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.





Nevermore – Linda Newbery

This is the kind of book I would have loved as a young reader. Plucky heroine, manor house in the English countryside, an intriguing mystery. The problem for me, of course, was that I solved the mystery early on – but that doesn’t mean the book wasn’t fun to read.

Twelve-year-old Tizzie and her mother, Morag,  have moved to Roven Mere, where Morag has taken a job as a cook. The huge estate is a constant source of intrigue, especially for Tizzie, who hopes that for once Morag will give up the wanderlust that has driven them from town-to-town most of her life.

Owned by Sir Rupert Evershall, but run by the crusty Finnigan, Roven Mere is always at the ready for the return of Sir Rupert and his young daughter, Greta.

“Is he very grand, Lord Rupert?” Tizzie asks Mrs. Crump, the housekeeper.

“Oh, I’ve never actually met him,” said Mrs. Crump. None of us have. Only Finnigan. We’re expecting him home in a week or two. Him and his family. Very exciting it’ll be, meeting them at last.”

Tizzie spends her early days exploring the house – which does seem to be in a constant state of readiness for Sir Rupert and Greta’s homecoming – making friends with Davy, Mrs. Crump’s grandson, and trying to manage her mother’s moodiness.

The book is intended for younger readers whom I am sure would be charmed by Tizzie, the novel’s mystery and Roven Mere itself. I certainly was.

Until It’s Over – Nicci French

I can honestly say I’ve been a Nicci French (husband and wife team, Sean French and Nicci Gerrard) for over a decade, but I may have to quit them after reading Until It’s Over.

Astrid Bell is in her early 20s and works as a bike messenger in London. She lives in a huge house with university pals Pippa and her former boyfriend (and owner of the house) Miles. They share the space with Mick, Dario, Davy and Owen. They’re a family, in a sense.

Until It’s Over opens with an accident. Astrid is riding home from work and is almost at her house when someone opens their car door and Astrid goes flying off her bike. The woman in the car is a neighbour and she’s mortified at the accident she’s caused. Astrid is unhurt except for minor cuts and bruises. But later, the woman turns up dead. And hers is just the first murder connected to Astrid Bell.

Until It’s Over is supposed to be a mystery. About two thirds of the way through, though, the narration changes. Instead of following Astrid’s first person narration, we suddenly find ourselves in the killer’s head. I guess this was so we could understand their motivation. Um. The killer is Crazy.

Nicci French is usually such a dependable author -books that are  page turning, psychologically complex and fun. Until It’s Over was none of those things. I didn’t believe in (or care about) any of the characters. It wasn’t suspenseful. I often felt myself shaking my head in disbelief at the way characters interacted each other in a sort of oh please way.

I think if you’ve never read Nicci French – you absolutely should. But don’t read this. Read Killing Me Softly (which remains my favourite) or The Safe House.

Never Tell A Lie – Hallie Ephron

I guess I have been spoiled by Thomas H. Cook, who never fails to amaze me with his layered and intelligent mysteries. Hallie Ephron’s debut novel Never Tell A Lie, while not horrible, wasn’t all that the praise had promised.

Ivy and her handsome husband, David, are hosting a yard sale at their Victorian home. Ivy is hugely pregnant and she’s nesting like crazy, trying to rid the house of years of accumulated junk – most of which belonged to the previous owner. She is approached by a woman, Melinda, with whom she went to high school. Melinda used to play in Ivy and David’s house as a child and she asks if she can see it once more. David offers to give her a tour and Melinda disappears. Sounds pretty fishy, eh?

What follows is a by-the-numbers mystery where Ivy and David must fight to prove their innocence and everything is suspect. The plot unravels at a pretty quick pace but it’s a clunker. Puzzle pieces turn up relatively easily and lock into place without too much effort and even Ephron’ s attempts to toss the reader some plausible red herrings are only mildly diverting.

Ultimately a book like this depends on the reader’s investment in the character. Ivy isn’t unlikable; she actually manages quite well considering she’s nine months pregnant. She’s resilient and smart and figures out the mystery of Melinda’s disappearance quite handily.

I just didn’t care.


Love You Hate You Miss You – Elizabeth Scott

Back in the mid 7os, when made for TV movies were the rage, Linda Blair starred in one called Sara T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic.  I’m sure it’s incredibly cheesy now, but I remember thinking that it was shocking and heart-breaking back then (and, yes, I realize I’m dating myself!) See for yourself.

I love the fact that all this stuff turns up on YouTube!

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott is an updated take on teenage drinking. It tells the story of Amy whose best friend, Julia, has been killed in a car accident that Amy feels wholly responsible for. At the start of the book, Amy is just being released from Pinewood, a teen treatment center. She’s back home with her parents, high powered people from whom Amy has always felt distant. She has to return to school and continue to see her therapist, who insists she ask and answer some hard questions about her relationship with Julia.

Some of Love You Hate You Miss You is written in the form of letters to Julia. Amy’s therapist thinks it would be a good idea to journal her way to recovery, but Amy decides that she’ll write to Julia instead. The rest of the novel is a first person account of Amy’s attempts to fit back into a life she never really fit in to before.

Instead of a ‘movie of the week” feel, though, Love You Hate You Miss You seems authentic. Amy is 16 and she sounds it. She is trying to make sense of her life, but now she has to do it without her best friend. She drank because it made her feel less awkward, more confident.  Of course, the truth is alcohol just masks things temporarily – when the high wears off, you are who you are.

Amy has no choice but to come to terms with her parents, her life and herself and Love You Hate You Miss You allows that to happen without talking down to its intended audience.

Now, I think I’ll re-watch Sara T!

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – Tom Franklin

Although there is a murder mystery at the centre of Tom Franklin’s novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, it isn’t what kept me reading.

In the late 1970s in rural Mississippi, Larry Ott lives with his parents. Larry’s an awkward kid who spends his spare time reading Stephen King novels and trying to ingratiate himself with the students at school. His father owns the local garage, and while Larry admires the way his father can tell a story, he and his dad aren’t close.

Then Silas Jones moves to town. Silas and his mother live in a shack deep in the woods, property owned by Larry’s father. A tentative friendship blossoms between the boys. Then, when the boys are in high school, Larry takes a local girl to the drive-in and she’s never heard from again. There’s no evidence to prove Larry had anything to do with her disappearance, but serious damage is done to his reputation.

Twenty years later, Larry operates his father’s garage but has no customers because of his tarnished past. Silas returns home to Chabot as a constable and another girl goes missing. Larry is the obvious suspect.

It sounds like a murder mystery and that is part of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter‘s appeal, but the book is  more than that.  I felt a great deal of sympathy for Larry, for his awkward relationship with his father – a man he tried to please but never could. When the story opens, we see him lovingly tend his mother’s chickens. He’s built them a contraption, a “head-high movable cage with an open floor” which he could move around so the hens would always have new grass to graze. Not exactly the actions of a cold-blooded killer. He also forms a relationship with a petty criminal, Wallace, out of sheer loneliness.

The story alternates between present-day and the boys’ shared past. Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask why Larry didn’t stay away when he had the chance, or why Silas came home, but I still think Franklin handled their relationship, its secrets and revelations well.

Breathe My Name – R.A. Nelson

Fireless is the country where we live. Every day Momma teaches us something new about it.

Frances is 18 and something of a loner. She lives with her parents and two younger brothers in small-town Alabama.  It isn’t until the new boy, John Mullinix  or Nix, arrives at her school that Frances’ life cracks open.  Frances has been living in the shadow of a traumatic event – an event so horrible that she never talks about it and has, in many ways, surpressed its horror.

Frances’ best friend Ann Mirette insists that Frances tell Nix about her “first family,” but Frances is understandably reluctant. She really likes Nix and one senses that Frances doesn’t form attachments easily. She’s afraid that if she tells Nix what happened in Fireless, he’ll bolt.

Breathe My Name is a beautifully written book about facing your past and freeing yourself from its terrible hold. I don’t want to spoil the novel by spilling Frances’ closely guarded secrets. She’s been protected by her parents for eleven years, but the past has a way of finding you even when you’re trying desperately to hide from it.

I gladly went along with Frances on her journey to adulthood but I do have one niggle with the book. I just didn’t buy what happened in Charleston. The book had this beautiful rhythm going and Nelson deftly handled the past and the present, but the climax of the novel just felt out of place and Carruther’s motivation seemed like an afterthought. One of those: okay now why would this guy behave in this manner, wait, let’s make him an obsessed psychopath sort of solutions. I would have been just as happy if after he set Frances on her journey he was never heard from again.

Still, in the great scheme of things it hardly matters. Breathe My Name had lovely things to say about family and the courage it takes to confront your past and, more importantly, forgive yourself for surviving it.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness …I think I may love you just a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot. I can’t remember the last time I read a book where I literally had to force myself to slow down while reading. I’d start a page and I just couldn’t stand it – my eyes would race to the bottom of the page, skip over to the next page…I was so invested in these amazing characters and this  story and look, I’m doing it here.

Context coming right up.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy (The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men are the other two titles in the series.) I purchased it based on someone’s blog review – sorry, don’t remember the blog – and it languished on my tbr pile for several months before I finally picked it up. I read about 10 pages and put it aside. I had the same sort of lukewarm feelings about the book as I did after my first attempt to read The Book Thief. And we all remember how that turned out, right?

The second time I picked up Ness’ book, I fell into the narrative. By page 38 there was NO WAY I was putting the book down; I couldn’t have put it down even if I’d wanted to.

Todd is just days away from becoming a man; that’s what he’ll be on his 13th birthday. He lives in Prentisstown, a place notable for two reasons: there are no women and everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts. Todd calls it the ‘noise’ and we hear about as he heads off to the swamp to pick apples.

…the swamp is the only place anywhere near Prentisstown where you can have half a break from all the Noise that men spill outta theirselves, all their clamor and clatter that never lets up, even when they sleep. men and the thoughts they don’t know they think even when everyone can hear. Men and their Noise. I don’t know how they do it, how they stand each other.

This visit to the swamp is remarkable though; Todd hears…silence. But that can’t be because “there’s no such thing as silence. Not here, not nowhere. Not when yer asleep, not when yer by yerself, never.” When he returns to the home he shares with Ben and Cillian, he gets an even bigger surprise: Ben tells Todd he has to go. There is no time for discussion or explanation, Todd must run.

The shocks keep coming for young Todd and his faithful dog, Manchee. (And can I just say here that I have never been one to fall for the old ‘boy and his dog’ story until now – I love that dog, whose thoughts Todd can also hear.)

Patrick Ness has created a compelling, suspenseful narrative.  Todd’s life is constantly in danger and  he has to keep adjusting his own story because, clearly, he hasn’t been told the whole truth about the town he comes from or even his own personal history. He leaves Prentisstown with a book he can’t read and a knife and a sense of urgency that propels him forward with barely a chance to catch his breath. I felt like that, too.

I know that dystopian literature is all the rage these days and yes, I am a fan of The Hunger Games, but I think Ness has done something else quite original with The Knife of Never Letting Go. This is a story that grabs you by the throat and shakes the living daylights out of you for 479 pages.  The subject matter is often dark. The character of the preacher, Aaron, is one of the creepiest psychopaths I’ve encountered in literature in a long, long time. And this is a book I want to hand to people and say “read this now!” I love it when that happens.




Land of Milk and Honey – William Taylor

As a result of two world wars, thousands of children from Britain were sent to live in Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia and new Zealand. While many of these children were war orphans, many were not. Their parents merely decided to send them away in the hopes that they would have a better life. About 750 children ended up in New Zealand.

William Taylor’s ironically titled novel Land of Milk and Honey follows the fortunes of one such boy, Jake Neill, aged 14. When he arrives with his younger sister, Janice, in Wellington  in 1947 he is told he’s ‘lucky’ because he’s going to be shipped off to a farm where he’ll have access to “milk and butter and cream and eggs. Fresh meat.” Jake isn’t actually an orphan; his mother has been killed in an air raid and his father has lost a leg and doesn’t feel able to look after his children.

Jake’s first trauma comes when he is separated from his sister. While Jake knows he is bound for the Pearson farm, the authorities don’t know where they are sending Janice and Jake leaves her without knowing whether or not he will ever see her again. Turns out, this is the least of his worries.

The Pearsons – mother, father and 16-year-old son, Darcy, are about as far away from warm and welcoming as you can get. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that he’s nothing more than slave labour and worse, that Darcy is a sadist. The evidence comes early on when Darcy tortures a calf taunting Jake by saying: “Useless bastard. Look….See its nuts? Deserves everything it’s getting.” Darcy proceeds to slowly twist the calf’s leg until it cries out.

Darcy’s cruelty escalates and I found some of the scenes almost impossible to read about. I seriously felt sick to my stomach, but in that way where I knew I was reading something authentic not gratuitous.

William Taylor is a well-known and prolific New Zealand author. He’s written over 30 novels, including books for adults and children. Land of Milk and Honey, while not easy to read, should be read. It is a novel that deals with themes like resilience and determination which should resonate with its readers. Jake’s time on the Pearson farm is difficult to read about, but he is a remarkable character and his story reminds us of how it is possible to overcome tremendous odds.

The Town That Drowned – Riel Nason

In all our years together, my book club has never been joined by the author of our chosen book. This month, as we met to discuss The Town That Drowned, we were fortunate to have the novel’s author, Riel Nason, with us. Riel and one of the members of my book club have known each other since university, so it made sense for Chrissy to choose this book and to invite Riel to join us while we discussed it.

The Town That Drowned is Riel’s first novel, but she has honed her skills writing a regular column on antiques and collectibles for the Telegraph Journal, is the author of a collection of short stories, some of which have been published, and blogs about quilting here. For the women who gathered for a discussion of the book, it was a real treat to get the inside scoop on the book’s development.

Narrated by 14-year-old Ruby, The Town That Drowned tells the story of what happens to a town when the government decides to build a dam. The narrative of the story is actually based on a true event, as Riel explained at our meeting and on her blog:

“In the late 1960s, before my friends and I were born, the area had been flooded when the Mactaquac Dam was built about 15 miles downstream. As a kid, I thought it was all pretty neat information.  Lots of great trivia. But, now if we fast forward to just a few years ago when I was possessed with the idea that I-Must-Write-A-Novel, I immediately knew that the flooding would be the background event.”

The Town That Drowned is a quiet story. Riel might have even admitted that nothing much happens, but I would disagree. I think Riel actually did a very nice job of capturing rural New Brunswick during the 1960s. My dad grew up just a few clicks further up the river from Riel’s fictional Haventon, in a small town called Perth-Andover and I spent a fair amount of time there as a kid, so I am intimately familiar with towns like that. You know the kind: everyone knows everyone, meaning everyone knows your business and there’s no escape from the town bullies. Ruby observes her neighbours and the events that transpire over the course of a couple of years through remarkably mature eyes.

My favourite character in the novel is Ruby’s younger brother, Percy. Although it’s never overtly stated, Percy has Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism. Every time he opens his mouth, he is a delight.

“Our mother says we should give you the message of her love,” he says to Mr. Cole – a much loved neighbour – on the occasion of a picnic he and Ruby share with him.

Percy thrives on structure and order and routine and the thought that his house might be moved is kept a secret from him for as long as possible. Ruby adores him and is embarrassed by him in equal measure. I just adored him.

The Town That Drowned will have special meaning to those readers familiar with the St. John River Valley and those who remember the Mactaquac Dam being built. But even if you aren’t from around here, the story offers up plenty of  treasures: first love, the importance of family, and what it means to have a place to call home.