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‘We Can’t Be Friends’ – Cyndy Etler

Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review, and I’m happy to post my thoughts but don’t really want to rate such a personal book.
Cyndy is a hard narrator to get under the skin of. She is quite abrasive, and jumps around topics almost as a coping mechanism when things get too uncomfortable.

We begin with Cyndy returning to high school after months in rehab. We learn she was sent there at fourteen, by her mother, who seemed convinced she was an addict after what could be seen as experimenting. I understand there’s another book chronicling this experience, but the flashbacks we get here are enough to demonstrate how abusive it was.

Any memoir is subject to criticism. We only get that person’s perspective. Their thoughts and emotions are valid, but we never know how someone else would view the situation. Unfortunately, we’re told that Cyndy suffered abuse at the hands of her stepfather which was ignored. We are told her young stepsister is experiencing the same things. But their mother does nothing…I know it’s not her story, but I just cannot comprehend how a parent can hear these things and not take action to benefit their child.

It becomes quite apparent that Cyndy seems to have low self-esteem and is depressed. Her reactions to her peers really illustrate her desperate need to be validated in some way. How she tries to get this validation is understandable, though upsetting to read.

An unflinchingly honest read. Definitely not pleasant, but certainly important.

‘Hunting Prince Dracula’ – Kerri Maniscalco

After the events of Stalking Jack the Ripper Audrey and Thomas are in need of respite and she flees the country, determined to win a place to study at the renowned forensics academy in Romania.  Unfortunately the academy is in the home of the man known as Count Dracula, and things do not go smoothly.

The journey is fraught with tension, and the discovery of  a body drained of blood sparks their curiosity. Rather than turn a blind eye, Audrey is determined to prove her worth and work out what is going on.

As the body count is hiked up, Audrey and Thomas are thrown into increasingly dangerous situations. Their developing relationship is a wonderful blend of humour and tension, and while we might not be wholly convinced by the reality of the predicaments in which they find themselves it makes for great reading.

Personally, I cannot wait for book three and can’t wait to find out what situation they will find themselves in when they journey to America.

‘Satellite’ – Nick Lake

Satellite is one of those reads that had some wonderful moments but which also left me feeling rather flat. A tough one to review, and this will be one that I think splits views.

In this novel Lake focuses us on Leo, a young boy born in space who is desperate to ‘go home’, to earth. It’s a journey he and his two companions, Libra and Orion, have been looking forward to for as long as they can remember.

Our story is split into distinct parts. We watch the teens in space, planning their lives on earth. We see them journey to earth and look at their experiences. Then, perhaps most oddly, we return from whence we came.

Leo’s voice is distinctive. Overcoming the writing style will be a big factor in your response to the story. It’s written in what seems to mirror the language of the transmissions that Leo and the others are used to communicating in, and clearly marks Leo out as ‘other’ – an alien in his environment. However, if you can look beneath this you’ll probably find yourself quite taken with these kids.

As we learn more about Leo’s family, and get a sense of just where he’s come from, it’s hard not to fall a little under his spell. Seeing the experience of life on earth from the view of someone who’s not physically prepared for it is intriguing. Watching the relationships Leo has develop is pretty compelling.

Unfortunately, much as I liked Leo and grew to care for him I felt the latter stages of the novel took us so far into the realms of incredibility that I really didn’t enjoy it as I’d hoped to.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for my thoughts.

‘The Empty Grave’ – Jonathan Stroud

I was so impatient for this, and found myself desperate to finish it while being reluctant to get to the end. No more? There’s options, and I’m certain we could dip further into Lockwood & co and what happens to them following this book…yet there’s something bittersweet about knowing that there could still be a story to tell and not getting it.

We open fully aware that this is going to be a humdinger of a case. Lucy admits that this case is their biggest yet, and it has far-reaching consequences.
The dynamics between Lockwood, Holly, George and Lucy remain fresh and funny. They are quickly caught up in an investigation into possibly the biggest upset of the series…the exact situation regarding Penelope Fittes. I didn’t see this coming, and it was ripe for exciting scenes on the other side, battles and ghostly goings-on.

For me, there were two strands that were focused on in this book that just caught me by the heart-strings and tugged over and over again. It may be a story about ghosts, but I wanted Lucy and Lockwood together. Their attraction was even more obvious here, and I was excited to see how he opened up to her. His backstory and the details surrounding his family were just what was required, and though it’s been all too obvious how they feel about each other I like that Stroud has kept this under the surface.

Oddly the love story that has most impact for me in this series is that surrounding Lucy and the skull. From the moment she could hear its vile mutterings we’ve known Lucy and the skull share a special bond. He is a character crucial to events but the kind of character who entertains and infuriates in equal measure. His comments towards Lockwood certainly show his feelings for Lucy, and this book was all about whether she’d trust him. How can a spirit character who spends his time chained to a jar be the character I’m most engaged by? Simple…his actions later in the book were just beautiful. That glimpse on the windowsill at the end is just enough for me to hope that his actions weren’t in vain.

‘Stalking Jack the Ripper’ – Kerri Maniscalco

Seventeen year old Audrey Rose Wadsworth, an aristocrat’s daughter, should be happy with living a life of luxury, fretting over her dresses and trying to snare an eligible husband. Thank goodness she has more about her than that!

This won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but Audrey Rose is a sassy little thing. She knows her own mind, and is fascinated by the intricacies of medicine/surgery. Determined to follow her interests – regardless of what those in society think of her – Audrey is desperate to help her uncle with his scientific investigations.

While she is suffering the weight of expectations, Audrey’s curiosity is aroused by the discovery of mutilated bodies. Yes, it’s the time Jack the Ripper was prowling the streets of London, determined to rid the city of prostitutes. Audrey gets caught up in the investigation, and ends up a lot closer to events than she thought was possible.

Along with her uncle’s helper, Thomas, Audrey is determined to try and find out who’s responsible. When she does, the answer isn’t a welcome one. There’s some graphic accounts of the process involved in examining a corpse, but I was fascinated rather than repelled by this. Looking at opium addiction, treatment of mental health and general attitudes to women means there’s a lot going on here!

‘Copycat’ – Alex Lake

In this age, where every little detail is shared online, privacy is everything. We take reasonable precautions to protect our data…so what do we do if someone steals our identity? How can it happen, and what are the consequences if it does happen?
While this raises issues around how we use social media and the security of our online information, the book itself is about a story much closer to home – the desire for revenge.
Sarah is a doctor, has three lovely kids and a loving husband. She is pretty settled in her routine, and still in touch with many friends from her past. When an old school friend moves back to the area and tries to befriend her on Facebook she doesn’t think anything of it…until the friend sends a message asking which account she should use.
At this point we are suspicious. Has Sarah set up an alternative account or is there a more sinister motive? Watching Sarah and her husband, Ben, try to work out who might have done this – and the turmoil caused as things progress and the suspicion is on Sarah herself was bad enough. However, we are privy to another voice – unknown of most of the novel – who shares with us the details of their plan to remove Sarah and take revenge for an act from her past.
There’s no doubt this was a page-turner. I was keen to work out what was going on, and there were moments when the suggestion that Sarah might be experiencing some kind of medical condition causing her to not remember actions was an intriguing possibility. The venom behind the actions of the unknown ‘stalker’ was palpable…
It was only when we were told who was behind it and saw just how far they were prepared to go that I found myself less entranced. There was a sadistic cruelty to the novel that I found discomfiting, and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the plausibility of what we were being told to believe. That aside, a cracking read.
Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange form honest thoughts.

‘A Short History of the Girl Next Door’ – Jared Reck

A Short History – for obvious reasons – and part of me feared that this would be like numerous books I’ve read before. Thankfully, this was a deceptive read.

Initially I was unsure how interested I would be in our main narrator, Matt, being neither interested in basketball nor interested in how it feels to be in love with your best friend but not able to tell them. However, I quickly warmed to him. There’s a gaucheness to him that he tries to cover up, but he is not a stereotypical arrogant jock…this is a very warm-hearted young man who often gets things wrong, doesn’t always say the right thing and who has the ability to mess things up without even speaking.

I couldn’t help but feel for him being in love with this ‘next door neighbour’ whom he’s known for years, and who is treated almost like an extra member of the family. This could have been really exciting if we’d had passages from Tabby’s point of view, though that would – inevitably- run into problems further into the novel.

Within pages I found myself getting under Matt’s skin. I laughed out loud, cringed at his awkward moments and truly loved the dynamics between the pair. This was a chance to see what someone’s thinking (even though, on occasion, we might have been better not knowing.)

As the story unfolds Matt is having to come to terms with the realisation that Tabby fancies someone else, a senior, who is actually a really nice guy. They can still be friends, but things are changing. You get the idea. It hurts.

Matt treats Tabby rather shabbily on occasion, and even takes her friendship for granted. While I wanted there to be some form of relationship between them, I sensed that we were not going to get that resolution. However,when the carpet was pulled from under me I was stunned. Shocking, heart-breaking but truly a great read.

I’ve already recommended this to many students. Thanks NetGalley for letting me read it early!

‘The Goblins of Bellwether’ – Molly Ringle

A contemporary romance inspired by Christina Rossetti’s eerie, sensual poem, “Goblin Market.” Four neighbors encounter sinister enchantments and a magical path to love in a small, modern-day Puget Sound town, where a fae realm hides in the woods and waters…

Goblins…having only a passing acquaintance with the subject I am all too aware that my view of goblins might be somewhat stereotyped. I love the Rossetti poem that inspired this, so I was excited to see this on NetGalley.
I have to say that the set-up of the world, and the details of the fae we meet is not quite as developed as I’d have liked. We see a little of the goblin world, but it is a passing focus for much of the novel.

Our story focuses on Kit Sylvain, the latest of his family to have to deal with the consequences of the deal made by one of his ancestors. Kit is given immunity form the goblins’ mischief making, as long as he provides them with a specified amount of gold each month. If he falls short, the innocent around him will suffer. it’s a hard burden to shoulder, and we see just how difficult when two sisters get caught up in the events.

The new adult element of this seemed to be because the characters are in their twenties and they have sex…maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t this a rather typical portrayal of how people at this stage of their lives might act? Focusing on four characters also made me feel I wasn’t really getting enough detail about them/what they were experiencing.

This was an interesting read, but it felt like we were glossing over part of the story that I wanted to know more about. The story was pacy, but there was a part of me that was enjoying the world so much that I wanted more to savour. I feel there could have been little more complexity through making use of the various strands mentioned, or playing with the timeframe of the story further.

Definitely one I’ll recommend to see how others respond to it. Just in case you’re interested: Rossetti’s poem can be found here: 

‘Kill the Boy Band’ – Goldy Moldavsky

Just know from the start that it wasn’t supposed to go like this. All we wanted was to get near them. That’s why we got a room in the hotel where they were staying. 

We were not planning to kidnap one of them. Especially not the most useless one. But we had him—his room key, his cell phone, and his secrets.

We were not planning on what happened next.

We swear.

How could you resist a premise like that? It sounds dark, full of black humour and a satire on the modern pop industry. Sadly, it doesn’t quite work.

Boy bands are an entity that inspire a particular kind of frenzied behaviour in their fans. Girls, specifically, have always been keen to show their love…but with the advent of social media, and the ability to pay closer attention to schedules etc I think things have become a little more frantic.

This story focuses on a group of four ‘friends’, bonded by their love of the group known as The Ruperts. They follow the band to their hotel and thus begins a strange turn of events. One of the band members is inadvertently imprisoned in the girls’ room…and so begins a dangerous game, which ends in shocking ways that you can’t even begin to imagine.

While this has moments that are entertaining, there wasn’t enough distinction between the voices of the author and the girls. I was never entirely certain whether we were applauding the girls, judging them or sympathising with them. The treatment of the boys themselves was scathing, but without really offering anything to explain this view. I really disliked the attitudes expressed towards Apple-such negative body images really don’t have their place without more care to put them in context.

So, all in all, a book that had its moments but which, ultimately, felt rather missing in something. A bit like the thing it’s focusing on?

‘STAGS’ by M.A. Bennett

Feature film rights for M A Bennett’s debut YA novel S.T.A.G.S have been bought by Chernin Entertainment, ahead of its UK publication. The novel focuses on the exclusive St. Aidan the Great’s School (S.T.A.G.S.) in England and follows first year boarding student Greer as she navigates the traditions of the school hierarchy, until she is invited for a weekend getaway by the school’s elite and most popular group, known as the Medievals. The invite promises a weekend of bloodsports, but what Greer and the other invitees don’t know is that the Medievals just might be hunting, shooting, and fishing them over the next three days.

It comes as little surprise to me that there’s plans to turn this into a movie. It definitely has that feel to it, and there’s more than one or two scenes that I think have been inspired by classic films.

From the moment we meet Greer, we know she’s caught up in something shocking. She tells us she might be a murderer, and I couldn’t wait to see just how this came together.

Greer’s scholarship at S.T.A.G.S. – a school of traditions, where money is revered and there’s a sense that those who have money/status will always come out on top – makes her feel like an outsider from the start. The book itself reminded me of a number of films/novels, where we are asked to look at how privilege affects character.

Our story starts properly when Greer and the others are invited to the home of Henry de Warlencourt (leader of the Medievals) for a shooting, hunting, fishing weekend. I was fascinated by the aura of wealth and privilege, but also slightly repulsed by the air of menace that exudes from this group.

As the story picks up, the rose-tinted glasses fall from Greer’s eyes. What she’s involved in isn’t simply an attempt to make a group of people feel socially inferior, it’s deadly serious. Over years ‘accidents’ have happened and it quickly becomes a case of survival, and trying to work out just how far-up the chain this goes!

The focus on wealth and race felt uncomfortable. Yet I know this probably isn’t too far from the norm for some. Whether it goes quite this far is hard to credit, but it certainly makes for a thrilling story.

Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication (and I await news of the movie).