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‘The Hand on the Wall’ – Maureen Johnson

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

What can I say? At the same time as Stevie believes she’s solved the crime of the century, there are three mysterious deaths at Ellingham…are they linked? We get answers, finally, and not all of them are what we might have desired but they most certainly tie things up well.

After her somewhat unexpected return to Ellingham, Stevie is doggedly determined to find out the truth. She, along with the other students, is clearly upset by the deaths of the students, but if Stevie can finally piece together the clues that are in front of her she will get her peace of mind.

Unfortunately, there’s still unexplained issues and the net seems to be drawing in around Stevie. When a storm is forecast Stevie and her small group of friends come up with a daring plan to remain in Ellingham. Their main aim is to support David in his attempts to bring down his father, but Stevie recognises her opportunity to finally resolve the case of Alice Ellingham.

The story involving Stevie and her friends sweeps along. Occasionally they do things that are, to say the least, dangerous but when even your friends call you Nancy Drew it isn’t completely unbelievable. The nods to Agatha Christie were fun to spot, but there was always a modern element that kept this feeling relevant.

What I really enjoyed about this was the snippets of the story from 1937. Learning the truth about what happened and how it links to the modern day was fascinating. It offered some interesting ideas about certain characters, and definitely made it fun to watch others trying to make the links we’d been alerted to.

 

‘The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep’ – H.G. Parry

Thanks to NetGalley for bringing to my attention a book that is an unashamed testimony to loving Literature.

For anyone who loves books, this is a delight. Reading about the summoners who form such a bond with the books they read that they can create these characters in real life was always going to be fun.

Our main characters are brothers, Rob and Charley. Since they were little the brothers have kept Charley’s secret safe. They fondly recall childhood teas with Sherlock Holmes and so on, but as they’re older things have become a little more serious.

When we meet them, Charlie is a professor at the university of Wellington. He calls to ask Robert to help him as he has brought Uriah Heep to life, and things aren’t going smoothly. What comes next is a frightening scenario for anyone, but because it features so many familiar faces it really is concerning.

As we progress through the story we learn that Charley has a nemesis. It takes the time to work it out, and there’s a very real chance that people will not survive. This story could have gone in numerous directions, but throughout it had me gripped.

 

‘Starsight’ – Brandon Sanderson

Having been so invested in Spensa’s life after book one it felt a little strange to plunge into a much broader scale for this instalment.

After a relatively swift update on what our team have been doing, we are disrupted by the events taking place on a much larger scale. We learn of the dangers facing Detritus and the determination Spensa has to learn more about why the Krell keep attacking them.

Events conspire to send Spensa and M-Bot on a risky mission…to infiltrate Starsight and learn about their technology, with the aim of eventually stealing the secret of hyper travel.

This was a more ambitious scale of world-building. We’re introduced to different groups and learn a little more of their past and their interactions. It’s necessary, and was well done, but it meant we lacked the pace of book one.

Without giving away details, we quickly learn that Spensa is a pawn in someone else’s game. She has to challenge her own prejudices and decide to what extent she will use the teachings of her grandmother.

There’s more flying. There’s a lot of information about the characters and the way their historical beliefs have shaped their current behaviour. There’s some intriguing developments regarding Doomslug and M-Bot, and a rather momentous end-scene that has me curious to see what comes next.

 

‘The Unadjusteds’ – Marisa Noelle

Now that’s what I call an exciting YA fantasy…full of action from start to finish, and with a great cast of characters.

In this world people are used to adjusting their appearance through the taking of nanites, an advanced technology that alters a person’s physical appearance and capabilities. Silver Melody’s parents invented the technology, but she has always been vehemently anti-nanite. Having watched close friends die, she is understandably nervous about the implications.

From the opening drama, which succinctly outlines Melody’s perspective, we’re plunged into a nightmare scenario. There are plans to force anyone ‘unadjusted’ to take nanites, so Melody and her father are forced to flee.

Unfortunately, there are people in power who are very keen to get their hands on Melody and her father.

What follows is a fraught battle. Melody is forced to develop skills she never knew she had, and rely on a very mixed group to help her.

While I enjoyed the ending, it left me with an awful lot of questions. I can’t help but wonder whether we haven’t heard the last of Melody Silver…

 

‘The Memory Wood’ – Sam Lloyd

Confusing beyond belief, horror piled on horror and – throughout- there’s a blurring of the line between dream/nightmare and reality. While the content is deeply unpleasant, the end result is a story that is very hard to put down.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this prior to publication in exchange for my thoughts.

This won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a book that I’m sure will be talked about.
The majority of the story takes place in somewhere called The Memory Wood.

Elijah, one of our main characters, has been there a long time and Elissa, a somber yet highly resourceful thirteen year old chess fan, has just arrived. The pair seek solace in each other’s company, though we’re never entirely sure who to trust.

Alongside the experience of Elissa realising she has been abducted and incarcerated, we follow the detective put in charge of the investigation. We learn – eventually – exactly who Elijah is and how he fits into the story.

What is uncovered is beyond your worst imaginings. We’re shown the very worst of people, but we also uncover some good. Unsettling, but strangely compelling.

 

‘Three Hours’ – Rosamund Lupton

I have only just closed the last page on this extraordinary book, and I think this is one I’ll return to time and time again.

The subject is horrifying, but it is a story that ought to be shared.

A school in the Somerset woodlands, full of children of all ages going about their daily lives. A noise is heard in the woods. Most think it’s a harmless prank, fireworks, but refugee Rafi recognises that it’s a bomb. The Headmaster is shot and he, along with older students, takes refuge in the library and surrounding classrooms. A group of students is in relative safety in the school theatre, rehearsing Macbeth, while a group of primary children are with their teacher in the pottery room.

Spread out as they are, this is an incredibly tense situation.

As we switch views and timings, we learn more about what is happening. We follow these incredibly brave children trying not to give in to their fear. We see teachers stepping into roles nobody should have to take on. We see the police procedure as they desperately try to resolve what quickly becomes a terrifying scenario. We watch in horror as we see the role media and the wider public world have in events. And we also get fleeting glimpses of desperate parents trying to find their children.

The events of this book take place over three short hours. Every moment of that time was depicted so clearly, and as events build to their chilling climax I was physically affected by my reading.

While I might, over time, feel more manipulated by certain revelations/events, I have to rate this based on my reaction as I was reading. Nobody should have to face anything like this. It’s a horrific time when such hatred is shared widely, and nobody challenges it. This book is testimony to what I’d like to feel is a common decency and determination not to give in to this hatred.

 

‘Chosen’ – Kiersten White

 

Back to the world of the Slayer, and since Nina got her powers returned nothing has felt quite right. She’s reluctant to tell anyone about it and also has to keep quiet about her sister Artemis’s actions.

For reasons that we do, eventually, learn we are kept rather in the dark here. There are all manner of odd events taking place, and Nina is feeling the strain. She fears the final prophecy, knows she has to keep people safe but doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes made by others.

There’s some tongue-in-cheek humorous moments, enough fear of the hell-mouth to satisfy the toughest reader and demons aplenty. We learn a little more about certain characters, and just when we think it’s going one way we have the proverbial rug pulled from under our feet.

It’s good to be back…

 

‘Queenie’ – Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie was a book I’d heard a lot about, though nobody I know seems to have read it. It’s being touted as Bridget Jones meets Americanah. I disliked Bridget Jones intensely, and have never heard of Americanah so it was with some trepidation that I picked this up.

Initially I found it quite hard to warm to Queenie. She’s loud, brash at times, would be incredibly frustrating to work with and is definitely used to using sex to gloss over potential issues. I found myself virtually screaming at the page at her inability to seem to talk to her boyfriend or manage to present herself in a focused way at work. It was like watching an overgrown teenager wandering round, complaining that nobody understood them, putting themselves in stupid situations and then being surprised when someone took advantage of them.

Quite early on we learn that Queenie is dumped by her boyfriend. As she recounts some of her ‘fond’ memories of him I found myself thinking he came from a fairly prejudiced background, was spineless beyond belief and thinking that the pair of them should never have got together in the first place. Once she’s moved into shared accommodation Queenie seems to hit the rapid self-destruct button.

She lurches from one abusive sexual encounter to another. Most of her experiences – whether it’s the sex itself or the people who mop up afterwards – show what could best be described as a complicit attitude to the racism and prejudice that is referenced.

At a point quite early on I considered not reading on. Then we got some snippets of information about Queenie’s past experiences. We are given indicators that she is manipulated in certain situations. And we meet her grandparents…this was enough to make me stick with it.

As we see Queenie get to a pretty low point and then watch her start to confront some of her demons I came to almost like her. Intensely frustrating, very high-maintenance but disarmingly candid and very warm-hearted. Queenie’s past with her mother and Roy went some way to explaining some of her attitudes/behaviours. The exploration of her mental health and steps she takes to move forward were important. She’s not going to be a character many would admire from the outset, but her grit makes her quite unforgettable.

 

‘The Clockwork Sparrow: The Sinclair’s Mysteries’ – Katherine Woodfine

This first in The Sinclair’s Mysteries series is certainly of a type, but for fans of Robin Stevens this is a must.

Our main character, Sophie Taylor, has not in the most auspicious of circumstances. Her mother died when Sophie was little, and her father has recently been killed at War. For reasons which are never fully explained, Sophie’s home has been sold from under her and she is now responsible for herself. Sophie is clearly resourceful and has secured a position as a milliner’s assistant in Sinclair’s store – a wonder of the time.

Unfortunately, on the night before the grand opening a mysterious object – the clockwork sparrow – is stolen along with a number of valuable jewels. Sophie is accused of the theft, but we know – from the events we’ve watched – that this is not the full story.

From the outset we are plunged into a world of espionage, where young adults get to show they are cleverer than established detectives. There’s the occasional red herring and we are kept in the dark with certain characters/links.

While I was frustrated by some of the mysteries remaining hidden, there was enough there to make me think the Baron will be a recurring feature of these novels – and I wondered if he would end up being a little closer to home than Sophie is prepared for.

 

‘A Good Man’ – Ani Katz

Thomas Martin defines himself as a good man. Outwardly successful, earning a good wage, caring for his mother and sisters, and taking an interest in his wife and daughter. We see snippets of their life through Thomas’s eyes, and initially everything seems so straightforward.

Ever so slowly we get prickles of unease. Little details hint at something off-kilter about Thomas and his background. There’s suggestions of abuse at the hands of his father and the behaviour of his sisters seems symptomatic of those who’ve experienced neglect or abuse. But Thomas calls himself a good man and paints a picture of someone on top of their game. Why would we doubt him?

The memories of his early relationship with his wife appear fond. Then we learn that her family avoid them, and the details about her behaviour ring pretty vivid alarm bells.

As we move into the sphere of work it seems Thomas isn’t painting the full picture. This is never satisfactorily explained, but we do know he loses his job and never admits this.

Thomas’s mental decline seems to happen rapidly, but I think this was some time in the making. Before we know it we move towards a highly charged situation. Set against a beautiful winter setting we watch the most extreme events unravel. Even as I was getting over the situation between Thomas and his wife, I was not remotely prepared for the closing scene. Chilling.

A Good Man? It’s safe to say Thomas has one view of himself that is at odds with our view. How he went so long without being aware of this is hard to see, and I’m rather curious to know what he does next. This was certainly a different read, and I’d like to thank NetGalley and the publishers for offering me the opportunity to read it prior to publication.