Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School by Kim Newman

When Amy Thomsett’s mother finds her sleeping on the ceiling (again) she is packed off to Drearcliff Grange School. A foreboding house on a cliff edge and every bit suiting its name, what Amy first takes to be an ordinary boarding school for girls soon surpasses all her expectations. 

The girls at Drearcliff School are special, one way or another. Some are the daughters of criminal masterminds, powerful leaders and other prominent figures. Some girls have their own special Abilities, which the Headmistress wants to encourage and hone, but these same powers make those special girls and outcast amongst others. 

Amy soon makes a close group of friends within her dorm, and when one of them is abducted by a mysterious hooded gang, she founds The Moth Club; a secret masked society tasked with rescuing their friend. But the abduction is just the start of the adventure for the Moth Club. When a new arrival at the school changes everything at Drearcliff, it is down to Amy and her clutch of special students to save the day. 

This book is jam packed with content. You get to meet pretty much every student at the school, sometimes getting a glimpse of their back story and/or powers, there are all the staff members and also the history of the school. Of course there is day to day school life, on top of all the stranger-than-usual goings on and there is even an insight into the future which I especially liked. 

Amy is a great lead character and the reader sees the school mostly through her experiences. There are plenty of supporting characters to like and dislike accordingly. I loved the idea of the girls with Abilities (think an odd version of X-Men) with mind reading, life draining and amazing memory as just a few examples. There is even a wolf girl and also a fish-like girl from Innsmouth! 

I likened the school and this story as a crazy hybrid of St. Trinians, Harry Potter and Watchmen mash up which I really hope makes sense if you get a chance to read this novel. This story is fantastically creative, bursting with supernatural references and mind swirling action. Not predictable in the slightest, there is just so much to get your teeth into with this story and by the end, you’ll feel like you were actually there! 

I believe this is a standalone novel but with a ridiculous amount of potential and endless possibilities for further storylines, I really hope there is eventually more to come from Drearcliff.  Weird and wonderful with some unforgettable characters in an even more striking setting, The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School is an amazing novel for horror and supernatural readers. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Wye by Jack Croxall

I can’t say I read a lot of YA but when I do, I always like a story that is a little out of the ordinary. This standalone dystopian YA novel from Tethers Trilogy author Jack Croxall certainly delivered. 

Meet sixteen year old Wye who is travelling through an English wilderness on route to a cabin and hopefully permanent safety. Following The Spread of a mystery Sickness, most of the population has perished. 

Trying to survive in the aftermath by avoiding corpses and constantly on the lookout for shelter, food and water supplies, Wye travels with a little band of fellow teenagers who each bring their own skill or qualities to the group. Not just your bog-standard zombie novel, Wye has a few surprises in store to keep you on your toes. 

The story is told in the form of Wye’s journal as she describes her time on her cross-country trip, and also looks back on her life before The Sickness. As well as sharing her memories and coming to terms with some secrets of her past, Wye is quite reflective in the journal and she certainly has plenty of time to think things through. It’s not only her own life that she is reflective about, but she also has plenty of opinions about society before The Sickness that takes up many of her thoughts. 

Secrets and current circumstances aside, Wye is pretty much a regular teenager and so in getting to know her via her detailed diary, it was easy for me to get attached to her character and really root for her to make it to that cabin always on the horizon. 

In her old life, Wye was something of a literature fan and often thinks back on her favourite reads, especially when she finds the books of departed people. I really liked that element to the story, quoting Keats and discussing Shakespeare only just skims the surface of some literary greats that are name dropped throughout the story. 

On top of the obvious dangers, Wye and her friends are also being stalked by an unknown predator which Wye refers to as the “monster” and that added a lot of tension and suspense to the novel. It’s not so much a race against time, as a hard slog to salvation. 

Will Wye survive the wilderness, the monster and her ever pressing guilt? I think dystopian readers and YA fans will enjoy the journey to find out. Wye is a simmering suspenseful and thought provoking novel that will definitely appeal to readers of this genre. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Hack by Kieran Crowley

Brand new pet columnist for the New York Mail F.X. Shepherd accidently finds himself attending a grisly murder scene. The corpse is found arranged in a creative tableau and the deceased’s celebrity partner is in the frame. 

Charming both the police and other influential individuals connected to the crime, Shepherd stays on the story, gaining access to the crime scenes and racking up exclusives for his paper. 

What initially starts as a possible crime of passion eventually turns into the spree of a deranged serial killer – dubbed The Hacker – who leaves their high profile victims in bizarre, brutal scenes. 

Always seeming to be ahead of the competition and the police, Shepherd is directly contacted by The Hacker and could find himself in very real danger. Luckily, Shepherd’s own past makes him fairly equipped to handle extraordinary circumstances. 

I instantly liked Shepherd’s character. He’s confident and quick-witted and adds a lot of fun to the story. His past is equally interesting and as he investigates the crimes further, the more information the reader is able to uncover about Shepherd himself. Being quite clever amongst his other attributes, Shepherd seems to pick up on clues and sniff out the next story easily but there are plenty of people on his tail that throw up almost as many hurdles as the elusive killer. 

As useful as he is to the police, he’s on their turf and must still tread carefully. There is also the sexy yet ruthless rival journalist Ginny Mac, who hates being beaten and will do practically anything for an exclusive scoop! Shepherd also has to negotiate the cut-throat office politics at his paper which puts him in danger all the more. 

There are plenty of sensational and memorable characters that are thrown into bizarre scenarios. The murders that occur are wonderfully graphic and inventive which made the story even more addictive. Kieran Crowley is a New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning investigative reporter. His work on numerous trials and murder cases, including that of the Zodiac Killer, really comes through in the gritty undertones and well-crafted storyline of this novel.  

I couldn’t get enough of this story and devoured it in one sitting. Some books have parts that are a bit boring. Whether it is a few pages or whole chapters, there can be periods where the prose is simply filler. There is none of that in this book; it’s all action and all engaging. Funny, witty and endlessly thrilling, Hack is a seriously accomplished contemporary crime novel you won’t want to put down. 

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Drowning Lesson by Jane Shemilt

This is the second novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Jane Shemilt following the success of her critically acclaimed debut novel Daughter. This is my first Shemilt read but I was definitely impressed and now curious for more. 

This offering tells of married doctors Emma and Adam Jordan who are at the top of their professions and are always striving to better themselves. 

When the opportunity arises, Adam jumps at the chance to take a research placement in Botswana and so the Jordans relocate with their three children to Africa. They expected the experience to be life changing but it is life altering in ways they could not possibly have envisaged. 

Emma arrives home one night to learn that their baby son has been abducted. Thousands of miles from home, the Jordan family desperately try to uncover the truth as to what has happened to their baby in the midst of the grief and turmoil of the situation. 

I’ve yet to have children, but I can guess that losing a child is probably a parent’s worst nightmare. Add to that being in a foreign country, away from friends and familiarity and a different legal system, and it makes the whole scenario much more terrifying and stressful. 

Emma and Adam have an interesting relationship to start with; both intelligent and at the top of their fields and yet they are always in some unspoken competition to outdo each other. They certainly have their differences, and following the abduction their marriage is pushed to breaking point. 

Emma’s character has many issues of her own, sometimes explored through flashbacks to her childhood which added more depth to the story. Issues aside, the Jordans are a fairly ordinary family, and so being thrown into such a terrible situation, it makes for gripping reading to uncover the mystery alongside them. 

There are two main settings which really ground the two halves of the story. There is the family’s home in England where you learn about the characters and their day to day lives which is quite ordinary and safe. Then with the move to Africa, you can almost feel the unforgiving heat of the place as the Jordan’s start their new life there which swiftly takes a turn for the worst. 

The prose gets quite dark at times and there is plenty of tension as you move towards the ending. A compelling read about secrets, marriage, family and motherhood, The Drowning Lesson will keep you guessing until the very last page. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

This story starts with a funeral, but instead of being sad, Veronica Speedwell sees the passing of her spinster aunt as a new start. With no family to speak of, she intends to resume her world travels; studying her passion of butterflies and indulging in other passions of the romantic variety whilst she is away from the gentle ideals of Victorian society. 

But fate scuppers Veronica’s plans in the form of a failed abduction. She is swiftly assisted by an enigmatic baron who may hold some answers as to the identity of her birth parents. 

In the meantime to keep her safe, he entrusts her to the safekeeping of his friend Stoker; a reclusive yet dashing natural historian with a temper. Before the baron can impart his knowledge, he is murdered in his own home and Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run, forming an unlikely alliance in order to uncover the truth. 

I adored Veronica’s character from the start. I don’t think I’ve liked a heroine this much since reading India Black. Veronica is intelligent, passionate and is honest and forthcoming in her opinions. I loved how frank she was about sex, relationships and feminism despite the views of the rather prudish polite society. She is naturally curious, brave and likes to travel – a woman after my own heart! 

Her relationship with Stoker is equally enjoyable to read – all that verbal sparring and veritable chemistry fizzes from the pages and I couldn’t get enough of it! As well as Veronica and Stoker, there are a host of interesting supporting characters thrown into the mix. 

Of course another thing I noticed and loved about the story was all the references to butterflies. Veronica is a keen lepidopterist and takes any opportunity to indulge her love for the pretty creatures. I liked the references so much I’ve even collected some pictures of the butterflies name dropped as a little slideshow below. 

As Veronica and Stoker work through the mystery they are both involved in, there are plenty of twists that keep you turning pages. This is the start of a brand new series from the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey series. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of those books, but if they are half as good as this one, then I definitely need to add them to my reading list. Colourful and full of surprises, the first Veronica Speedwell mystery is an entertaining and jam-packed crime fiction treat.   

Friday, 9 October 2015

Déjà Vu by Ian Hocking

In the year 2023, weary European detective Saskia Brandt returns from a holiday to find her receptionist dead and herself in the frame, with little time to clear her name. What she uncovers about the crime and herself change her outlook in ways she cannot yet imagine. 

In England, academic David Proctor’s world is rocked when an unexpected phone call and visitor send him on a journey to his former employment, which was also the location of his wife’s untimely death. Overseas, David’s genius daughter Jennifer is finishing work on the ground-breaking Déjà Vu project that will change the course of human history forever. 

Their three lives are interlinked in a perilous race against time to follow the clues and solve the mystery they have unwittingly been caught up in. That is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing this story, and there is so much more for eager readers to uncover. 

The futuristic world of advanced technology, digital gadgets and cutting edge science that Ian Hocking has created is brilliant but also a little scary and unnerving. The power that some of the characters and organisations hold and the technology they have access to is quite daunting! I confess; I didn’t understand everything when it got really technical but it sounded bloody brilliant! 

This book is also part crime fiction novel, with several overlapping investigations taking place throughout the story, with different organisations involved. There were also some mythology references mixed in to the story which I particularly enjoyed too. I really liked the character of David Proctor; he is set on a crazy path fraught with danger and yet he is still clever, collected and retains his humour. Saskia is a hardy heroine and the more that is uncovered about her, the more you understand her and her role in the story. 

The convoluted plotline is intelligent to say the least, but also detailed and action packed. The second half gets quite exciting and I didn’t want to put it down! With the elements of time travel and identity, your brain will be doing mental gymnastics thinking back on the clues as the story overlaps itself. You can’t get bored reading this; you’ll be too busy trying to stay one step ahead of the characters! 

Riveting, complex and devilishly clever, Déjà Vu is a fantastic read for any sci-fi fan that wants an exciting read that is out of the ordinary. 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill

The issues raised in this book are so important and yet widely played down in today’s society, and so I think this could be one of the most significant books of the year and for a while to come. 

It’s the start of summer in a small Irish town, and teenager Emma seems to have it all. She’s beautiful; all the boys want her and her clique of friends follow everything she says. 

One night a big party is held and Emma is getting plenty of attention. The next morning she wakes up on the front porch of her house with little recollection of the night before, of how she got home or why she is in pain. 

However what she doesn't remember soon comes back to her in the form of explicit photographs taken of her at the party, and the consequences of that night change her life and those involved forever. 

I’m not one for controversial debates, but this is a subject matter that I feel incredibly strongly about, although I will try and make this post more book review than rant! Sexual assault (which can range from unwanted touching to rape) is something not commonly explored in mainstream literature and is a brave subject topic for any author to tackle. Louise O’Neill sets up a simple yet effective storyline in which to explore this topic and I believe that sadly many people will have shared some of Emma’s experiences at some point in their lives. 

Emma is not a particularly likeable character; she’s arrogant and at times quite selfish but that doesn’t mean that she deserves what happens to her, which is often a term that can get thrown around in such cases. “She wore a short skirt, so she deserved it” or “She was asking for it.” With the sexual assault theme, also comes the topic of consent. If someone is intoxicated for example, then are they in a position to give consent to sexual activity? 

As well as exploring these ideas with Emma, the story also shows how Emma’s situation affects her family which was probably the most heartbreaking bit for me. Reading this book sends you through a riot of emotions; anger, denial, sadness – which may sound quite negative but this is such a significant and attention-grabbing story that will really get you thinking about what you are reading. 

A story like this is so relevant in our current climate of “slut-shaming” and the power of social media where rumours and offensive material can be shared quicker than ever. Asking For It is a powerful, provocative and significant novel that should be on everybody’s reading list.