Let’s Talk Books #7: Mini Reviews

With recent events, I could not be silent. On my Twitter is a range of resources and I’ve linked here a thread of bail funds to support protesters who are arrested for demanding justice for victims of police violence. Here is the Black Lives Matter Carrd and 74 bail funds to support as well. I will be doing this on every post. If you have the funds to donate, please do but if not, please support and uplift Black voices and sign the petitions.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may remember that Emma and I cohosted a feature called Let’s Talk YA. We decided to revamp this during this world-wide pandemic to become a weekly series where we highlight books that are being published during this time that may not get the release they deserve. We will often feature a review or some other exciting bookish content. This was started last month with some awesome recent releases and you can check out the page at the top of my blog to see the other posts.

We strongly encourage other people to join in the conversation and promote upcoming books they’re excited about.

Like Emma, this week for Let’s Talk Books I’m intertwining a regular feature of mine to shine a spotlight on some recent releases. For my post, I’m doing some ‘mini’ reviews of some recent releases, akin to my Mini Review Mondays posts. All three of these books have had quieter releases, so I wanted to give them a boost, starting with Here Lie The Secrets by Emma Young.

Mia’s best friend Holly died when they were thirteen. But years later, Holly still hasn’t left her.

Spending the summer in New York, Mia is hoping to escape the visions of Holly that haunt her life at home. There she meets Rav, a parapsychology student, who convinces her to take part in a study into why some people see ghosts. Soon she is caught up in the investigation of Halcyon House, which is reputed to be haunted by a poltergeist. As Mia confronts her fears, what she learns about the house and herself will change her life forever.

Release Date: 25th June

Waterstones | Amazon | Book Depository | Goodreads

TW: grief, psychosis, death, implied abuse

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed diving into this quieter, emotional paranormal mystery. A key theme of the book is grief and loss, in so many ways and the way that Young utilises this devastating experience to really draw you in and connect to Mia as a character is brilliant.

The exploration of grief is shown in a variety of ways and reactions, emphasising its nuanced and tricksy nature. In this way, it is the perfect theme to link to elements of a ghost story. In Here Lie The Secrets, we focus on the shadows of memories we’d rather stay buried, those ones that pull you from sleep early in the morning as our ghosts, embodiments of our baggage and trauma. Only by letting these ghosts go can we truly find ourselves and, without giving anything away, Young explores this theme in a really clever way.

I absolutely loved getting to learn more about para-psychology and it was evident that extensive research had been conducted on this topic by Young. The whole idea of ghosts really fascinates me, as well as the psyche behind those who investigate them, so I liked how the mystery was more character-driven and went spent more time probing their thoughts & backstories. This helped make the cast of characters feel more fleshed out and realised, appearing as three-dimensional beings rather than caricatures.

This is a thought-provoking mystery that will intrigue you from the very first page and leave you wondering about the world and what may lie beyond.

Next up, I’m discussing the suspenseful, tense thriller All Your Twisted Secrets.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

Release Date: 28th May

Waterstones | Amazon | Book Depository | Goodreads

TW: suicide, panic attacks, bullying, drug abuse, physical and emotional abuse, violence

My Thoughts:

This story reminded me of a classic Christie mystery, with the constantly shifting loyalties, high-stakes situation and squirming mess of secrets hiding underneath.

‘I spent the last hour wondering if I would die tonight.’

I am a huge mystery aficionado, beginning with my discovery of Agatha Christie when I was younger, so the premise of Urban’s story had me utterly hooked. Luckily, her writing was bold and strong enough to match that hype from the first page. I mean the above quote is the opening line of the book and you’d be lying if you didn’t want to know what happens next. Urban keeps you constantly on your toes, with excellent twists and turns that will leave you reeling. Like all good thrillers. You never know quite what to expect next, as the intricate plot slowly unfolds to reach its dramatic finale.

I loved our central cast of characters and how they grew from their thinly sketched high school stereotypes, well mostly. They felt relatable and real, with believable motivations and reactions. A lot of this story rests on your perception and understanding of these characters, with Urban cleverly playing with preconceived ideas. Mostly, the book deals with the consequences of your actions and the value placed on life. Urban utilises her structure to full effect to really illustrate this point, weaving between past and present, but always leaving a cliffhanger at the end of the chapter. I was nervous that this approach would dull the impact of the tense, time-constrained situation, but it never did, rather it left me constantly wanting to know more about both timelines.

All Your Twisted Secrets is an utterly engrossing YA mystery with plenty of tricks up its sleeve.

Finally, in a tonal shift, I want to shine a light on the delightful Asking For a Friend by Kate Mallinder.

Agnes, Hattie and Jake travel on the school bus together but don’t know each other well. They plan a week in Weston as a ‘study break’ before exams but none of them admit the real reasons they need to get away. Agnes must find her sister. Hattie can’t bear being home now all her friends have ghosted her. And Jake is afraid he’s ill and has absolutely no idea how to tell anyone. Thrown together, what will happen when the secrets start to spill out? 

Release date: 4th June

Waterstones | Amazon | Book Depository | Goodreads

TW: cancer, bullying

My Thoughts:

Kate Mallinder is just a ray of sunshine in UKYA. Her books always manage to capture that essence of summer for me, with their warm contemporary feel, but she also never patronises her readers by discussing topics that are relevant in an unflinching, truthful way. Asking For a Friend is no exception to this rule and I particularly loved the inclusion of a list of resources at the end of the book.

I loved the autism representation, which felt really well-researched, but I would encourage you to find own voices reviews to properly assess that rep. For me though, every time I see disability rep in YA, it feels like a win, as it’s so rare and means a lot to me personally. One of Mallinder’s many skills is the way that she casually weaves in representation, giving a nod to those readers who feel unseen in their stories but not making it the sole focus of the character. It always informs who the character is and their actions, but it’s not their defining trait.

Mallinder’s writing is light, witty and sparkling with joy. It makes her characters believable, her dialogue shine and the book incredibly bingeable. I flew through a huge chunk of it in an afternoon, transported away to the summer that might’ve been. Her vividly imagined setting really drew me in and I stayed for these authentic, flawed and so very human teenagers that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of my classes. Each of our central trio has their own secrets and issues that they need to resolve, leading to an unlikely friendship. I liked hearing from each character’s voice, allowing me to connect with them more and grasp their individual motivations.

Equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking, Asking for a Friend is a perfect summer read to lose yourself in.

I hope you enjoyed my mini reviews today and as always, check out Emma’s post over on her blog.

11 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Books #7: Mini Reviews

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