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‘The Last Time I Lied’ – Riley Sager

A complex multi-layered story that shifts from present to past seamlessly as we uncover the mystery surrounding Camp Nightingale.

15 years prior to our story, Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale. Forced to room with older students she is taken under the wing of Vivian and her friends. For the short time she is at the camp Emma is intrigued by Vivian and her obsession with the game Two Truths and a Lie. There is something compelling about the girls’ need to twist the truth, and how they manipulate those around them to suit their needs and interests.

When our story begins Emma is a painter of some renown. She is well-known for a series of paintings. Unfortunately, this series is borne from Emma’s need to make sense of the events that happened many years earlier when the girls disappeared from the camp. She hints at hiding things and we are never entirely sure to what extent she may or may not have been involved in the disappearance of Vivian, Allison and  Natalie.

As we watch her return to camp to teach the students there, it’s clear that there are many secrets in this place. Emma gets caught up in a potentially deadly game as she tries to establish what happened. She wonders why there is a security camera trained on her dorm, who is watching her in the shower and what the hidden clues left by Vivian all those years ago may or may not mean.

The shifting time scale means we’re never certain who’s hiding what, or what piece of information has been left out. Slowly getting to know the girls was an intriguing process. It was an interesting idea to replicate the set-up with the girls in the present time. Using this derivative plot for the present makes perfect sense once we know a little more of what’s happening.

Personally I’d have liked to know a little more about exactly what prompted certain actions but the story was well-executed and I was never certain how much our narrator was to be trusted.

Thank you NetGalley for providing access to this. A great read.

‘We Are Young’ by Cat Clarke

Another Cat Clarke success, but at a heavy cost. It’ll put you through the full range of emotions, but the messages are so important to be heard.

When Evan’s mum marries new partner Tim it should be a happy moment. But on the same night his son, Lewis, is involved in a car accident.

Three teens die and Lewis is in a coma. Rumours about the crash are rife, and people are curious about why four people who don’t know each other were together.

With the help of friends, her father and a bit of luck, Evan decides to pursue the truth behind the rumours and find out what really happened. Along the way she has some issues of her own to deal with, and gets to expose her new step-father’s controlling behaviour before things get too bad.

There’s a lot going on, and there were times everything felt rather too easily resolved. That aside, there’s definitely plenty to think about here.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my thoughts.

‘The Burning Maze (Trials of Apollo 3)’ – Rick Riordan

The formerly glorious god Apollo, cast down to earth in punishment by Zeus, is now an awkward mortal teenager named Lester Papadopoulos. In order to regain his place on Mount Olympus, Lester must restore five Oracles that have gone dark. But he has to achieve this impossible task without having any godly powers and while being duty-bound to a confounding young daughter of Demeter named Meg. Thanks a lot, Dad.

With the help of some demigod friends, Lester managed to survive his first two trials, one at Camp Half-Blood, and one in Indianapolis, where Meg received the Dark Prophecy. The words she uttered while seated on the Throne of Memory revealed that an evil triumvirate of Roman emperors plans to attack Camp Jupiter. While Leo flies ahead on Festus to warn the Roman camp, Lester and Meg must go through the Labyrinth to find the third emperor—and an Oracle who speaks in word puzzles—somewhere in the American Southwest. There is one glimmer of hope in the gloom-filled prophecy: The cloven guide alone the way does know. They will have a satyr companion, and Meg knows just who to call upon. . . .

Accompanied by Meg and the amazing Grover – and a few more friendly faces – Lester is continuing his quest.
Without giving away too many details, our intrepid characters find themselves facing a lot of mythical creatures, tangling with gods, challenged by a labyrinth and desperately trying to avoid being killed by a particularly unpleasant Roman emperor and those working for him.
From the beginning we have what we’ve come to expect. While I laughed out loud at moments, there was a growing awareness from Apollo of humanity and what it means.
Can’t wait for the next instalment!

‘All of this is True’ – Lygia Day Peñaflor

A group of teens go to a book signing and end up being befriended by the author. They are given unlimited access to her home and time, and she seems genuinely interested in getting to know them. Except, then her latest book is published and it is – in fact – the story of their lives.

The book idea itself was fascinating. I liked the inclusion of excerpts from the fictional book. Unfortunately, the group of teens were not particularly interesting characters. They had potential to be, but they were focused on in relation to the fictional book so we don’t see much beyond the surface.

Stylistically it feels choppy. We cut from interview to interview, to messages, to novel excerpts and it’s difficult to get a sense of quite where it’s going. It always felt like we were second guessing events/characters and those I’d really like to have heard from were not given a voice.

An intriguing idea, but one which didn’t quite come together for me.

‘February’ by Lisa Moore

In 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine’s Day storm. All eighty-four men aboard died. February is the story of Helen O’Mara, one of those left behind when her husband, Cal, drowns on the rig. It begins in the present-day, more than twenty-five years later, but spirals back again and again to the “February” that persists in Helen’s mind and heart.

In ‘February’ we follow Helen at various points in her life, but the whole story seems to pivot on the moment of the rig collapsing.

We see her in the present, in her role as grandmother, as a young woman and as a wife whose husband is one of the many killed when the oil rig he is working on collapses.

At times, the story felt like rummaging through one of those memory boxes. Some recollections were more vivid than others – and it was only Helen and her son, John, who really felt clearly portrayed – but the events recollected combine to form a picture of one woman and her life.

What was evident throughout this story is that Helen is not, in many ways, a remarkable woman. She lives her life and deals with what life throws at her with stoicism, but throughout we are given a picture of resilience and strength.

This is not a fast-moving story, rather ideas are unravelled and we slowly come to understand this character.

‘Second Chance Summer’ – Morgan Matson

Having lost a relative to this illness only a few months ago, there was always going to be an emotional investment in this for me.
Taylor is having to spend the summer with her family after they learn her father has pancreatic cancer. Setting aside the inevitable turmoil she feels at coping with such an event, Taylor also has unfinished business at the resort and this bothers her.
To cut a long story short, the novel is set in summer and nearly every interaction between Taylor and other characters links to the idea of second chances in some way.
The story allows us to take pleasure in the small moments, those moments it’s too easy to take for granted until you no longer have them. Matson explores the physical impact of illness with sensitivity and there were some genuinely moving moments (even if you’ve not been in a similar situation).
Alongside this we have Taylor learning to deal with her emotions and friendships. The romance is not overdone, and the growth Taylor experiences as a character felt realistic in its portrayal.
All in all, one of those books that got me far more emotionally invested than I was expecting.

‘As I Descended’ – Robin Talley

“Something wicked this way comes.”

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.
Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.
Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.
But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.
Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.
But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

‘Macbeth’ for so many contemporary readers is linked to painful study for English GCSE with heads hurting from trying to work out what is in front of you. Here, Talley takes the essence of the story but gives it a contemporary twist.

Lily and Maria are students/roommates/lovers and our story begins with a ouija board experiment that immediately sets the scene for some dark and unsettling events.

Plotting to bring about the downfall of the main competitor for a scholarship prize, the two girls begin their murderous journey full of hope and quickly descend into ‘madness’ caused by their guilt.

This blended the Macbeth story and modern concerns well. Some characters, naturally, were more appealing than others but it revealed the characters and also encouraged some thoughts about the concerns raised in the contemporary setting.

‘Select Few’ by Marit Weisenberg

After rejecting the cult-like influence of her father’s family, Julia moves into a fancy hotel in downtown Austin. But she finds herself alone except for her boyfriend, John–and her fears. Once again she’s suppressing her abilities, afraid her family will come for John when they find out he’s been developing abilities of his own in her presence. The FBI is also keeping a close eye on Julia hoping she can lead them to her father, Novak, as he’s wanted for questioning in his former assistant’s death.

With tensions high, Julia and John agree to go separate ways for the summer, paving the way for Julia to reunite with Angus, fellow outcast. Together they set out on a road trip to California to find Julia’s mom and a way into Novak’s secret underground world. Along the way Julia will learn the Puri perhaps aren’t the only humans evolving into something different. . . and that maybe she’s the leader her people have needed all along.

This book has to be read after ‘Select’ but we pick up events quickly and are soon reminded of the situation Julia has placed herself in.

Having chosen to leave her family, life is difficult for Julia. Hiding out in a hotel, with people hunting her father, Julia is desperate for answers but also needs to avoid doing things that could mean any of Novak’s visions come true.

Though she loves John, her worries for what could happen to an outsider dominate the early stages of the novel. This becomes more concerning as John seems to be developing his own special talents.

Initially a little slow, there’s a lot of focus on Julia trying to get answers to questions about herself, her family and what might happen in the future. There’s a rather dramatic closing section, but the possibilities for the future are exciting and I’m intrigued to see where this goes next.

Scheduled for release in October 2018, I have to thank the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of this.

‘Stranger’ by Karen David

Astor, Ontario. 1904.
A boy staggers out of the forest covered in blood and collapses at the feet of 16-year-old Emmy. While others are suspicious and afraid, Emmy is drawn to him. Is he really the monster the townsfolk say he is?
Astor, Ontario. 1994.
Megan arrives from London for her great grandmother Emmy’s 105th birthday. It should be a happy family occasion, but Megan is nursing a broken heart and carrying a secret she fears might consume her.

These two stories don’t, at first, seem to make sense or link. One story concerns Tom, a young boy who is found in the woods in 1904, and the other focuses on Megan, a young English girl who goes to visit her grandmother at a particularly turbulent time in her life.

The stories of Tom and Megan are, of course, linked but we don’t establish how until quite late on.

Initially the story felt a little slow, but as we start to piece together events and identify links between the two timeframes I found it an absorbing story. Both stories explore themes of loss, motherhood and identity but in quite different ways.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication.

‘Dead Girls’ by Abigail Tarttelin

When her best friend Billie is found murdered, eleven-year-old Thera – fearless and forthright – considers it her duty to find the killer. 
Aided by a Ouija board, Billie’s ghost, and the spirits of four other dead girls, she’s determined to succeed. The trouble with Thera, though, is that she doesn’t always know when to stop – and sometimes there’s a fine line between doing the right thing and doing something very, very bad indeed.

I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of this, and it is definitely a book to recommend. I was rather stunned to get comment on my Goodreads feedback from the author, and can’t resist posting her comment below.

This is a book that really should come with some kind of trigger warning as it explores topics that are hard to read about (sexuality, mental health, paedophilia, rape and murder) and I’d hate for someone to pick this up without some fore-knowledge of the content. However, it also forces us to confront some of our assumptions about children, sexuality and gender issues in a way that cannot – and really should not – be ignored.

Our narrator, Thera, is eleven when her best friend, Billie, is murdered.
We are placed firmly in Thera’s head and we follow the girls on their last night together as they play in their seemingly idyllic rural home. But Billie never makes it home and we watch as Thera learns of her friend’s disappearance.

For reasons that she reveals as we follow her story, Thera blames herself and comes to believe that she has to avenge her best friend’s murder. The girls have experimented with a ouija board, and Thera has a fierce intelligence that is cultivated by her family but which is feared by her peers (though they can’t articulate it). When Thera becomes convinced that dead girls are talking to her and Billie’s spirit is guiding her to find the murderer, it’s hard to decide the extent to which we trust this narrator.

This is a character that is firmly straddling the adult and child worlds: with a wide vocabulary and very adult turn of phrase one moment, and then very innocent and naive the next. While I think this is deliberate, and it forces us to consider how we treat children of this age and the way they are influenced by events around them, it occasionally grates. Like many adult readers will probably be, I was not entirely comfortable hearing the characters’ views on sex and sexuality (though I found it realistically presented). However, I do think that the novel raises some crucial issues surrounding how we talk to our children about how they present themselves and the potential harm we may be doing to our children in trying to shield them from some of the less pleasant aspects of life.

There was a rather confusing element to the story that does become clear towards the end, but I was stunned by the direction in which this went. Dark, utterly gripping and very very scary.

In response to my feedback on Goodreads, Tarttelin posted: I was so pleased to see an early reader “getting” where I was going…Although I appreciate it can be tough reading, I wanted to try talking about this!