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.

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: “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: ‘We Are Made of Stars’ by Rowan Coleman

I picked up ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ for a steal on Amazon Kindle because it looked intriguing, and I came out of the book knowing it was more than intriguing: it was affirming and heartbreaking all wrapped into one.

9780091953126And it’s a weird combination, one that leaves you closing the final page wondering if you feel sad at the heartbreak the world contains, or empowered because these things challenge us, test us and show us how wonderful and brave we can be. In fact, my head was spinning with the mini-argument I was having with myself as to whether I should be feeling like I enjoyed a book with such tender and delicate themes.

This is because ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ is centred around a nurse working in a hospice, looking after those nearing the end of their lives and those recuperating from serious illnesses. Through our nurse – Stella – we meet Hope and Hugh as well as various other characters, the former a 21-year-old with cystic fibrosis recovering from a near-death illness, the latter a man clueless about his own turbulent history who becomes embroiled in Stella’s night-time activities of writing final letters to loved ones on behalf of her patients.

Letters are beautiful things and a medium that suits issues so close to the heart. They are well interspersed in the novel to punctuate the happy, the sad and everything in-between, lightening and darkening the scene whenever needed. It’s a method I absolutely loved, and I wanted more letters: call it an odd sense of voyeurism, but it’s fascinating to consider yourself as getting an insight into something so unknowable as the human mind.

Hope’s story was just that: one of hope and unending potential, no matter how hard life treats you. In places it was full of cringey post-adolescence angst, but this wasn’t a negative: it was one of those moments where you roll your eyes cringing because you sit there going ‘oh God, I did that, I was once that daft/naive/embarrassing’ – it’s that warm embarrassing feeling of nostalgia in your tummy, and seeing it through Hope intensifies it because of her shortened life span and her need to work through to the other side of her problems to enjoy life while she can.

Hugh’s story is equally one we all recognise: who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we like we are? He’s written expertly; straightforward and affable, allowing us to go on the journey with him and reflect on why we are where we are. Throw in a romance and, heck, Hugh’s a vision of what we might want in the world: to be loved, to understand ourselves, to be able to move forward.

My favourite story though, by a country mile, was Stella’s. Her husband Vincent is critically wounded on tour in Afghanistan and struggles to adapt to civilian life and living whilst his friend died in the line of duty. Seeing Stella tip-toe around, trying to do the right thing but constantly being told it’s wrong, it’s heartbreaking and it’s all you can do not to scream at her to run fast and run far to save herself from the effects of the blast. She’s tired, near defeat and trying to do right by everyone, neglecting herself: haven’t we all known that feeling? She’s bold and brave, weak and frail, and it’s why you fall in love with her – she’s the epitome of what it is to be human. I adored her, her storyline and how the world unfolded for her.

Without gushing any further, what I promise you if you pick up ‘We Are All Made of Stars’ is sadness tinged with hope, hope that is filled with unease and promise all at once, and a reminder that life is for living – so don’t sit back and watch others do it for you. It’s a brilliant book and I can’t wait to pick up more of Coleman’s novels in the future.