Review: ‘The Retreat’ by Sherri Smith ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Happy Publication Day Sherri Smith and her gripping thriller The Retreat. Thank you to Titan books for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.7

SYNOPSIS:

Sherri Smith illuminates the dark side of the self-care and wellness industry in a thrilling ride of revenge perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers. The Retreat is a twisting, bone-chilling suspense that asks: how well do you really know your friends?

Four women.

Four secrets.

A weekend that will change them forever..if they survive.

Katie Manning was a beloved child star until her mid-teens when her manager attacked and permanently scarred her face, effectively ending her career and sending her on a path of all-too-familiar-post-Hollywood  self-destruction.

Now twenty-seven, Katie wants a better answer to those clickbait “Where Are They Now?” articles that float around online. An answer she hopes to find when her brother’s too-good-to-be-true fiancee invites her to a wellness retreat upstate. Together with Katie’s two best friends – one struggling with crippling debt and family obligations, one running away from a failed job and relationship – Katie will try to find the inner peace promised at the tranquil retreat. But finding oneself just might drudge up more memories than Katie is prepared to deal with.

Each woman has come to the retreat for very different reasons. Each has her secrets to hide. And at the end of this weekend, only one will be left standing. 

“This place made a killer out of me.”

The Retreat is a dark and twisted tale of secrets, lies, hate, revenge and murder. It starts with a chilling prologue that had me immediately hooked. 

Former child star Katie Manning has been wandering aimlessly through life ever since her T.V show ended over a decade ago. Her recent planned comeback has been scrapped afTer she drunkenly wrote a homophobic tweet, leaving her with no idea what to do next. Her brother Nate encourages her to go on a wellness retreat with  his fiancee Ellie to see if she can find focus in life and heal her demons. It’s the last thing she wants to do, particularly with someone she can’t stand, but she agrees for her brother and secretly invites her two best friends, Ariel and Carmen, along with them. We soon discover that each of them have things they’re hiding from the others and things that they’re running from. 

When they arrive at the retreat they’re greeted by the owners, Naomi and Dr. Dave. The couple look like strange cult members, insist everyone give up their phones and declare that everyone can become a new person in one weekend if they follow their instructions. Ellie seems excited, while the other girls are skeptical and disappointed; this isn’t the spa like sanctuary they thought they signed up for. As the weekend progresses it’s clear that none of them will leave the retreat the same person. If they leave at all…

I really enjoyed this novel. It was atmospheric and the opening chapter gave the book as sense of foreboding that made me excited for what was coming. 

The four girls each narrate the story offering a great insight into their experience and different perspectives on the retreat. I liked that each of them were multilayered and had depth. Katie and Ellie were the hardest to like but were fun to read. Katie was the perfect spoiled, out of touch Hollywood brat but I did feel for her being made to be the family breadwinner at such a young age and how she didn’t have parents who cared past the money she made. Her only parental figure was her manager who betrayed her and disfigured her in an attack that essentially ended her career at just 15. She’s a lost soul and I really wanted her to find meaning in life beyond money and her former career and feel able to just be herself instead of the former child star. My heart broke for her as she started to remember things she’d long repressed and I understood why she was so messed up. It was a great reminder of that money and fame are far from a guarantee of a good and happy life. With Ellie I had a radar go off about what her real motivations were in her relationship with Nate from early on. She seemed to be harbouring the biggest secrets and have secret motivations for everything she did. She was also very controlling but battled to contain it in order to keep up her perfect facade. 

The girl I probably liked most was Carmen. She was intelligent, level headed and caring, though I felt for what she was going through in having to be the provider and carer for her father and siblings. It’s clear she had a bright career ahead of her until life got in the way and the parallels with Katie as the family breadwinner, albeit in a completely different capacity and wage bracket, were interesting. Especially in how it affected their relationship. Lastly there was Ariel. I had a lot of sympathy for her lack of confidence and need to be loved, even if the choices she makes are questionable and she came off desperate a lot of the time. She seemed like a lovely girl underneath it all if only she could finally feel loved and accepted for who she is. 

At varying times I suspected three of the four might be the mysterious person in the prologue before settling on who I thought was the one. In the end the identity of the survivor involved many twists and was far more complex than I imagined and I was on tenterhooks as we reached the story’s shocking, macabre and gruesome climax and finally learned the answers to our questions and the identity of the final girl.

Out today. 

One year of Bookstagram

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Today is my first “bookstaversary”.

It was Book Lovers Day and I decided this was the perfect day to take the leap I’d been considering for about a month and start a page dedicated to book reviewing. When I did I had no idea that I was joining such a kind, loving and supportive community. I didn’t know that I would find people I now consider genuine friends. I didn’t know that I would find a home.

I had been unable to work due to multiple chronic health conditions for seven years at this point and had spent that time languishing and without any real sense of purpose, particularly as my children got older and I became sicker and less able to do things around the house. I was a prolific reader since childhood but I’d not been reading much over the last few years because pain and brain fog made it so difficult. But in December 2017 I gave in and asked for a kindle for Christmas, hoping it would mean I’d be able to read more without the pain of holding a book. Despite how hard it is to read because of varying levels of brain fog, I found that I was now reading every day and consuming more books than ever. I started to share my thoughts on my personal Instagram and people told me I should write reviews. So I did. I followed a few book bloggers after finding one of them when I was looking for a pretty picture to share and crediting one of them in a post and it started me thinking that maybe I should start a page too.  This led to me starting a blog on September 9th as my reviews often didn’t fit into the 2,200 characters allowed on Instagram. As well as creating these accounts I joined NetGalley and an obsession began. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to read an review books before they’re released.

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My first post on my bookstagram account

When I joined bookstagram my only wish was to share my love of books. I didn’t expect to get many followers, after all who’d be interested in what little old me had to say about books? A year later I’m in awe at how it has grown and that so many people are interested in my reviews and recommendations or that I’d be taking part in blog tours.

I couldn’t let today pass without an acknowledgement or without something special so I asked my boyfriend to design me a new logo. He’s a fantastic artist and I was very happy with what he came up with  on his phone.

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What do you think of the new logo?

Book reviewing has given me back a purpose in my life and brings me so much joy. This last year I’ve been happier because of it and because of the wonderful people I’ve met. Thank you to every one of you for following and for your friendship. I’m excited to see where this blog and my bookstagram are in another year.

 

Review: ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Happy Paperback Publication Day to the lovely Sara Collins and one of my favourite books this year.

SYNOPSIS: 

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, stands trial for their murder.

The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may even be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie has the chance to tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

REVIEW:

“I would never have done what they say I’ve done, to Madame, because I loved her. Yet they say I must be put to death for it, and they want me to confess.But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?” 

This remarkable debut novel is one of those books that reaches into your soul. Forbidden love, secrets, lies, obsession, madness, brutality, rage and murder. This book is filled to the brim with them all and takes you on an unforgettable journey as alleged murderess Frannie Langton tells her story. 

The Mulatta Murderess is what the papers have called her. But her name is Frannie Langton. The former slave is standing trial for the murders of her Master and Mistress, George and Marguerite, but says she couldn’t have done it because she loved her mistress. But that’s all she will say. She offers no evidence of her innocence, nor any defense. Instead, she writes her so-called confessions that tell the story of her life from her beginnings on a Jamaican plantation to the present day as she awaits judgement.

“Reading was the best thing and worst thing that’s happened to me.”

I loved the use of Frannie writing her own story and how it wasn’t chronological. The switches in the timeline skillfully wove the past and present together in a way that felt fresh and compelling. It also increased tension, foreshadowed events, and kept us guessing while also answering some questions in piecemeal. The excerpts of trial testimony sporadically inserted into the book were the perfect way to provide flashes of another perspective while showcasing the many prejudices and uphill battle Frannie was facing in her case.

This story deals with many important and hard to digest issues from the era, such as slavery. Though as a house girl Frannie is spared things such as working in the fields in the searing heat each day, she is still treated as less than human. And when Miss-bella, her Mistress on the plantation, decides to teach Frannie to read and write she feels lucky and doesn’t heed the warnings from Phibbah, another slave, that an educated negro is a threat to the white man. But she soon learns Phibbah was right. Reading the appalling brutalities that Frannie and other slaves are subjected to is hard at times but it is an important and potent part of her narrative. 

“I was all anger. Anger a drumbeat. Anger,  steady as rain on glass. Anger, like a hot spurt of blood from a wound.”

At an author event I attended back in May Sara Collins said, “novels for me come from characters” and talked about how she didn’t have a book until she knew her characters. This is evident for me in what a complex and wonderful character Frannie is. She’s honest, raw and flawed. She’s brave and intelligent. She refuses to be told what her life will be and dreams of more. Perhaps the most prolific part of Frannie’s narrative is anger. She talks about her rage at being looked down on, when she witnesses injustice and at being told she can and will only ever be a slave. She is very self-aware about her anger and there are times she’s ashamed of it, but overall she owns and accepts her rage, even seeming to be fuelled by it. You see it present in varying ways throughout her life and I have a lasting image of her hands cramping into fists by her sides. With all this anger you’re probably thinking she’s obviously guilty, but what I love about this book is it turns so many assumptions on their head. As you read it isn’t so hard to imagine that maybe she didn’t do it. Most of the time I understood her fury and thought I would have felt the same in her shoes. 

The other characters in this novel are all equally well written. While her Masters were very different, they were also both vile, evil men who mistreated her and I despised them both. She had a very different relationship with each of her Mistresses: Miss-bella was someone I loathed but also pitied at times. She taught Frannie to read but knew the danger that brought and she still mistreated her in other ways. Madame Marguerite was the woman Frannie loved and who she claimed was in love with her. She is a selfish and self-indulgent character but other than that I found myself vacillating between many feelings about her over the course of the book as although Frannie is in love with her and clearly worships her, as an outsider you see how she manipulates, uses and even puts Frannie in danger by her actions. 

“My life began with some truly hard things, but my story doesn’t have to, even though nothing draws honesty out of you like suffering.”

Though this is one of my favourite books I’ve read this year, I’ve found this review hard to write. So much happens and it’s hard to know what details to give without spoiling it and to eloquently describe how this book made me feel. But I needed to write this review, to tell others about this incredible story.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton shows us the worst of humanity but also some of its kindness. We see loneliness, hopelessness, desperation, brutality, anger and death, but also strength, hope, love and passion. It’s a haunting, beautiful, somber, eye-opening, emotional and penetrating story that gives a voice to those that have been forced to remain silent and muted. At the time the book is set people of colour were seen as less than human and race is a big part of this story, but for me, this is overwhelmingly a story about what it means to be human. How the differences in our skin don’t change the way we feel, love or dream. And a reminder that how the way we treat others says much more about ourselves than anyone else. 

Sara Collins’ debut novel is a masterpiece and is not only one of my favourite books this year, but ever. She deserves every bit of the accolades and recognition coming her way. It’s been two months since I finished it and I still find myself often thinking about Frannie and her story. I also can’t stop telling people they should read it. I definitely fell a bit in love with the imperfect but wonderful Frannie and her story and am going to be the first in line for a ticket if I get my dream and they make it into a film. 

Out now.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Collins studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years. In 2014 she embarked upon the Creative Writing Masters at Cambridge University, where she won the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize of Re-creative Writing and was shortlisted for the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Prize for a book inspired by her love of gothic fiction. This turned into her first novel, The Confessions of Frannie Langton.

 

Review: ‘Never Have I Ever’ by Joshilyn Jackson ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

Happy Kindle Publication Day to Joshilyn Jackson and her electrifying new novel.

SYNOPSIS:

It starts as a game at book group one night. Never Have I Ever..done something I shouldn’t.

But Amy Whey has done something she shouldn’t. And Roux, the glamorous newcomer to Amy’s suburban neighbourhood, knows exactly what that is.

Roux promises she’ll go away. She will take herself and her son, who is already growing dangerously close to Amy’s teenage stepdaughter, and she will go. If Amy plays by her rules. 

But Amy isn’t prepared to lose everything she’s built. She’s going to fight back, and in this escalating game of cat and mouse, there can be only one winner. 

REVIEW:

In Pensacola, Florida, a group of ordinary suburban housewives are holding at their monthly book group when a mysterious stranger knocks on the door. She wants to join their group. Before the end of the night she’s charmed almost everyone and overtaken the group, declaring the book talk boring and instead plies them with alcohol and gets them to play her own version of Never Have I Ever. But these embarrassing, salacious secrets aren’t just a bit of fun. They’re the mystery woman’s ammunition for a much more dangerous game. And now she has secrets that could explode many people’s lives into a million pieces…

“She smiled, and I had no premonition as I smiled back. She didn’t look like my own destruction to me.” 

Amy Whey loves her life. It’s uncomplicated and unremarkable, which is just how she wants it. She knows how damaging and dangerous the extraordinary can be and she’s spent too long burying her painful past to allow anything to threaten what she has. She’s married to Davis and they live with his daughter Maddy and their baby boy, Oliver. Amy is a loyal friend and is fiercely protective of those she loves. But underneath the calm exterior is layers of guilt and a woman teetering on the edge, scared that her darkest secrets will be exposed. 

Angelica Roux is glamorous, sexy, bewitching, hypnotic, wild and charming. This wolf in sheep’s clothing soon takes over the book group with copious amounts of alcohol and a seemingly innocent game of Never Have I Ever. But underneath the shiny and chipper exterior is a cold, calculating, manipulative, and greedy woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.  

And so begins a deadly game of cat and mouse that can have only one winner and could cost the loser everything, maybe even their life…

“Roux had begun this as a game. She’d told me not to play. But I already was. I had tol. More than that. I had to win.”

Wow! This book was utterly compelling. Steeped in layer upon layer of drama, intrigue and suspense, this book had me on the edge of the seat.. Past narratives are used to tease us with the events that Amy is so terrified of being revealed as she races against the clock to beat Roux at her game and they hyped up the mystery and tension, leaving more questions I was desperate to know the answer to while also helping to slowly untangle the clues. 

“I did not know I could lead us to a thing so big, so mean, something we can never undo or remove, that will echo in my life, in all our lives, forever.”

While being entertaining this book also makes you think as it asks the question how far would you go to protect your secrets and the life you love? It’s also a book about how every little choice we make can have far-reaching, and sometimes disastrous, consequences, and how your whole life can change in a single moment. 

Part of the brilliance of this book is how similar the Amy and Roux are despite their different roles in the story. Both characters were well written and Roux is a fantastic antagonist. She’s easy to despise but is also fun to read and you can understand why so many people are taken in by her. While I never wavered in Roux being the bad guy, there are times when  you aren’t sure if Amy is the good guy or the bad guy as she’s complex and the more we learn about her the harder it to only see her as an innocent victim. But none of this changed my allegiance. I was team Amy all the way. 

“She’d cracked open the past. I could feel it leaking into my bloodstream, spreading like a toxin through me.”

This was my first read by this author, but it won’t be my last. There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book and with that there is always the worry it won’t live up to expectations. This one did. Spectacularly written, fast-paced, and  full of intricate twists and turns, with one in particular that I’m still trying to recover from the shock of. The author masterfully weaves the pieces of the puzzle together and delivers a nail-biting finale that I was so desperate to get to I stayed up long into the night. 

The book itself gives a great way to describe itself: a book with teeth. Ironically it is exactly the kind of book that Amy and Roux like to read. So if you love books with teeth, mysteries that keep you guessing and psychological thrillers that have you on tenterhooks, then Never Have I Ever is the book for you.

Thank you to NetGalley, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC and Joshilyn Jackson for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Kindle version out July 30th

Hardcover out August 8th.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Joshilyn Jackson lives near Decatur, Georgia with her husband and their two children. For the past six years she has taught creative writing and literature courses for Georgia’s maximum security facility for women. Through their education-in-prison and re-entry programmes, Reforming Arts fosters the development of critical and creative thinking skills, encouraging students to build liveable lives. She’s also an award winning audiobook narrator, performing most of her own work as well as other authors including Lydia Nelzer and Maybeth Mayhew Whalen.

Review: ‘The Poison Garden’ by Alex Marwood ⭐⭐⭐⭐

SYNOPSIS:

Where Romy grew up, if someone died you never spoke of them again.

Now twenty-two, she has recently escaped the toxic confines of the cult she was raised in. But Romy is young, pregnant and completely alone – and if she is to keep herself safe in this new world, she has some important lessons to learn.

Like how there are some people you can trust, and some you must fear. And about who her family really is, and why her mother ran away from them all those years ago. 

And that you can’t walk away from a dark past without expecting it to catch up with you.

REVIEW:

“None of us will be the same, by tomorrow, she thinks.”

Two police officers are called out to investigate an awful smell on a farm by a neighbour: a seemingly innocuous call that gives them no warning of the life-changing and terrible sight they’re about to discover: lifeless bodies piled one on top of each other, frozen in death as they tried to flee. All the adult members of the Ark, the cult that lived on the farm, are dead apart from Romy who was in the infirmary unable to walk, listening helplessly as her family died in agony. 

This book had me hooked from it’s chilling first chapter and kept me guessing until the final page. The story unfolded in a way I didn’t expect, but I loved.The choice to have Romy and her Aunt Sarah narrate offered us very different perspectives on events happening in the book and the world in general. Through the use of flashbacks to their childhoods we learn that these very different women actually have a lot more in common than first meets the eye. 

“How do you explain, to someone who didn’t live it?”

Romy was a baby when her teenage mother, Alison, joined the Ark. She’s known nothing else but their strange, isolated lifestyle that consisted of preparing for the Apocalypse and living off the land while following the teachings of their Father, Lucien. She’s been taught to fear the outside world and those who inhabit it, known to her as the Dead. She sees danger and disaster all around her and is too terrified to leave her flat unless absolutely necessary. We soon learn that Romy is hiding secrets bigger than her fear of life outside the Ark and that there might be more to her story than it first seemed. I really liked how her character was written, especially the fears that she’d been indoctrinated to have. A lot of these fears were of real things that can or have happened, it’s just she’s been taught to see them as a sign of the world’s doom and depravity instead of accidents or evil done by a small few. It highlights how a small change in perception can completely alter our world view and it was fascinating to see the way we live through the eyes of people that had grown up totally removed from our society.   

This wasn’t the first time I’ve read a book by this author, but it is a number of years since I did, and I will certainly be catching up on any others I’ve missed. The writing in this novel is riveting, harrowing and heart-rending. The pace quickened as the story went on and had me on the edge of my seat, the revelations increasingly jarring as we approached the dramatic and chilling finale. The Poison Garden is a multilayered, twisty thriller full of secrets and interesting characters that will delight and surprise lovers of psychological thrillers and mysteries. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Little, Brown Book Group UK and Alex Marwood for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Out now.

 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Alex Marwood is a former journalist who worked extensively across the British press. Her first novel, The Wicked Girls, achieved widespread acclaim and international bestsellerdom. It was shortlisted for ITW, Anthony and Macavity awards, was included in Stephen King’s Ten Best Books of the Year list, and won the prestigious Edgar Award. The Killer Next Door, her second novel, won the coveted Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel, was nominated for the Anthony and Barry. The Darkest Secret, the tale of the disappearance of young Coco, met with critical and reader acclaim. The Poison Garden will be released in 2019. She has also been shortlisted for numerous other crime writing awards and her first two novels have been optioned for the screen. Marwood lives in south London and is working on her next novel.

Review: ‘My Sister, The Serial Killer’ by Oyinkan Braithwaite ⭐⭐⭐.5

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SYNOPSIS:

My Sister, The Serial Killer is a backly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach.  This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

MY REVIEW:

“Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.”

The first line of this book sent shivers down my spine. I’d been excited to read this much-hyped book for a while and was pleased when it was chosen as July’s book for my book club. But sadly this was a book that didn’t live up to it’s promise or the hype.

It started well and had a lot of good points. Initially there was a lot of tension: would the sisters get caught at the crime scene and while disposing of the body? Will the social media search for the victim lead to their exposure? I like the short chapters and though I never quite got to grips with the Nigerian-English, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book. 

Korede and Ayoola had what is understandably a tense relationship, though to those who don’t know Ayoola’s deadly secret it seems Korede is unnecessarily harsh towards her and even gets accused of victim shaming when others believe Ayoola’s lies. I liked her character for the most part and understood her desire to protect her little sister as it must be a complex range of feelings to have someone you love do such terrible things and ask for your help. Korede seemed like a decent person put in an impossible situation. She’s forever scared of being found out while Ayoola seems unbothered by her crimes and doesn’t understand why her sister is edgy and anxious. She sees herself as the victim, claiming each man died in an act of self-defense, though this seems a sketchy claim from the evidence. There were also things in their past that were teased that I was excited to learn more about and if that could be where Ayoola’s “tendencies” began.

Unfortunately, for me things soon went wrong as the atmosphere evaporated in a novel that was too lighthearted for its subject matter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like black humour – Sweetpea is one of my favourite books and Rhiannon a character I love – but I just didn’t think it was done well in this book. Instead of funny it came across flat. 

Once the tension had gone the story plodded on mundanely before ending abruptly in a way that made me really mad. I can’t say too much about why because I do think everyone should make up their own minds about any book and I don’t want to spoil things for anyone yet to read it. I felt as if the author had written a longer book and explored some of the plot points in greater detail then this would have been a great book. Instead it felt too short, unsatisfying, lacking in depth and like everything was tied up in a bow far too neatly. So, I’m joining #blacksheepofbookstagram in being one of the few people to say this one didn’t live up to the hype and wasn’t for me.

Out now.

Review: ‘Miracle Creek’ by Angie Kim ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Happy hardcover publication day to Angie Kim! This book has been out on kindle for a while so I was able to read it earlier this month. 

SYNOPSIS:

A literary courtroom thriller about an immigrant family and a young single mother accused of killing her autistic son, Miracle Creek is a powerhouse debut about how far we’ll go to protect our families, and our deepest secrets. 

In rural Miracle Creek, Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine. A pressurised oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic “dives”, it’s also a repository of hopes and dreams: the dream of a mom that her child can be like other kids; the dream of a young doctor desperate to cure his infertility and save his marriage; the dream of the Yoos themselves, Korean immigrants who have come to the United States so their teenage daughter can have a better life.

When the oxygen chamber mysteriously explodes, killing two people, all those dreams shatter with it, and the ensuing murder trial uncovers unimaginable secrets and lies. In Miracle Creek, Angie Kim takes a classic form – courtroom drama – and draws on her own experience as an immigrant, a lawyer, and a mother of a real-life “submarine” patient to turn it into something wholly original, unputdownable…real. This is a spellbinding novel by an exciting new voice.

REVIEW:

This spectacular debut is not your average thriller. Themes of immigration, special needs, family, friendship, arson, murder, secrets, and lies, all merge in this thought-provoking novel. 

“I think about that moment a lot. The deaths, the paralysis, the trial – might all that have been averted if I’d pressed the button?”

The story opens on the day that the Miracle Submarine, an experimental treatment device, explodes killing two people and injuring others. It then jumps to the trial almost exactly a year later when Elizabeth Ward, who’s son Henry was one of the people who died, is on trial accused of starting the fire to get rid of her autistic son. What follows is a first person narrative told by seven narrators that all played their part in what happened that fateful day. But who set the fire that killed two innocent people? And why? And if it wasn’t Elizabeth then why does she keep saying she should be punished?

After reading the first chapter of this book I made a note that read: “What a *expletive* brilliant first chapter. Wow! I’m going to love this book!” I wasn’t wrong. This book instantly absorbed me into the world of these characters and didn’t let me go. There has been a lot of hype around this book and it deserves every bit of it. Mesmerising and expertly written, it’s hard to believe this is Angie Kim’s first novel. I loved how she took the courtroom drama and thriller genres, two of my favourites, and did something unique and special, creating a work of fiction that will remain with me. 

“Pak Yoo was a different person in English than Korean…In Korean he was an authoritative man, educated and worthy of respect. In English, he was a deaf, mute idiot, unsure, nervous and inept.”

There were so many things right with this book. So many things I loved. But one of the things I loved most about this book is the way it makes you think about a range of topics and controversial issues. One such issue is immigration. Pak and Young Yoo, the owners of the Miracle Submarine, and their teenage daughter, Mary, are Korean immigrants. Through their story we learn the sobering truth of what life is really like for a lot of immigrants to America, and it’s not exactly the American dream they’ve been sold. The intricate details all brought home just how hard things are for them and while I’ve always been sensitive to the struggles of immigrants, reading things from the perspective of the immigrants themselves, and of immigrants to America rather than the UK, gave me  a whole new level of admiration and empathy for them and see things from a different perspective. Leaving your country of birth, everything and everyone you know, is a daunting and brave thing to do whatever your circumstances, and this book highlights that while also showing them to be flawed, normal people.

“…anything was bearable when it was temporary; try doing it day after day, knowing you’d do this until you died.”

I also appreciated the way the author handled the subject of special needs. In this book we see the harsh realities these parents face, the thoughts they have that they’d never want to admit to the world, and things like the hierarchy of disabilities and how it can become a competition of suffering. I have multiple chronic illnesses and have a son with autism so I have some experience of these worlds and completely understand the willingness to try anything to cure yourself or your child. While I’ve never parented a severely disabled child, I can understand that feeling of wanting to be free of a burden while not wishing someone dead as I’ve wanted it for myself. There are days I’m in so much pain I don’t feel like I can take another second, let alone a lifetime, so I wish for release even though I don’t wish for death. This helped me relate to Teresa in particular when she was talking about how she felt about her daughter and the resentment that can come when disability isn’t something that’s been born with so it isn’t how they’re supposed to be, as it were. 

“This was what the people had come for…the drama of the tragedy.”

One of the great things about this book was how it tears apart the “good mother” myth. While it is now more acceptable to admit how hard parenting is, to talk about the fact that it can be a bloody nightmare and that there’s times you go crazy, society still looks down on those things at times. This novel delves into how Elizabeth is demonised from the outset, how she isn’t just on trial for arson and murder, but for being a bad mother too. I loved that this story showed that even in the hardest moments, the times where we say or think things we’re ashamed of, we’re still good mothers that love our children. 

The story moves between the present day and the events leading up to the explosion as shameful secrets about the characters lives and what happened that day are slowly revealed. The testimony is hard to read at times, especially Matt’s harrowing, graphic testimony about Henry’s death. I cried during these scenes as it was so vivid that it felt real and I could picture every haunting thing he described. But it isn’t a negative story. It is also one about hope, community and forgiveness. 

Miracle Creek was my 80th read of 2019 and is one of the best. Timely, twisty, fast-paced and emotional, this is a book that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you haven’t read it and it’s not on your tbr list, then you need to add it now. 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR :

Kim_Angie

Angie Kim moved as a preteen from Seoul, South Korea, to the suburbs of Baltimore. She attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, then practiced as a trial lawyer at Williams & Connolly. Her stories have won the Glamour Essay Contest and the Wabash Prize in Fiction, and appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, Salon Slate, The Southern Review, Sycamore Review, The Asian American Literary Review, and PANK. Kim lives in northern Virginia with her husband and three sons.

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