Review: ‘The Memory Keeper’s Daughter’ by Kim Edwards

This has been on my shelf for a while and I finally settled down to it some weeks ago – settled to the point of spending a whole evening away ignoring the lure of ‘Strictly’ and being utterly engrossed in how this story was going to end.

‘The Memory Keeper’s Daughter’ is the story of David Henry’s decision one fateful winter night in 1964, when his wife Nora gives birth to twins and the girl baby is found to have Down’s Syndrome. Figuring it’s the best for all, he sends the girl away and tells his wife she died, leading to a road that Dr David Henry never imagined he would travel down.

David Henry is a difficult character to feel sympathy for, but that’s the point: he does a terrible thing according to twenty-first century thinking, but in the 1960s (as Edwards shows) attitudes were not all-embracing and tolerant, clashing with our modern ideology. As such, we struggle between not understanding and trying to understand, making this a morally engrossing read as we test our perceptions. Likewise, although Nora seems an obvious victim of not only her husband’s betrayal, but of a society unable to accept depression, there’s something holding us back; perhaps it’s her inability to be grateful for the child she has, always searching for something she knows she cannot have. But then, mother’s intuition tells her she can have it, again making this an utter mind-boggling scenario as we attempt to reconcile Nora and her behaviour with what we know – see what I mean about this being a captivating read?!

The storyline itself is pretty simplistic; events come and go, we see the Henry’s struggle with grief and loss, we see Caroline – entrusted with the baby girl – battle for her adopted daughter’s rights, and we see our own attitudes and values tested. Edwards is very clever in how subtly she does this; although there is one use of ‘mongoloid’, the rest of the language is designed to make us feel uncomfortable without breaking major taboos; personally, I think this works better – it frames our unease with the treatment of Down’s Syndrome children within language we use now and understand, rather than just provoking an outrage ‘you can’t say that!’ it provokes a ‘how do I feel about that? Technically have they done anything wrong…?’ undoubtedly along with a look of confusion. It’s a tactful and brilliant way of writing that makes you think rather than jumping to our pre-programmed reactions.

Finally, I did appreciate the ending – not happily ever after as such, but the start of something new at the end of our story, showing possibilities and hopes with no promises attached. I’ll leave it there for the sake of spoilers, but each character ends where they rightfully should without the cloying feeling of everything having slotted neatly into place – there are no neat edges in this jigsaw, it’s safe to say.

I thoroughly recommend ‘The Memory Keeper’s Daughter’ for those intrigued by historical attitudes to disabilities, and those who enjoy a read filled with moral dilemmas and difficult choices at every turn – I promise you’ll come away rethinking your own attitudes towards a multitude of issues.

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Review: ‘Bring Me Back’ by B A Paris

247a4-bring2bme2bbackI spied ‘Bring Me Back’ on a family member’s worktop one day and decided it looked like something I should give a go – and I wasn’t wrong to try!

‘Bring Me Back’ is the story of Finn, whose girlfriend Layla went missing twelve years ago, only to be haunted by her memory just as he’s about to move on. It’s a psychological thriller filled with tension, urging you to read on (frustrating when your lunch hour’s over!).

‘Bring Me Back’ isn’t sophisticated in style or overly-complicated, and that’s a compliment¬†– it’s refreshing not to be led down twenty different alleyways before being told they were all wrong anyway. Instead, Paris masterfully builds suspense, brings it crashing down around you quickly, and then subtly builds more suspense in doing so because you realize everything you were thinking was wrong.

The narrative style is what kept the pace for me; mixing between perspectives and media types made the pulse of this novel beat quicker and quicker until the climactic ending, and was a brilliant choice for such a complex subject, particularly considering the shock revelation at the end.

Finn isn’t a likeable character – we sort of get why Layla might have disappeared from him and sympathise with people like Ruby for their lucky escapes. He’s self-centered, brutish and brilliantly written to confuse us as to whether we think he’s victim or villain. I won’t say much of the other characters to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say that the leading ladies are equally as well-crafted in their respective roles; the characters are central to motivating you to finish this novel and uncover the truth in their desperation and terror.

Overall, I’d thoroughly recommend ‘Bring Me Back’ on any psychological-thriller-lover’s shelf; it delivers pace, tension and a gripping plotline to throw you from chapter to chapter until the bitter end. I’ll definitely be seeking out more of Paris’ work in the New Year!

Review: ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ by David Mitchell

url9I adored ‘Cloud Atlas’ and loved ‘Ghostwritten’, so ‘Jacob de Zoet’ was my third trip into David Mitchell territory, and I was full of high hopes.

Initially, my hopes were a little deflated: there’s a LOT of information and technicalities get your head around in the first part, making it a little difficult to get a reading rhythm going. It did feel a little stilted and there were a few times I had to put this down in order to gather my poor reeling head.

However…

Perseverance pays off! With the shock betrayal of Jacob’s principle by Voerstenbosch and Van Cleef, and Aibagawa Orito’s evident kidnap, everything kicked up a gear in the final moments of Part One, and left you hungry for more.

Orito’s story was my absolute favourite throughout; initially because she was a woman trying to live in a man’s world (thanks to the open-mindedness of the indomitable Dr Marinus), but then because she was a fighter with feeling. The moment where she had escape within her clutches and turned back for the benefit of others was absolutely heartbreaking, but equally wonderful in showing a bravery beyond just getting out and being safe.

Talking of which, the story of Mount Shiranui was horrifically captivating: the balance between it being perceived as a haven but actually being a temple of death and sacrifice was elegantly crafted and haunting in its composure. Watching Ogawa Uzaemon flail against the invincibility of this cult of terror was plot perfection; hopelessness and inevitability at this point invades even the strongest believer in good triumphing over evil, and as such intensifies the emotional reaction against Lord Enomoto and his evil creeds.

I’ll admit the introduction of the British naval fleet in Dejima was, although initially an interesting twist, something that soon lost its interest. Captain Penhaligon (and his interminable gout!) was a fascinating character nonetheless, and I’ve never witnessed such a subtle blend of grief manifesting itself in every action as I had within his plot unfolding. The only thing that stuck in my gullet here was the survival of Daniel Snitker, former Dejima Dutchman trader and traitor to the Dutch empire in Japan; how on earth did he get from chains to the British empire’s fleet, and in doing so find not only refuge but a refuge with a fluent Dutch translator to enact his revenge? A lot of convenience, but forgivable for the plot it allowed to unfold.

For this leads to one of my favourite single moments in the book: ¬†Jacob de Zoet (not forgetting Marinus and William Pitt the monkey) in a solo stance against the British invaders to Dejima, standing alone where all else had fled or lost everything. It was touching and it was real; both men wetting themselves, for example, showed heroism doesn’t have to look pretty to be amazing.

And the ending: David Mitchell knows how to write an ending that stays with you. Yes, Jacob de Zoet’s autumns are not what he thought, and never what he planned, but they are everything that makes us human and wonderful. So yet again, another David Mitchell book that thrills, captivates, confuses in places but causes wonder all over. Remember, persevere with ‘Jacob de Zoet’ and it will pay off; maybe not in copper shares or Dutch profits, but in pure pleasure alone.

Review: ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ by Dorothy Koomson

MyBestFriendsGirlCover‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ is the story of thirty-something Kamryn who suddenly and in devastating circumstances becomes adoptive mother to her best friend’s little girl – enter Tegan, Luke and a whole lot of upheaval for independent Kamryn.

Koomson is an emotional writer, that almost goes without saying, and there’s plenty to tug on the heart-strings here. In particular, I often find that when people write dialogue including children they either go far too sophisticated for what is allegedly a five-year-old, or they use baby speak to the extreme which is just cloying: not Koomson. I’d go as far as to say that this is the first time I’ve had a convincing kid on the page – proper childlike emotions, some scrambled words but generally coherent, and above all naive and innocent in that beautiful way kids are. This is the emotional pull of Koomson’s novel; the touching interaction between Kam and Tegan which subtly highlights the frailty of each.

There were bits that irked me throughout this: if nothing else, if I had to hear the description ‘navy blue’ or ‘royal blue’ regarding eyes one more time I’d have lost the plot! A few things were a little too convenient and, equally, some were so inconvenient that you’re sat screaming at the page that a simple conversation and a bit of honesty would solve this: my willing suspension of disbelief did a fail a couple of times in this respect.

However, the plot between Kamryn and conveniently place Luke was a good backbone to the trials of being a new mother, and the addition of third-wheeler Nate, provides more than enough to sink your teeth into and fret over during the course of the novel, and indeed one of the continuing pulls is being unable to decide who Kam should choose: Luke or Nate? Both are ideal and flawed in equal measure, and the final decision perhaps doesn’t sit easily as a happily ever after, but then it’s not happily ever after; it’s ‘this is where we are and who we are’, and that’s the point of the novel, that it’s not about becoming the best mother and having the perfect family, it’s about finding your way through the most trialling of times.

Overall, ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ would be the perfect addition to any summer read: sad in places but overall a testament to achieving anything we can and realising how amazing we can be when put to the test, it’s a touching journey throughout.

Review: “Then She Was Gone” by Lisa Jewell

61Fb4HID3lLI’ve been an avid fan of Lisa Jewell for many years, and was intrigued by the furore on Twitter about her latest offering – reviews were glowing and filled with emotion.

It’s a different offering to the usual romantic and upbeat offerings from Lisa Jewell, as ‘Then She Was Gone’ focuses on the disappearance of teenager Ellie Mack and her mother’s unravelling of the truth behind the deceit leading to Ellie’s vanishing.

And it was absolutely brilliant in delivery; it was intense, emotional, and brilliantly captivating. It didn’t take long to figure out what might well have happened to Ellie, with tantalising clues being drip-fed throughout the story leading to the devastating conclusion. Ellie’s mother, Laurel Mack, represents the needs, fears and desires of every mother, and is the perfect lead to take us on the rollercoaster journey leading to the final revelations.

One of my favourite bits of this book wasn’t the build up or climax, it was the ending; a lot of novels of this genre have a gentle fizzle to the ending after such a stunning reveal, but this one didn’t. Without giving away what happens, a final note give a bittersweet finale that does our characters justice and shows the fight never ended for freedom and a mother’s love. It was a hauntingly beautiful ending, and I absolutely loved how thoughtful it was.

A breathtaking mystery and thriller, ‘Then She Was Gone’ is a must read this summer – it captivates, horrifies and touches you all in one fell swoop.

Review: “After He’s Gone” by Jane Isaac

afterhesgone-isaac-ebookweb-188x300I was very excited to see Jane Isaac asking for reviewers on Twitter to read her latest book, and even more excited to see it land in my inbox – I’d enjoyed ‘The Truth Will Out’ tremendously. And just like DCI Helen Lavery in ‘The Truth Will Out’, Isaac gives us DC Beth Chamberlain as a well-written strong female lead, and this is one of the standout features of ‘After He’s Gone’.

As Cameron Swift is gunned down, execution style, outside his family home in a well-to-do estate, the life he held together so tightly unravels and brings new revelations to his nearest and dearest. Enter family liaison officer Beth Chamberlain on her first case in the role, sharing in the reader’s interest and intrigue into how such a controlling man managed to end up mixed in with people who would want him dead.

Nothing is overly played in this novel which is one of the reasons I loved ‘The Truth Will Out’ so much – relationships are what they are, people have good and bad qualities, there are no over-the-top heroes and villains, just everyday people coping with tragedy beyond their understanding. The realism of the book is what makes you invest in it, and helps you to understand the prickliness of characters like Sara Swift and the protectiveness of characters like Beth.

The plot line of the murder was well developed – details were drip-fed through expertly, revealing a little whilst causing more questions and in doing so pushing you through to find out the unexpected truth. It’s clearly well-researched (well, the author’s husband is part of the police force after all!) and even the mention of things like budget constraints offer an interesting insight into the world of crime and how investigations are likely to develop. In all, it’s a story worth investing your time in – and trust me, you won’t be able to help but devour this novel in one sitting!

And best of all, the novel closes with unanswered questions – Beth and Nick? Eden’s custody battle? The outcome of Beth’s case? All left up in the air and begging for a sequel (which will be out this year, hurray!), giving us a further pull towards Beth and her challenges in a demanding role and setting up the next in the sequence in a beautifully seamless manner.

I thoroughly recommend getting your hands on the latest detective series to come from Jane Isaac, and on the previous ones if you haven’t already – you’ll be in for a thrilling read that teases and tantalises you before revealing the explosive finale.

Review: ‘The Truth Will Out’ by Jane Isaac

18854687I’d had Jane Isaac recommended to me and grabbed ‘The Truth Will Out’ to give Isaac a whirl – and I can’t wait to pick up her other books, because ‘The Truth’ was a thrilling read.

DCI Helen Lavery is a well-written female protagonist; in some novels there’s a tendency to overplay the girl power card, but she just did what she had to do without being overly-glamorised or over-praised for being a woman in a man’s world. It was refreshing to have a strong female lead who wasn’t overly-lauded for being exactly that!

Likewise (without spoiling anything!), Dean’s role in Helen’s life unfolded naturally without being met with trumpets sounding and fireworks going off; I think that’s what I liked most about Isaac’s writing, in that despite the drama of the police work it was down-to-earth and naturalistic.

The plot moved quickly, leaving you no time for breath and creating an urgent need to uncover the truth behind all the lies and running away, echoing the journey that Eva is on in the fight for her life. It really keeps you involved, and is one of the main reasons I devoured this book in just a couple of days.

Overall, this was a thoroughly engrossing read and one I would thoroughly recommend – I keep spying more Jane Isaac novels in The Works and the like, so I’ll definitely be stocking my shelves in the near future!