THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE
by Ali Standish (Hachette, $20)

When Ethan starts running away from home due to some terrible, mysterious incident in his past, his parents decide to leave Boston. They end up back in his mother's dead-end hometown of Palm Knot, Georgia, living with her grieving and grumpy father. Standish is at her best when detailing Ethan's observations of his over-compensating, over-protective parents and painting an evocative picture of Palm Knot. She draws the reader in by slowly unfolding the mystery of Ethan's troubles and building the tension nicely to begin with but things get a little cliched toward the end with a storm being the catalyst for a climax in the tale.

BEAUTIFUL MESS
by Claire Christian (Text, $26)

Referring to the lives of its two Aussie teen protagonists, the title of this book could also easily apply to the writing, which bounces backwards and forwards from tender and insightful to shallow and self-absorbed. This could be a deliberate device because heaven knows that Ava and Gideon ricochet from introspection to acting out as they try to make sense of a best friend's suicide (her) and mental health problems (him). Told from the alternating viewpoints of the pair, it is mostly an enlightened look at youth suicide and mental health as the two oddballs - despite their own problems - manage to help each other out.

THE UNDERCURRENT
by Paula Weston (Text, $26)

If thrillers are your thing, this is a reasonable page-turner, although it felt over-long as the conventional plot unfolded slowly. For me, the overblown prose and dialogue befitting a B-movie were a turn-off but other people love this sort of stuff. Set in Brisbane, in a future when sinister corporates have huge power, this story revolves around Jules, who has a mysterious ability to release charges of electricity. When dark forces gather against her, Jules and her blacklisted-journalist/former-activist mother Angie swing into action to fight them and, in the process, try to uncover how she got her powers and if there is any connection with the death of her soldier father.

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OCTOBER IS THE COLDEST MONTH
by Christoffer Carlsson (Scribe Publications, $25)

Conversely, this Scandi thriller is short and taut - and all the better for it. Carlsson's spare style suits the bleak rural setting he portrays in a remote part of Sweden where inhabitants earn a living by hook or by crook. The action kicks off with world-weary 16-year-old Vega being visited by police. Along with her brother, she was involved with disposing of the body of a murdered man who she knows as a nasty piece of work. But the murder begins to bother her so she sets off into a countryside of dark woods, broken down caravan parks and unforgiving bogs to find out whodunnit and why. Sex scenes make this more suitable for an older audience.