Little Girl Gone by Alexandra Burt


This review will contain some spoilers. I won’t give away what happens to baby Mia, but I’m going to be talking about some of the things that crop up in the book.

I was torn on this book. It had me hooked and I read about two thirds of it one afternoon but I’m not entirely sure I found it enjoyable. But then again, I think it’d be weird of me to enjoy a book about a missing child, psychiatric institutions and post natal psychosis. I desperately wanted to know what had happened to baby Mia… But then I wasn’t sure I did want to know, which is probably the definition of a good crime novel.

Now, I also think that my delicate English sensibilities contributed to me finding this book a bit of a roller coaster. I’ve read a fair few missing child books recently, all of them set in England, or at least partially in England. The introduction of guns and car chases and ravines and religious compounds was jarring, for me, because of how alien a concept they are compared to my afternoon-tea-drinking-local-pub-frequenting life. Which isn’t a bad thing and I definitely found the twists exciting, even if I had to stretch my imagination a bit more.

The twists were definitely one of the strong points of the book. One minute I’d be sure I’d figured out what had happened and who did what and then I’d turn the page and my whole theory would be turned upside down. I never figured it out and and I wouldn’t have done even if someone had highlighted all of the clues for me in bright green. Because the clues were there, but so cleverly hidden behind red herrings and assumptions Estelle has made about herself that it’s not until the loose ends are tied up that they all become clear.

Alexandra Burt’s writing style definitely deserves a mention too. I wasn’t expecting such a well written book when I first picked it up and in the supermarket, nor was I expecting characters to be so fully formed in my mind within moments of meeting them. I have such a clear picture of Dr Ari, for example, that I could picture him in his office now wiping lint off off his suit. Not just characters, either, Estelle’s memory of her decent into psychosis is so clear that I felt as though I was living it with her. But of course nothing in this book is that black and white.

So, to read it and find out what happened to baby Mia because I can almost guarantee you won’t figure it out until the very last pages.

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New purchase: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

I’ve seen The Kind Worth Killing doing rounds on Twitter these past few days  so of course I had to pick it up when I saw it in Sainsburys.

The blurb:

When his flight gets delayed, Ted Severson meets Lily, a magnetic stranger, in the airport bar. In the netherworld of international travel and too many Martinis, he confesses his darkest secrets, about his wife’s infidelity and how he wishes her dead. Without missing a ebay she offers to help him carry out the task…

I’m looking forward to a good plot twist, which I’ve become very fond of after spending a year reading some excellent thrillers. So it’s firmly on my To-Read-Soon pile!

Right now I’m reading Little Girl Gone by Alexandra Burt, which I’ll be reviewing soon!

The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell made a great commute read.

My first experience of Lisa Jewell was reading Before I Met You while staying alone in a hotel in Tenerife. I was lonely, and the book suited my loneliness by being heartwarming and poignant and having a plot that I needed to concentrate on.

The Third Wife has a very different feel, for me, or maybe it’s because I read it on my commute to work and didn’t feel quite so on my own. It was funny, whilst still having that poignant element that make Lisa Jewell’s books so special. I really enjoyed it, of course.

The story begins with a woman stepping out in front of a bus late one night. That woman is Maya, the third wife of a man named Adrian. She is well loved by his family, well loved by the school she teaches at, uncharacteristically drunk and the incident is put down to a tragic accident. It’s only the arrival of a mysterious woman in Adrian’s life one day that sparks any sort of suspicions.

I really liked the progression of the plot. We don’t know why happened to Maya, so all of Adrian’s theories seem plausible until we get the information ourselves. We don’t know who this woman is, or how important she might be to Maya’s story, but Adrian feels he must find her when she vanishes again. He does get his answer, but there are red herrings along the way. The end threw me completely.

I think also the title deserves a mention too. The Third Wife is a description, of course, Maya is wife number three to her happy-go-lucky husband. But, to me, it also summed up the alienation she feels in a family so loving and big, but slightly out of her reach. Susan and Caroline, the first two wives, have given Adrian children. Maya has not. And although the family are welcoming and loving and all very everything-is-ok, she never feels like she fits in. And what Lisa Jewell does with that it to reveal Maya to us in snippets. She goes from The Third Wife to a person who is complex and confused and real, all with our knowledge that she’s already dead. It’s as if we’re finding out about her slightly quicker than Adrian does as he tries to unwrap the mystery of her death. I really enjoyed that aspect of it. But then I enjoy a book that deals with the question of whether or not we can really know a person.

Thinking about it now the plot reminds me distantly of An Inspector Calls; mysterious stranger arrives to remind us how we all have a part to play in the fates and unravellings of others. But it’s more subtle than that and by the end every character has realised how they can behave in a way that takes note of others. Particularly Adrian, who desperately needed to realise that his happiness did not guarantee the happiness of others. It’s a lighthearted, funny but also slightly heartbreaking story and I wound definitely recommend it.

How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst

How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst
How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst
Confession: I very much enjoy a trashy novel. Especially a trashy, slightly unbelievable, thriller. How I Lost You fits that bill entirely and I absolutely loved it. Susan Webster, now Emma Cartwright, has served three years in a psychiatric institute for the murder. She has no memory of the incident, but several independent witnesses verify that she did it. Now, she’s out with a new home and a new identity, with her institute room mate as her only link to her former life.

The book deals, in theory, with themes of privilege of the upper classes, corruption, the flaws justice system, mental illness and the dangers of aggressive masculinity. In theory. I felt like the story was too caught up in the dramatics to ever quite get there. How Susan’s best friend was released from the institute is never explained and the coincidences involved in the major twists in the plot are borderline unbelievable.

But I still really enjoyed reading it. Mainly, I think, for the very-common trick of combining past and present. Emma’s narration is interspersed with flashbacks to the 80s involving a group of lads who don’t quite fit into Emma’s story, except that they do. You just have to see it out.

I found it really enjoyable, although some parts were not for the light hearted. The flashback scenes involve every sort of abuse and degradation of women you could imagine and some sort of trigger warning should probably be mentioned (do books even have trigger warnings? Should they? That’s probably a whole other debate in itself) It’s no Gone Girl or James Patterson novel, but it was worth a read for an easy, satisfyingly wrapped up crime novel.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

  
Oh Lord, this book. This book. I have literally just finished the last page and I’m trying to work out how to describe how much I loved it without giving away anything that happens. I might be in the mood for italics and emphasis right now but oh that is how much I enjoyed this book.

I’ve read two of Liane Moriarty’s books before, The Husbands Secret and What Alice Forgot, but this one is by far my favourite (and as soon as I’m home I’m ordering her whole bibliography I swear). The writing is to her usual excellent standard, sometimes funny, sometimes hitting you hard in the face. The story is told from the angle of three different characters; Jane, who has just moved to town with her five year old boy; Madeline, who is described as ‘a force to be reckoned with’ and Celeste, who is beautiful but skittish. All three have secrets, all three have children just starting kindergarten (A word I hate, by the way. As someone who occasionally teaches our equivalent I have the idea of Early Years Foundation Stage so inherently ingrained in me that every other English speaking country’s name just grates!) all three become good friends.

On the surface, the book is all about whispered rumours and playground gossip and, basically, Mum’s sticking their oar in where it doesn’t belong. There’s accusations of bullying, petitions to get a five year old suspended, rumours of infidelity and bad parenting. All wrapped up in the guise of snippets of a journalists report of a murder, or ‘incident’, at the school’s trivia night.

The whodunnit element is only the second most compelling part of the story, after the whowasdunnito. From page 9’s ‘this is a murder investigation’ to  page 428, where the death actually happens, we do not know who died. I could have hazarded a guess, and by two thirds of the way in I had a fair idea who I wanted it to be… But it still hit me in a sort of ‘oh my fucking god’ kind of way.

And the surface gossip of the journalist interviews only highlight the underlying point of the story; you don’t know. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors or past the Facebook statuses or underneath people’s carefully crafted outfits. We find out more about each character in teasing glimpses until the people on the balcony that fateful trivia night are so far removed from from the versions of themselves that the arguing people inside think they know it’s almost comical.

I loved it, it was a perfectly crafted combination of chick lit and thriller to the point where it felt like neither one at all. I have literally thrown it at my best friend demanding she read it and I metaphorically do the same to anyone reading this right now.

The Drowning Lesson by Jane Shemilt

The Drowning Lesson by Jane Shemilt
The Drowning Lesson by Jane Shemilt
I bought this book along with Little Girl Gone by Alexandra Burt when I was in the mood for some heart wrenching thrillers. I love a good thriller and a lot of my 2015 reading has been made up of them (which is unusual for me, usually I’m a sci-fi or YA kind of girl. I’m expanding my horizons!). Missing child books seem to be all the rage at the moment and they also seem to be Jane Shemilt’s element.

I read her debut novel, Daughter, earlier in the year and thoroughly enjoyed it (although I’m still, to this day, not sure how I feel about the ending). I had similar mixed, yet equally positive, feelings towards The Drowning Lesson. It deals with the same subject as Daughter, a child has gone missing, but this time the child is a three-month-old baby, not a possibly runaway teen girl. The book is fantastically written, jumping through time periods and between England and Botswana. The movement from times and places never felt forced and there was a natural progression from events leading up to baby Sam’s abduction to after the fact. By the end we settle into one time period, and Emma dealing with the emotions and turmoil of losing her child.

Now, at the beginning of the novel I couldn’t quite see how I could ever like this character. She’s ambitious to a fault, bitter, jealous of any success that is not her own, resentful of her new baby’s ‘faults’ (a large birthmark on his face that later becomes a lifeline when he goes missing). She is thoroughly unlikeable. But it doesn’t make you any less sympathetic to her plight and actually, by the end I think the experiences change her. She’s an evolving character and I think Jane Shemilt writes her well that way. By the end I could say I liked her.

And speaking of the ending. It threw me, completely. I won’t give it away, but suffice to say the mystery of what happens to baby Sam kept me guessing to the last pages. There’s so many characters surrounding Emma, and with so much of the novel taking place through her eyes, that her paranoia becomes your paranoia. Her theories become your theories, even the completely implausible ones. I like to be kept guessing and Jane Shemilt certainly delivers in that.

I can’t comment on setting; Botswana is shown to be a place very rich with culture and variety, but who am I to compare that to what I assume is a very diverse reality?

That aside, I’d recommend it as a read. It is very similar to Daughter in theme, but I don’t think that detracts from it at all. Jane Shemilt clearly writes this kind of story well and, while there are links between the two, Drowning Lesson throws us into a different setting and situation so the similarities become far less prominent. The ending is surprising, the characters are flawed yet believable and the writing is beautiful! I loved it. I got told off for spilling my dinner when I wouldn’t put it down at my family’s house!

A Book and a Brew

I wish I could take credit for the title of this post because I do think it’s brilliant. Sadly, I can’t as it’s the name of a subscription service I stumbled across recently. It was a happy accident, as I was actually looking for UK-friendly equivalent to Owl Crate (mentioned or reblogged, I think, by the lovely Lady Bookmad on Tumblr) and after going round the metaphorical houses I found Book and a Brew.

A Book and a Brew is a monthly subscription service where you receive a hardback novel and a box of tea to drink alongside it. And if there’s anything in the world I love as much as books it’s tea. So I signed straight up.

My favourite (but not my only) teapot. My collection isn't quite matching my book one yet!
My favourite (but not my only) teapot. My collection isn’t quite matching my book one yet!

Firstly, I should talk about the service I received. Thanks to some confusion involving PayPal I originally signed up using an address I no longer live at. Entirely my fault, but within 24 hours of emailing Book and a Brew’s customer service to explain they had replied saying they’d amended my subscription and not to worry. Phew!

So, to the actual subscription. Packages are dispatched on the 15th of every month, so signing up beforehand is essential so you don’t miss it. I received mine on the 17th (Luckily, as it was a Saturday and I was home to take it from the postman!) so delivery was pretty speedy! The box was far too big for a letterbox, but given that it contains more than a hardback book I wasn’t surprised.

Rooms by Lauren Oliver and popcorn tea from Teapigs
Rooms by Lauren Oliver and popcorn tea from Teapigs

This month, unsurprisingly, was Halloween themed with my package coming with a card that explained the link between the book and the tea. Rooms by Lauren Oliver is, in part, a ghost story and what could go better with a ghost story but popcorn? I’m an utter whimp when it comes to horror films and I hate popcorn but weirdly I love horror books and this tea was delicious. The mix was adorable and really well thought out.

Incidentally, and by complete stroke of luck, Lauren Oliver is an author I already love. Panic is probably my favourite of hers but I really enjoyed the Delirium series when I read them a few years ago (in the midst of my love affair with YA dystopian fiction). So I was pleasantly surprised that my first package from Book and a Brew contained a book by an author I already liked, but hadn’t already read.

So, I’m really impressed with my first box and I’m looking forward to next month. I’m still jealous of the range of book subscription services available in the US but for now this is filling the void!

Also, my cat very much loves the box.

Nuha models my Book and a Brew delivery!
Nuha models my Book and a Brew delivery!