27 Feb My Top New Books for February
The great thing about February is that, though it’s the shortest month, it’s so cold out there that I can stay indoors, wrap up warmly – I love my new fleecy hoodie from New Look – and settle down to read without feeling guilty about not getting outdoors.
This month, I’ve read five books for blogtours, and managed to fit in another four, thanks to NetGalley.
I knew I’d love The Only Child by Kayte Nunn and The Only Suspect by Louise Candlish. They are two of my top authors. Each delves into the mystery of a disappearance but both are very different in tone.
Emily Koch and Dizz Tate, authors of What July Knew and Brutes are new to me, but I was not disappointed by either book. Both are narrated from children’s point of view, but again they are very different in tone. What July Knew delivers a heartbreaking story of a motherless little girl, and the uncaring cruelty of adults, while Brutes looks at just how carelessly cruel children can be.
Read on for my reviews – I highly recommend all four books.
The Only Child By Kayte Nunn (Orion Hardback and ebook)
This dual timeline story takes us between 1949 and 2013 to explore the strength and importance of the mother/child bond in both eras. Set in the USA, the 1949 timeline follows Brigid, a pregnant teenager sent to an unmarried mothers’ home run by Catholic nuns, where she and the other girls are expected to give up their babies for adoption. The more recent years follow policewoman Frankie Gray as she joins her mother at Fairmile, the house she’s bought to turn into a boutique hotel, the house that was once a home for unmarried mothers …
As the two stories draw together, there’s drama of different sorts – Frankie has to solve the murder of an old nun at the nursing home where her own grandmother now resides; Brigid has to somehow outwit the nuns and find a way to keep her baby.
Both threads of the story are equally compelling, with strong emotions at the heart of each, and parallels between Brigid and Frankie, who has recently reunited with her teenage daughter after an absence of several years.
The story’s powerful opening shows a nun burying a small bundle in the snow-covered ground of Fairmile – it’s obvious to the reader what it must be, and it draws you immediately into the book.
I particularly liked the 1949 thread – I felt so much empathy for the girls, and author Kayte Nunn never caricatures the nuns as unholy devils, nor makes the girls’ existence wholly unpleasant. It’s very convincing and moving.
The more recent years story is intriguing, as we know there must be something that links Frankie to the past. She’s an interesting character, a typical woman who once felt obliged to try to have it all, with sad consequences. Like Brigid, she has mistakes to atone for, and bonds to rebuild, with her daughter, her mother and her grandmother.
In the interest of both stories, the murder almost becomes secondary – but then the tension ramps up nicely again, to a very satisfactory conclusion.
What July Knew by Emily Koch (Random House, Hardback and ebook)
My heart is broken for July Hooper, 11-year-old heroine of this moving story of a motherless girl who knows very little of her dead mother – and is afraid to ask! For July’s father in a controlling bully, handy with his fists, and both July, her stepmother Shelley and stepsister Sylvie tiptoe round him.
But encouraged by her teacher, and by hints she picks up from the grown-ups around her, July summons her strength and courage to go in search of the truth.
At first she just wants to add to the small list of things she knows about her mother – what was her favourite hymn, did she like swimming, what was her favourite colour? But as she gets deeper into the mystery of why no-one will talk about Maggie Hooper, she uncovers a truth very different to the one she has been fed of her mother’s death in a car crash.
This was a dramatic and deeply moving story, with a very brave little girl at its core, Sassy, clever, kind, loving and desperate-for-love July will capture your heart immediately, while the strength of the plot and the unexpected twists it takes will keep you gripped to the story.
The subject of domestic violence is always upsetting, and the author doesn’t shy away from it, but there is so much gentle humour and understanding radiating from July herself, who is wise beyond her years, that it never becomes too harrowing.
A deft, heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming exploration of family bonds, the importance of telling the truth to young children, and their over-riding need for love. This book has heart, soul and passion. I loved it.
The Only Suspect by Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster, Hardback and ebook)
Another brilliant domestic thriller noir from Louise Candlish takes us between the 1990s and the present day. In 2020, Alex is married to Beth and living near the scene of the crime he committed in the 1990s, and terrified it is about to be discovered. In 1990, young, naive auditor Rick has fallen in love with office temp Marina. Can he save her from her abusive husband?
The narrative toggles between the two as the story unfolds, the events of the past gradually unyielding their secrets one by one in a really cleverly plotted story. Knowing Louise Candlish, I knew to expect twists, but this story is full of them, and keeps you guessing until the end.
The characters are very believable – not all likable, but each with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, skilfully portrayed throughout the story.
Modern-day issues like the importance of the environment fit seamlessly into the narrative, a vital part of the plot rather than a shoed-in sermon.
But the best thing about this book was the sheer suspense of it all! It’s one of those you’ll stay up until the wee small hours to finish. A good story, brilliantly told.
Brutes by Dizz Tate (Faber, Hardback and ebook)
This coming-of-age story follows a group of homogenous young teenagers, collectively known as “the girls”, in a period when an older girl they admire goes missing. Has the monster of the lake got her? The story toggles between past and present when the girls have grown up and we learn the fate of each individual. And gradually, the events of the past become a little clearer.
Sammy, the missing girl, is the daughter of a local preacher. Her friend Mia is the daughter of a woman who organise beauty-style pageants giving girls the chance to break into modelling.
The “girls” are captivated by them both and by Eddie, Sammy’s boyfriend, and by Mia’s brother.
All seem to them to be the rebels that they would like to be. And so they follow them avidly.
This was a very atmospheric story, full of suspense and hidden danger, with the metaphor of the lake monster adding an air of the supernatural that is never quite banished.
The narrative reminded me of another coming-of-age book, The Virgin Suicides. Like the boys in that story, the girls watch and wait, but also have their part to play in a tragedy that affects them all.
I found it moving, but also quite harrowing in its portrayal of the dangers girls and women face every day. The girls’ mothers – themselves a homogenous bunch – often call them brutes, but the real brutality lies in the outside world, from which they can never fully escape.
Read all my February reviews