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.