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Highlights in the Charts

The Vanishing of Margaret Small by Neil Alexander

Review by Lauren Fardoe

The Vanishing of Margaret Small is the debut publication by British author, Neil Alexander. Opening in 1947, seven-year-old Margaret Small is collected without explanation from her grandmother’s home by a man she dubs “The Rat Catcher.” Mr. Grey is with the Board of Control; he performs a variety of tests on her and deposits her at St Mary’s Hospital (for defectives) in Canterbury where she is kept for the next thirty-four years.

Margaret Small never sees her grandmother or the tiny suitcase she was sent away with again. Through a heartbreaking dual timeline, the reader is transported between Margaret’s contemporary life and her experiences at St Mary’s. Abandoned, alone, distraught and confused, little Margaret is subjected to awful abuse at the hands of those who are meant to care for her; there are many distressing and uncomfortable scenes, with Margaret labelled as “incapable” and shoved out of sight and mind. Margaret is a protagonist that the reader can’t help feeling empathy for. For all she endures, she’s resilient and surprisingly lacking in bitterness, wanting, more than anything, just to be part of a family.

Almost seven decades later, seventy-five-year-old Margaret lives alone in her cottage in Whitstable with frequent visits from her support worker Wayne. Margaret has always been a big fan of Cilla Black, storing a wealth of facts about the singer in her head. She consoles herself over the death of her idol by frequently listening to the audiobook of her memoir. Margaret soon starts receiving anonymous notes and cash, always signed “C x.” Believing these notes are from Cilla, Margaret doesn’t want to ask Wayne in fear that he will think she’s truly lost it and sends her away again.

Alexander throws the reader a little surprise before a most satisfactory resolution to Margaret’s story. He gives his characters wise words and insightful observations. Funny, moving and uplifting, this is an outstanding and poignant debut novel, telling of people whose lives have denied them any of the advantages that we take for granted today.

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Review by Madeleine McManus

From Blood and Ash sits firmly in the new adult genre – it’s clear from the first chapter that Armentrout’s novel is aimed at those who enjoy their books with a heavy dose of smut! Before reading this book, I had seen reviews online describing the scandalous moments within the story, so I was really intrigued to give it a go.

Armentrout conjures up an intriguing world where there are Maidens; these women are not to be heard or spoken to, and they are not permitted to do anything that would deem them unworthy of their duty to the Kingdom where they are set to Ascend. The Ascension is a mysterious ceremony where even the characters don’t know what exactly it involves, only that it is a judgement from the Gods to see if they are worthy.

Despite having to uphold her status as a Maiden, Poppy has been taught to fight. She has a desire to learn and do all that she can before her day of Ascension. All Maidens are bound to a knight whose job it is to guard them to ensure the Maiden ascends. Poppy’s knight is named Hawke – he tangles destiny and duty with desire and need, meaning Poppy is constantly in conflict with what she’s previously been told about the Kingdom.

The internal conflict that Poppy experiences, as well as the conflict between her and Hawke, are set against a backdrop of a larger conflict between the Kingdom and a mysterious Dark One. The Dark One and their followers are one of the main horrors that Hawke has to protect Poppy from. There is a very juicy plot twist that will have readers’ hearts racing near the end of the book. There are also smaller twists scattered throughout the book and action filled moments that make the relationship between Poppy and Hawke really shine.

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