starts to form tentative friendships and, eventually, makes the decision to tell people the truth. Sadly, not everyone reacts as she’d hoped.

This tried to explore how important it is to feel comfortable with your decisions, but it didn’t quite work for me. The group Lexie allied herself with didn’t seem like young adults (perhaps their petty immaturity was intentional), Lexie herself never really felt like a fully-developed character (again, she’s a work in progress so perhaps this was intentional) and it seemed to send a rather odd message that she only felt strong enough to start addressing some of her issues once she’d had sex.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me access to this in exchange for my thoughts. Based on other reviews I’ve read, this wasn’t really the book for me but I’m looking forward to reading his first one.

‘Girls With Sharp Sticks’ – Suzanne Young

From the moment I saw this cover I couldn’t wait to read the book.

Set in The Innovations Academy, we meet a group of privately educated young girls who are being given the best education their families can provide. They are encouraged to be their best, but from the start there are signs that this might not be the best thing for the girls.

Our main focus is Mena, a model student, who shows signs of discomfort with her surroundings. She begins to question what’s happening, and starts to see signs that things are not quite what the girls have been led to believe.

The first half of part one – where we start to read the clues given about what might be happening – felt slow and I wasn’t enjoying it. However, once we started to see Mena probe further, I was gripped.

The reality of this world was, sadly, testimony to what are regarded as common attitudes surrounding gender even now. Thankfully the events of the novel showed these views being challenged, and even gave hope that they might – in time – change. Though this works well as a stand-alone, I think book two might answer some of the questions posed by events of this part of the story.

‘The Boy Next Story’ – Tiffany Schmidt

In this second book in the series there’s a sense of familiarity to some of the components, but the changing book focus and new characters stops it seeming repetitive.

In this story we focus on aspiring artist Aurora who’s had a crush on her next door neighbour Toby since she was five. Unfortunately, he seems to be in love with Aurora’s sister even though she’s unaware of it.

This could have been irritating beyond belief, and there were moments that I wanted to smack heads together because people were being so dense, but the warmth of Aurora and her friends Clara and Huck kept it entertaining. When the focus was on The Great Gatsby I was uncertain if this was the book for me – but after a false start a new book becomes the focus and this is much more pertinent.

This was no easy ride love story, but everything turned out nicely and kept me entertained along the way. A great bookish journey, and I must thank NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.

‘The Kingdom’ – Jess Rothenberg

Welcome to the Kingdom, a dazzling fantasy theme park where ‘happily ever after’ is not just a promise, but a rule . . .

The Kingdom is a place where technology helps dreams come to life. Formerly extinct species roam the park, and seven beautiful ‘Fantasists’ – half-human, half-android princesses – entertain visitors and make wishes come true. But this fairytale ends in murder, and now Ana, one of the seven Fantasists, is in the dock after finding herself experiencing emotions and romantic feelings against all her programming . . .

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this. Having completed it, I can say it was definitely one that got my attention and I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me access to this prior to publication. Ultimately, there were elements of the backstory and the world-building that didn’t quite answer all my questions.

Ana is a Fantasist. Essentially a machine, she is programmed to bring happiness to those she interacts with. She lives, along with her sisters, in the Disney-style theme park known as The Kingdom and she is programmed to behave within a strict set of parameters. Her focus is to provide happiness to the guests she interacts with, though she can’t feel emotions…or so we’re led to believe.

Early on, we are given details of a transcript of a trial. Through this we learn that Ana has been accused of the murder of a park worker. She maintains she didn’t do anything, and that she cannot lie.

I was fascinated by the concept, though I also found myself wanting to dig deeper into the park and its set-up. Frustrating, perhaps, but there was plenty here to get the reader’s attention.