Reading Regularly

Review: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey

Review: Not Her Daughter

If you saw a woman verbally and physically abusing her child while no-one stopped it, what would you do?

This terrible dilemma is the basic premise of Rea Frey’s showstopping Not Her Daughter. Most people would perhaps let someone official know, or just stand by and avert their eyes, but Sarah refuses to do that. Frey’s stunning characterisations mean that the businesswoman’s choice doesn’t appear crazy or criminal, just horrifically misguided. When Sarah ‘rescues’ five year old Emma, it seems like it could almost be the right choice.
Throughout this novel, as we flip back and forth between the lives of Emma Townsend’s mother and the lady who kidnapped her, the complexity of motherhood is laid bare. I loved the use of third person for Amy, her real mother, and first person for Sarah. It meant that we subconsciously root for the kidnapper, an interesting twist.
Amy also has a story of her own to tell though. She’s had a hard life, feels trapped in her marriage, and has made plenty of mistakes of her own. Amy oozes regret and guilt. Her desperate attempt to find excitement through discovering her past lives demonstrated so clearly just how broken she is.
The use of ‘before’ and ‘after’ gave us insight into the lives of these women before everything went wrong. Sarah was highly successful, Amy unfulfilled. Sarah had recently left a long term relationship with a man who she had believed to be The One while Amy has a husband she hates. The contrast between them makes the conflict even more striking.

Sarah would be the perfect mother for an excitable young girl. But she isn’t — Emma is not her daughter. 

There were some plot threads I would have liked a little more detail on, such as why Ethan never proposed to Sarah, or what happens to Amy’s husband after the novel ends. By cutting those threads loose, though, Frey has constructed a world which feels just as real as our own.
A brilliant read that I devoured in two sittings.
Thank you to NetGalley, St Martin’s Press and Rea Frey for the opportunity to read this wonderful novel!
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Review: The Survival Game by Nicky Singer

Review: The Survival Game

This book wasn’t just enjoyable, it felt educational.

Everyone has heard about the plight of refugees but for many of us living a relatively cosy life in the West, myself included, it’s very hard to imagine what those fleeing horrific situations at home might be facing.

Mhairi is Scottish but has spent the last few years of her young life in the Sudan, where her parents worked, until global warming forces her northwards. North means freedom and life. The reader is dropped into her situation, when she has almost reached the safety of Scotland.

We find out, as Mhairi remembers, about the horrors she has faced. What happened to her family and to her friend Mohammed.

Seeing Mhairi come to care about a young boy she found alongside the way was beautiful.

Her character’s journey was one that reminded me about the importance of being kind, of not judging others before walking a mile in their shoes, and ultimately is one that I would recommend book clubs and teachers to utilise.

Mhairi’s experience shows how difficult reaching safety can be and while her story is fictional it really does pull at the heart strings.

By the heart-stopping ending, I was completely enthralled by the world that Singer has created. There were a few sections towards the end of the book, once it seemed like the immediate danger to Mhairi might be over, that felt a little slow but overall The Survival Game barely slows down for a moment.

A gripping and emotional read.

Thank you to Netgalley, Hachette Children’s Group and Hodder Children’s Books for the opportunity to read.

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Review: She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell

Review: She Was the Quiet One

 

After the death of their mother, twins Bel and Rose are shipped off by their grandmother to an elite boarding school. Miles from anyone they know, faced with their grief, the two twins take different routes at coping with their new situation. Good girl Rose excels at the academic institution, while Bel finds friends amongst a bad crowd. Add in to the mix a schoolgirl competition relating to a male teacher, some badly executed pranks and things really are going south…

There was lots to love about this book. The contrast between the two sisters, while perhaps a little too big a difference, made for some great conflicts early on. I was totally on Rose’s side, by the way. I couldn’t find anything to redeem Bel’s perspective on the pranks. But her rebel persona was part of the point as it was what allowed some of the big drama to happen. I really felt for Sarah, Mr. Donovan’s husband, too. He was making ploys to become headteacher and all she really wanted was a happy life with her family. I could support that. At first she was a great dorm mother. She did have a tendency to deny the truth of a situation at times though!

The core mystery of this novel was which twin was murdered. There was a line in one of the police interviews (which I loved!) which gave a slight clue but really the murder victim could have been either of them. The mystery added a real buzz to the novel, keeping me reading on.

Sometimes the dialogue felt unrealistic. While reading on my Kindle i bookmarked quite a few different pages, almost all in the first half, where phrases were used that didn’t feel at all like how a teenager would speak. Some of the dialogue felt too formal and then other lines made sixteen year olds use what seemed like slightly dated phrases. I have to admit at one point that I had got the impression that the characters were seventeen or eighteen – then to be reminded that they had just turned sixteen was quite jarring. This issue dropped off almost completely later in the book. By the end I was racing through the pages without paying attention to the words themselves, just the story they contained, if that makes sense.

Campbell dealt with some very difficult issues sensitively and her portrayal of boarding school life felt quite realistic (apart from the scandal and murder, of course). A great fast-paced read!

Thank you to Netgalley and St Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read She Was the Quiet One.

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Review: The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Review: The Possible World 

5/5

This book is quite simply magical!

Imagine the Fates weaving their tapestries, tying people together and cutting threads. The Possible World had some of that mystery about it, with the different lives of Leo, Clare and Lucy zigging and zagging closer together and then further apart. Finding out the ways that they are connected was a joy.

In a way, this novel felt like two novels interlaid with each other. First there is the story of Leo, the little boy who is the only possible witness to an unspeakable crime. For the first part of the book all I cared about was Leo. Was he going to be alright? What had caused him to be so quiet?

Then, gradually, something changed. As all of the characters grow on you they begin to feel very real. I would have quite happily read an entire novel about Lucy’s life in accident and emergency! I suppose some people might find the sections about her a little off topic, as the descriptions of the other cases she dealt with don’t fit so much into the overarching plot of the novel. I found though that it made her feel much more real. With less detail about her life she could have quite easily felt like a plot device designed to help sandwich together Clare and Leo.

By the second half of the novel it was Clare I cared about. Poor grouchy Clare. At first I had hated her. How miserable she seemed! Slowly, Schwarz worked her magic and Clare was transformed into the heroine. I really felt reminded that behind every grouchy or frustrated elderly person there is an entire lifetime of stories just waiting to be told.

Schwarz’s ability to bring together all of these threads into a compelling narrative was very impressive. The ending of the novel was so bittersweet but felt like the only possible ending.

I look forward to reading more from this immensely talented author soon! Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone and to Netgalley for the opportunity to read The Possible World.

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