Review: ‘Dead Inside’ by Noelle Holton ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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*** TRIGGER WARNING *** Domestic abuse.

A dark and gripping debut crime novel – the first in a stunning new series – from a huge new talent.

The killer is just getting started…

When three wife beaters are themselves found beaten to death, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she is facing her toughest case yet.

The police suspect that Probation Officer Lucy Sherwood – who is connected to all three victims –  is hiding a dark secret. Then a fourth domestic abuser is brutally murdered.

And he is Lucy’s husband.

Now the police are running out of time, but can Maggie really believe her friend Lucy is a cold-blooded killer?

Thank you to NetGalley, Harper Impulse and Killer Reads, and Noelle Holten for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Everyone has a motive and you can’t help but think the victims got what they deserve in this dark, gruesome and hard hitting debut novel. Beginning with a prologue that details a woman’s dread as her husband arrives home drunk, how that night something even worse than usual happens as he rapes her for the first time, I knew instantly this would be hard to read in places.

Though this book was filled with lots of characters and is written from more points of view than any other I’ve read, it was never confusing which was a testament to the skill of this author. Some of these were obvious stereotypes while others, like Lucy weren’t. She isn’t what you think of when you imagine an abused spouse and this helped to highlight that anyone has the potential to find themselves in that kind of relationship. Reading her chapters was often difficult but for me the ones I found most sickening were those told from the point of view of the perpetrators. The ones who first come to mind are Patrick and Robert. The insight into their twisted minds, the sheer enormity of their rage over the slightest perceived wrong, and how they recognised and enjoyed their behaviour made my stomach crawl.

Probation isn’t a side of crime usually included in crime fiction so it was interesting and refreshing to read about it in this book. It’s a side of the law I have never really thought about and I was sad but not surprised to read how so many of those convicted of domestic abuse re-offend, as it was to read how many victims are almost complicit in the cycle as they struggle to break free of their abusive partner or spouse.

The unsettling subject matter made this an emotive read. I’d veer from empathy for the victims of abuse to anger and disgust at the perpetrators, to feeling quite glad the men had been killed and thinking the murderer was actually doing society a favour by administering their own version of justice. Though at times predictable, this was a compelling and provocative novel and I look forward to reading the next installment in the series.

Out May 31st

Review: ‘The Queen of Hearts’ by Kimmery Martin ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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A debut novel set against the background of hospital rounds and life-or-death decisions that pulses with humour and empathy and explores the heart’s capacity for forgiveness…

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers – Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harbouring for years.

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the centre of Zadie’s life-both professionally and personally-throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

I loved this book so much that I could read it every single day and it would bring me joy. An intelligent, poetic, mesmerising and delightful book about humanity, agony, hope, love and friendship.

Zadie and Emma have been friends since being assigned as roommates at a camp for kids interested in medicine. They stayed in touch and have been best friends throughout college, medical school, marriage and children. They can talk about anything and everything, with one exception. In their third year of medical school something terrible happened that they have an unspoken agreement to never discuss. So when Emma texts Zadie saying she wants to talk about Nick, someone who is a part of what they don’t talk about, Zadie feels like the wind has been knocked out of her. Why now?

Set in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the present day with flashbacks to their third year at medical school in Louisville, Kentucky, the story is narrated by both main characters. Early on Zadie reveals she did something that lead to someone’s death that year and Emma tells us that she has never told her best friend the truth about what happened. As we discover more about Nick and what happened that year, secrets are revealed and their strong friendship is tested like never before. Can it survive a secret kept for almost two decades?

This spectacular debut novel was one I was highly anticipating reading. I love medical fiction, something that probably comes in part from having a Mum who’s a nurse and also because before I became too ill to work I spent many years working in doctors and dental surgeries. I will admit that I judged this book by its beautiful cover. I know we’re not supposed to do that but we all do it, am I right? Thankfully in this case it was justified and I fell in love instantly. It started with a great opening paragraph that instantly portrayed the deliciously lyrical and witty style of writing that had me savouring every word and completely immersed in the pages.

Zadie and Emma were great characters and I was completely invested in their friendship and rooting for them to survive the storms of this story. I liked that the author didn’t shy away from showing how flawed they were and instead made it into an example of how even the good among us can do wrong and cause pain and how every little decision can have often unforeseen and far-reaching consequences. In terms of secondary characters I have to mention little Delaney. That girl is a firecracker! She was so much  fun to read and I loved her precocious, fun character that shone through every time she was on the page.

Though most of this book is written in a lighthearted manner there were some gut-wrenching scenes. My heart was in my throat reading as Zadie lost her first patient and in other tragic moments, and I found myself blindsided and unable to stop reading as the long-held secrets were finally revealed.

Kimmery Martin has written a beautiful book that is a perfect amalgamation of her two loves: medicine and literature. Her extensive medical knowledge shines through and I loved reading the details of medical life and procedures and cracking up at some of the anecdotes of life as a  doctor and mother. The Queen of Hearts is expertly written and I can’t wait to read the author’s second book next year. I will be recommending this to everyone.

Thank you to Kimmery Martin for my signed copy of this novel.

Out now.

‘The Flat Share’ by Bet O’Leary ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Tiffy and Leon share a flat.

Tiffy and Leon share a bed.

Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: night-worker Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want to feel at home you need to throw the rulebook out of the window…

This witty and refreshing novel instantly captured my attention from it’s intriguing synopsis and then again from the moment I began to read. This isn’t your average chic lit. It’s one full of soul, heart, courage and spirit.

Their arrangement is born of desperation: Tiffy has been dumped by her cheating boyfriend and can’t afford much on minimum wage and Leon is trying to raise money to help fight his brother’s unfair imprisonment. They have a rule they will never meet, put in place by Leon’s girlfriend, and are initially wary of each other: Tiffy wonders if Leon is a serial killer who strikes in winter after finding a bag of handmade scarves under the bed, and Leon wonders what kind of bizarre, bad-taste object-collector he’s now sharing his home with. In time, the pair begin to communicate via Post-It notes. This was probably my favourite thing  in the whole book. It is an inspired choice that had me going through a range of emotions alongside the characters and often laughing out loud. It was at this point we also begin to see that something magical and wonderful happens when Tiffy and Leon are brought together, even before they’ve physically met. Things change after their first, hilarious, meeting but the book continues to deal with the gritty aspects of the story alongside the will they or won’t they romance.

Tiffy is quirky, witty, unabashadley herself and is coming to terms with the end of a relationship that was more toxic than she’d realised. Leon is selfless, caring, shy and learning that kind doesn’t mean being walked over. Narrated by Tiffy and Leon in alternating chapters, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with both characters and to root for them falling in love with each other. I also loved Richie, Gertie, Mo and Rachel and loved the dynamic these secondary characters had in the story and how their input and support were vital to our main characters. They are a group that seem like they’d be fun to hang out with.

As I said earlier, this isn’t your average chic lit. It also deals important issues such as emotional abuse, PTSD, gaslighting, toxic relationships, housing prices making even a room in a house unaffordable for many in low paying jobs, flaws in the legal system and understaffing in the NHS. The author dealt with these issues in a subtle, sensitive and honest way that was relatable and yet also didn’t seem out of place in the story. The author did a fantastic job of showing how even when Tiffy had met someone she was crazy about that treated her right it wasn’t simple and she’d be overwhelmed by triggers and flashbacks at the most unexpected and inopportune moments.  

I absolutely loved this book. It’s a story not just about love but about trusting your heart, standing up for yourself, going outside of your comfort zones and that real love is someone who loves you for yourself instead of trying to make you someone else. An uplifting, fun, relatable and whimsical novel that lives up to the hype.

Thank you to Hannah at Quercus books for the advanced copy of this novel.

Out Now.

April Wrap Up

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It’s the end of another month and time for another wrap up. This month I read 13 books and got half way through another. Most of the books I’ve read this month have been thrillers and NetGalley e-ARCs but I enjoyed some variety with the two true crime books and Dear Mrs Bird, the latter of which was a welcome lighthearted read. So here’s what I read in April:

  1. ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ by Ann Rule ⭐⭐⭐⭐5 – This absorbing book tells the story of Ted Bundy, his crimes and how he was brought to justice. The author has a unique insight into the serial killer as the two worked together and were friends. Like many she at first didn’t believe her kind, charming friend could have committed such vile acts, but as the evidence mounted she had to resign herself to the truth of his guilt. I’ve read many true crime books in my life but reading this from the perspective of someone who is not only a friend of the killer but a crime reporter made this a unique book. It is a raw, chilling and interesting book that I would recommend to any fans of this genre. 
  2.  ‘A Good Enough Mother’ by Bev Thomas ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – I devoured this cryptic story of love, loss, family and secrets in just over 24 hours. Ruth is the director of a trauma therapy unit and is good at her job, appearing calm and collected to those around her. But unbeknownst to them she’s traumatised by the disappearance of her son, Tom, 18 months ago and is distracted by thoughts of him when she meets a new patient who reminds her of her son. Seeing a chance to redeem herself she goes against her instincts and treats him, setting into motion a chain of events with far reaching and devastating consequences.
  3. ‘The Island’ by Ragnar Jonasson ⭐⭐ – Unfortunately this book wasn’t for me. Though I found the synopsis gripping and sinister and it got off to a good start before quickly falling apart. The plotting felt disjointed, chapters were confusing and rushed, there was a lack of suspense and too may characters that had no real depth. I am in the minority with this book though, most readers have loved it, so I’d recommend checking out the synopsis and deciding for yourself.
  4. ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ by A. J. Pearce ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – I loved this book. Despite being set in wartime and having some somber moments it isn’t a heavy read. A story of a young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist, this was a joyous, witty and well-written book.
  5. ‘I Know Who You Are’ by Alice Feeney ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Wow! This was my first read by this author and she absolutely blew me away. Mesmerising from the first page, I loved the way this book was written and devoured it within a day. I’ve read some fantastic thrillers and this definitely ranks as one of the best. 
  6. ‘The Whisper Man’ by Alex North ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – A boy who hears whispers from people no one else can see echoes the spine-chilling moment in The Sixth Sense when Haley Joel Osment’s character utters the immortal words “I see dead people” in this eerie, menacing, unsettling and sinister novel.  This book was full of twists and turns, some so jarring and unexpected I could only sit there in shock. Spectacularly written and one you don’t want to miss. Published June 13th
  7. ‘Dead Inside’ by Noelle Holten ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Everyone has a motive and you can’t help but think the victims got what they deserve in this dark, gruesome and hard hitting debut novel. The unsettling subject matter made it a hard read in places and led me to actually be glad someone was taking out the trash in their own version of justice. Though predictable at times this was a compelling and provocative novel and a good start to a new crime series. Published May 31st
  8. ‘Last of the Magpies’ by Mark Edwards ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – The final installment in the Magpies trilogy ends things on a high note. The author has created a villain who, if she were real, would be up there with the best known psychopathic killers of our age. Reading reading the unfiltered inner-workings of her mind in this book was truly chilling. I couldn’t tear myself away and was in shock at the jaw-dropping revelations. Mark Edwards is fantastic at writing gripping psychological thrillers and I highly recommend this, the series, and any of his books.
  9. ‘Crushed’ by Kate Hamer ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – This unusual story is narrated by three different friends, from three very different backgrounds, as events unfold that will change each of their lives forever. Phoebe thinks murder and murder happened. She must not let her thoughts unravel as she doesn’t know who will end up hurt if she does. A beautifully written and fascinating story of friendship, love and murder. Published May 2nd 
  10. ‘Columbine’ by Dave Cullen ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 – This book has been called the definitive account of the Columbine massacre, and it’s easy to see why. Ten years in the making this book is overall a well researched account of the events surrounding the murders, what motivated the killers, what was missed and the cover ups and myths that many still believe to this day. It is a captivating, hard-hitting book that I would recommend to anyone who loves true crime.
  11. ‘The Dangerous Kind’ by Deborah O’Connor ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – The 1 in 100. The “dangerous kind” of people. We have all met them: those who unnerve you as something just doesn’t sit right, the charmers who are another person behind closed doors, the ones who manipulate and control. Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s all too easy after crimes are committed to see the warning signs. But do we really pay attention to them before they go too far? Could we stop them? This was a riveting read that had me gripped from start to finish. The multifaceted story is one where you are never quite sure how the pieces fit together until the jarring revelations that come together in a gut-wrenching crescendo. Published May 16th
  12. ‘The Night Before’ by Wendy Walker ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Twelve hours earlier she was…Hopeful. Excited. Safe. Now she’s gone.. This was an easy read but also a compulsive roller-coaster ride with a jaw-dropping finale and shocking twists. I loved that it was written in chapters that alternated from Laura being on the date to the search for her and that I had no idea what would happen next right until the last moment. A spectacular thriller by a talented author. Published May 14th
  13. ‘Little Girls Sleeping’ by Jennifer Chase – Kate Scott comes across a cold case involving a missing eight year-old-girl and decides to investigate. When she finds a row of makeshift graves containing young girls she is sure there’s a serial killer on the loose and is determined to stop them before it’s too late. Review and rating coming soon. Published May 31st 

So that’s what I read this month.  I think this month it’s hard to pick a book of the month as I enjoyed so many of them. My favourites have been ‘The Stranger Beside Me’, ‘Columbine’ and ‘I Know Who You Are’ but I think the one that stands out is Columbine, because it’s a case that’s always fascinated me and reading it over the 20th anniversary of the shootings felt particularly poignant.

Have you read any of these books or are they in your TBR lists? Comment below.

Before I finish this I want to talk about reviews. I am behind on reviews by about seven books as I’m finding that the energy to type them and eloquently convey what I want to say is proving difficult at the moment. Because of that I’ve been concentrating on the NetGalley reviews but I do hope to catch up this month as there’s some books I’ve loved that I haven’t had chance to post reviews for yet, including a few I read this month.

Thank you to NetGalley, HQ, Thomas & Mercer, St Martin’s Press, Bonnier Zaffre, Bookoture, Faber & Faber, Penguin UK, Michael Joseph, Harper Impulse and Killer Reads, for the chance to read and review these novels.

‘My Lovely Wife’ by Samantha Downing ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Introducing the next generation of domestic thriller.

Every marriage has secrets. Everyone has flaws. Your wife isn’t perfect – you know that – but then again nor are you.

But now a serial killer is on the loose in your small town, preying on young women. Fear is driving your well-behaved young daughter off the rails, and you find yourself in bed late at night, looking at the woman who lies asleep beside you.

Because you thought you knew the worst about her. The truth is you know nothing at all.

Thank you to NetGalley, Penguin UK and Samantha Downing for the chance to read and review this book.

What can I say about this book? Well the first words that come to mind are: consuming, riveting, astounding, mesmerising, dark, twisted and unforgettable It lives up to the claim that it is “the next generation of domestic thriller” and is a fresh take on the genre that sets it apart from other thrillers and serial killer books.

“Life goes along like it’s supposed to, an occasional bump in the road but otherwise a fairly smooth ride.”

The story is narrated by Tobias, he’s married to Millicent and they live with their two children, Rory, 14, and 13-year-old Jenna. To everyone they appear to be just another affluent family: they have a happy marriage, a nice house, their children are well behaved and doing well at their private school and they socialise at the Country Club. But underneath this shiny veneer lurks a dark and disturbing secret.

From the beginning we know he keeps things from his wife he knows he should share, and it isn’t long before we find out she’s been keeping an even bigger secret from him. He immediately starts to wonder if she’s hiding anything more, a question that troubles him throughout the book, but ultimately he decides he trusts her.

“You didn’t think we were going to stop did you?”

This book is unusual  as it is told solely from the perpetrator’s perspective. I loved this choice as instead of trying to figure out the culprit the reader is instead left to ponder other questions about the crimes, the motive and if the carefully stacked house of cards will come toppling down around him. The first sign that this might happen is when what seems to have been the perfect smoke screen results in their daughter living in fear of her life, becoming obsessed with the news, resorting to violence and even carrying a weapon for protection. The realisation that they’ve damaged their child while protecting themselves horrifies Tobias and results in a shift of his priorities. Suddenly their hidden life isn’t so alluring and all that matters is helping his daughter become herself again. A decision that leads to his whole world unravelling and puts them all at risk.

“I always wanted to be more than above average”

A key aspect of this story is the relationship between the couple. Tobias grew up with wealthy parents who were uninterested in him and felt rejected. He started playing tennis to try and win their affection and attention without success and left home as soon as possible. From the moment he met Millicent he was captivated by her and she has always made him feel more than average. It is this that explains why he allows her to control many aspects of their family and their lives, and why he will do anything to make her happy, something Millicent clearly takes advantage of and uses to manipulate him. Their relationship also revolves around their secrets. They have their own version of date nights and secret code. Another reason Tobias enjoys their clandestine activities and brushes aside his concerns is because of how it affects their sex life. Even a simple discussion about it results in them becoming sexually charged and have wild, passionate sex, which increases the allure for him.

“Piece by piece my life is destroyed, like it was never real at all.”

As Tobias finally realises the depth of Millicent’s betrayal he struggles to comprehend how she could be so callous and cold. She isn’t the woman he thought she was. You can almost hear his heart and soul shatter  as he realises everything he thought he knew, everything he holds dear, is a facade. The book is expertly plotted and that pivotal moment when the truth dawns on Tobias occurred just minutes after it dawned on me and you are never quite sure where the story is going. At least not until the author wants you to and delivers a breathtaking twist that leaves you reeling. As the walls cave in around Tobias and time is running out the book speeds towards a spectacular, shocking and catastrophic conclusion.

It’s strange to say this about a killer but I loved Millicent’s character. She’s intelligent, manipulative, beguiling, calculating and at times a contradiction. She is unapologetic of her plans and actions while Tobias sometimes wavers. It was interesting to have a dynamic where the woman is the one pulling the strings and the man afraid of displeasing her instead of her being the victim cowering in the corner.

This jaw-dropping thriller is a book you don’t want to miss. It had me transfixed within the first two chapters and didn’t let go. The final line sent shivers down my spine and still haunts me. A debut that reads like the work of a veteran writer makes this author a talent to watch. I for one can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Out May 2nd

Publication Day: ‘Call Me Evie’ by J. P. Pomare ⭐⭐⭐⭐

‘Literary suspense as dark and fresh as midnight in winter, with a merciless twist-of-the-knife finale. One of the most striking debuts I’ve read in years.’ – A. J. Finn

In this compulsive, twist-filled and haunting psychological suspense debut, a seventeen-year-old girl struggles to remember the role she played the night her life changed forever…

Don’t trust him. It wasn’t me. It couldn’t have been me.

Meet Evie, a young woman who has fled with her uncle to the isolated New Zealand beach town of Maketu.  Jim says he’s hiding her to protect her, that she did something terrible back home in Melbourne. Something Evie can’t remember.

But Evie isn’t her real name. And Jim isn’t really her uncle.

In a house that creaks against the wind, Evie pieces together the events that led her here. And as her memories return she starts to wonder if Jim is really her saviour….or her captor.

A riveting debut novel that fearlessly plumbs the darkest recesses of the mind. Call Me Evie explores the fragility of memory and the potential in all of us to hide the truth even from ourselves.

Thank you to Little, Brown Book Group, Netgalley and J. P. Pomare for the chance to read and review this novel.

I had seen a lot of buzz on bookstagram about this novel so I was excited to be approved for an arc copy and eager to read the book for myself.  

The book is narrated by Evie and is split into “before” and “after” the night that she did something terrible. We have no idea what she did, or in fact if she actually did it, and that made the book very confusing for me at first. I found it hard to follow what was happening and it was hindering my enjoyment, but I never give up on a book before I’m a quarter of the way through and I was intrigued by the plot. But it wasn’t too long before the story began to flow more smoothly and I was completely hooked.

“He’s trapped me in the nineties.”

The book starts with Kate, who is now going by Evie to hide her identity, having her head shaved by a man she says she once loved. She’d tried to run from the house in the secluded beach town that he’s brought her to but he found her and reminds her that “they” are looking for her and she isn’t safe. She’s skinny and he gives her juices with a powder he tells her will help her gain weight. He also takes her to the doctor and she’s prescribed antidepressants but the man, who she decides to call Jim, refuses the doctor’s suggestion that she see a psychologist. He tells her he’s helping her heal mentally and she doesn’t need to see anyone else.

When Evie begins to tell us the story of before the incident she tells us her first memory: at five years old her Nanny left her alone in the bath for a few moments and she poured scalding water onto herself, scarring her for life. Not long after her mother died and her father retired from his professional rugby career to work in finance and raise her himself.

Back in the present Evie is starting to remember little bits about that night: drinking, the mysterious ‘him’ lying face down with blood spreading under his head and  herself in the car. She’s afraid to remember more even though she is sure she didn’t do anything bad, that it had to be Jim and he’s lying to her. She write letters that Jim sends back to Melbourne which are full of confusion and fear as Evie talks vaguely about what happened and tries to grapple with what the truth is of that inauspicious night.  She is determined to escape as she becomes increasingly sure that Jim is lying to her and holding her captive rather than protecting her. But who can she trust? And when she sees what’s being written about her online she is once again unsure where to turn and what’s real.

As the book goes on we learn more about Evie’s life back in Melbourne, her relationship with her dad, friendships and blossoming relationship with a boy named Thom. But we still don’t know much about that night or who Jim really is. I had my suspicions but they went back and forth as more of the story was told.

“Sometimes if you bite into a joke you find a stone of truth at the centre.”

This was a strange book at times but highly addictive and I devoured it in one sitting. I needed to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, to know what she supposedly did, if she did it, if I’m right about who Jim is and if people really are after her. I wasn’t prepared for the shocking twists in this story and how even the one I had guessed correctly would play out. The complex plot and multifaceted characters are cleverly written and you are kept guessing until the final sentence. Call Me Evie is a story about love, anger, fear, truth and lies. It makes you question the truth of your own memories and what reality is. A spectacular debut that I can see making a great movie. This book is a must read for anyone who loves mystery and thrillers.

Out today.

‘A Good Enough Mother’ by Bev Thomas ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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The most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

Dr Ruth Hartland rises to difficult tasks. She is the director of a highly respected trauma therapy unit. She is confident, capable and excellent at her job. Today she is preoccupied by her son Tom’s disappearance.

So when a new patient arrives at the unit – a young man who looks shockingly like Tom – she is floored.

As a therapist, Ruth knows exactly what she should do in the best interests of her client, but as a mother she makes a very different choice – a decision that will have profound consequences.

Thank you to NetGalley, Faber and Faber and Bev Thomas for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ruth Harland is Director of the Trauma Unit which treats patients by encouraging them to talk through their experiences in a safe space in order to begin to heal. It’s a difficult job. To everyone around her Ruth is calm, collected and can deal with anything. But that isn’t the truth. They have no idea about her son Tom’s disappearance eighteen months ago and how preoccupies her thoughts. When Ruth meets new patient Dan Griffin she is struck by his likeness to her son. She knows this will cloud her ability to treat him but all she can see is a chance to save Dan in the way she wasn’t able to save Tom, setting into motion a chain of events with far-reaching consequences.

*Possible trigger warning*

I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw the synopsis but somehow didn’t connect the dots that it would mean so much vivid detail regarding trauma and PTSD. As someone who is struggling with those very issues I found it overwhelming to read at first and very nearly put it aside. But I was enjoying the way it was written, found Ruth interesting and was already invested in knowing what had happened to both Tom and Dan, so I persevered. I’m glad I did as I found that as the story went on it broadened, enabling me to feel more comfortable reading. I wasn’t sure about including this in my review at first but decided that ultimately it might be best so that other readers are aware.

A Good Enough Mother is a cryptic story of love, loss, family and secrets. While I had tremendous sympathy for Ruth in regard to the pain of son’s disappearance, I found she was a protagonist that evoked mixed feelings. Although her job involves telling others they need to work through their trauma by talking about it and facing it, she hides Tom’s disappearance from her co-workers, pretending everything is fine while inside she’s broken and desperately trying to piece herself together. After meeting Dan she compounds the secrets and lies by ignoring not just her instincts, but the boundaries, rules and warning signs of treating him herself. This plunges her and many others headlong into a danger far greater and darker than anyone anticipated.

A large part of this story was about motherhood. While Ruth is proud of her work and ability to help people, what she lives for is motherhood. She loves her twins but it is clear from the flashbacks that she has always favoured her son and has used his personal struggles to reason this was necessary. She has a distant and difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother and in trying to avoid those same mistakes she is blind to her own. All these things negatively impact her marriage and her relationship with her daughter who feels she’s been forgotten behind her brother’s needs. When Tom disappeared it shattered Ruth on so many levels and she has tethered herself to him all his life. She doesn’t just fear that something bad may have happened to him, but that he has chosen a life without her, which is almost even worse.

I devoured this book in just over 24 hours. It was steady paced and held my interest without exception. One of the things I enjoyed was how the book was written in a way that makes the reader aware these are past events. There are references to an incident and the police many times but we never really know who or what this entails other than the events Ruth is describing are leading up to whatever occured. I loved trying to use the breadcrumbs to figure out what had happened and what part each character played. I had a few ideas and really thought I’d figured it out but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As we got closer to the big reveal I could predict the storm but felt powerless to stop it. There was a roaring dread in my ears and my heart seemed to stop as I held my breath. Surely not? Please let me be wrong? I felt like I was feeling Ruth’s pain at that moment, my heart shattering with hers as all was revealed. This was an emotional novel and fantastic debut from the author.

Out today.