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‘Fame, Fate and the First Kiss’ – Kasie West

This time round we’re focusing on Lacey, who was a minor part of book one, and her role in a major movie. It’s a zombie horror movie, full of gore, and Lacey’s co-star is Hollywood heart-throb Grant who’s determined to reconnect with fans after some big budget movies haven’t gone as well as hoped.

Initially, Lacey came across as a little ruder and more insensitive than she did in book one. She was rude to her dad and doubted everything she was doing. Thankfully it was clear this was nerves about making a success of something important to her, so she never reached the stage of being too irritating.

Alongside the filming and mystery of who’s sabotaging her work, and why, we have a relationship with the cute boy who’s asked to tutor her.

It’s Kasie West so there’s few surprises. We get some tension, the characters have their ups and downs but it all gets resolved by the end and it’s a light-hearted read.

 

‘Faking Normal’ – Courtney C. Stevens

To a certain extent we all fake normal, but for those living with extreme situations it can become ingrained. From the moment we meet Lexi we know she’s struggling with something, something she can’t yet put a name to, but the signs are there and from the things she reveals it’s clear it’s serious. But nobody around her sees it…or, if they are picking up on the clues, they’re not pushing to learn the truth.

As Lexi manoeuvres her way through school she’s maintaining good grades and things seem, superficially, fine. But nobody knows that she can’t sleep at night, hides in her closet and self-harms as a way of trying to get through the pain of her experience.

This could have been a book like countless others, but alongside Lexi’s story we have Bodee. He starts as a rather nondescript character, given the nickname the Kool Aid kid, and all we know is he’s coming to live with Lexi after an incident involving his parents. Over time we learn more, and he quickly becomes the more interesting of the two – though because it’s Lexi’s story we never go quite as deep into the character as we could have.

What was at the heart of this book though was the developing friendship between these two, and the way they supported each other to begin to take the steps needed to begin their healing process.

Little clues were dropped initially about the identity of Lexi’s attacker. I had my suspicions, and once this was confirmed then it does make a lot more sense of some of the stuff we’ve seen. As in reality, we don’t see the full resolution but it was nice to know she was on her way.

‘The Voting Booth’ – Brandy Colbert

For anyone who has an interest in politics, social injustice and who also can’t help but get invested in a good old-fashioned romance. Voting Booth offers some serious messages, while also delivering a love story in the making.

Our main characters are two first-time voters, Marva and Duke. They’ve never met, but both come from families with a healthy interest in politics. When they turn up at the polling station for their first time voting everything could have gone smoothly and they’d have left never having exchanged words. But where would the fun be in that?

Marva’s voting experience goes without a hitch, but Duke isn’t registered to vote. Realising he pre-registered at his dad’s address he thinks it’s a straightforward matter of getting to the new polling station and turning in his vote. At that moment we know the gods are conspiring against him as his car won’t start. Marva, desperate to ensure he votes and does his bit, offers to drive him.

What follows has to go down as the weirdest of days. Marva and Duke end up searching for a missing cat, organising transport for other voters who can’t access their right, one gets dumped, they both sort out some of the issues they’ve been hanging onto and one plays a gig. Both succeed in voting (eventually) and there’s even the strong hints of them starting a relationship.

I found the interaction between these two very natural. Their passion for politics and their ability to make a difference was infectious, and though I was carried along with their relationship it was impossible to ignore the focus on pressing social issues and attitudes to race.

I really hope people find their way to this book and enjoy it as much as I did.

 

‘Midnight Sun’ – Stephanie Meyer

Twilight from Edward’s view…yes, at the time, I read the leaked version that made its way on-line and, yes, at the time I thought it seemed a little pointless. When this project seemed to be shelved, life went on and I didn’t think of it again…until we got the news it was releasing this summer. No matter what I thought of it, I knew I’d read this because it counted as unfinished business and my curiosity would win out.

The first thing to make clear is, as so many point out, this is over-the-top, riddled with cringe-worthy similes and there’s still very little to make Bella a particularly endearing character. I have to say I expected this. The second thing to comment on is the story is the same. We know what’s going to happen and it really is a step-by-step rehash of the story we already know, so there’s little added for us. Again, no surprises.

What we did get with this story from Edward’s view was an attempt to poke beneath the surface of what still seems a very odd and unhealthy relationship. I actually found myself liking some of the big scenes coming from this perspective – things were fleshed out and it was easy to see why events were organised as they were. Learning a little more about the Cullens and their backgrounds was good. Some will kill me for saying it, but I also liked the fact there was surprisingly little focus on Jacob and the wolves. My only concern now is the somewhat cynical fear that we’re now going to get another book…this time telling us Jacob’s story. I truly hope not, as I feel this would be too much and definitely exploiting all those readers (myself included) who probably could have done without this but who read it for the nostalgia fix.

 

‘The Wicked Sister’ – Karen Dionne

 

The Wicked Sister is not going to be for everyone, but I found it illuminating.

Our story begins with Rachel, a young woman who has spent the last fifteen years in a mental hospital as she is convinced she killed her parents, discharging herself and heading for her childhood home. Police reports determine that at the age of eleven she could not have committed this crime, but having been found in the woods two weeks after their deaths in a catatonic state it’s easy to see why nobody pushed her to try and recall any details of that day. She heads there with a journalist desperate to find out more about this incident, but bizarrely she doesn’t want to let her sister or aunt know she’s there. Of course, we want to know why.

Once we get this teaser we jump back in time and have a character called Jenny narrating a shocking incident. She recalls the moment a neighbour’s toddler drowned in their pool, and her discovery that her daughter’s clothes were wet though she claimed to know nothing about what happened. This is followed by what seems a rather knee-jerk reaction to take her daughter and move the family to an isolated family hunting lodge. Her rationale is that she and her husband – both biologists – can undertake research and keep their ‘wild child’ away from others.

Initially I found this shift confusing as I wasn’t sure who Jenny was, or her significance. In-between following Rachel through her exploration of her family home in search of clues as to what happened, we learn more about Jenny’s family and their new life.

Watching Jenny and her husband deal with this eight year old manipulator was hard to read. There were so many odd signs about her behaviour and interactions, and I found it odd that they didn’t do more to try and understand their daughter Diane or manage her behaviour. Watching as she throws a stone at a bear cub to see how it reacts might be seen as childish curiosity, but when she is found putting a pillow over her baby sister’s face and reveals she’s done this on countless occasions the alarm bells were ringing loud and clear!

Before too long we work out that the baby sister in this incident is the Rachel also narrating our story. Knowing that whatever we’re reading Jenny talk about will end in the deaths of her and her husband lends a poignancy to so many of these incidents.

The story develops in a way that seems inevitable, though there are indications that different choices along the way could have resulted in a different story. Though there are some graphic depictions of animal cruelty that felt rather unnecessary, I was fascinated by the attempt to portray the mind of a psychopath and to show the impact of this condition in those around the person who has it. What I found frustrating was the countless opportunities so many had to prevent such awful things happening, and I was scared witless by the revelation that sometimes the truly wicked can be hiding in such plain view.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication.

 

‘Love, Life and the List’ – Kasie West

Love, Life and the List is a YA contemporary that delivers exactly what it says it will.

The story is pretty straightforward. Abby wants to paint. She thinks she has talent, and wants to get a place on an art workshop. She also has a huge crush on her best friend, Cooper. She told him about it and was rebuffed, so has spent the last year pretending she was joking. They pretty much do everything together and it sounds like the kind of situation that could have drifted on and on.
Naturally, they need a bit of a kick in the right direction.

This comes when Abby’s boss tells her he won’t let her show her artwork because it lacks heart. Determined to work out what she should be doing differently, Abby starts off a summer of challenges. Each of these challenges is meant to show her the way forward, and help her to find something to inject some heart into her artwork.

From the outset we assume this will only go one way. There’s a few proverbial spanners in the work, but it’s all done in a very light-hearted way so you never feel like anyone is going to have their life destroyed.

Abby needs to learn a few things about herself in order to get to the right place for things to move forward. Those around her also have to change a few things…

 

‘We Are All the Same in the Dark’ – Julia Heaberlin

In this small town, we expect there will be secrets. So many people want to know what happened to young Trumanell Branson when she disappeared ten years ago. There are many who believe her brother, Wyatt, was responsible and they are watching, waiting to see if he will ever be found guilty of the crime they think he’s committed.

When he discovers a young girl lying in a field off the highway, it’s hard to know what to think. At this point we’re introduced to his ex-girlfriend, Odette, who happens to work for the police. She is convinced he’s innocent, but on the night Trumanell disappeared Odette had to flee the Branson home and was then in a car crash where she lost her leg. Determined to think good of the man she clearly still has feelings for, Odette helps him out.

As she helps the young girl, known initially as Angel, we uncover more about Odette, Wyatt and the town in which they live. We can see Odette is carrying out her own investigation, one which ultimately has serious repercussions.

Spanning years, this story is one that takes its time to resolve. It shifted and never settled until the closing stages, hinting at possible outcomes and ultimately showing us a pretty bleak stage.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in advance of its August 11th publication in exchange for my review.

 

‘Cinderella is Dead’ – Kalynn Bayron

 

The story of Cinderella is one that everyone knows. But what would you do if the story was a lie? That is the premise of this story, and it was one I was really excited about reading so I was thrilled to get an ARC from NetGalley to read in exchange for my honest thoughts.

Our story focuses on Sophia, a young girl who lives in Lille where everyone abides by the rules set. Every year girls have to attend the Annual Ball – if they are chosen they must be subservient to their husband, and if they are not chosen nobody hears from them again. Though some recognise the problems with such a regime, none seem prepared to stand up to fight it.

Sophia would like nothing more than to live with her childhood friend, Erin. When the time comes for them to attend the Ball, things don’t quite go to plan. Sophia escapes, and takes refuge in Cinderella’s mausoleum where she is found by Cinderella’s only living descendant, Constance. Buoyed by their sense of belief, and hope for a different future, the girls take on the challenge of confronting the King. They take on a journey fraught with danger, where nobody is quite what they claim to be, in a desperate attempt to change the lives of girls in the future for the better.

While the story follows a rather predictable path, there were attempts to offer something new. We got strong female characters who weren’t afraid to stand up for their beliefs. There was the odd twist to illustrate the idea that sometimes people can hide their true desires from others, and there were hints that people can change things if they are true to their convictions. Perhaps the Cinderella retelling offers less than it might, but it was certainly an interesting read.

‘The Inheritance Games’ – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If you love puzzles, and putting your wits against seemingly random clues, then you will love The Inheritance Games.

Our story has as its main character a young girl called Avery Grambs. Smart but living in poverty, Avery has not had things easy. When we first meet her she’s been accused of cheating on a school test. Determined to prove herself she retakes the test so when she’s called out of class we assume the events are linked.
We, like Avery, are stunned when we are met with a very strange occurrence. She is asked to attend the reading of the will of Tobias Hawthorne, a man she says she’s never met. Very quickly we learn that Tobias was the head of one of the richest families in the country – wealthy beyond most people’s imaginings – and that she has been made heiress to the majority of his wealth. The only stipulation is that she must live in Hawthorne House for a year, and if any of the family contest the will they get nothing.

Naturally, everyone is curious about Avery. She, like any of us would be in her situation, is quite taken aback by her new-found wealth. While this is a life-changing event you have to love Avery for not being satisfied with this. She wants to know why she’s been put in this situation, so when it seems the letter each of the four grandsons was left holds a clue she is determined to play the game and solve the riddle.

I got completely absorbed in the mission to solve these clues and trying to work out which of this huge cast of characters could be trusted, and which was responsible for the attempts to kill Avery. We get everything here, including hints of romance, but at the fore is the puzzle set by this elderly gentleman who wants to teach a lesson to his family.

As things draw to a close and the puzzle gets solved, it felt (and I feel awful for saying this) a little disappointing. Thank goodness Barnes kept a little something up her sleeve, because the moments when Avery finds her final puzzle pieces suggest things are far from over. They get even more interesting when we see this is simply another part of the bigger picture.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for letting me read this in advance of the scheduled September 2020 publication, and I can’t wait to get my hands on part two…

 

‘Darling Rose Gold’ – Stephanie Wrobel

Patty Watts and Rose Gold Watts…two names you’ll shudder to hear once you’ve ended this. While I felt sympathy for both characters, it’s hard also to not feel appalled by both.

Before you start reading, it’s clear this is a book that’s not afraid to plunge into the darkness. It heads straight for the darkest point you can find, roots around and then burrows deeper. I was expecting something pretty nasty, but as the dots started to join together and I got an inkling of where this might be going I almost feared reading on and having my suspicions confirmed.

Our story hinges on the dysfunctional mother and daughter combination. For years we are told Rose Gold was ill. That she was in and out of hospital, incapable of feeding and struggling to live. That eventually it was discovered her mother was making her ill. It’s no surprise that her mother is then imprisoned for her actions.

What surprised me was that we learn towards the end of Patty’s incarceration she is visited by Rose Gold. We learn they are attempting to restore their relationship, and that upon her release Patty is going to live with Rose and her son. Oddly, in spite of knowing her uncle committed suicide there and her mother was beaten there we are told Rose has bought her mother’s childhood home. There’s something odd going on, but it takes some time to work out just what.

The book alternates between two viewpoints and this is definitely a major part of the novel’s success. Hearing each character’s thoughts means we gain some understanding of their thought processes. We’re privy to their suspicions of each other, and the strange manipulative behaviour each exhibits in this bizarre, wholly dysfunctional relationship. We’re never sure who’s telling the truth, or who’s manipulating who.

By the time we approached the climax of the novel I really was amazed we’d taken this final turn. Chilling and emotionally terrifying behaviour from both characters and I couldn’t help but feel that neither deserved the fate they were dealt. There were no winners in this story, and though both Patty and Rose had their very obvious shortcomings I couldn’t bring myself to despise either of them because they were both, in so many ways, victims.