The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel: Review

In this, the age of American Horror StoryDexter and Game of Thrones entertainment channels are able to (and often do) talk about increasingly shocking ideas. For some reason many of us are a little dark too and are compelled to explore this kind of narrative – The Roanoke Girls is one of these new age taboo shakers and I was hooked on this heartbreaking tale from cover to cover.

Title: The Roanoke Girls

Author: Amy Engel

Publication date: August 1st 2017

Pages: 288

Blurb: Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

Firstly, a very big thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Intrigue and Mystery run thick in this unique and complex novel, once I was in it I had to finish it.

It’s set in the Osage flats in Kansas but the perspective shifts (between ‘then’, ‘now’, and various chapters from the perspective of absent characters) to inform the reader and help explore the secrets of the Roanoke family. The timeframe adjustments move flawlessly and our story moves at a satisfying pace; I didn’t feel lost reading because it was so naturally paced and fluid. By playing with time Engel gives us the privilege of truly understanding characters we might otherwise get just a vague understanding of. I’d have loved a few more references to The Roanoke Colony but the carvings and the intrigue were fabulous by themselves.

In terms of content and themes It definitely made me think of Lolita; it’s provocative and twisted but still, somehow, utterly captivating. I don’t know how I’d describe it genre wise but it certainly plays with sexuality and morality in a way that isn’t forced or incredibly intense; it simply is. I feel like I’m a despicable human for loving this book but what the heck? I guess the crown fits.

Flawed characters feature heavily throughout and are the focal point of the book’s message; it invites you to question differing levels of morality whilst maintaining a compelling narrative. It’s about perspective on morality but also uses clever imagery and symbolism to create not only a great story, but a fascinating dialogue on so many aspects of life. The themes of suffering, and small time drama with big time secrets really create a story in which we question our own initial responses: actions that seem cruel at first may be an expression of a far worse internal struggle.

“To Sarah, Allegra is simply a bitch…not one single second of Allegra’s life was easy. I know the agony she lived with every day. And I understand how sometimes you have to pass the pain around in order to survive it.”

There’s power not only in the content but in the way it it written too. This book was enticing and addictive, dark and gritty, it was so much better than I could’ve anticipated. Engel’s writing is gorgeous and I thoroughly enjoyed her literary style; what she did in 288 pages was more than some can achieve in 1000. I’d very much recommend reading it.

 4 out of 5

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If you liked All Things New, try The Vegetarian

  – Cat –

All Things New by Lauren Miller: Review

All Things New is a story all readers of YA fiction will be ready and raring to read this August and it does not disappoint. It’s a charming page turner with a poignant message and a cute little love story to boot – pick it up August 1st.

 Title: All Things New

Author: Lauren Miller

Publication date: August 1st 2017



Seventeen-year-old Jessa Gray has always felt broken inside, but she’s gotten very good at hiding it. No one at school knows about the panic attacks, the therapy that didn’t help, the meds that haven’t worked. But when a severe accident leaves her with a brain injury and visible scars, Jessa can no longer pretend that she’s okay–now she looks as shattered as she feels. 

Fleeing from her old life in Los Angeles, Jessa moves to Colorado to live with her dad, but her anxiety only gets worse in the wake of the accident. That is, until she meets Marshall, a boy with a heart defect whose kindness and generous spirit slowly draw Jessa out of her walled-off shell and into the broken, beautiful, real world–a place where souls get hurt just as badly as bodies, and we all need each other to heal.

Firstly, a very big thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

And, I’ll start at the beginning, on opening the first page. This book was incredibly easy to get into; Lauren Miller really understands the importance of a fierce opening. We are instantly drawn into Jessa’s life: a lonely LA adolescence tainted by the anxiety she hides from the world. The event that changes everything is described in a way that commands the reader to keep going and follow Jessa on her recovery journey. It’s a recovery not just from the accident but from a lie she’s been living and truths she’s been constantly overlooking.

I’m a wee bit biased about this book because I found so very much of it so easy to relate to; Jessa is a likeable underdog and represents so much – most importantly she is a vessel for exploring mental health. Miller literally takes that slogan “what if we treated all illness like it was physical” and plays about with it on the page in this gorgeous little novel. The way she plays with truth using medical fact is thoroughly engaging and keeps the message upfront and easy to comprehend.

The only thing I would potentially criticise is that I certainly could have read more of it. The narrative seemed to end quite suddenly given the time Miller took to build the story’s concepts and I think there was definitely more story left to tell. That being said, forcing a story beyond its natural length is a sure way to ruin a book so perhaps it was just right left where it was. I’ve seen it compared to The Fault in Our Stars and other popular YA books but felt it more in the region of Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel myself. Overall I found it to be an enjoyable and accomplished YA novel with some interesting themes.

I haven’t read Parallel or Free to Fall, Miller’s other books, but if they’re anything like this I’m sure to find time for them. I’d dub this a worthwhile read for any YA reader.

 3 out of 5

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If you liked All Things New, try Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index.

  – Cat –

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley: Review

4 Days after its release I finally swiped the last page of Natasha Pulley’s The Bedlam Stacks on my kindle. Often books I read during reading slumps quickly become D.N.F’s but thankfully the intrigue of Pulley’s premise kept me going and I was able to enjoy a story wholly different from those I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in recent months.

 Title: The Bedlam Stacks

Author: Natasha Pulley

Publication date: 13th July 2017

Pages: 352


In 1859, ex-East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall after sustaining an injury that almost cost him his leg and something is wrong; a statue moves, his grandfather’s pines explode, and his brother accuses him of madness.

When the India Office recruits Merrick for an expedition to fetch quinine—essential for the treatment of malaria—from deep within Peru, he knows it’s a terrible idea. Nearly every able-bodied expeditionary who’s made the attempt has died, and he can barely walk. But Merrick is desperate to escape everything at home, so he sets off, against his better judgment, for a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon where a salt line on the ground separates town from forest. Anyone who crosses is killed by something that watches from the trees, but somewhere beyond the salt are the quinine woods, and the way around is blocked.

Surrounded by local stories of lost time, cursed woods, and living rock, Merrick must separate truth from fairytale and find out what befell the last expeditions; why the villagers are forbidden to go into the forest; and what is happening to Raphael, the young priest who seems to have known Merrick’s grandfather, who visited Peru many decades before. The Bedlam Stacks is the story of a profound friendship that grows in a place that seems just this side of magical.

Firstly, a very big thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I was drawn to this book for two potentially superficial reasons: (1) I had heard of the author and (2) the cover was my kind of fabulous. Having looked again at the cover (after finishing the book) it is clear that the same attention to detail lovingly written into the pages was also employed in the cover design.

The Bedlam Stacks tells a journey of generations from the perspective of one man in particular, Merrick Tremayne. He is introduced in a way that paints him as almost definitely old, he’s injured and uses a cane to move around but other information seems to alter this initial perception. I still don’t feel as though I have a proper sense of the man himself, though Raphael (who Merrick meets later) I feel like I know intimately. I would’ve liked more emotional insight from Merrick but the dialogue between him and Raphael kind of makes up for that for me. Their conversation ebbs and flows so gloriously and has both poignant moments (though never to heavy) and hilarious banter melded among normal human chatter and it’s completely captivating. I haven’t read dialogue so real to me in a very long time.

What also really stood out for me was the interplay between fact and fiction – Pulley utilises traits of magic without painting a fantasy world – she maintains an entirely believable magical web of a world and does so flawlessly – the pollen was used superbly and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she made it all seem so simple, so natural (though I imagine maintaining that balance would’ve been a difficult balancing act).

But whilst the conversation, and indeed the nuances of genre blending, ticked all the boxes I couldn’t help but feel there were major plot points that didn’t hold the significance they should’ve to me as the reader and though I found that disappointing I continued reading hoping for a more significant emotional payoff. when I got to the final page I didn’t feel so much overwhelmed by the events of the book but more deeply satisfied (which was weird to me because I was sure I needed pace and panic to enjoy a book). Pulley writes a very deep narrative and conveys a style I really haven’t appreciated properly until now. I feel as though I’m still working out my response to it but I’d highly recommend it to readers keen on  beautiful imagery and a fabulously creative and meaningful premise.

In terms of other characters I found many of them to be a little underdeveloped in favour of developing the scene around them. I wish Clem had been written a little less two-dimensionally  as I found him to be pretty disagreeable from the start – If he’d had more likeable qualities it definitely would’ve added something for me.

Overall what it lacked for me was that real drive; it was a slow burn of a book and I guess I went in expecting something a little more fast paced. It’s a beautiful literary work without a doubt but it tells a gentle and beautiful story rather than a particularly frightening or dramatic tale. I think the suggestions of fear and danger in the first chapters (the exploding trees, missing keys, moving statue) set it up to be a little bit more ‘indiana-jones-y’ in terms of pace (I wish I could think of a better example but hopefully you get what I mean!) That being said I don’t think I could’ve quite comprehended the world Pulley was creating if it had moved any faster – some of her descriptions were almost beyond the scope of my imagination – a trait I found frustrating but also fascinating and impressive. Pulley is a wonderful writer and I’ll definitely read more of her stuff.

SPOILER PARAGRAPH: I haven’t read The Watchmaker on Filigree Street but was intrigued by the reference in The Bedlam Stacks. I’d be interested to hear from readers of both texts to see the relevance of Keita’s address in Knightsbridge. (*edit* I have since discovered that Keita is actually pretty important in the watchmaker! I’ll be reading that next!) I also found the addition of Harry’s deeds to the lands surrounding Bedlam to be a little predictable given the nature of its reveal. I felt as though I was supposed to be surprised but perhaps that was the intention?

A tentative and conflicted 3 1/2 out of 5

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  – Cat –

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel: Review

Thanks to Penguin Random House at Netgalley for allowing me to read this gorgeous book for free (in exchange for an honest review)! This book was released by Penguin on June 2nd 2017 and it doesn’t have nearly enough buzz surrounding it. For me it was better than ‘Me Before You’, ‘Everything, Everything’, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, ‘Fangirl’ and other popular bestsellers from overlapping genres and I would definitely recommend giving it a read.

Title: Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index

Author: Julie Israel

Date published: 2nd June 2017

Pages: 352


It’s hard to keep close a person everyone keeps telling you is gone.

It’s been sixty-five painful days since the death of Juniper’s big sister, Camilla. On her first day back at school, bracing herself for the stares and whispers, Juniper borrows Camie’s handbag for luck – and discovers an unsent break-up letter inside. It’s mysteriously addressed to ‘You’ and dated July 4th – the day of Camie’s accident. Desperate to learn the identity of Camie’s secret love, Juniper starts to investigate.

But then she loses something herself. A card from her daily ritual, The Happiness Index: little notecards on which she rates the day. The Index has been holding Juniper together since Camie’s death – but without this card, there’s a hole. And this particular card contains Juniper’s own secret: a memory that she can’t let anyone else find out.

Let me start by saying I didn’t expect much from this book when I first began reading. I had never heard of Julie Israel, never used Netgalley and had not heard of the book prior to receiving my copy. That being said, I’m so glad I stumbled upon this little gem and it completely outdid all of my expectations.

The story centres around a girl named Juniper Lemon and this lost index card (65). Juniper (in memory of her recently lost sister) writes a number for each day on an index card – a sort of indication of how she rated the day. 65 days after her sister’s passing Juniper loses index card 65 whilst at school and her journey begins with the simple task of finding it. Initially the book reminded me of Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell) in terms of its tone and voice but it quickly became clear that this was more than just a coming of age story. Israel opens up a whole complex and compelling narrative from simply a lost card and really makes it into something special. The ‘underdog vibe’ and diversity of high school characters (the typical bad boy, renowned nerd, new kid and bitchy female bully) kind of toys with the line of being cliché but most of the characters are actually explored beyond that surface level and, ultimately, Israel balances this out really well.  

I really liked the way she introduced characters in such a natural way (despite the circumstances under which some of them meet). In particular the friendships between Juniper and the characters she bonds with because of Camilla are simply beautiful. I loved the individuality she gave her characters and Kody and Camilla were the kind of believable, ridiculous friends one really hopes to have in high school. There were moments with them where she (Juniper) suddenly seems to relax and recover a part of herself and that was wonderful to read.  I often read parts on the brink of happy tears (though the rest were definitely sad ones.) It really deals with loss in a clever way by telling us of its unbearable qualities and difficulties and sneaking in the positives gently so we actually perceive Juniper’s healing.

The ‘You’ aspect keeps the narrative from stagnating and as I was reading I was a little conflicted that this might take away from the message. Pleasantly, I was wrong and Israel expertly kept the thread from swinging too far away from her harrowing and important subject matter; the ending is perfectly nuanced to both celebrate Camilla’s life but also to bring closure to Juniper’s. Throughout the book she expertly weaves humour and grief together. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms and this little book has so much to teach about love, loss and understanding. It was beautiful to read and actually, I believe, almost restorative. Sometimes it was simply the way Israel talked about grief that had me brimming with tears; and it’s such a realistic demonstration of it. Grief affects people not just when something directly related happens but during the everyday moments in which the person lost is absent. This book really made me feel that.

It also was a nice sized book from a casual reader’s standpoint. It didn’t take too long to read and left me feeling bookishly satisfied. The only real thing I was disappointed by was my own choice to read a digital copy! Both covers (US and UK) are so cute and would’ve made gorgeous #Bookstagram pictures!

But anyway, it was a thoroughly good read and I’m glad it came into my life.

juniper lemon


4 out of 5

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If you liked ‘Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index’  try ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

If you have any other suggestions or insights feel free to message me or leave them in the comments section below!

– Cat –