Title- What Dreams we had
Author- Phill Featherstone
Publisher- Opitus Books
Publication Date- May 2021
Comment- I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review from @Lovebookstours and the author. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced by sketchy Italian talent agents.
Trigger Warnings- Mentions sexual abuse of a minor/ intended sexual abuse. One racist slur (challenged).
Five young people are in the dead period between finishing their exams and getting the results that will determine what they do next. It’s a time of anxiety but also a time of hope. And it’s the end of an era because whatever happens they will go separate ways. Meanwhile, there is a long summer vacation to fill.
Out of the blue, they receive an astonishing invitation. Four of them are in a band and a wealthy celebrity wants them to play at an event to be held at his home in Tuscany. All their expenses will be paid and they will live in a luxury villa. It sounds too good to be true, and it is.
They go to Italy, but when they reach the villa they find it’s empty. The location is remote, and with no transport, no internet connection and no mobile signal they are cut off from the world. A succession of mysterious events begins which forces them to review who they are and to rethink what’s important to them. It’s not until the final chapters that we discover the real reason why they’ve been brought to the villa and exactly what the experience will mean for them.
After their disastrous band performance at the school dance, senior students Elena, Joey, Alex and D.J are surprised when their Head gives them another chance at the end of school celebrations. This time they are determined to go out on a high, before they go their separate ways.
This time their playing is such a success that an Italian Agent asks them to play at a celebrity wedding. D.J is even allowed to bring his girlfriend, Mia, on an all expenses paid trip to Castelvecchio, a luxury villa in Italy. Caught in that lull between exams and results, the five teens say yes to one last summer of excitement.
But that excitement soon turns to fear when they arrive at the villa to find themselves cut off from everyone. With dire warnings about the magical forest outside with screaming wolves and hanging dolls, no mobile service and increasingly horrible nightmares plaguing one after the other; what was supposed to be a relaxing summer turns into a situation none of them will ever forget.
Firstly, although the cover is pretty, I do have to say that I don’t think the cover does this book justice.
The cover makes the book look like an independently published sci-fi when, in reality, this could be a best-selling YA thriller. If you think Holly Jackson, Karen McManus or M.A Bennett, then this is along those lines.
Given a more subdued cover I believe this would get picked up a lot at my library. As it is I think this might get passed over a little, which is a shame because this is definitely a wonderful read.
It does start out a little slow action-wise but that gives us enough time to get to know the characters. There is such a brilliant believable dynamic between them all that you forget the author isn’t a teenager himself.
There is no adult condescension in the writing, no ‘look at the stupid kids making rookie mistakes’. Its all very believable and well within keeping of the characters own identities. Each have their flaws as well as their virtues which make them wonderfully well-rounded. You really start to care about them.
Except Alex. He sucks.
The threat levels start mild and rise and fall with each new occurrence so that you aren’t overwhelmed or rolling your eyes at the overt foreshadowing. In fact initially I was wondering if it was just a character study rather than a thriller.
I genuinely didn’t mind because I was enjoying the interactions and the situation enough.
There were a few things that I felt could have been better addressed. No girl would brush off what Mia thinks happened while she was drunk- especially in the age of #metoo. I genuinely thought that more would be said about that. Same too when one of the characters is slipped something in their drink. And finally I assumed there would be more of a situation when the teenagers realised they couldn’t use their phones.
Maybe I’m just cynical but I believe if you told any modern teen that they couldn’t use their phone for a week most of them would implode.
A well written thriller with intriguing mystery elements, fascinating character dynamic and luscious descriptions that will have you guessing to the last page. Genuinely enjoyable.
About the Author
Phill lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK. He came to writing late, after a career in education and educational publishing. His first novel was Paradise Girl (2017). It’s the first book in the REBOOT trilogy and is the story of a teenage girl, Keryl Shaw, who finds herself alone when a deadly virus wipes out her family and friends. It was followed by Aftershocks (2018), recounting the adventures of Kerryl’s twin brother as he journeys to investigate and understand the pandemic. The finale of the series is Jericho Rose (2020). The pandemic is over and it’s time to rebuild, but some see the chaos as an opportunity to pursue their own selfish aims. Phill’s fourth novel, The God Jar (2020), is a time-shift tale of a mysterious object and its strange powers. What Dreams We Had (2021) is his fifth novel.
Phill’s writing has received a number of awards. Paradise Girl, Aftershocks and The God Jar have Chill With a Book awards. Paradise Girl and The God Jar are Wishing Shelf finalists. Paradise Girl and Aftershocks have received Indie BRAG Medallions. Jericho Rose is a Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon Winner.
When he’s not reading or writing Phill likes walking, going to the theatre and concerts, travel, and visiting museums and galleries. He enjoys music and plays the tenor saxophone.