The Wicked Girls – Alex Marwood

wicked.jpgIt’s 1986 when eleven-year-olds Jade and Bel meet in the village store. Their paths weren’t likely to have crossed before because Jade is one of the notorious Walkers – a family from the far side of the tracks – and Bel lives in a fancy house with servants. This fateful meeting is to change the course of the girls’ lives forever because by the end of it another little girl will be dead and Jade and Bel will be arrested for the murder.

This isn’t the only thing happening in Alex Marwood’s novel The Wicked Girls, though.

There’s Amber, head cleaner of Funnland, a boardwalk amusement park in the seaside town of Whitmouth (I imagined Blackpool only smaller and seedier). She lives with Vic, a handsome but slightly passive-aggressive carny. Amber lives a quiet, tidy life. She takes pleasure in overseeing her crew of cleaners and helping them when she can. When Amber discovers a dead girl in the park’s  hall of mirrors, her life becomes significantly more complicated.

Then there’s Kirsty , a freelance journalist married to Jim, an out of work  IT guy, and mother to a couple children. When the body is found at Funnland, Kirsty finds herself on assignment and inevitably comes face-to-face with Amber, the last person she’d ever expected to see again.

The reason: after their release from prison,  Jade and Bel were given new identities and cautioned about ever making contact with each other again. Not that the girls were likely to meet; they barely knew each other to begin with.

Marwood balances the story of Jade and Bel, unspooling the narrative of what happened that long ago day with the present day  Amber and Kirsty, two women who have made a desperate attempt to reinvent their lives.

As if that weren’t enough, let’s not forget Martin, creepy Whitmouth resident. He’s been rebuffed by Jackie, one of the Funnland cleaners. He’s clearly deranged and

the rage of rejection crawls beneath his skin; invisible, unscratchable. All she needs to do is text him back. He doesn’t want to go out, but if she refuses to respond he’s going to have to. As his mother was always assuring him, persistence is the most important quality in life. And he knows he is the most persistent of all.

The seemingly disparate threads of Marwood’s novel do come together, but whether you find the ending satisfying or not will depend on how you like your mysteries. There were a few super tense moments in The Wicked Girls, but there were also moments I found really slow going – not superfluous exactly. I guess I just like a little more ass-kicking and a little less naval-gazing in my thrillers. That said, the characters were definitely nuanced and sympathetic and the writing was good, but over-all I would have to say  The Wicked Girls is more slow burn than page-turner. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.

Vanishing Girls – Lauren Oliver

Now that I am back at school, it’s time to start reading YA fiction again. I give it a little  break in the summer so that I can tackle my own mammoth tbr pile. I started this year by reading Lauren Oliver’s highly praised book Vanishing Girls. It’s pretty un-put-down-vanishing-girls-jacketable, folks.

Nicole (Nick) and her younger sister, Dara, couldn’t really be more unalike. Nick is the responsible one; Dara is the wild child and for as long as Nick can remember, people have been comparing the sisters.

She’s not as pretty as her younger sister…shyer than her younger sister…not as popular as her younger sister.

But despite their differences, Nick and Dara are close. Dara recalls that they’d spent

practically our whole lives sneaking into each other’s rooms to sleep in the same bed, whisper about our crushes, watch moon patterns on the ceiling and try to pick out different shapes…cut our fingers and let them bleed together so we’d be bonded forever, so we’d be made not just of the same genes but of each other.

Parker is Nick’s best friend – the boy from the neighbourhood who has shared every single milestone in Nick’s life. Then he and Dara hook up and things get awkward. Dara goes off the rails – drinking and doing drugs – and then there’s the car accident.

Oliver has written a novel that is both an exciting page-turner (a young girl goes missing and then Dara disappears and Nick is convinced the two disappearances are somehow connected) and a moving family drama. Nick and Dara’s parents have separated and the accidents adds extra emotional weight to the already damaged family.

The narrative unfolds in dual first-person narratives, through diary entries and police reports and photographs and illustrations. Each sister has her own version of the truth of what happened on the night of the accident and the time-shifting narrative will yield important clues to careful readers, but the truth is that when all is revealed, you’ll probably still be scrambling to figure out how Oliver’s pulled it off.

Oliver is well-known in the YA world. She wrote the popular Delirium series and I have been looking forward to reading her adult novel, Rooms. After reading Vanishing Girls I think I’ll have to move Rooms up my reading list. That’s pretty much the highest praise I can give.

Happy anniversary to me!


How is it even possible? I’ve been prattling on about books here for eight years…and that seems like a cause for celebration. So, in honour of my eight years here, please comment below (be sure you leave a way for me to get in touch) and name your eight favourite
books (or eight things you love about The Ludic Reader) and eight days from now, I will randomly choose a winner to receive a fabulous bookish prize from me!

Bittersweet – Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

18339743Mabel Dagmar, the seventeen-year-old narrator of Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s stunning novel Bittersweet is attending an upper-crust East Coast college on a scholarship. Her roommate, Genevra “Ev” Winslow is from an  influential blue blood family. The two girls couldn’t be any more different and yet somehow Mabel finds herself invited to spend the summer at Winloch, the Winslow family compound in Vermont. Mabel has no interest in returning home to Oregon for the summer, so she gratefully agrees even though she has to help Ev prepare Bittersweet, Ev’s personal cottage, for her father’s “inspection”.

“…if we don’t get that little hovel in shipshape in less than a week, I won’t inherit it,” Ev tells Mabel on the train to Vermont.

Winloch is a strange out-of-time place comprised of an assortment of cottages and a communal Dining Hall set around a beautiful lake,  inhabited by Ev’s immediate family including her parents, Birch and Tilde. It’s isolated and idyllic and Mabel is enchanted. This, she decides, is the life she wants.

Her visit to Birch and Tilde’s cottage only reaffirms her admiration:

Upon the honey-colored floor stood antique wood sideboards and a large mahogany table. An exquisite burgundy Oriental rug tied the furniture together, ending before a large fireplace sporting a brass fender and matching andirons. Canapes were arranged in colorful formations upon hand-painted porcelain platters: crab cakes and mini-lobster rolls and demitasses of chilled pea soup.

Even more impressive, the Winslow’s cottage boasts an impressive Van Gogh, “the most beautiful painting I’d ever seen.”

But there is also something slightly sinister about Winloch. For one thing, Ev installs bolts on the bathroom and bedroom door at Bittersweet. Then Mabel meets Indo, Birch’s sister, who enlists Mabel’s help in locating some important documents lost somewhere in the attic of the Dining Hall, claiming she’d been “looking for a friend like [Mabel] for a while.”

Mabel soon finds herself negotiating a landscape of shifting loyalties and strange tensions. It makes for compelling reading, that’s for sure; I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough.

Although the bulk of Bittersweet takes place during that one summer, Mabel is actually remembering the events from a vantage point many years later. This will, in part,  help explain why Mabel seems older than seventeen. Her own personal history, revealed in tantalizing snippets, will also help the reader understand her motivations. Bittersweet is Shakespearean in its scope.

Highly recommended.

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

There have been a lot of books in the suspense thriller vein of late and I love them, especialllet you goy in the summer when I just want to give my brain a break from school.  Publishers always want to draw comparisons to Gone Girl, which is the book that perhaps kick-started this newest craze, but I think it’s better to let a book stand on its own bookish merits.

Clare Mackintosh’s novel I Let You Go is definitely top of the thriller heap. I couldn’t put this book down and galloped through it in just a couple of sittings.

In the book’s opening pages, a mother is walking home in the pouring rain with her young son. Just at the road across the street from their home, he lets go of her hand and runs across the street. Out of nowhere, a car comes barreling down the street and hits the boy. From this point on, I Let You Go is a grab-you-by-the-throat suspense thriller that follows Jenna Gray as she goes to the Welsh coast to escape the tragic death and the police detectives, Ray and Kate, who are trying to find the driver behind the wheel.

Jenna’s grief is palpable. “Everything has changed,” she muses. “The instant the car slid across the wet tarmac, my whole life changed.” She stays until she can’t anymore and then, packing only what will fit into her holdall, including a box of treasures from her life, she runs away.

Unable to resist, I open the box and pick up the uppermost photo: a Polaroid taken by a soft-spoken midwife on the day he was born. He is a tiny scrap of pink, barely visible beneath the white hospital blanket.

As a mom, it’s hard to imagine how Jenna will ever survive this tragedy, but survive she must. She finally settles in a tiny tourist town called Penfach, somewhere outside of Swansea. There she rents an isolated, dilapidated cottage and begins the arduous process of overcoming her grief.

In the meantime, Ray and Kate sift through the non-existent evidence, hoping for a break in the case. Mackintosh spent twelve years as a police officer and so these sections are authentic, but don’t weigh the narrative down with unnecessary police jargon. In addition, Ray and Kate – especially Ray – are given interesting personal lives, which add another dimension to the story.

It doesn’t always work, but it does here – Mackintosh pushes the story along and months pass. Jenna starts to make a life for herself; Ray and Kate are taken off the hit and run case because they’ve done all they can do and then all hell breaks loose in a totally WTF fashion. You’ll know what I mean when you get there and from that moment on, it is a breathless race to the book’s conclusion.