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.

Review: ‘Lying Next To Me’ by Gregg Olsen ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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Happy Publication Day to this amazing thriller!

No matter what you see, no matter what you’ve heard, assume nothing.

Adam and Sophie Warner and their three-year-old daughter are vacationing in Washington State’s Hood Canal for Memorial Day weekend. It’s the perfect getaway to unplug – and to calm an uneasy marriage. But on Adam’s first day out on the water, he sees Sophie abducted by a stranger. A hundred yards from shore, Adam can’t save her. And Sophie disappears.

In a nearby cabin is another couple, Kristen and Connor Moss. Unfortunately, beyond what they’ve heard in the news, they’re in the dark when it comes to Sophie’s disappearance. For Adam, at least there’s comfort in knowing that Mason County detective Lee Husemann is an old friend of his. She’ll do everything she can to help. She must.

But as Adam’s paranoia about his missing wife escalates, Lee puts together the pieces of the puzzle. The lives of the two couples are converging in unpredictable ways, and the picture is unsettling. Lee suspects that not everyone is telling the truth about what they know – or they have yet to reveal all the lies they’ve hidden from the strangers they married.

Thank you to NetGalley, Thomas & Mercer and Gregg Olsen for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I devoured this addictive, fast-paced novel and would have read it in one sitting if not for that pesky thing called sleep.

It starts with a distressed man, Adam Warner, who has just seen his wife abducted. Adam is frantic, begging the police to get out there and find her. Detectives Lee Huseman and Zach Montrose are in charge of the investigation and despite witnesses to the crime there seem to be few clues and no suspects. Where is Sophie Warner? And who would snatch her from the beach in broad daylight?

Lee Huseman is determined to find the answers. Not only because she’s still reeling from a recent failure to solve a case, but because she owes Adam; he was her brother’s best friend and saved her when she was twelve years old. But will this skewer her ability to investigate Sophie’s disappearance? Could she miss vital clues because of her affection for him, or will it allow her to see more clearly if he’s deceiving them or holding back? As she delves deeper into the lives of Adam and Sophie she finds surprising clues that will hopefully lead her to the truth.

What a fantastic book. I really enjoyed that it was written from so many points of view. It allowed us to see the events from almost all the character’s perspectives and find little clues in their chapters that we’d not have had otherwise. The only main character we didn’t get any chapters from was Sophie. She remained a mystery who we only saw through the eyes of others. I loved this choice as it made the truth subjective and elusive as we only know as much as each character does about her life, although we obviously have the advantage of taking these multiple viewpoints to create a fuller picture.

For me, Adam quickly became a morally ambiguous character and I would go back and forth in my views of his guilt or innocence. I thought he was expertly written as the author repeatedly manages the difficult task of making him someone you one minute have sympathy for, and then someone deplorable. His actions often didn’t make sense but a grief looks different for everyone so you view all his actions through that lens. In terms of villains, Sophie’s father, Frank, was so vile that although he was never a suspect I almost wanted him to be so that there was no reason to feel even a grain sympathy for him. There were no redeeming qualities to him, not even his grief for his daughter, and I could relate to Adam’s venomous feelings towards him. Unlike Adam I pitied his wife, Helen as abuse and control changes people and makes them act in ways others often can’t understand.

“What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light”. That quote reverberated in my mind many times while reading this book as we saw how many of the characters acted very differently in secret than when with others. As the story went on some of these secret actions were revealed to others but what I liked is that the author showed the human side to them in their motivations. With one character this was especially true. I feel like saying their name will be a kind of spoiler so will just say that I felt great empathy for this character even though I disagreed with their actions.

This was my first read by this author but certainly won’t be my last, and I now have the urge to go and buy his entire back catalogue. The multiple characters and narrators never felt confusing, even at the end where it was particularly fast-paced, frantic and full of opposing commentary. The bombshell finale had my jaw on the floor and it is a testament to the writing how I can instantly recall lines that now have a completely different meaning and were a subtle foreshadowing of the truth.

Lying Next To Me is a story about family, love, lust, sex, secrets, betrayal, desperation and revenge. I highly recommend this dramatic, layered, tense and twisty thriller. Just make sure you have plenty of time spare as you won’t want to put it down.

Publication Date: 21st May 2019

‘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