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‘I Hold Your Heart’ – Karen Gregory

From a distance, everyone thinks they can spot the signs of an abusive relationship.

From a distance, you think you know that some actions are just not what forms part of a healthy relationship.

But when you’re the one in that situation, how easy is it to tell?

When Gemma first meets Aaron she’s confident and outgoing, has a part-time job, dreams of singing and is just starting A-levels. Within weeks of meeting Aaron things are shifting. She starts giving up things that meant so much to her. Is it because Aaron loves her, or is there a more sinister angle?

Reading this knowing what the story focused on meant I was on alert throughout, looking for signs that it was heading that way. But the way the story developed felt very natural, and it’s easy to see just how easy it could be to end up in a situation you’re not entirely comfortable with.

An emotional journey, which may not ring true for everyone, but it will certainly get people talking.

The link to the e.e. cumming’s poem has now given a much more sinister vibe to what always seemed such a heartfelt sentiment. The power of words.

‘How to Make Friends with the Dark’ – Kathleen Glasgow

The kind of experience that you’d hope nobody ever has to go through at such a young age, but you know it happens frequently. Grief isn’t something you’re ever really prepared for. Knowing how to feel when someone close to you dies isn’t always possible, and when you’re just a child it could so easily be over-whelming.
Grace – known as Tiger – is close to her mother, but she finds her restrictions hard to accept at times. They have a huge argument. Something that happens daily for some. But for Grace, this becomes a key moment…as later that day her mother dies suddenly.

At 16 Grace becomes a ward of the state and everything she knows has gone. We follow Grace through her time in foster care; her sudden learning of a previously unknown family member who becomes her guardian, and her brief foray into the depths of her darkness.

The story itself felt disjointed at times. So many strands were unresolved or left open in a way that felt a little frustrating. However, there were some wonderful characters helping a Tiger through her experience, and the eloquence with which Glasgow captures the grieving process was to be applauded.

Everyone’s experience of grief will be different, but this allows a brief insight into some of the things that might affect people and how they can deal with them.

‘Can You See Me?’ – Libby Scott and Rachel Westcott

Can You See Me? is a definite one to recommend.

We focus on the story of Tally, a young girl just starting Year Seven. She tries very hard to be ‘normal’ and to fit in but doesn’t always find it easy because she is autistic. While her experience might not be the same for everyone, it certainly offers a glimpse into her life and offers the reader a chance to walk in her shoes a while. However, it goes beyond sharing just her experience as an autistic child; focusing on how many of her peers also feel about the experiences they face.

I loved the authentic feel to Tally’s voice, and the perceptive comments about how those around her react to her/her ‘meltdowns’ and the quirks that make her who she is.

A great cross-over read for primary/high school students.

‘The Furies’ – Katie Lowe

With its references to mythology and classic literature, its private school setting, exclusive ‘study group’ and murders it’s not hard to see why I was getting a sense of The Secret History as I read this. Unlike that book, I never got the feeling that our narrator – Violet – was trying to establish herself as better than the group she joins. If anything, her naïveté and somewhat gauche decision-making is understandable and stops us totally disliking her.
Opening with what becomes a key closing image meant there was a definite sense of inevitability to the events contained within. At the beginning, when we’re told about Violet’s family situation, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her. How wise the decision to go to this exclusive Academy to study A-levels was is not up for question – but, with an absent mother dealing with grief by opting out, it’s not hard to see how easy it was for Violet to be seduced by the camaraderie offered to her.
Violet does not seem particularly likeable. She ignores obvious issues with those attempting to befriend her, gets herself into crazy situations and seems content to put it down to being seduced by the thrill of what’s happening. The blurring of moral boundaries and the toxicity of the girls’ friendship seemed, to me, to be at the heart of the story. As it’s a theme often explored, linking it to the supernatural and the age-old obsession with ‘difference’ offered another way in.
As the events progressed, it was genuinely hard to work out exactly who was guilty of what. There were hints of so many characters doing inappropriate things that part of me couldn’t help but feel it was inevitable that they’d pay a price of some sort, eventually.
Though this bore resemblances to a number of stories, I felt it came into its own as we watch Violet at the end. Older, a little wiser, but still part of the ongoing cycle that seems to be so vilified throughout.

‘Red, White and Royal Blue’ – Casey McQuiston

Will we ever see such a reality? A female President whose bisexual son starts a relationship with the Prince of England…probably not, but that’s why we have books.

Alex is convinced that he hates the Prince of England – but for someone who is so disliked, Alex spends a lot of time reading about him. Of course, his feelings are pretty obvious to everyone but Alex for the start of the book. Interestingly, it’s not him who makes the first move and this was a little more graphic than I was thinking it would be.

Some of the scenarios we were given were – I imagine – highly improbable. However, this was a romance with a difference.Great fun. Cheering. Highly entertaining.

‘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.