After looking through my drafts file for last weeks Top Ten Tuesday, I felt inspire to attempt to publish some of those drafts, including this basically fully written one. Here is my review of Fangirl, a novel centring on first year university student Cath, looking to find love and a new life at university.

Cath’s character, as a socially awkward fangirl with an obsession for Simon Snow, presumably plays of being very relatable to the die hard Harry Potter fan. I struggled to see myself in Cath, relating slightly to her shy approach to the world but finding her obsession with Simon Snow memorabilia and Fanfiction more like a 13 year old than most first year university students.

Cath’s lack of interest in her university life was disappointing as she continues to prioritises her Fanfiction over her friends, boyfriend and assignments. Cath’s character encounters some personal development throughout the novel, however, it was stifled. Seeing her create new friendships, enter social spheres and the changing relationship with her family are moments many university student would recognise, Fangirl doing well to present a subset of the tiring set of social trials first year university presents.

However, I found Cath’s selfish attitudes and unwillingness to change, her reluctance to enjoy university and slight judgemental attitude towards those who do, her assumption to expect the worst of everyone grating and stifling to the growth of Rowell’s protagonist.

As for the other characters in the novel I found them to be well developed. Although Cath does not meet the variety of people most students do in their first year the handful she does meet are well written with complex backstories. I enjoyed reading Ragen and Levi’s background and watching Cath’s relationship develop with the pair however felt more could have done with Wren. I felt the reader was almost meant to judge Wren for wanting to meet new people at university and step away from the FanFiction Beta reading twin sister that seems more akin to a twelve year old than an eighteen year old. I was disappointed the plot justified Cath’s harsh judgement of her sister and the option of actually growing up and discovering yourself at university is never presented to the reader.

Rowell’s writing style throughout Fangirl was light hearted and easy to read. With sparse descriptions, long dialogues and the odd moment of Cath’s spiralling emotions Fangirl is a quick and easy read. Although this simple style was effective for the prose I would have preferred Cath’s writing style in her FanFiction to have differed more from the narrative and similarly for the writing in the extracts of the Simon Snow novels to have also taken on a different tone. This would have added more variety to the novel, although honestly, the Simon Snow extracts felt out of place and pointless.

University was a life changing three years for me, and no doubt for many students, so I was pleased to see this unusual aspect reflected in Fangirl. With students haunts like the library, a cheesy bar and a student halls creating the backdrop Rainbow Rowell sets a familiar scene that is rarely described in literature. I feel slightly more could have been done with this as Cath’s closed minded approach means she doesn’t have all the university experience many students will recall: first trip to a club, joining societies, meeting a strange mix of flatmates. However, Cath gaining so much freedom in her work and social life, learning what she will prioritise as she studies a subject for herself rather than the hoop jumping exercise of school, sets a familiar tone to the novel.

The majority of the novel sets a smooth and even pace focussing on Cath’s relationships with her family, Levi, Raegan and Nick. However the pacing presents a problem as the novel begins to draw to a close: with Cath’s assignment deadlines looming, her desperation to finish her FanFiction Carry On, the thrill of a new romance and the whirlwind that is the conclusion to the first year university its understandable the last few pages might feel crammed.

As Fangirl concludes a multitude of storylines emerge, from Levi and Cath’s first fight, Cath’s insecurities about her sister and a confusing and almost random plot development with Nick the novel attempts to encompass what could have been a hundred pages of fleshed out plot points in thirty quick moments of little disasters that fix themselves within a manner of seconds, strung together in a random sequence that left me feeling disjointed and wondering which of the mini endings would actually be the end.

The plot contained interesting elements that draws on the university experience, however it suffers from the poor pacing and random resolutions mentioned above. The inclusion of Cath’s family and academic struggles are well balanced and created a novel that showed a subset of what university life is like.

Overall I found the novel’s premise intriguing. I would have preferred a more detailed narrative and for the Simon Snow chapters to add more to the context of the novel while Cath’s FanFiction could have provided a variety of writing styles that would make them stand out from the other chapters. My main issue for a low rating revolves around the judgemental protagonist and a lack of enthusiasm for university life, which was the reason I picked up the novel in the first place.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

You can find more of my reviews here and also over on my goodreads.

The Foundling

This was such a cover read. Those swirling blues and the despondent silhouette in an old fashioned dress was 100% the reason I picked up this book. The reason I stuck with it was because it’s the first historical fiction I’ve read that really draws me into the time period, makes me care for the characters and encompasses a curious unsolved mysterious.

Six years ago Bess Bright gives her new born baby, mere hours old, to the Foundling hospital in London, Bess unmarried and unable to care for a child. When she returns for her child after years of hard work with her pitiful savings, ready to claim the daughter that has haunted her ever since, she finds her missing, supposedly claimed by Bess mere days after being admitted to the hospital. Desperation sets in as Bess sets out to find the impersonating that has stolen her daughter.

I absolutely love seeing London’s past. You can wonder those cramped little cobbled streets, pass houses that now cost a fortune but were once Victorian slums, see brick buildings adorned with masonry and plaques that so clearly show a hidden past and get a really sense that millions of people have been there before and seen a very different view and had a very different story, and I want to know them all. Hearing the descriptions of 1700s London was my favourite aspect of The Foundling, seeing the modest town houses and carriages, hearing about the pub with the elephant in, Bess’s flat and Billingsgate fish market. The setting was perfectly done laying out the history plainly yet creatively to the reader, so vividly described that you could picture it perfectly.

The audiobook, too, really brought the past to life. From Bess’s cockney London accent to Alexandra’s slow and posh drawl, seamlessly changing between the two narrators as the story is told, really brings the plot to life. It’s immersive, creative and captivating, really setting the stage and stunning the reader.

Bess’s character is the backbone of The Foundling. Her desperation to get her daughter back, the strong friendship she forms with Kezia and the love she has for her family make her chapters poignant and powerful. This graceful main character leads the reader through large swathes of the story, the theme of found family strongly portrayed through her narrative.

Alexandra Callard, a reclusive widow with a fear of London and the dangers it presents, was an unusual character explored under Hall’s careful words. From childhood trauma to the sudden death of her husband Alexandra clearly struggles to cope, refusing to open her house up to more than a handful of servants and imprisoning her daughter for fear of any harm. This nervous character was difficult to relate to, her strange life style and detached emotions making her hard for me as a reader to connect to. However, Alexandra’s character grew on me throughout the novel and her strange way of life made her character arc and growth all the more powerful as the novel draws to a close.

At times the pacing felt difficult, the long descriptions of Alexandra’s strange life and the days the reader lives in her townhouse felt dull and often made me wonder if the novel was going to pick up at all. Overally I understood why a large chunk of the novel took place inside Alexandra’s house where we see the character development taking place between Charlotte and her nursemaid and follow Alexandra’s insecurities towards her own parenting ability but these chapters felt slow compared to the bustle of the streets of London and the fish markets.

Although the plot does lag for a few chapters, as detailed above, The Foundling still presents an exciting and well executed premise that I felt was overall worth reading. I found the plot unique, with a satisfying conclusion, the characters well written, realistic and fleshed out.

The Foundling presents strong women in an artful way. Rather than the brash young woman who is angry at the world and system for never considering her an equal that are too common in historical fiction novels The Foundling is much more subtle. In small ways, such as Alexandra’s life as a widower, having refused to remarry and remaining a property owner secure in her income and strong in her will and mind and Bess who is again unmarried and the bread winner of her family, bringing in income and never pondering on what she could have. The entire novels centres around women, their friendships, relationships and family that really brings to life the strong characters of the time without bordering on the impossible.

Overall The Foundling is a well written historical fiction that encompasses a unique plot and shows an exiting piece of history I hadn’t explored through literature before. With themes of found family and well developed character arcs the novel is a heart warming read.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

You can find more of my reviews here and also over on my goodreads.

The Flatshare Review

While dealing with hard truths and the struggling reality young people face as they first venture into the world The Flatshare is real and emotional at times yet offers a comforting, cheery and overall uplifting read centring around a unique premise.

Desperate to get away from her toxic ex boyfriend Justin and facing London’s discouraging housing situation, Tiffy Moore accepts an unusual living situation: a Flatshare with palliative care nurse Leon. Leon works nights and spends weekends with his girlfriend Kate meaning the flat is his prospective roommates at all times except 8-6 during weekdays. As Tiffy’s bubbly personality and unfortunate taste in blankets slowly start to encroach into Leon’s small flat he begins to wonder if he really thought this offer through. Slowly, the two begin to share note written jokes and left over dinners as they realise that you can’t remain a complete stranger to you flatmate forever.

The setting was perfect for this novel. As a young graduate, fresh from university and working in London I couldn’t relate more to the subtle humour and added gripes about the capital the novel presented. From business men on scooters to basically working for free in the creative industries to the struggle it is for Londoners to find a place to live the novel encapsulates everything any young twenty year old feels after university when moving or working in the capital. The setting is relatable, realistic, unique and refreshing to see as London was brought to life under O’Leary’s creative hand.

Tiffys character presented a snarky, emotive and humorous monologue that was the backbone of the Flatshare. Riddled with sarcasm and self discovery her chapters present the complex character of a young woman slowly realising she is an abuse victim, the pressures she feels as she suddenly finds herself single and the positive steps she takes like going into therapy, ever guided by her supportive friends. As her character develops throughout the novel the story arc is heartwarming and empowering, this young protagonist perfectly encompassing the realities and struggles of being a young woman in the current day in an honest, light hearted and entertaining manor.

Leon I found harder to connect with. In both his notes, narration and his life he is more guarded than Tiffy, the reader is shown little of his past besides the odd comment about his childhood with Richie and his mum, he rarely shares with the reader his feelings. His curt decisive monologue was almost jarring compared with Tiffy’s bubbly and personalised chapters. Although his chapters were less entraining they do progress the plot and his character does slowly become more outgoing as his relationship with Tiffy develops, the humour he slowly begins to demonstrate in his notes and the epilogue a testament to this.

The pacing of the novel was well done. The novel covers nearly a year in our young protagonists lives, separated into months, however the reader never feels rushed between scenes, only guided by the calendar. The timing was crucial to the novel and what made Tiffy and Leon such a good couple: the slow burn romance and time and space they give one another as they navigate their previous relationships. Furthermore the stretch the novel takes on time means the reader can truly see these protagonists developing, it is clear that Tiffy is not healed instantly from her toxic relationship with Justin and shows the reader that time does eventually heal all wounds. The care and attention the author takes to restore her young protagonist and the strength Tiffy learns to show is an encouragement to the reader as Tiffy rediscovers and falls in love with herself again.

The plot of the Flatshare centres on more than just Tiffy and Leon’s romance. Leon’s brother being in prison, a hunt for a dying man’s lost love and Tiffy launching a new book called ‘Crochet your Way’ are all central to the events of the novel. The reader receives a rounded view of Tiffy and Leon’s existence as we are introduced to their work places, social scenes and, of course, the flat they are sharing. The novel does well to show the reader a year in their lives as our protagonist grow together their character arcs and development central to the plot.

The writing style was wholly dependent on the narrator. Tiffys chapters are light and bubbly, full of her personality, worries and sarcasm. These were my favourite chapters. Meanwhile Leon’s tone felt clipped as he briefly describes what he is doing without personal pronouns and minimal embellishments. This made him a more difficult protagonist to connect with. The note passing between the two, including funny cartoons and left over tiffin, really brought the novel to life, the silly quirks and little comments adding to the humorous tone O’Leary writes in.

Having read the novel on audiobook I recommend this as a way of digesting Flatshare, however Tiffy and Leon’s characters were narrated by two separate people and it was difficult to relate Tiffy in Leon’s chapters to Tiffy herself and vice versa as the voices were different. Nevertheless the audiobook still wraps the readers attention but I’d say doesn’t add anything to the experience.

The Flatshare will have readers laughing, cheering and glaring as they witness a year in Tiffy and Leon lives. From blossoming love to an unwanted proposal broadcasts across YouTube the Flatshare encompasses everything from the bizarre to the mundane, O’Leary always throwing a good level of sarcasm and charisma on top of any situation. I recommend it to any young adults at the cusps of their careers, espcially if you work in London, as you’ll get a good dose of feels and a hearty round of relatability.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You can find more of my reviews here and also over on my goodreads.

Normal People

Never before has romance become so real. Gone are the fluffy lines and sweet moments as Sally Ronney drags her readers kicking and screaming back to reality. Revolving around two young people that perfectly encompass all the hurt and pressure the world places onto fragile lives, it’s no wonder that Normal People was such a hit when the TV series was released earlier this week.

Marianne spends her lunch breaks reading and her free time studying in her parent’s expensive mansion, reclusive and misunderstood. Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s mansion. Bright and athletic Connell is loved and respected in his school community which is why, when a relationship sparks between the two, he insists on secrecy. Achieving the top grades of anyone in their year the two leave for Trinity College University in Dublin, stepping away from the small town and everything they’ve ever known and hurdled into the reality of adulthood. As social class and privilege stretch between them, the reader can only watch as they learn who they are and what they deserve in simple yet dramatic tale.

Marianne’s difficult home life and the rejection she feels from those around her leaves her vulnerable and unsure of what she deserves. Her lack of social experience leads her to toxic, dark and unhealthy relationships and friendships. While she appears confident and comfortable with herself to Connell it is clear from her own narrative that she still seeks to find her self worth in others and is less comfortable than she demonstrates. Her narrative takes a darker turn as she seeks to be degraded by others, struggling to find what she deserves and how she should be viewed. With these heavy undertones her story is confused and powerful, highlighting what wealth can and can’t buy you as the cracks beneath her confident mask begin to show, her character development an emotive backbone to Normal People.

Connell, our second narrator, is shy and lonesome. Set apart from his childish peers while still humouring them to remain well liked he considers Marianne’s confidence and worldly rapport his superior. As he steps from his popular bubble at school into university he struggles to decide who is, realising his social standing sets him apart from his wealthier peers at university, and discovering that the facade he uses to gain popularity leaves him without any meaningful friendships. Connell struggles with depression and self worth, his critical nature of his own character and offensive self reflection make his chapters a stirring and poignant monologue. While more concerned with his image than Marianne the two share a similar, over arching worry of not being good enough as they face common challenges and homogeneous pressures instilled by society.

Normal People presents its readers with a unique writing style. The use of pronouns instead of character’s names and lack of speech marks can make the novel difficult to read but should not put any reader off. Although this style is difficult to adapt to the words are artfully crafted and the personal perspective each chapters gives, providing an insight into our protagonists’ personality and feelings gives readers a strong apathy with our narrators. The language the novel uses is simple, favouring sparse descriptions and precise details artfully dotted throughout the plot, creating a sense of the scenes while never dwelling on any particular setting. The novel keeps emotions and it’s characters at its core which balances well with the sparse, almost diary like prose it uses.

The novels setting varies often as the characters progress through life. The small town where Marianna and Connell met and grew up is, of course, poignant to both their stories but neither feels a particular affinity for it when they leave for university. While at university the characters move between a variety of locations: Marianna’s flat, other friends houses, Marianne’s summer home and the university itself. All these settings are described in brief, enough detail given that readers get a sense of the location, it’s wealth and part in their story, but not a complete description. The backstory of each character is mostly shown, our narrators will rarely explain to the reader their social status, family dynamic or friendships but rather leaves readers grasping the situation based on what they can see, making the tale engaging and quick to read.

The theme of class weaves itself through our young protagonists lives. Marianne’s rich family gives her certain advantages as she moves through the world: never needing to work while at university, pursing a subject that interests her without worries about a future career and applying for scholarships out of pride rather than need. Parallels are drawn between Marianne and Connell as he struggles with the practical problems of paying rent and affording his tuition. While at school these differences make little impact on their lives but when they step into university suddenly it opens chasms between them. It was refreshing seeing this aspect that is certainly true for many students appear in literature and I was only disappointed that Rooney did not continue to explore this theme as the characters enter their final year of university and navigate the months after, where class and privilege continue to severely impact a young person’s future.

Mental health is another prominent and important theme Normal People highlights. Depression is a fact seldom acknowledged yet it effects many people. Through Connell’s visits to the doctor and prescriptions he admits after a friend’s suicide that he might be struggling, to Marianne who shows her own struggles as she reflects on her character and upbringing. Poor mental health effects most young people at university yet it is still often seen as a taboo topic and rarely explored in literature. The portrayal in Normal People was realistic as it uncovered the struggles both protagonist go through and the reflections they gain as they navigate a stressful yet pivotal time in their lives.

The novel felt well paced and the plot is engaging, it’s not necessarily fast but instead leaps from scene to scene, which can be somewhat disorientating yet still part of the novel’s charm as the short tale attempts to cover years in our readers lives, each scene beginning with the reader not quite sure where our protagonist is. The reader is given the opportunity to intimately know these characters as snapshots of their lives through school and into university are presented, covering their struggles and their successes, showing the fleeting or permanent impacts of the friendships and relationships that shape Connell and Marianne’s world.

Normal People is not a life hearted read. It’s as real as life itself, covering themes of depression and suicide, dealing with the baggage that Connell and Marianne carry with them and demonstrating a plethora of unhealthy and toxic relationships. The target audience would be anyone at university and above, offering adults and young adults a chance to reflect, relate and emphasise with the difficulties Marianne and Connell face.

Normal People is romantic, complex and dark all at once and any reader must go in prepared to grapple with the reality Rooney artfully illustrates in such a simple way. With uplifting undertones and difficult realties this novel cleverly encompasses so much of what it means to be a young person while only really skimming the surface of the two young lives and the future ahead of them that this novel revolves around. Nothing is resolved yet it is still perfectly complete, desperate, lonely and real Normal People is an emotive novel any reader will enjoy.


Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Children of Blood and Bone presented a creative world and shocking ending that left readers desperate for its sequel. With three complex protagonist the reader can never truly understand and a war that will seemingly never end Children of Virtue and Vengeance is a phenomenal fantasy sequel that plucks a readers interest it’s very start.

With the king’s death the monarchy is destroyed. Orisha is without a leader and it is in this moment that Amari plans to state her birthright and ascend to the throne, promising a rein of peace and prosperity for all those in the kingdom, elevating the status of both the maji and those born without magic. But the magic giving ritual failed, a third of non maji have powerful, unbelievable magic that outmatches any power that’s come before and a new leader rises with power neither Zelie or Amari have seen before. With the new monarchy executing and imprisoning any maji they can, destroying whole villages regardless of the cost, Orisha is in more danger than ever while Amari’s claim to the throne is met with increasing hostility and distrust from both sides. When the rebel maji select Zelie as their leader Amari knows it’s her best chance to defeat the monarchy but neither Zelie nor Amari know what lengths they will have to go to destroy this new power.

“All we had were lies and broken promises. Dreams we could never achieve.”

Amari’s character arc in Children of Blood and Bone showed a desperate princess become a rebel warrior, her bravery slowly developing as she grew in strength throughout the novel. In Children of Virtue and Vengeance Adeyemi presents an Amari who knows her strength and is determined to use it to elevate the status of the maji in society. Her character develops throughout the novel as she struggles against the hatred of her comrades and the anger from those loyal to the crown, considered a traitor by both sides and unable to gain the approval of either. This puts her in a desperate situation as she struggles to take the throne and it is this plight that leads to the desperate actions she presents later in the novel. Amari’s initial desire for peace makes her character arc all the more shocking, the dramatic changes she undertakes revealing she is more like her monstrous family than she would care to admit.

Zelie opens Children of Virtue and Vengeance lost. Struggling with the death of her father and the backlash of bringing magic back she is scrambling to grasp what her goals really should be and if she can bear to stay in Orisha when the land holds so many memories of death for her. Zelie’s character remains this way throughout the novel, always on the brink of wanting war, peace or to flee, only wanting what’s best for her but struggling with the needs of Orisha and the maji. Zelie’s chapters present more anger than Amaris, her will guided by a desire for vengeance, her need for peace second to her want to destroy. As her magic slowly develops so does her love and trust for the other Reapers as she learns to lead her clan and the importance of her role in her community, making the events of the novel all the more harrowing for this already broken warrior.

The plot of Children of Virtue and Vengeance is told from two sides as the war rages through Orisha. As the war appears evenly matched suspense is artfully woven throughout the novel as the reader dreads what surely will be a dramatic and damaging conclusion. The plot could get tiresome at times, however, as the reader was taken through a complex series of events, the novel often feeling like it’s drawing to a close only to find it’s building up to another large attack. The characters desperation is similarly reflected through this story as their plans and ideas become increasingly rushed. Adeyemi dots small revelations throughout the novel that the characters are quick to seize and take for their own gains, conjuring a sense of suspense amongst the desperation already prevalent.

The first person perspective draws the reader in, allowing them to connect with each narrator intimately while keeping certain traits hard to discern, giving an added sense of mystery. As the characters slowly discover the truth about themselves and their abilities so does the reader, further helping them understand their narrative. The writing style is artfully crafted with descriptions of lush forests and forgotten magic, although this sequel shifts focus away from the descriptions of Orisha that were so enchanting in Children of Blood and Bone, favouring details about the characters and the events. The writing is action filled, each scene conjuring a multitude of events with little focus on the past, romance or any particular monologues from our leads. The fast pacing and complex plot leaves little thought for reflection as the fight for the throne of Orisha becomes increasingly desperate.

The world, too, is largely built from the previous novel making the war all the more shocking as it takes a toll on the landscape. The stark differences in Lagos and the palace add gravitas to the situation while return to locations like the temple felt all the more important for their new role in the fight. The maji headquarters, towers located in picturesque hills covered in forest, presented a new and exciting setting as well as becoming pivotal battle ground for the events of the novel. Adeyemi continues to grow on foundations laid in the previous novel as the reader steps further into Orishas land and history developing a rich tapestry of a world for our protagonist to fight for.

The pacing of Children of Virtue and Vengeance was unusual, rather than building up to a dramatic conclusion the reader is presented with several battles and climaxes throughout the novel. This makes the novel feel tiresome and unending at times although the resounding sense that these individual occurrences are building up to something bigger keeps the plot intact and the reader hooked. Although the jarring pacing was an issue overall the novel is fast paced and captivating, the lapse between each battle not dragging as our determined protagonist instantly turn their thoughts to a counter attack. This choppy style and fast pace draws readers in and keeps them interested.

Romance takes a step back in this novel as our characters struggle with their own personalities and goals. Their is little development between Tzain and Amari in Children of Virtue and Vengeance, Tzain’s character stepping away from a leading role once again. Zelie, meanwhile, never allows herself to dissect her feelings for Inan nor can the reader truly understand if she will move on. The war being the focus throughout the novel is not inherently an issue and it makes sense that love take a step back for our fragile protagonists.

Similarly Tzain and Zelie’s sibling relationship is touched upon but it rarely features. Amari, meanwhile, struggles to know if she can truly not trust her family. The knowledge of their hatred for her distresses her throughout the novel. The final relationship the novel features is that of friendship, most commonly shown through Zelie and Amari. The war takes it toll on these two as Zelie continues to see Amari as an enemy while Amari demonstrates she will let nothing stop her from getting to throne, not even her love for Zelie. It was difficult to understand these two as they grow further apart, the bonds tenuously born in Children of Blood and Bone being cruelly snapped as these complex protagonists struggled with their own aims.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance is a fast paced fantasy sequel that shows an impossible war, two desperate sides and the lengths they will go to win the throne. With high stakes from the start this sequel can never dissapoint.


The City of Brass

The City of Brass is an intoxicating, magical and creative tale presenting a unique fantasy setting, compelling characters linked by an efficacious plot. Although it’s inticing location and wealth of world building makes it unique and captivating the novels complex history and backstory gives the reader a steep learning curve while presenting a complex and almost over detailed realm.

Swindling on the streets of Cairo to survive with gifts she doesn’t understand Nahri is poor, desperate and powerful. But when a Djinn appears, magical and angry, she enters the world she is meant to belong in. Daughter to a long dead queen, last in a royal family of oppressive leaders Nahri returns to the city her ancestors built to meet the rulers who defeated her family. Ali, meanwhile, is a warrior and second son to the king. Believing that the half Djinn half human Shafit should have rights in his father’s Kingdom Ali presents some dangerous opinions to the monarchy. But with a Shafit uprising brewing and Nahri’s family supporters appearing in earnest at her arrival the king will stop at nothing to hold his claim to the throne, putting Nahri and Ali in more danger than ever.

The world and the world building truly craft this exotic tale. Set in eighteenth century Cairo The City of Brass presents a realm like no other: from details of war with the Franks, to the dessert streets of Cairo our seedy protagonist introduces us to her life. The reader is shown a glimpse into Nahri’s and Ali’s respective worlds but often left to piece together the details of their characters, the mythology and the mythical City of Brass. Details are dotted throughout the novel, the entire concept grasped through the well written prose and never thrust upon the reader in weighty paragraphs. However, the novel comes with a steep learning curve: vast locations, a complex political system and city, folklore, the lands history, a multitude of magical creatures and hidden talents are all held between the pages of this thick novel. The plethora of new vocabulary and complex detail makes the novel, at times, difficult to follow and often the history is difficult to discern and understand.

Nahri is a unique and compelling character. Not knowing her true heritage rather than dwelling on the healing powers she can’t understand her focus remains on food and lodging as she uses her gifts to swindle on the streets of Cairo. Her lack of knowledge of the Djinn world made her chapters more relatable, demanding the same answers as the reader, her confusion and needs relatable to any reader. As Nahri begins to learn her identity she is placed in the palace and her character side steps away from the prominence she once held to the plot, instead focussing on her studies and patients. Nahri struggles with the weight of the powerful ancestors she is required to mimic, her lack of knowledge of the Djinn world putting her at a disadvantage. As schemes slowly start forming around Nahri she soon turns her sharp eye and keen mind to the politics she’s been told not to dabble in and it only a shame that this Nahri was not presented earlier.

Ali opens our tale as a prince fighting a rebel cause against his own government, a unique trope that Chakraborty wields artfully. Desperate to rid his land of poverty at any cost, accompanied by his soldier background, Ali presents a unique moral character. His struggle against proving loyal to his family while desperately trying to save those who aren’t allowed medical care in their world provides an unusual moral complex. His character presents a conundrum to those around him: painted as a kind hearted prince to the reader he is considered a religious fanatic and his views would likely lead to rebellion. This prince opens the tale having developed in a way many other fictional princes strive to become: aware of the needs of his people, desperate to help the poor and without a trace of greed or selfishness. Rather, Ali learns the harsh realities of what it takes to rule the City of Brass and it is this that shapes his character throughout our novel.

The writing style is simple, with sparse descriptions and a plethora of unusual words referring to the mythology used, the society at the time and the religions of the area. The dialogue is sarcastic and humourous, conjuring jokes at times and feelings of anguish at others. The style lacks compelling and beautiful descriptions, focussing on the plot, dialogue and character development yet still intices the reader with its unusual world building. Chakraborty builds a complex world around her protagonists without compromising her writing, the text never feeling too heavy with detail. However this light approach does make it somewhat confusing and the unusual terms used throughout the novel can make the plot difficult to follow.

The plot is told from two accounts: Nahri as she journeys from a thief on the streets of Cairo and Ali as he struggles with funding his cause and betraying his father. In the first half of the novel it is Nahri’s tale that is most captivating: her and Dara’s fights with dark spirits and powerful mythical creatures that want to stop her reaching safety, while Ali’s chapters focus on palace life and introducing the reader to the destination Nahri aims to reach. These two tales interweave as Nahri reaches the royal palace and is appointed the grand role her ancestors once held. The plot lacks direction slightly as the novel steps into a more explanatory mode, awash with political intrigue and Nahri learning about her magic. This lack of direction contributes somewhat to the novels drawn out middle pacing that only picks up towards the end of the novel with its shocking climax.

The pacing of The City of Brass, therefore, is also two fold: from both Nahri’s and Ali’s perspective. The novels opens slowly as Nahri and the reader are taken on a learning curve to understand the realm and it’s complex history and customs, dramatic battles and history lessons from Dara dotting the first half. These chapters felt somewhat slow at times and the novel takes a long time to reach the critical climax that sparks the tales plot: Nahri’s arrival in the City of Brass. Following this, the pacing slows as the novel follows Nahri around the palace, which makes the later half feel tiresome as the reader waits for the climax the tensions in the palace will surely lead to. The ending does not dissapoint although feels a tad too fast compared to the slow build up, the complex plot unraveling in just one night leaving readers littles time to digest each motive and action.

Family is a key relationship focused upon in this novel. From Ali’s brother and future king struggling to defend Ali to their father and protect him to Nahri’s longing to understand her heritage it remains a recursive theme throughout. With the plot centering on the royal family this theme is played out often and the tensions between each family member is pivotal to the plot.

The relationship between Dara and Nahri is also pivotal to the plot. From weeks travelling the two quickly become close, Nahri finding him attractive almost instantly when they find themselves in their first battle. This instant love persists as Nahri begins to learn who Dara is and why his return is so shocking. Similarly Nahri’s world and character is dramatically growing as she learns the truth of her identity and heritage, these complexities putting pressure on the young couple. Their relationship felt uncomfortable from it’s very beginning: he captured her and forced her to journey to the City of Brass, never really explaining much and the initial steps of their love felt more like Stokolm Syndrome. His secrecy about his dark history and the hundreds of years ages difference between them further make this relationship damaging. Finally, Dara leaves Nahri scared and lost at the palace, is angry when she befriends Ali, feels possessive towards her actions, thoughts and feelings and attempts to control her once again at the novels close. This toxic relationship felt very uncomfortable throughout the novel and did nothing to build up Nahri’s character.

The target audience for City of Brass would be adults. Nahri and Ali are similarly both twenty throughout the novel and, while their companions stretch to vast ages well in their hundreds, they roughly reflect human adults. The novel feature murder, torture and scenes in brothels.

Overall The City of Brass is a creative and unique tale, presenting two leads that step away from the stereotypical prince and thief that are usually seen in literature. The novel is only let down by the vast amounts of details the reader is required to understand to follow the complex realm and traditions, making the tale drag at times and feel confusing at others.


One of Us is Next

Having polished off One of Us is Lying in one night, the impossible mystery and desperate characters hooking me in, I was only excited when I heard the announcement of its sequel. With a slightly cringe blurb and fear that nothing could live up to the hype, I was relieved to find One of Us is Next just as captivating.

Bayview High welcomes the return of its students after a year of speculation and investigations into the death of a student. With the truth about Simon’s tragedy out Maeve, sister to murder suspect Bronwyn, knows more than anyone the toll last year had on Bayview’s targeted students and sees the danger more than anyone in the popular Truth and Dare game that suddenly surfaces. The first round reveals a shocking truth that destroys popular student Phoebe’s life. The second convinces Bayview the game is harmless. The third proves it’s not. The final play will end the game. But as Maeve steps closer to uncover the shocking truth the game turns on her, revealing it’s not just Phoebe’s life the truths can destroy. But Truth or Dare may be covering up something far more sinister than rumours and secrets as Bayview discovers once again that everyone has something to hide.

One of Us is Next presents three protagonists and narratives: Maeve, Knox and Phoebe. Maeve is Bronwyn’s sister, a protagonist from One of Us is Lying now known as one of the “Bayview Four” after the media scandal a year ago. It’s through Maeve readers see a window into the old protagonists lives while still focussing on the current plot. Having grown up with leukemia Maeve struggles to let herself be loved and merely touches the surface of school drama and social circles: always unconsciously believing her cancer will return and not wanting to say goodbye. Her character development is pivotal to the novel as she slowly let’s others in and her narrative is from the unique perspective of someone who has seen the damage gossip did to her sister last year, leaving her with little time or respect for the Truth or Dare game.

Phoebe is popular and attractive. Believing herself to be an open book she is shocked to find herself the first target of the Truth or Dare game and discovers the cruelty of game first hand. It is through Phoebe that McManus explores views of young women in society: from her pushy boyfriend to the slut shaming that follows her around school. The novel only touches upon this critical theme and fairly lightly delivered feminism that could have been explored more, but Phoebe’s ever growing character and social circle, from a kind hearted girl embarrassed to be seen with Knox to one who takes charge on a stake out presents critical changes. The novel suggests there is more to come from this young protagonists as she struggles through the desperate situation the Truth or Dare game places her in.

Knox, our final and only male protagonist, is another student at Bayview to be hurt by the Truth or Dare game. Ten years younger than his four older sisters Knox struggles growing up as nearly an only child, disappointing his father at not being the son he wanted and struggling to define his relationship with his only friend and former girlfriend Maeve. While his chapters focus on the drama unfolding at his school he also has a wider view of the world from his job at a charity law firm that offers representation to those the law often fails. From the pressures his family place on him he is struggling to work out where his interest truly lie and what sort of life he can see for himself after school, presenting key themes of toxic masculinity and the pressure young men feel in society. These critical themes are only lightly explored as his chapters focus on Knox’s character development leading to the novels dramatic ending.

Little world building is required in this novel as many settings are reused from One of Us is Lying, principally Bayview High and the town. The novel broadens somewhat as we see the café Louis works in take prominent feature but McManus’s writing style lends itself very little to development of the surroundings, rather focussing on her characters. The first person perspective and almost TV soap like fast paced dialogue and action is a staple of McManus’s work. The novel is quick to read and easy to digest, the slim book impossible to put down. Chapters are narrated from a first person perspective making the events of the novel and the effect it has on each narrator all the more weighted.

The plot felt more convoluted than McManus’s previous novels. Rather than centering on one mystery the novel explores different pathways, details that were often overlooked becoming important and clues being given to our protagonist rather than sought after. This meant the novel lacked direction and stability in places that the single murder investigation provided in One of Us is Lying. The intensity was somewhat missing and the haphazard display of clues, although intriguing, felt forced in places. Furthermore the pressure of a police investigation and the knowledge of imminent arrests would have given the events of One of Us is Next a more foreboding and urgent feel. Although less clear the novel did still contain the thrill of a mystery while developing key protagonists and subtly exploring crucial themes.

Accompanying the captivating plot the pace of the novel, following each clue and text, never slows. However the novel often presents a clue or hints at a revelation yet waits a few chapters before revealing this truth to the reader. This could be frustrating at times and this plot device felt overused: oftentimes the clue forgotten as the novel moves into different dialogue and the mystery lacking gravitas when it is finally revealed. The novel builds up to what the reader knows must be a murder yet it feels slower than One of Us is Lying, that commences with Simon’s death. This makes One of Us is Next slightly less exciting and it is occasionally confusing if the reader should worry about who started the Truth or Dare game given its lack of prominence among the other mysteries.

Romance has always been an element McManus keeps real, developing very real relationships at a time in our young protagonists lives that is so pivotal. Bronwyn and Nate, a couple central to One of Us is Lying, are shown to be struggling with long distance, a reality for many young couples who meet in secondary school but go to separate universities. The reality of making this work is craftily woven as the novel strives to avoid the toxic literature trope that relationships are easy after the initial steps of becoming a couple. Similarly, Cooper and his boyfriend struggle with deciding a future together based on their respective career prospects while still incorporating issues Cooper faces as an openly gay sportsman. Although both these relationships are not focal to the novel as it follows three new protagonists there feature and continued development is artfully crafted and their struggles dotted throughout the novel add a sense of reality to what could have become a simple staple from the previous novel.

One of Us is Next develops new relationships as well as building on those from One of Us is Lying. As Maeve slowly allows herself to make real connections with others the possibility of a relationship with Louis emerges. Louis serves a continual reminder to our protagonist that there is life after school and it is possible to live away from the toxic gossip Bayview High adores. This makes his character refreshing as McManus develops him past the jock and best friend to Cooper he was in the previous novel, his chemistry with Maeve is slow to appear as Maeve begins to allow herself an opportunity at love. McManus also takes care that her characters are in the right place to commit to relationships, showing maturity to her young readers. Phoebe hints throughout her narrative that Knox is more attractive than she cares to admit but when she attempts to start something Knox expresses that she’s not in the right place. Both mature and important the novel values consent and hints that these characters and their relationship will continue to develop, a refreshing feel.

Romance is not the only relationship explored in the novel. Maeve and Knox, formally a couple, present a unique platonic friendship between a female and male protagonist which is tested as the rumours slowly start circulating. The shift in their relationship dynamic is pivotal to the plot while still presenting something unique as they both demonstrate that their relationship is clearly just Friends, a dynamic rarely shown in YA. Knox’s relationship with his dad is similarly explored. As a builder his father struggles with having his only son interested in law and plays rather than sport and construction. As they both slowly accept Knox for who he is the novel follows a path which many teenagers can relate to as the pressure of parents looking for themselves in their children is common. Finally the relationship between Phoebe and her siblings is explored as they struggle to knit themselves back together after loosing their father. Although the rift is never fully healed the dynamic is well written and the observations between the various sibling dynamics in One of Us is Next is well presented.

McManus demonstrates to her teenage readers that there are many valid career paths one can take and that figuring out your life at eighteen is not always possible. This positive message is portrayed subtlety yet vitally throughout the novel: from Addy callous comments about not wanting to pay extortionate amounts for university when it might not be for her to Nate working his way up the construction company. Knox’s internship at a lawyers and Louis’s job in the family business serving as further examples of equally valid career paths. The novels exploration of our young protagonists lives and future is vital and it’s presentation of valid career choices is a positive message for anyone, especially in a judgmental society that sees university as the only option for success.

One of Us is Next contains less dark themes than One of Us is Lying. There is alcohol abuse, murder, death threats and loss of a family member. The target audience is likely sixth formers and older teens, the novel centering on students in their final year at school.

From the development of familiar tropes to realistic, fleshed out and captivating teenage characters that face common social pressures while solving impossible mysteries McManus’s tales never dissapoint. One of Us is Next is the sequel we didn’t realise we’d need but now know we love.


Deathless Girls

Kiren M Hargrave’s previous novel, The Way Past Winter, is a middle grade centering on a small family disrupted by tragedy and quest. As her first step into the YA market The Deathless Girls incorporates darker themes and serious undertones, but does not provide the character development and writing style that YA novels typically project.

Being apart of a small travelling community, living in wagons built by their ancestors, moving from camp to camp while leaving no trace on the forests that provides for them Lil’s life has always been tranquil. But when returning from a foraging trip with her twin sister, Kizzy, Lil finds her world destroyed: settlers burn their wagons, slaughter their elders, take the children for slaves and the bears for dog fighting. Sold into slavery as a novelty pair of twins Kizzy and Lil face the prospect of becoming serving girls in a court where the lords feel they can take whatever they want from their slaves. When Kizzy’s desire to fight leads her to a more dangerous ruler, known for stealing the lives of his desperate subjects, Lil escapes and embarks on a dangerous rescue, knowing there’s very little chance she’ll reach Kizzy in time.

When home was a person and not a place, once they were gone you couldn’t get back. Home was lost for ever.

Lil’s narrative is riddled with envy. Having always lived in Kizzy’s shadow unsure who she is without her twin her chapters are lost and confused. While her sister is feisty and determined, Lil feels defeated and unsure of herself. Even as she grows in confidence throughout the events of the novel she never fully develops a character for herself, her choices and decisions marred by Kizzy’s actions. This lack of development makes her a difficult character to understand and an uncompelling narrator, lacking any direction or storyline of her own. The plethora of side characters were unusual and well developed, each holding unique personality traits that weaves the rich tapestry of the world the sisters find themselves in. They present new aspects to the world holding their own goals and backstories as their lives interweave with that of the twins’.

Kizzy, Lil’s sister, is pivotal to the plot. Her resentful, angry character remains the driving force of The Deathless Girls while her life is marred by a beauty Lil, her identical twin, doesn’t share. In Lil’s eyes, and as is presented to the reader, Kizzy is portrayed as perfect: brave and beautiful, however her choices effect the sisters greatly and it would have been interesting to see her thoughts and opinions leading up to such damaging decisions. Mira, another serving girl at the castle, is also a central character. Timid at first, she becomes fiercely protective of Lil as she develops in confidence and bravery during the novel. Her character was interesting and well crafted, it would have worked well to have seen her flourish more, her throat injury meaning she can say little but her gentleness with Lil revealing a lot.

The setting of Deathless Girls is simple and standard: a simple feudal system hierarchy, many descriptions of which readers will be familiar with from other fantasy novels, with peasantry and slaves working the fields and lords and ladies ruling from castles. The girls’ camp presented more originality and, while many of the customs and details were lifted from history, this setting presented a more unfamiliar territory. The final seeing presented in the novel: a town destroyed, patrolled by soldiers at day and vampires at night, where our protagonist finds refuge in a destroyed church, barring the door before the discovering the bones of those who had this exact defence strategy previously, is ominous and exciting. This final setting added an almost post appoclyptic fear to our characters as they roamed the ruined streets, adding suspense and a fearful undertone for the ending of the novel.

The overarching plot of The Deathless Girls is well written and intriguing, peppered with unexpected events and twits. Although aspects such as the imprisonment or escape were not original the author adds her own take, presenting an intriguing read. Certain details, however, felt random: Lil’s brother is described and often talked about in passing but serves no plot purposes and has very little bearing on the characters or their motives, the girls’ go to great extent to learn of their magic powers only to never have a need for them, Lil struggles with her jealousy for her sister but these issues are never addressed and her character never develops further. These details required more embellishment or purpose, representation or importance, rather than being mere facts that served no purpose for our protagonist or her development. The choice to included three unreliable and vague prophecies at the beginning, one for Fen, Lil and Kizzy, added an air of suspense and confusion to the plot as Hargrave artfully works the half truths into the story and overall an entertaining tale is told.

The writing style is unadorned and digestible. The author favours simple and transparent techniques, surface level motifs with an orthodox vocabulary and few pretty descriptions. This makes The Deathless Girls a quick and effortless read. Throughout the novel Lil remains our narrator. Her character is practical and nervous, making her difficult to connect with at times while her narrative comes off as honest and trustworthy, rarely effected by her personality or feelings. A more intriguing narrator or more personal development could have made this story more enticing and complex, the lack of personality detracting from the novel. Similarly, a narrative from Kizzy could have further embellished the novel as her choices and personality remained so key to the plot. The focus on their relationship is central to The Deathless Girls however Lil doesn’t fully understand her sister which made it difficult for a reader to gauge her feelings either.

A vampyre cannot love, only thirst.

The novel felt well paced, Hargrave balances the three settings well: the camp they are taken from, the lord’s house and finally the Vampire town. Each location vastly different from the last presenting a unique and intriguing backdrop. Hargrave balances suspense throughout the novel as the characters appear to be building up for a final struggle and the ease with which they make their final choices felt anticlimactic. The ending swiftly moves to describing Dracula’s brides but this felt rushed and lacked emotion, the brides’ descriptions and actions feeling vastly different to the girls who are pivotal to this novel. Again, more character development could have been incorporated throughout the novel to make this ending more powerful and to add more gravitas to the final decisions each character makes.

Many complex relationships are presented throughout the novel. Pivotal to the story is the relationship between the twin sisters, Kizzy and Lil. While showing a certain reliance and closeness to one another this relationship felt flawed and one sided: Lil adoring Kizzy, relying on her for all their decisions, while Kizzy having little regard for her apparently spineless sister. Surprisingly the trauma in the castle slowly draws the sisters apart as they begin keeping secrets and shift their aims and goals away from one another. This makes Lil’s choices throughout the novel feel nearly thoughtless, lacking in passion and love for her twin that the author attempts to conjure, the only feeling she routinely presents towards her sister being jealousy. Had this relationship been detailed further and developed more these decisions would have felt less routine and more passionate.

Lil’s relationship with Mira was more touching. The two girls are nervous to begin and the closeness they grow to each other and the sacrifices they make are heart warming. This relationship is pivotal to the plot and was well crafted. Often warring with Lil’s relationship with her twin, the two straining against each other as Lil is forced to choose between them, these choices would have felt more powerful had Lil’s love for Kizzy not appeared so robotic. The final relationship portrayed in The Deathless Girls, friendship, is shown through Fen and the other women in the kitchen. The sense of comradarie amongst the slaves and kitchen girls was touching and the loyalty they showed one another refreshing and loving. Fen, too, proved to be loyal and loving, his character a valuable addition to the plot as he ventures with Lil to rescue Kizzy.

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

The Deathless Girls deals with serious issues of sexism, racism and homophobia in an open way as the theme of justice persists throughout the novel. Lil, our narrator, is an LGBT+ woman of colour and makes a her narrative from this perspective. Hargrave strives to incorporate these struggles and all her characters are built with a wealth of diversity which never feels token. Lil and Mira struggle with rejection from their peers as their relationship blossoms, particularly highlighted in Kizzy’s dissapproval, another aspect driving the sisters apart. The sister’s difference from the settlers, their way of life being criticized and their religion being mocked is a persistent theme throughout the novel that highlights key underlying issues in both this society and ours. Similarly, the treatment of women is highlighted through the serving girls and kitchen hands. The underlying theme of justice stems from this treatment as Kizzy longs for vengeance, this theme persisting in both this tale and that of Dracula’s brides.

Despite the youthful repour and simple writing style that makes the novel feel aimed at younger readers the inclusion of rape, murder and slavery suggests it’s aimed at teenagers. The protagonist is seventeen and the novel deals with darker implications that readers should be prepared for.

The beautiful damned, the brides of Dracul, the deathless girls.

Overall The Deathless Girls presents an interesting although not entirely original plot. It lacks a poignant writing style and character development that would have made the novel more compelling to read.



Everyone knows Alice Wonderland: the ageless children’s classic written by Lewis Carol about young Alice falling through a rabbit hole, encountering a plethora of unusual characters at the Mad Hatters tea party, stumbling into Cheshire the disappearing cat, nearly being beheaded by the savage Queen of Hearts before finally escaping Wonderland. The story no-one knows is how the Queen of Hearts, that manic, angry ruler, came to be so cruel.

Lady Catherine Pinkerton of Rock Turtle Cove is many things: exceptional baker, begrudging cat owner, dutiful daughter, king’s favourite, hopeless dreamer. What she’s never been is a lover. But when she stumbles into this new role, falling for the court joker mere minutes after the king has decided to make Cath his queen she is left trapped between the life she wants and the one she’s supposed to have. While Cath ponders throwing her life away for the man she loves or staying and dutifully marrying the charmless king panic rages over Hearts as attacks by a fearsome Jabewock become ever more frequent.

But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.

Cath’s character is frustratingly likable. From the delicate treats she bakes to her tolerance for belittling friends she is nothing but a delight to everyone she meets. This kind and generous character is what makes Heartless so intriguing as the reader is constantly guessing what horrible incident will occur that will turn Cath into the repugnant Queen of Hearts. Cath’s innocent character slowly develops throughout Heartless from the dutiful daughter to a headstrong, rash lover, but this character development does not show much likeness to the foul women she is destined to become. As Cath gradually becomes less tolerant, often pointed out by various characters voicing their perception of her and foreshadowing her future, her overall pleasant character leaves the lingering question in every readers mind as they await her decent into the bitter, vengeful Queen of Hearts.

Jest, the court joker and the male lead in Heartless, was difficult to guage. His illusive motives, closed personality and constant shows make him difficult judge, presenting similar worries to the reader that Mary Ann voices: does Cath know the man she wants to run away with. This illusive love interest leaves the reader in turmoil as neither decision Cath can make appears correct. Meanwhile, the surrounding characters in this tale are pleasingly well developed while maintaining Carol’s nonsensical themes: Hatter being determined and loyal, yet leaving his motives difficult to decipher. Mary Ann, Cath’s maid and best friend, is practical yet hopeful and even the king showed multiple dimensions as he was doting, skaty and cowardly. The plethora of side character that Meyer slowly develops throughout Heartless embellishes the story while keeping Cath central to the plot, until they finally evolve into their Wonderland equivalent or are left with the readers compassions as they fall to Cath’s reign.

Sometimes your heart is the only thing worth listening to.

The writing style of Heartless felt whimsical, similar to that of a fairytale, which pairs well with Carol’s original story. The nonsensical similes, additional rhyming couplets and plethora of unusual details seen as normal to Cath’s world embellished Carol’s world while still presenting a neoteric story in itself. Meyer’s choice to tell Heartless from Cath’s perspective, third person, within this charming setting further built up Cath’s picture of innocence and kindness while making the foreboding tone even more prominent as the story leads to its inevitable conclusion. Seeing the events from Cath’s perspective adds gravitas to Cath’s decision as readers are left grappling with her inevitable failure and the knowledge that the charming fairytale setting is doomed.

The setting of Heartless is somewhat familiar to the reader from Alice in Wonderland however Meyer adorns Carols world with additional details and complexities. Cath’s world, initially limited to the king’s ballroom and her parents manor is simple and easy to introduce to the reader. As Cath slowly ventures to explore Hearts the reader does too allowing gradual and detailed world building to spring up amongst a simple plot. This clever style works well as Cath and her reader are slowly immersed in the whimsical world of Hearts, both delighting in its discover together.

Fascinating, isn’t it, how often heroic and foolish turn out to be one and the same.

The plot, too, continuely gives the reader hope. With each difficult decision Cath is forced to make there is a slim chance that it is reversible, or that the choice will prove correct. Meyer provides the reader, and Cath, with false hope often throughout the events of Heartless until the closing chapters where it is clear how the tale will unravel but both are powerless to intervene.

Heartless felt well paced. Quite short Meyer refrains from unnecessary details while still engrossing the reader in all the complexities of this unique world. Furthermore, the whimsical feel of Wonderland gave Heartless of good balance between explaining all the plot points while leaving a whimsical trail of finer details, little nuances and intricacies of the fantasy setting unexplained akin to Carol’s own work.

Cath’s youth and innocence is a constant theme in Heartless. From her whirlwind clandestine relationship with Jest to impractical dreams of becoming a baker, indulged only by her maid, she demonstrates a lack of maturity and experience throughout the novel. This innocence can be likened to Alice in her own tale as the theme persists in Carols writing. Cath’s innocence is both pivotal to the plot and key to the reader as Meyer explores Caths need for independence from her parents and maids in this critical point her young life.

Relationships are key to the plot. With Cath’s delicate kindness to the king, almost sisterly friendship to her maid, fiesty romance with Jest and jovial banter with Cheshire her different interactions explore her ever evolving character and complex tapestry of Wonderland’s occupants. Similar to other devices used in the novel these relationships are nothing but bittersweet to the reader who knows, begrudgingly, that the Queen of Hearts that Cath becomes is a solitary character.

Impossible is my specialty.

Although mostly light hearted the novel does, of course, contain reference to beheading, animal death and murder. It is not particularly graphic and the nonspecific and whimsical feel make it suitable for any reader. Although Cath’s age is not explicitly given the novel is probably targeted at teenagers but would make an intriguing and fun read for adults also.

From its pretty cover, intriguing heroine, foreboding plot and complex characters Heartless is a unique and fun standalone novel that any reader can enjoy.


One of Us is Lying

I don’t know what made me read this novel long into the night, curled up with it unexpectedly after work, sucked in so completely. Mystery isn’t my genre of choice, the characters were sold on their cliché traits and the simple writing style is very different to the long, beautiful prose I favour. But somehow, this simple almost trashy teen drama of a mystery had me hooked in a way I never expected.

Simon Kelleher’s gossip app is notorious. Never wrong, always cruel and often life destroying it’s creator is hated throughout Bayview High. But when the next four teenagers to be featured on the app wind up uncoincidently in detention with Simon, and leave distraught with his body on the floor, it’s obvious somebody killed him. A series of siniater Tumblr posts and a quick forensic investigation later and the suspicion of murder is confirmed. This just leaves the question of who did it, and why. Which of the four damaging secrets about to be released, bound to ruin the suspects lives, was dangerous enough to need to be hidden at such a high cost. When nobody steps forward as guilty the investigation is quick is take its toll, every decision and choice the suspects ever made coming into scrutiny, the Bayview High gossip mill as alive as ever.

Things’ll get worse before they get better.

The cliché teen stereotypes that form the basis of One of Us is Lying came to life under McManus’s careful hand. As the four narrators intimately take the reader through their personal lives, guiding the plot around the sinister events of the novel providing their individual, compelling and occasionally shocking monologues, the reader forms a gregarious and unreliable bond. Each chapter is narrated personally yet the reader is constantly left suspicious of each protagonist, looking for clues of a twisted personality that would murder a fellow high school student. As the investigation continues it becomes clear that Simon’s death not only effects each of the individuals situations but also shapes their characters during such a pivotal point in their young lives. This development felt fleshed out and artfully written as the social pressures of being a young student on the cusp of adulthood is explored throughout the novel.

Addy begins the novel with no future other than to be her boyfriend’s wife. Dependent on Jake for her every decision, from what she wears to who she sees, urged on by a mother who projects an irrational fear of loneliness onto two young daughters, Addy’s life is constantly controlled. But with the help of the sister she never really befriended Addy begins to slowly take her life back, slotting in a personality she forced herself to keep hidden for so long. As she takes back her independence the reader follows her with equal parts relief and admiration for the kind, funny, loyal personality that slowly emerges after what can only be the most traumatic event of her life. Bronwyn, meanwhile, was always in control. Set on going to Yale and desperate to follow in her parent’s daunting footsteps she takes every opportunity to be front of the class, joining every club and volunteering for any committee. But when she suddenly comes under investigation for murder she begins to wonder if their are more important aspects to life than just good grades as the shocking mystery slowly helps Bronwyn appreciate values she’d always taken for granted: trust, loyalty and friendships.

Cooper, a handsome baseball star, is perfect in the eyes of Bayview High. Kind and generous, with a bright future and likable personality he has never featured on Simon’s gossip app. But when he’s hiding himself from everyone, even his own family, he fears the investigation will force him to take a step he doesn’t think he’s ready for and knows his family isn’t ready either. Nate, the final protagonist, looks the most guilty. Abandoned by two useless parents, struggling to pay bills and a step away from prison due to drug dealing, a job he can’t afford to give up even under such close police scrutiny, Nate is the most precariously placed of the four. Unable to afford an expensive lawyer and an obvious scapegoat for the others Simon’s murder could ruin his life. McManus addresses the complicated issues of class that flaw our legal system as Nate wavers close to a life behind bars in this compelling storyline. But as dark events lead to unlikely friendships Nate slowly learns to find the trust his parents robbed him off when they let him down, his character slowly shifting throughout the story.

The relationships portrayed in One of Us is Lying are complex and important. Realistic, honest and pronounced Macnus makes red flags a priority, striving to show healthy and strong partnerships, both same sex and not, that grow and develop each character. Most importantly she uses an unpopular but crucial trope: pointing out that it is ok to be single, proving not every character needs love to be happy and prioritising the importance of good friendships and reliable siblings. One of Us is Lying promotes these important values as each protagonist learns and grows, developing and flourishing as they are continuingly surprised by the well developed and complex array of personalities that surround this tale. Relationships remain at the heart of this novel as McManus subtely develops the friendship between the ‘murder four’, expertly weaves complex and defining romance subplots, and centres on the composite relationships between parents, their children and their siblings.

I know what it’s like to tell yourself a lie so often that it becomes the truth.

Similarly to popular novel, An Inspector Calls, One of Us is Lying calls on its readers to consider their impact on those around them, no matter how insignificant their actions may appear. As each character considers their motives throughout the novel complex themes of guilt and responsibility are explored. It begins to dawn on each protagonist the snowball effect even the slightest action can have on those around them. This profound realisation is projected onto the reader as they follow the twisted events of this case, exploring the motives and meanings behind each event. Slowly each character shows remorse in their own way, growing from the traumatic experience and developing through these personal reflections and revelations.

One of Us is Lying holds a complicated and mysterious plot. With narrators the reader is continuingly trying to judge, following complex and unexpected turns in a sinister plot, the reader is dragged into Bayview High at its worse. The focus on the four protagonists as they navigate teenage adolescence with a murder charge hanging over their heads holds a strong and gripping storyline interwoven artfully throughout the tale. The premise behind the plot could have felt stale, the app feeling akin to the popular TV show Gossip Girl, even down to the snarky tone of its creator. However the murder mystery aspect was new to the YA genre and the plot felt authentic. With unexpected events continuely cropping up and the mysterious undertones of a murder mystery ever present the reader is gripped from the very first word.

I guess we’re almost friends now, or as friendly as you can get when you’re not one hundred percent sure the other person isn’t framing you for murder.

The pacing, similarly, is well done. With the on going murder investigation the pacing never lags, new evidence often coming to life as the relentless Bayview High gossip mill persists despite Simon’s death. With dark undertones following each protagonist, the reader constantly guessing who is capable of murder as they read each potentially unreliable narrative, the novel is gripping and compelling from its beginning.

The setting for this novel was not just Bayview High, the scene of the murder and the school each protagonist attends. The novel centres on our leads home lives, describing Addy’s toxic household, Nate’s run down, unlocked building, Cooper’s modest family home and Bronwyn expensive mansion, complete with a home cinema. These settings reflect both the characters wealth but also their complicated upbringings, bringing to the reader’s attention the struggles that persist equally in families of all classes.

The writing style of One of Us is Lying is uncomplicated and engaging. Easily digestible and accessibly written the descriptions are brief and simple, the authors focus on content not describing the surroundings. This almost trashy feel makes the story easy to fall into and gripping to read, each chapter encompassing a wealth of facts and feelings while never overloading the reader or presenting dense prose. This unusal and simple style works well, the entire targeted perfectly at what can be assumed is it’s teenage audience.

The target audience for this novel would be older teens, in the last few years of school, although it’s lessons are important for any reader. The characters are a year away from university during the events of the novel and the target audience would most likely be in a similar demographic. Their are darker themes in the novel: murder, trauma and suicide, although nothing is gruesomely detailed. It is most definitely a mystery and never strays into the horror genre.

One of Us is Lying is a gripping YA novel, centering on four complex protagonists and portraying important and underrepresented themes in its demographic. With a captivating plot and enchanting characters it is a quick and entertaining read.