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‘The Survival Game’ – Nicky Singer

Thank you NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication. A chilling tale of what might yet come to pass.

In our future climate change has reached what might be seen as an inevitable conclusion. Parts of the world are inhospitable. The world’s population is moving northwards and, inevitably, some react better to this than others.

We follow 14-year old Mhairi as she escapes the detention centre she’s placed in after travelling illegally from Cairo following the death of her parents. She is determined to walk to Arran, the home of her grandmother. Along the way she reveals snippets of her story which it might be easy to miss as they’re quite understated. These snippets build a truly terrifying picture of this new reality.

Once she – and a young boy she saves en route – make their way to Arran it would be lovely to think their story was over. Far from it. In fact, it’s once they arrive with Mhairi’s grandmother that the difficult questions start.

Some very difficult questions raised in this, and the ending of the novel rather took my breath away.

‘Vox’ – Christina Dalcher

‘Vox’ is being heralded as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ for a new generation. If that’s the push people need to pick this up then so be it., as this is a book that really should be read. By everyone.

Dr Jean McLellan is an eminent neuroscientist. She has her personal flaws but in her career she was at the forefront of studies into the brain and how it’s impacted by illness. I use the past tense because when we meet Dr Jean her role has been drastically reduced, like that of many women.

In this America women are no longer part of the work force. Their role is to nurture children and keep the home. Their rights have – as we learn in bits and pieces – been eradicated. This alone was enough to anger me, but the fact their voices are taken away was jaw-dropping. Each female wears a wrist counter. It allows them 100 words a day. 100!

The fact that nobody openly questions this tells us just how different things are in this imagined world.

The premise of this story was absorbing. I particularly liked the way we learn how such a situation came into being. Like so many periods in history where such things happen it’s always easy to look on in hindsight and question the actions of those alive at the time. Sadly, Dalcher paints all too vivid a picture of how this came to pass.

The story was chilling as we come to understand just what is at risk here. A timely reminder of the need to question decisions made by those in power.

Thank you NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.

‘White Rabbit, Red Wolf’ – Tom Pollock

Touted as the new Curious Incident this is a very different book, and I think if you go into it expecting a lovable main character trying to make sense of the world around him you may be disappointed.

Peter is a mathematical genius. He uses maths to manage his extreme anxiety, and is convinced that maths has the answer to everything. Being that bit older than Haddon’s protagonist, he’s also got a slightly different take on the world.
From the moment we first meet Pete crouched in his kitchen having eaten a salt cellar in an attempt to stem his overwhelming anxiety, it’s clear that this is going to be an unsettling read. I truly wasn’t expecting it to be as dark as it was.

It was fascinating to get under the skin of Pete, but the actual story was more focused on the thriller element and it had to be this way in order for the plot to work.

When Pete’s mother is stabbed as she goes to receive an award for her work, his sister is missing and he quickly learns that no one around him was who they claimed to be. We’re plunged into a nightmare world of spies, scientific manipulation and some gruesome deaths.

I don’t want to reveal too much more. Suffice to say, nothing was quite as it seemed and every time I thought we were getting somewhere there was another detail given that turned things on their head. This would have been an all-out recommendation, but for the sense of everything feeling rather rushed by the end and being left rather uncertain about a few key details. Still one I’d heartily recommend.

‘The Tall Man’ – Phoebe Locke

Thank you NetGalley for letting me read my oddest of 2018 so far.

There were issues with my ARC – parts of text missing or disordered – and this meant there was some inevitable confusion as I tried to keep fixed who was the focus/what was happening. Those issues fixed, I think this will be the kind of read you’ll either fall hook, line and sinker for or you’ll be ambivalent about. I, sadly, was somewhere in between.

For me, the start of the story was not quite there. We’re expected to fall for The Tall Man story but without really being given enough detail to justify such a reaction. Throughout, the supposedly creepy references to this mythical figure felt forced. I never felt I had enough to substantiate this, feeling it was always something of a smokescreen for another story.

Some reviewers have commented on the fragmented nature of the setting. This is disconcerting on occasion, but it does make sense as we learn more about Sophie, Miles and their daughter, Amber, as she is being followed by a film crew for a documentary about a murder. Certain details hint at there being more to certain characters and the events unfolding, but it’s not until later that we get to piece everything together.

‘Embassy of the Dead’ – Will Mabbitt

A story with humour, for fans of Skullduggery Pleasant.

This is the first in a new series that promises to be great fun and, I hope, a great hit with readers.

Jake find himself on the wrong end of a meeting with a spirit. He takes possession of a box – and, without thinking, opens it. Inside is a severed finger. For Jake it’s also the start of a rather surreal adventure.

Jake finds himself hunted by employees of the Embassy of the Dead, and in his quest to avoid being sent to the Eternal Void he ends up befriending a Possessor, communing with the dead and doing all he can to keep his life.

Slightly tongue-in-cheek and this looks like the first in an interesting series. Thanks, NetGalley, for putting me on to something new for younger readers.

‘Legendary’ – Stephanie Garber

First of all, I loved Caraval and thought it would be hard to top. Second, I have fallen in love a little (okay, a lot) with this world and can’t wait to see where Garber takes it.
It’s fine.
Legendary was – dare I say it – better than Caraval, but for different reasons.
Once again, we’re plunged into a world full of mystery and intrigue. This time round we had some familiar faces, but it remains a world where we’re never quite sure what is real and what is game.
Tella is determined to play Caraval this time. She has a friend helping her, and is determined that the price she will be asked to pay for this help will be worth it. What she has to work out during the game is just who/what is precious to her, and whether or not she is prepared to pay the price asked of her.
There’s lots of twists and turns. There’s hints of awful things to come. But there’s also hope.
Much as I wanted a neat tidy ending, it actually sets things up to be a very interesting finale.

‘The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their World’ – Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

A seemingly innocuous action, done with little thought of the potential consequences, and I’m fairly certain that many teenagers could identify – to some degree – with this scenario. What will be quite different is that for most of us who carry out a ‘dumb/risky’ action there will be no further impact. Richard was not quite so lucky.

From the outset we are told exactly what happened to the two students involved – Richard and Sasha. Sasha fell asleep on a bus travelling home from school, Richard put a lighter to their skirt and then watched as they were seriously burned. The consequences for both could have been so much more severe, but what we are privy to here is enough.

We begin by focusing on Sasha. Born as Luke this section outlines how they came to view themselves as agender and what that meant for them and their family. There’s a lot of info packed into this section, but it gives a clear insight into some of the issues facing teens exploring their identity.

Next we’re introduced to Richard, a cheeky young boy who wants to achieve. Circumstances seem to play a huge part in his life and the options open to him, but each person has to take responsibility for their actions and live with the consequences of their actions.

As we watch the bus journey unfold, the moment Richard sets Sasha’s skirt on fire is fleeting. However, the repercussions of this moment are enormous.
The story takes us through court appearances, how both families reacted and some of the wider issues involved. It poses a number of questions about hate crime, how teens are treated in the justice system and how we can accommodate difference.

I felt quite humbled reading this, and very fortunate to not be faced with so many of the issues touched on within the pages. While the writing style had an inevitable journalistic tone, the story was engaging and one that needs to be shared. Thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this book.

‘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!