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‘The Night Country’ – Melissa Albert

Plunged back into the world of The Hazel Wood, it was a real experience to follow Alice once she’s been saved from her story.

The characters who’ve escaped from the Hinterland are all marked in some way, and they can see when they look at each other some of these marks. It could, theoretically, be possible for these ex-stories to live on earth peacefully. Unfortunately, someone has other ideas.

In the opening chapter Alice talks about their changed circumstances when she refers to them being prey rather than predators. Their vulnerability is evident, and when ex-Hinterlanders start appearing with body parts missing it is evident that someone is trying to recreate their own story.

Alongside this focus on Alice and just who/what she is, we also get to see Finch travelling through worlds to try and salvage his own story.

The stories are interleaved and I was left guessing exactly how they’d link until quite late on. My sympathy for Alice definitely grew as the book progressed and I loved the ending.

Though I’ve pre-ordered my copy – and can’t wait to read it again – I’m grateful to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

 

‘Tower of Dawn’ – Sarah J. Maas

There’s no excuse for having taken so long to get round to reading this, and now I’ve finished it I can say it seems a fitting interlude.

Chaol may not be a character many feel much investment in, but in this we can see a most intriguing man. For so much of the series he’s been there, in the thick of things, but we never really see beneath the surface. Tower of Dawn allows Maas to really show us the man.

We follow Chaol and Nesryn as they journey to try and garner support for Aelin. We hear rumours of what is happening elsewhere (which I’m hoping will be the focus of Kingdom of Ashes), and there’s a clear sense of a people teetering on the edge of destruction.

Much of the story centres on Chaol and the attempts by the healer Yren to cure his paralysis. A number of stories merge here, and nothing happens smoothly.
Learning a little more of the Valg and just what horrors might be to come didn’t make for a book full of excitement. It wasn’t dull, but it felt like a necessary story to develop our understanding and shape things in anticipation of what is to come. The inevitable romances kept things entertaining, and it certainly got me back in the mood for tackling the last instalment.

 

‘The Name of the Star’ – Maureen Johnson

 

The Name of the Star is a light-hearted historical-based story. We focus on American teen Rory who moves from the US to study in the UK.

Her arrival coincides with a series of gruesome murders inspired by Jack the Ripper. Bodies are turning up on the sites of the Ripper murders, with similar names to the Ripper victims and they’re killed in the same way. Fear spreads through the town where Rory has come to study.

Initially I thought this would be a straightforward thriller,but then we learn of something unusual.

Rory appears to have seen someone that nobody else could. She is then followed by a team of extra-special police that few know about. They see ghosts – and their paranormal ability will be important in solving this mystery.

While the Ripper murders form the backdrop to the story, the real focus is the ability that Rory and the team share. Fraught with danger, and there’s real. Risk to the characters, but I loved the way the ending hints at what’s to come in book two.

 

‘A World Without Princes’ – Woman Chainani

 

 

Having changed their ‘happy ever after’ Sophie and Agatha have returned home. They don’t need a prince, but neither of them is happy and we have to wonder what this means.

In book two the girls are returned to this world, but an unspoken wish has changed things. It’s no longer a school of good and evil, but boys and girls are pitted against one another. The only way the girls can return home is if they find the means to end their story.

This book focuses on quite a drawn-out scenario. Both Sophie and Agatha are tested, and their greatest battle comes from within. Someone is trying to prevent them from getting their heart’s desire, but when they don’t really know what they want what chance do they have?

The whole thing felt a bit pointless at times. It got a little more exciting towards the end, but I’m pretty sure a bit of a chat between the characters could have resolved a good number of their issues.

‘Foul is Fair’ – Hannah Capin

With its focus on murder and a quest for power, Macbeth is an easy story to tap into. The determination to have sway over others, and the corrupting influence it has on you, is a feeling so many can understand – even if they wouldn’t act on it. While the supernatural element of the witches is a harder thing to transpose to the modern day, the influence these characters have is something we can fear.
With Capin’s ‘Foul is Fair’ we are brought straight into the modern era and given some very topical scenarios to wrestle with.

Our main character, Elle, starts the book heading out with her close group of friends to a party held by a student at a local school. The night of the party sets in motion a rapidly darkening series of events, that we just know is going to end badly. On the night of the party Elle is drugged and assaulted by a group of students. Their leader, Duncan, is the main person she blames but each and every one involved in the attack does – in Elle’s eyes – deserve to pay for their actions.

Intent on revenge, Elle enlists her friends (the coven) to research this group and find a way in. She enrols in St Andrews ( her parents’ willingness to transfer her to the school attended by the attackers is one of the main issues with this) and begins her campaign to bring down those responsible for her attack.

Elle picks out Mack, the boy who knew enough but wasn’t involved, to be the one to help her gain what she wants. She seems to fall for him, but it was clear he didn’t stand a chance. Elle wants payback, and the way she goes about it is ruthless and – maybe – just a little bit admirable.

This is graphic. Capin spares nothing and we see the demise of the group members in full glorious technicolour. While I didn’t like this, I definitely felt I was encouraged to sympathise with Elle and look beyond the callousness of her vendetta.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication, and I can’t wait to see how students who are studying Macbeth react to this once it’s out.

‘Dread Nation’ – Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene is a gutsy young woman, and thank goodness because she ends up in all manner of awful situations and her special set of skills and bullish nature come in very useful.

When we first meet Jane she is training, learning how to be an Attendant keeping white people safe from the threat known as the shamblers. We’re in a world like no other – an historical setting but overrun with zombies. She has a love/ hate relationship with fellow student Katherine (whom she delights in calling Kate because it annoys her) and there is something she is keeping secret about her friendship with Jack.

Unfortunately, many no longer believe the shamblers are a real threat now. When this is shown to be foolish, some are determined not to give up their privileged position. The Mayor and one of the school assistants engineer a situation where Jane and Kate are sent away.

Told they are going to help patrol and keep the new town safe, the girls have to use their wits to stay alive. They are – quite rightly – suspicious of what is going on. As more and more secrets are uncovered, Jane has to come up with increasingly risky plans to ensure their survival.

The setting for this world is a strange mix of historical and modern. Jane is a great main character and there are some really interesting details given about her mother to suggest that what comes next will be good.

 

‘With the Fire on High’ – Elizabeth Acevedo

Emoni is a character that you can’t help but admire, root for and sit back with a huge grin on your face for how things work out for her.

A teen mum, she’s used to working hard and making sacrifices that so many of her peers wouldn’t even consider. Heading into her senior year she’s worried about how things are changing and what this will mean for her and her daughter. When she gets the chance to take a new course – a cooking elective – it sets up things she couldn’t expect.

Alongside the potential for studying something she loves, there’s a new boy in school who seems determined to show Emoni that not everyone assumes things about her because she has a child. Though the romance was quite a large part of this, it was part of a much bigger picture and this kept it interesting.

Emoni has a passion for food. The way she talks about food and the relationship she has with it was so intimate that it was hard not to fall a little in love. Even though the events may have been quite fortuitous I didn’t begrudge anything – from the off I wanted the happy ending, or at least the opportunity for it to be so.

I can’t wait to see what Acevedo comes up with next.

‘We Are Not Okay’ – Natália Gomes

This story by Nataliá Gomes is of the moment, and it certainly delivers a clear message to teen readers.

We focus on four teenage girls: Lucy, Ulana, Trina and Sophia. Though they are all the same age, they have very different experiences and lives. However, each has a secret that they want nobody to know about, and they’ll do anything to ensure it stays secret.

Of the four girls I felt a lot of sympathy for Trina. She has a lot of people talking about her, and ends up in a situation over which she has no control. As a result she makes some difficult decisions which have pretty extreme consequences. Ulana faced a very real fear, but a lot of it seemed to be about her doubting herself and her family. Ultimately, things worked out okay (or at least looked as if they would). Sophia gets caught up in something that, increasingly, seems to be felt to be a normalised experience – and we see her just how damaging it can be. Lucy was the character I found it hardest to empathise with because so much of her story revolved around situations she had instigated. You don’t wish harm on anyone, and the way the others interacted with her did give a positive message eventually.

There was a lot happening here. It seemed as if most topical scenarios were explored here, and not all were given quite as much detail/exploration as they might have been. I felt one such incident (concerning Sophie) seemed to come out of nowhere and I had to reread a section wondering if I’d missed something.

Ultimately this was a book that made me very very relieved to not be a teenager of the social media generation, and determined to try to encourage people of this age to be as open as possible about their experiences. Everyone plays their part in this bullying culture, and the sooner we take responsibility for it the better.

Thanks to NetGalley and HQ Young Adult for allowing me access to this prior to publication.

 

‘The Sky is Mine’ – Amy Beashel

Due for release in February 2020, I’m pretty convinced that this will be a hit read.

Plunged straight into the life of our main character, Izzy, it takes a while to establish quite what’s going on. We see Izzy get drunk at a party and she is threatened by someone in her college who vows to send round an embarrassing picture from the party unless she does what he asks her to. There’s no doubt that Izzy would be perfectly in her right to ignore this and call him out – but we see how insidious such attitudes are, when even his mates try to justify his behaviour by calling it ‘banter’. As a parent this horrified me, and I am really scared that anyone could ever think such behaviour is okay.

Izzy finds herself in a difficult situation. She fears just what this boy could do, so she goes to his house. He rapes her – no matter what name he gives it – and continues to try and threaten her into doing what he wants her to through her fear of what others will say.

Izzy says nothing. This is totally believable – however much you wish it weren’t. Against the backdrop of Izzy’s home-life it becomes even more relatable. She sees her once vibrant mother as a shell of herself. Her step-father controls everything and we are, slowly, given details that chronicle a horribly abusive relationship.
Eventually Izzy’s mother leaves, and Izzy gets the opportunity to reflect on her experiences and how to move on from them. Some elements of this are easier than others.

There was a lot packed into this read, but I am sure it will strike a chord – in some way – with many readers. Though elements of the story felt resolved far too easily, there were some positive outcomes that did inspire hope.

This is just another example of why NetGalley is such a great thing – getting to see new books before publication.

 

‘How Not to Disappear’ – Claire Furniss

Our memories make us who we are. So, what does this mean when we start to lose our memories?

This story focuses on two characters-Hattie and Gloria. They have never met, but find each other at just the moment that each needs the other. Worlds apart in many ways, yet there are striking similarities between them.

This is a great coming-of-age story that also encourages its readers to empathise with the other characters encountered (even if from a distance).

Hattie is pregnant by her best friend, Reuben. He’s disappeared to France while her other friend, Kat, has gone to Scotland with a new girlfriend. When Hattie is contacted about an elderly relative in the grip of early onset dementia she decides to visit her.

What follows is a road trip with a difference as Hattie takes Gloria on a trip back through time.

Told with unflinching honesty this is a moving exploration of family, memories and learning to accept the decisions you make.