Chrissi Cupboard Month

All posts in the Chrissi Cupboard Month category

The Last Time We Say Goodbye – Cynthia Hand

Published August 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

There’s death all around us.
We just don’t pay attention.
Until we do.

The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn’t look at her like she might break down at any moment.

Now she’s just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that’s all she’ll ever be.

As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there’s a secret she hasn’t told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

Lex’s brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn’t have to be real to keep you from moving on.

What did I think?:

The title of this book might give some clues as to the themes within but even still, I wasn’t prepared for the immense sadness and depth of emotions that would continue to surprise me as I read through it. I first came across Cynthia Hand’s writing in her Unearthly series (which I highly recommend to lovers of YA fiction) but I haven’t read anything else by her for a while so I was intrigued as always, to read something else by an author that I’ve previously enjoyed. Hand is a master of beautiful, lyrical prose for young adults and with her writing, you always feel that you’re tapping into something a little bit special and I definitely found this was the case with The Last Time We Say Goodbye.

Cynthia Hand, author of The Last Time We Say Goodbye.

Based around the traumatic topic of suicide, it’s always going to be an unsettling read and I did find myself moved considerably by the whole narrative but I also want to press the fact that I think it’s an important read for teenagers that find themselves in that horrendous situation where they’re dealing with the loss of a family member and they need to have that reassurance that they’re not in it alone, no matter how isolated and devastated they may feel. Sadly, Cynthia herself has personal experience with the loss of a close family member and this really came across in her writing. Essentially, (and the synopsis above really says it all) it’s about a teenage girl, Lex who is struggling to deal with the suicide of her younger brother, Tyler and discover the reasons behind why he wanted to end his own life. As well as this, she’s just trying to live her normal life – keep up her relationships with friends, support her mother who becomes increasingly fractured in the days after Tyler’s suicide and try to come to terms with the fractured love she has with her father who has separated from her mother and built his own, new life away from the family.

I found The Last Time We Say Goodbye to be an incredibly haunting, thoughtful read about such a crucial subject that I really think people need to be more open and honest about. If we have the opportunity to help even one more person and prevent them from taking their own lives, that can only be a good thing. Depression and anxiety is such an isolating, terrifying condition that has the power to overwhelm a normally rational mind and unfortunately, I speak from personal experience. In the novel, Tyler feels that he’s not able to talk to anybody else about what he’s going through, especially not his own family for reasons that become clear as the novel continues.

Obviously, this is clearly a case of his poor mental health over-riding the more reasonable parts of the brain and the fact that his family is having their own issues prevents him from speaking up, and as a result, they are so completely unaware of his dangerous misery in the first place. The sadness about this whole story is that if he had spoken up, especially to his sister Lex, whom he had a previously close relationship with, his death may have been preventable. Afterwards though, there’s that horrible guilt that Lex feels regarding the fact that if he WAS trying to reach out, she may not have realised how crucial it was that she should have talked to him at that particular time.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye is another powerful and emotive read from Cynthia Hand that cements her place as an insightful, talented young adult fiction author that is definitely one to watch in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of five):

four-stars_0

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand was the forty-first book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in The Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

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How Not To Disappear – Clare Furniss

Published July 26, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Our memories are what make us who we are. Some are real. Some are made up. But they are the stories that tell us who we are. Without them we are nobody.

Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to ‘find himself” and Kat is in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby.

Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one even knew existed, comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery — Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are erased from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.

Non Pratt’s Trouble meets Thelma and Louise with a touch of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Clare Furniss’ remarkable How Not To Disappear is an emotional rollercoaster of a novel that will make you laugh and break your heart.

What did I think?:

This review comes with a big thank you to my wonderful sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads for recommending this book as part of my most recent Chrissi Cupboard Month, a bi-annual event where I attempt to get through some of the huge pile of books she has loaned me! I was first compelled to read this novel after being initially attracted by the front cover. Now I don’t normally like “people” on covers but for some reason, I find this one really appealing, there’s something about the colours and the attitude of the woman on the front that makes me smile. Then I read the synopsis and when I realised it touched on the subject of dementia, it was a no-brainer that I had to read it. Dementia is a topic really close to my heart for personal reasons, it’s probably my worst fear of getting older and I was completely right in thinking this would be a touching, emotionally poignant exploration of what it’s like to suffer from it.

Clare Furniss, author of How Not To Disappear.

This is the story of a young woman called Hattie who finds herself unsure about her future path in life, exasperated with her siblings, mother and stepfather and abandoned by her best friends whom it seems, have moved so far away (Edinburgh and Europe) that keeping in touch via email and the occasional text is the best form of contact she can hope for. Worst of all, she now finds herself pregnant with her friend Reuben’s baby and completely stuck as what to do as it seems unlikely Reuben would be willing to settle down. Surprisingly, Hattie then finds herself in contact with an old relative on her late father’s side, Gloria who also finds herself alone, troubled and in need of a friend. Gloria suffers with dementia and whilst her memories are starting to fail her she is determined to travel the length and breadth of the country with Hattie in tow in order to tell her story and make sense of a shattered past. As the two women travel and get to know each other, Hattie might just find the comfort and answers she desperately desires and Gloria may finally find peace along the way.

Hattie and Gloria go on a road trip across parts of the U.K. as we get flashbacks from Gloria’s past.

This book really knew just how to tug on your heart-strings. The dementia is obviously a huge part of the story and it’s absolutely gut wrenching to see how Gloria deteriorates, even in the short time that Hattie has with her but I also found it all so life affirming if that makes any sense? Gloria writes down everything in her little notebook, including tid-bits that Hattie shares with her about her own life and her problems regarding the pregnancy (in that she doesn’t know HOW to feel about it). It really warmed my heart the lengths Gloria went to and how hard she concentrated on trying to get to know Hattie better by any means necessary despite the failures in her own brain. One of my favourite things about this story just has to be Gloria as a character however, she was quite simply wonderful in every aspect of the word. From a very young age, she’s independent, says what she thinks and has a bright spark of a personality that refuses to be tamed. She goes through so much in her life, huge events that attempt to dampen that spark and sadly, they kind of succeed in one way but in another way, you can still see that old Gloria in there, refusing to lie down and be silenced. That just broke my heart.

This is a work of young adult fiction but to be perfectly honest, at no time when I was reading it did it feel that way for me. It delves into some very dark, difficult areas including teenage pregnancy, mental illness, domestic violence and emotional abuse and the intricacies of family relationships and these were all subjects that were handled so sensitively and intelligently that I constantly wanted to read on and uncover the mystery of Gloria’s life. This is a novel that has so much heart and soul emanating from every page and although it made for some tough, bitter-sweet reading moments at points, I’m ever so glad I read it and will certainly be watching out for anything Clare Furniss writes in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

How Not To Disappear by Clare Furniss was the thirty-ninth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Shtum – Jem Lester

Published July 17, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.

When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

What did I think?:

There were a few things that first attracted me to Shtum by Jem Lester. Initially, I couldn’t fail but to be pulled in by that gorgeous cover and the way it was published as a naked hardback (one of my favourite types of hardbacks) then I read the synopsis and the early reviews and I got The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time vibe from it which intrigued me and made me more keen to check out what it was all about. Now I ordinarily hate comparing books to each other but did Shtum live up to the dizzying heights of Curious Incident? Unfortunately, not quite but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. I think when you go into something expecting a direct copy, it’s never going to end well and Shtum deserves to stand on its own as the story of a very different and fascinating family that I did end up feeling a range of conflicting emotions for.

Jem Lester, author of Shtum.

In a nutshell, this is the story of Ben Jewell who has recently separated from his wife, taking custody of his severely autistic son Jonah and living with his father, Jonah’s grandfather Georg. The interesting thing about Ben and Emma’s struggles is that their separation is staged, purely so that they have a better chance of getting Jonah into the residential school of their dreams that will offer them a much higher level of support than they have previously been receiving. Both parents are at breaking point, with Jonah and with each other and Ben has turned to drinking heavily as a way of escaping rather than helping to run the family business. He is also dealing with a difficult relationship with his father, Georg and as the fight to get Jonah the best care rumbles on, everything comes to a head for all parties concerned and they must learn to pull together as a family if they are all going to get through this hardest of times unscathed.

An indication of the main problems that a child with autism spectrum disorder can present with.

Now, I’m in no way, shape or form an autism expert but I had no idea how devastating an effect severe autism can have on a family. Compared with Curious Incident, where our protagonist is on the milder end of the spectrum, Shtum gives a no holds barred account of the “other” end where lack of speech, continence and occasional aggression seem to be the norm. I cannot imagine how debilitating it must be for the child and for the family as a whole and it was certainly an eye opener into a different, very cruel world. On further reading, I’ve discovered Jem Lester happens to have a severely autistic child so presumably has drawn on a lot of his own personal experiences to tell Ben and Jonah’s story and this makes the narrative all the more poignant, increasing my admiration and respect for the author ten-fold.

As for the conflicting emotions I mentioned earlier, that was mainly directed towards the behaviour of certain characters in the novel whom I found endlessly frustrating at points. Yes, we understand why Ben drinks and also why he shirks work. In the horrendous situation that he finds himself where his child requires constant, specialist care, you can’t blame him for becoming depressed and losing himself in something that will make him forget his troubles and responsibilities for a while. But this was also the reason why I just wanted to shake him. Him and Emma, for burying their heads in the sands and ignoring the issues or not asking for the appropriate help that they obviously deserve. Ben’s love for Jonah completely shines through and this is lovely to see, despite his misgivings and considerably “human” reactions to an awful situation BUT there were so many opportunities that he had the chance to turn his life round, build his fractured relationship with his father, sort his drinking out and each time, he just failed miserably.

Of course, it is always difficult to get that happy ending and it was authentic in the way that Ben took his sweet time to address his troubles but personally, I just found myself getting annoyed with him too quickly for his occasionally ridiculous actions. However, if you can get past this, this is a heart-breaking read that is well worth the time and investment purely for the different slice of life that this kind of challenge brings to thousands of families all over the world every day. I appreciated the sentiment, the volatile relationships and the humble way in which the author approaches a difficult and emotional subject area.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Shtum by Jem Lester was the thirty-eighth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Behind Closed Doors – B.A. Paris

Published July 9, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

Picture this: a dinner party at their perfect home, the conversation and wine flowing. They appear to be in their element while entertaining. And Grace’s friends are eager to reciprocate with lunch the following week. Grace wants to go, but knows she never will. Her friends call—so why doesn’t Grace ever answer the phone? And how can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim?

And why are there bars on one of the bedroom windows?

The perfect marriage? Or the perfect lie?

What did I think?:

My sister, Chrissi Reads has been begging me to read this book for a while and it just kept getting forgotten in my huge TBR pile. Until now. I decided to put it on my Chrissi Cupboard TBR for June and now I’ve finally got round to reading it, I can see where she was coming from. This is a debut novel from the author, B.A. Paris but is so thrillingly accomplished that it stands up there with the best authors in the genre writing right now. I was slightly concerned when I read the synopsis that it would be another one of *those* psychological thrillers where we can easily predict what’s going to happen but luckily I was completely wrong and the twists and turns blew my misgivings out of the water.

B.A. Paris, author of Behind Closed Doors.

As with so many books where giving you too much information would be major spoiler territory, I’m not going to say anything else about the synopsis rather than direct you to the brief summary above taken from Goodreads. I didn’t want to know ANYTHING about this novel going in and I’m so relieved I managed to avoid any reveals because it works so much better as a psychological thriller when the reader has the joy of the element of surprise. This was certainly true for this reader. I didn’t know what on earth was going on when I first met Jack and Grace and as usual, I tried to analyse and predict their relationship and behaviour patterns. Of course, I was both taken aback and delighted when I was mistaken on so many levels but most of all, I adored the depths of darkness, disbelief and pure horror that I was taken to throughout the narrative through the actions of some of the characters.

Gorgeous Thailand, where Grace and Jack spend their honeymoon and where the first of many secrets are slowly revealed.

There seem to be a sheer exodus of books out there at the moment that talk about the “perfect” marriage, ever since the huge success of Gone Girl. I’ve read quite a few and enjoyed the majority of them but do start to worry that the trope is being flogged a bit too much. It’s only when I read something like Behind Closed Doors that I realise that there are fresh, unique ways to tell the story of an *interesting* relationship without resorting to the same old tactics that we’ve read about before. I don’t think you’re ever going to be able to prepare yourself for a novel like this, it plunges into some very desperate, mind-boggling areas, explores the more troubling parts of the human psyche and keeps you questioning motives and back stories of particular characters. It’s a compelling page-turner that is considerably difficult to read in places and will have you thinking about THAT ending long after finishing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris was the thirty-seventh book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Daughter Of Smoke And Bone – Laini Taylor

Published June 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. ‘He never says please’, she sighed, but she gathered up her things.

When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

What did I think?:

Unpopular opinion time! Okay, if you liked Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, you might want to give my review a miss. Just putting it out there. I really wanted to like this book. I mean, REALLY wanted to. It had so much hype when it first came out, I love a great fantasy story with angels and monsters – what was there not to like? Well….I’ll get round to that in more depth a bit later but unfortunately this series is definitely not for me. I should have listened to my sister Chrissi @ Chrissi Reads, (Note to self: I should ALWAYS listen to my sister!). She told me: “I don’t think you’re going to like this book!” and I still put it on one of my Chrissi Cupboard Months determined that the Goodreads average rating of 4.03 meant that of course I would like it. She was right, I was wrong. Obviously I never like to write a more critical review without mentioning the positive aspects but generally, this was a really disappointing read for me. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, the romance made me cross and it all just felt a bit too vague and airy-fairy for me personally. Nope, sorry. Just can’t do it.

Laini Taylor, author of the Daughter Of Smoke And Bone series. Who will become my best friend after this review. Or er…probably not. I’m sorry Laini!

The story follows our seventeen year old female protagonist, Karou, an art student in Prague and errand girl for her demon foster parent called Brimstone. Her main responsibilities consist of collecting teeth for some strange, unknown purpose although Karou is aware of their potential to grant wishes. Meanwhile, in this odd other world called Elsewhere where Karou completes her tasks, scorched hand-prints are appearing on the portals which Karou uses to travel back to Brimstone, effectively closing her means of returning home. Then she meets a strange young man called Akiva and not only do they fall dangerously in love but it unlocks certain secrets about Karou’s own life that will have a staggering impact on the rest of her life.

The Chimera, a creature from Greek mythology that also lends its name to some of the half human/half animal creatures in Daughter Of Smoke And Bone.

Oh, this book should have been right up my street and that’s why I was so desperate to read it in the first place! Angels and demons, creatures taken from Greek mythology….it really should have worked and I’m genuinely surprised that for me, it just didn’t. The weird thing is, it had so much promise in the beginning. I loved the author’s descriptions of Prague, her lyrical writing style, the mystery of Karou’s parentage, the strange lands and the enemies that Karou has to face and what on earth is the teeth thing all about?! I was intrigued, I read it and prepared to get completely invested and then…..well then, it just fell apart a little bit with the introduction of our male lead, Akiva.

I didn’t enjoy the romance in this novel at all. Okay, so one minute, Karou is a brave, fiesty female who goes on dangerous missions just to retrieve some teeth (yes, I know how odd this sounds!) and the minute she meets Akiva she turns to molten lava. I mean, really? I was just starting to get interested in her character and then she has to go and do something like that and thoroughly disappoint me. Insta-love, star-crossed lovers that shouldn’t be together, you get the whole she-bang and I’m sorry, it just didn’t work for me. It reminded me far too much of the typical, cliched YA novel with a sickly-sweet immediate romance that wasn’t believable in the slightest (even for a fantasy novel!) and frankly, doesn’t cut the mustard with me anymore. I’m afraid from that instant I was resolved to dislike this story and unfortunately, it didn’t get much better from there.

Insta-Love, exit right left here if you please!

The sign of a good novel for me is when you can remember specific scenes/events, even quotes if you form a deep connection with the characters or the writing. Well, I’ve been musing about writing this review for a while as I’ve been a bit worried about exactly what I’m going to say but I can barely remember any scene in detail in Daughter Of Smoke And Bone. I have a very vague outline of characters, people flying and half-human and half-animal creatures but as to what happened in the end? I’m a bit ashamed to say I can’t remember. Unfortunately, this novel hasn’t left its mark on me and sadly, I won’t be continuing on with the series.

However, I would love to hear from you if you’ve read this novel and loved it or if you felt the same way as me. I may not have enjoyed this story but I’m sure other people will do. Why else would it have such a strong rating on Goodreads? As a good friend once told me – different strokes for different folks!!  😀

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

1194984978279254934two_star_rating_saurabh__01.svg

 

June 2018 – Chrissi Cupboard Month #9

Published June 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

It’s June, and that means….drum roll please…it’s Chrissi Cupboard Month!

Hello everyone! Every other month I alternate what I’m reading quite specifically between three things. It’s either Real Book Month (in February and August) where I try and read all the physical books just waiting to be devoured on my bookshelves. (and that’s a lot!) Then there’s Book Bridgr/NetGalley/ARC Month (April and October) where I try and catch up on all those ARC/review copies sent to me by authors, publishers, NetGalley and Book Bridgr. (also a lot!) Finally, there’s Chrissi Cupboard Month (June and December) where I try my best to get through all the books my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads lends me (you’ve guessed it – there’s lots!). So this is what I’ll be reading for the month of June:

1.) Behind Closed Doors – B.A. Paris

What’s it all about?:

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

Picture this: a dinner party at their perfect home, the conversation and wine flowing. They appear to be in their element while entertaining. And Grace’s friends are eager to reciprocate with lunch the following week. Grace wants to go, but knows she never will. Her friends call—so why doesn’t Grace ever answer the phone? And how can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim?

And why are there bars on one of the bedroom windows?

The perfect marriage? Or the perfect lie?

2.) Shtum – Jem Lester

What’s it all about?:

Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.

When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

3.) How Not To Disappear – Clare Furniss

What’s it all about?:

Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to “find himself” and Kat’s in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding.

Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby…

Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia.

Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.

4.) The Last Time We Say Goodbye – Cynthia Hand

What’s it all about?:

There’s death all around us.
We just don’t pay attention.
Until we do.

The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn’t look at her like she might break down at any moment.

Now she’s just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that’s all she’ll ever be.

As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there’s a secret she hasn’t told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

Lex’s brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn’t have to be real to keep you from moving on.

5.) My Lady Jane: The Not Entirely True Story by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

What’s it all about?:

A comical, fantastical and witty re-imagining of the Tudor world, perfect for fans of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Lady Jane Grey, sixteen, is about to be married to a total stranger – and caught up in an insidious plot to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But that’s the least of Jane’s problems. She’s about to become Queen of England. Like that could go wrong.

 

As always, I’m really excited for all these books. My sister knows what I will like (and what I will avoid like the plague!) so I’m confident in her choices and I can’t wait to get to all of these. I have been especially looking forward to How Not To Disappear for years now, I’ve heard great things about My Lady Jane and Chrissi told me I absolutely HAD to put the B.A. Paris book on my list for this month. 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What should I read first? Let me know in the comments!

If You Find Me – Emily Murdoch

Published May 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

What happens in the woods, stays in the woods. . .

Carey is keeping a terrible secret. If she tells, it could destroy her future. If she doesn’t, will she ever be free?

For almost as long as she can remember, Carey has lived in a camper van in the heart of the woods with her drug-addicted mother and six-year-old sister, Jenessa. Her mother routinely disappears for weeks at a time, leaving the girls to cope alone. Survival is Carey’s only priority – until strangers arrive and everything changes . . .

What did I think?:

If You Find Me was another book pushed onto me by my sister, Chrissi Reads and I included it in one of my bi-yearly Chrissi Cupboard Months. I’ve mentioned before when she recommends that I read a book, I really should listen because she is preparing me for something amazing but I really wasn’t prepared for how outstanding this novel was. Warning – it deals with some VERY tough and emotive subjects, including child neglect/abuse so if you’re particularly sensitive to those subjects, this might not be the book for you. However, I was surprised by how much hope and joy filled these pages, despite the horrific past that our main character and her sister have had to suffer. Additionally, although some people have criticised the “tied up in a bow,” ending, I thought it was the perfect way to wrap up a heart-breaking yet optimistic story.

Our female lead is a fifteen year old girl called Carey who lives with her younger sister, Jenessa (Nessa) in a camper van in the middle of the woods with their drug addict mother. Carey is responsible for all of her younger sister’s care and her mother disappears for long periods of time, sometimes days, occasionally weeks meaning that Carey must look after, feed and entertain a little girl who hasn’t known anything different from the life that they lead.

One day, their mother has been gone for a particularly long time and strangers arrive to take the two girls away, back to a family of their biological father, stepmother and a stepsister who have been living their lives completely ignorant of the trials that Carey and Nessa have had to suffer. Both girls must now learn to live in a world where school is mandatory, large groups of people and noises can be terrifying and they must get to know a complete stranger who calls himself their father. Meanwhile, Carey is hiding a terrible secret about their time in the woods, something that no-one must find out. Yet people are starting to ask questions, especially as to why Nessa remains mute and refuses to speak. What secret could be so dangerous that they are petrified to tell another living soul?

As I’ve alluded to in the beginning of my review, this book goes to very dark places and I don’t think you’ll be able to read this story without being moved in some way. For me, it was a very peculiar experience. The reader only sees a snippet of their time in the woods, they are rescued quite early on in the novel but what I saw was seriously enough for me. I felt dread in the pit of my stomach, that horrible lump in your throat when you try not to cry and at times, I thought I would have to take a break. It’s not explicit in the slightest, let me assure you. Although I was horribly upset at the situation Carey and Nessa found themselves in, I think I was really affected by the relationship between the siblings. I’m the oldest of three children myself and as you’re probably aware, I’m very close to my little sister. Carey’s relationship with Nessa very much reminded me of the way I feel towards Chrissi – hugely protective, almost as if I was a bear and she was my cub! (Chrissi’s so going to laugh at this….).

In all seriousness, Carey is like the mother that Nessa has never had and I really felt awful for her, having to grow up well before her time and take on all that responsibility of the care-giver that SHOULD have been down to their mother. This is also reflected when she is taken away from the situation, the adult way of speaking she uses, the way she tries to fit in at school and how she reacts to her father and new family. Carey has always had to be the strong one and protect Nessa, despite the feelings she has herself which are often hidden as a way of shielding her sister. It broke my heart at times how much she tried to hold it together and be resilient. I just wanted to give her a hug!

Most of this novel is based after Carey and Nessa escape the woods and although I wasn’t sure I was going to connect with this part I was incredibly wrong. I loved seeing their journey, how they adapt to “normal life,” the moments when they realise that they might be safe and no-one will hurt them again and, of course, the revelations of the huge secret and burden that the girls are carrying with them. This is a stunning, emotional and powerful piece of writing that was difficult to read at points but so very rewarding. Wait a minute…it’s a debut novel?! I will certainly be looking out for other books by Emily Murdoch and indeed reading anything else she happens to write.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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