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 Corset’ by Laura Purcell ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless. Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

This gothic novel had been languishing on my shelves for a while when I decided to pick it up as my fiftieth read of 2019. The Silent Companions was one of my favourite reads last year so I began this full of high expectations. I was not disappointed.

Dorothea  Truelove is attracted to the forbidden and isn’t interested in the life expected of her as a wealthy heiress, but in becoming a better and more useful person. She spends time on charitable work which leads her to Oakgate Prison and Ruth Butterham. Sixteen-year-old Ruth is awaiting trial for murder. She grew up poor and was sold to work as a seamstress to pay of her mother’s debts. It is her talents with a needle and thread that she claims enabled her to kill, saying that she has the ability to sew death into the things she creates.

Dorothea and Ruth are two very different women. Dorothea has known a life of privilege while Ruth has known nothing but poverty. Both have suffered loss but the effect it’s had on their lives is very different. When they meet they have outlooks on life that are also different but find that they come to bond over Ruth’s story. I liked both main characters and the author did a great job of writing their diverse lives in a way that made you understand their actions and beliefs. There were some other great characters in this book too. Some I loved and others I despised.

The author highlights many important issues of the time in this novel. There is an interesting look at mental health and phrenology, women’s roles in society and how workers were sold into slavery with no rights and treated appallingly. In particular, I think Ruth’s life and the struggle of the poor in Victorian times was particularly well written. I could almost smell the rot and decay of their dank, desolate and depressing living conditions and feel their terror at being starved, having no rights and the fear of what their cruel employer might do to them for the slightest reason. There were parts of Ruth’s story so harrowing I’d have to stop reading and take a break for a while.

I am so glad that I finally read this book. Dark, haunting, atmospheric, chilling and raw, this was impossible to put down. The story is exquisitely written and has solidified Ms Purcell as one of my favourite authors whose novels are a must-read. There is so much I loved about this novel: the ambiguity, the magnificent writing and that mindblowing ending that had me sitting there in disbelief at what I was reading. I would vacillate from heartbreak to anger to disgust as I read Ruth’s story. To be honest Dorothea’s chapters almost felt like light relief in comparison.

So is Ruth mad or a murderer? Victim or villain? That is something you’ll have to read and decide for yourself. The Corset is an outstanding piece of gothic noir that I highly recommend.

Out Now