The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

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Thank You to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advanced copy of Hannah Tinti’s novel, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Samuel Hawley is an outlaw, who has spent many years moving across the United States with his daughter, Loo. Now that Loo is a teenager, Samuel feels that he can make an honest living as a fisherman, and he settles in the same New England town as Loo’s maternal grandmother, Mabel. Loo’s mother, Lily, died in a lake accident when Loo was an infant, and Mabel believes that Samuel had hand in her daughter’s death. Was Samuel responsible? Can a man who has committed so many crimes, really be safe from his past coming back to haunt him?

LIKE– Tinti is the co-founder of One Story, one of my favorite monthly magazines ( check it out, it’s awesome), and I had the pleasure of taking an online writing class with her last month. It was fabulous!

Tinti has an interesting way of framing The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. She has given Samuel a body riddled with scars from bullets wounds, and she alternates chapters between the present and the past, using the past chapters to explain the ways in which Samuel has been shot. In the past, we learn about Samuel’s life of crime, his associates, and how he met Lily. As the story unfolds, we learn the truth about Lily’s death, and how it impacts the trajectory of the story. In the present, we see Loo growing into a teenager and trying to figure out details about her mother, through both her grandmother and living in her mother’s hometown. This structure created a solid framework for pacing the mysteries of the novel and keeping the suspense.

In addition to a strong structure, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, has memorable characters. I was most intrigued by Lily and her relationship with Samuel. The chapter in which they meet, was the most intense, gripping chapter of the novel. It was cinematic. Speaking of cinematic, Tinti writes in a grand way, with beautiful imagery and sweeping landscapes. For example, there is a dramatic scene on a glacier in Alaska. Having recently visited a glacier in Alaska, I can tell you, that Tinti captured that amazing environment, including the details of the sounds a glacier makes, which is what was most memorable for me.

DISLIKE– There were a few places where I felt my suspension of disbelief was tested; for example, there are two separate scenes with a whale that didn’t work for me. It seemed too outrageous for the tone of the story.

Although I love idea of this outlaw who can survive whatever comes his way, it became a little much to have so many bullet wounds that were patched up. In one chapter he shoots his own foot by accident, which leads to a memorable experience taking a young Loo trick-or-treating, but otherwise, doesn’t seem to advance the story.

RECOMMEND– Yes. Tinti is an imaginative writer that takes readers to unexpected places.  I was able to empathize and connect with all of her main characters. If you can let a few things slide, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is worthy read. It’s suspenseful and engaging.

American Housewife

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I was browsing in Powell’s City of Books, when Helen Ellis’ short story collection, American Housewife, leaped off of the shelf, demanding to be read. Just take a minute to admire the awesome cover. It looks just like a photograph of my mom from the 50’s. if my mom had cotton candy hair. Those glasses, that tangerine sweater-set, the enormous curlers = if a book can be judged by its cover ( and I like to judge), I know that Ellis’ stories are going to take me on a fun ride.

PLOT American Housewife is Helen Ellis’ collection of short stories, all involving the title subject. What defines an American housewife? Ellis’ housewives are smart, snarky, and occasionally highly disturbed.

LIKE– Ellis is a fabulous writer with a gift for crafting unique sentences. For example, here is a sentence regarding the discovery of a new independent bookstore, that absolutely delighted me: from How to Be a Patron of the Arts =

It’s like you’ve found a unicorn grazing next to the dry cleaner that a friend told you could get cat barf out of cashmere.

It made me laugh-out-loud-

For five minutes-

In an airport.

Ellis fills all of her stories with this type of humor. There wasn’t a single clunker in the collection, but there were standouts. Here are the ones that I thought were stellar.

What I Do All Day – A less than three page laundry list of the activities that the narrator does in her typical day as a housewife. It’s hilarious, but what I admired most is Ellis’ pacing, and the way her story builds to the climax of forced dinner party conversation. As an American housewife myself, I found the idea of justifying my day to be extremely relatable.

Dumpster Diving with the Stars – The narrator, a not-quite-famous writer, goes on a reality show that involves dumpster diving and challenges akin to Antiques Roadshow. I loved all of the pop-culture references, including John Lithgow as a contestant. The title rocks, and makes me wonder if a show like this has ever been pitched. Yes, is the likely answer.

The Fitter – The narrator’s husband is a famous bra fitter, with women angling to make him their next husband, while his wife is near death, after first having a mastectomy. Although there is humor in this story, it was very dark, and the emotional pain of the narrator was palpable. The ending was very much a surprise.

My Novel is Brought to you by the Good People at Tampax – A cautionary tale of an author who signs a contract with Tampax to endorse their products in her novel, and then faces a combination of writer’s block and procrastination. She learns that Tampax will not accept excuses, and that not just her writing, but basically her life, is theirs, until she fulfills her contractural obligation. This made me feel paranoid about my own writing schedule. Miley Cyrus and Paula Deen make appearances as poster-children for reinvention.

DISLIKE– Nothing. American Housewife is a highly-entertaining collection by a gifted writer.

RECOMMEND– YES!!! Helen Ellis is a treasure, and I will be on alert for more of her stories. I can’t recommend this author or American Housewife, enough. A fabulous story collection!

The Polygamist’s Daughter

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Thank You to Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with an advanced copy of Anna LeBaron’s memoir, The Polygamist’s Daughter, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– In her memoir, The Polygamist’s Daughter, Anna LeBaron recounts her dysfunctional and disruptive past, as a child born to Fundamentalist Mormon cult leader, Ervil LeBaron.

LIKE– I requested LeBaron’s memoir on NetGalley, because I find memoirs of cults, specifically Fundamentalist Mormon groups, to be fascinating. As an only child raised by a single mother, the idea of having multiple parents and dozens of siblings is mind boggling; a completely foreign concept to me.

LeBaron faced many hardships as a child. When she was still in elementary school, she was taken to Mexico to live with other cult members, away from both of her parents. She faced extreme poverty and hunger. LeBaron and the other children were moved frequently, disrupting  their education, which was a mix of home schooling and public education. As soon as they were able, the children were put to work, including manual labor and selling food on the streets. She was forced to fend for herself at a young age and her childhood is heartbreaking.

The Polygamist’s Daughter takes an even darker turn when LeBaron becomes a teenager,  living with her sister and brother-in-law. This period is the first time in her life where she feels love and stability. Beyond his death, Ervil, orders the deaths of several former cult members, including LeBaron’s brother-in-law. During the hit on her brother-in-law, LeBaron’s sister was also killed, leaving all of their children without parents. At the time, LeBaron was college-aged and just beginning to branch out on her own, but she felt a responsibility to help the kids in the aftermath of their parent’s deaths. Although her nieces and nephews were ultimately adopted by a family friend, this situation deeply impacted LeBaron’s life. LeBaron was left with hatred towards her deceased father, and very mixed emotions towards her mother, who would not leave the cult.

DISLIKE– LeBaron’s life is intense and fascinating, but her writing lacks finesse. Many places were repetitive, or similar to a child telling a story, where they don’t know how to edit out the less relevant or interesting details. This made the memoir uneven with regard to pacing and my level of engagement. The Polygamist’s Daughter would be stronger with sharper editing, or perhaps if it had been co-written.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. There are many memoirs on growing up in polygamist cults and I don’t think LeBaron’s is dissimilar to other books on the market. However, if the subject is of interest to you, The Polygamist’s Daughter, is a quick read. It’s impossible to not feel sympathy for LeBaron and the other children of this cult.

The Rules Do Not Apply

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Thank You to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advanced copy of Ariel Levy’s memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- In her memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, journalist Ariel Levy explores love and loss, in her relationships, career, and path to motherhood. She learns the hard truth that life is a series of trade-offs and that the conventional concept of “having it all,” is a myth.

LIKE– I vividly remember the final lecture of a Western Civilization class that I took at Pasadena City College, when I was in my early-twenties: The male professor, an self-proclaimed feminist, who would later be caught in several scandals and removed from his position, gave a piece of advice, that in way I’ve forgotten, was tenuously related to the lecture; he said that time is limited and that fertility did not last forever. He was speaking primarily to the females in the class, urging us, as we focused on our education and careers, to consider that the time frame for fertility is limited. I’m not quite sure what prompted this advice, but I remember the urgency in his tone. He was middle-aged, and in hind-sight, I’m guessing a recent personal predicament influenced his words. I’ve never wanted children, but that advice has stayed with me, especially as I near forty, still not wanting children, but realizing that the window of opportunity may already be shut. This idea is at the forefront of Levy’s memoir.

Levy’s road to motherhood is not clear. She is in an unstable marriage with Lucy, an older woman, who is an alcoholic. As Levy tries to strengthen her marriage, she is tempted through reconnecting with former lovers. Her writing career has always been important, and one that sends her on assignments around the world. Lucy’s alcoholism isn’t the only instability, as Lucy has sunk their savings into starting a solar panel company. Levy is in her late-thirties when she finally decides that she wants to be a mother, and they have a close friend who is happy to not only donate sperm, but to help out financially, and be another adult figure in their child’s life. Levy easily becomes pregnant, and her life seems to be heading towards stability and happiness, until tragedy strikes. Levy delivers her child prematurely, alone in a hotel room, while on assignment in Mongolia. The baby is born alive, but dies about fifteen minutes later, as Levy is rushed to the hospital. It’s crushing, even more so that she had minutes where she held her living child.

The title, The Rules Do Not Apply, are about all of the conventional things that as a child (or even into adulthood), you expect will happen. You expect to graduate from college and land a great job. You expect to fall in love and have a family. You expect that your parents will live long enough to see those grandchildren. You expect that hard work and being a good person should grant these rewards. However, as Levy points out, this has not been the case for her, and it has not been the case for many of her friends. Life simply does not work like that for most people. Conventionality is a myth.

Levy’s thoughts are poignant and her personal story is compelling. She has a knack for phrasing and writes beautifully. She weaves her story with the stories of people that she profiles in her reporting, making her memoir global and expansive. I can’t imagine any reader would be left unaffected by this emotional and thought provoking memoir.

DISLIKE– Nothing. The Rules Do Not Apply is powerful and riveting.

RECOMMEND– Yes! The Rules Do Not Apply is a must-read memoir. I’m certain that Levy’s story will be a bestseller and generate a lot of buzz. Read it and be part of the conversation!

Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest-Cities in the World

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Thank You to Gallery Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Todd Barry’s, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-The-Biggest Cities in the World, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Comedian Todd Barry shares travel notes from his experiences playing secondary markets ( smaller cities/venues), during 2015/2016.

LIKE– Previous to reading, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, I had not heard of Todd Barry. I requested a review copy of his book, because I liked the concept. I like off-the-beaten-path travel logs. I was a clueless about his sense of humor, so I went in with no expectations. I read, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, last night, during my flight from California to Oregon. Would Barry be my ideal travel companion?

Yes. Todd Barry made my two hour flight seem like seconds.

It was a risk going in without a familiarity with Barry’s comedy, but I quickly discovered that we have a similar sense of humor. Barry’s quirks and annoyances, like his self-diagnosed Misophonia, had me laughing. As I was currently dealing with air travel, I commiserated with his travel issues, such as a woman trying to guilt him into giving up his aisle seat. The nerve! I enjoyed his behind the scenes perspective of being a traveling comedian, the pains and joys of being on the road. What I most loved about his travel diary, was his recommendations. Hell yes, I’m going to visit the “railroad car/ future home of a corn dog restaurant” in Oklahoma. Cape Fear Serpentarium in North Carolina, I’m coming! Barry’s love of local coffee houses and sightseeing is right up my alley.

Barry’s witty observations reminded me of one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, who always makes me laugh until I cry, when he reads from his travel diary during his live shows. The funniest stuff comes from observing other people, things too bizarre to make up.

DISLIKE– Not so much a dislike, but a suggestion; although, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, is a quick read, don’t do it in one sitting. If I had parsed it out, I would have found it more enjoyable. I felt like I rushed it. Don’t rush Barry, he deserves better.

RECOMMEND– Yes. I’m sure his fans will be delighted, but even as someone with zero familiarity with Barry, I found, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, to be a highly entertaining read.

 

The Fall of Lisa Bellow

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Thank You to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advanced copy of Susan Perabo’s novel, The Fall of Lisa Bellow, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Eighth grader Meredith Oliver is a girl who exists in the middle. She’s neither completely unpopular or part of the “in-crowd.” Meredith and her friends both hate and emulate the popular girls, and in particular, their leader, Lisa Bellow.

Meredith and Lisa find their lives entwined, when they both happen to be buying sandwiches at a local deli during a robbery. Both girls are told to stay on the floor, while the deli’s employee is beaten. The thief decides to kidnap Lisa, leaving the employee unconscious and Meredith shaking on the floor.

In the days, weeks, months following Lisa’s kidnapping, Meredith tries to make sense of what happened to her classmate, and why she wasn’t also taken? Although Meredith was spared, her mother, Claire, cannot shake the thought that she is unable to protect her children from harm.

LIKE– Last year, I was introduced to Perabo’s writing through her fantastic short story collection, Why They Run the Way They Do. Perabo is a fabulous storyteller and I was eager to read her first novel.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow has an unusual and interesting narrative structure. A large chunk of the story, about 1/3, is told through Meredith’s fantasy of what both what she imagines has happened to Lisa, and what she imagines would happen if she had been kidnapped alongside Lisa. This fantasy is rich with specific details, including of the kidnapper, who in reality, was covered by a mask and could not be identified by Meredith. Meredith is so distraught by the robbery and kidnapping, that these fantasies become mixed-up with reality. She cannot distinguish the real details from her imaginary ones. They’re muddled. She is obsessed with this fantasy world and with Lisa. She creates a fictional reality for Lisa, but she also befriend’s Lisa’s popular friends, who now accept Meredith in the aftermath, and she even becomes close to Lisa’s mom. Lisa’s mom is desperate for anything that will remind her of Lisa, which includes encouraging Lisa’s friends to spend time at her house and hang out in Lisa’s bedroom. While Claire is afraid that she can’t physically protect her daughter, she is still losing Meredith to obsession and mental anguish.

Early in the story, we learn that Claire, a dentist, intentionally causes pain to one of her young patients, a boy that she suspects has been teasing her son. When Claire confesses her crime to her husband, he is horrified, and although Claire does not regret her actions (she poked a kid’s sensitive tooth for temporary pain, not long-term damage), she realizes that her husband does not trust her. This is compounded with an emotional affair that she had when her mother was dying, something else that she confessed and which instigated his initial distrust toward her. This makes Claire feel isolated and unwilling to share her feelings with her husband. The robbery is not the only incident that has damaged Claire’s children; her son Evan, had his promising baseball career ended, when an accident left him partially blind. The family had barely begun to recover from Evan’s accident, when the robbery happened. Claire’s unhinged and more than any other character, I wondered how she would cope.

Perabo has created flawed, isolated characters that are existing on the brink. The Fall of Lisa Bellow works because of its familiarity. You don’t need to have had a shock like surviving a robbery, to understand what it’s like to fall down the rabbit hole with regard to obsessing over other people and “what if” scenarios. You don’t have to lose your sight, to understand what it would mean to have your dreams crushed in an instant. You don’t need to have the power and an opportunity to hurt a bully, to understand Claire’s actions? The Fall of Lisa Bellow deals with extreme situations, but it’s relatable throughout.

DISLIKE– Nothing. The Fall of Lisa Bellow had me hooked from page one.

RECOMMEND– Yes! If you’re not familiar with Perabo, you should be. I highly recommend The Fall of Lisa Bellow and Perabo’s short story collections. Her writing is powerful, both in novel and short story formats.

ILL WILL

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Thank You to Random House Publishing Group- Ballantine Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Dan Chaon’s Novel, Ill Will, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– In the 1980’s, Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle were brutally murdered, and his older adopted brother, a troubled teen named Rusty, was convicted of the crime. Twelve year old Dustin and his teenage cousin, Kate, were key witnesses at Rusty’s trial. They fed into the satan worship hysteria that was popular in the 80’s, explaining how Rusty murdered rabbits during satanic rituals, and how he had involved Kate and Dustin.

Thirty years later, new evidence has exonerated Rusty and he is finally freed from jail. Aiding the fight for Rusty’s innocence, is Kate’s twin sister, Wave, who is estranged from her family, due to her disagreements over how their had parents died and Rusty’s trial.

Dustin works as a therapist and his wife has just died from cancer. He is unsettled to learn that Rusty is out of prison and refuses contact with his brother. Dustin is struggling to cope with his grief, and can’t connect with his two college aged sons, Dennis, who lives on campus, and Aaron, living at home with a barely concealed heroin addiction. Dustin works with a client who is obsessed with a string of murders, college boys who are dumped in rivers, and soon, he joins his client in the obsession. Dustin’s paranoia increases, when Aaron’s best friend, nicknamed Rabbit, is murdered. Is this a coincidence or is Rabbit a victim of a serial killer? Signs point to a satanic ritual, could that be a factor? Is Rusty somehow involved? If Rusty didn’t kill his family, who did?

LIKE– This is my first novel by Chaon and I don’t often choose suspense-crime novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed Ill Will. The story is engaging and fast paced, a true page-turner. I never quite knew where the story was headed and I was genuinely surprised by the ending. Ill Will is creepy and disturbing, with rich imagery.

Speaking of imagery, the grimy settings are filled with sensory elements, rooting me in the story. For example, there is a former mortuary that has been turned into a drug house, with many of the elements of the former business still somewhat intact, like the elegant chairs that once held the grieving, are now draped with strung out teenagers. The series of small rooms in a mortuary, lend themselves to this unsettling experience of a horror house: as Aaron walks through to score, he mentions not knowing if a meth-head would jump out to stab him. The scene setting is rich throughout the story, with settings like the “stuck-in-another-era”, dusty farm house that the kids are sent to living with their grandmother after their parents die, or Rabbit’s house, unkept since he is a heroin addict and his single-mom is dying of cancer. Not a single location in Ill Will is pretty, which fits with this grim story. I felt unsettled throughout.

As with the settings, the characters are strong and unforgettable. Ill Will is told from different point-of-views, which works well, as it would have been difficult to spend an entire novel in Dustin’s paranoid mind or Aaron’s drug-fueled haze. I was most interested in the dynamic between Kate and Wave, inseparable twins in childhood, who are driven completely apart by their parent’s death and the trial. They have a similar reaction to the murders, an intense paranoia that has followed them into adulthood. However, rather than living off the grid like Wave, Kate’s sense of safety comes from living in an apartment in the middle of Hollywood Blvd, among people rather than the isolation of her sister. Neither can let this fear go, but the way they manage it, is opposite.

Chaon makes interesting narrative choices. Sometimes he jumps into first person, which upped the intensity in the moments he used it. He also plays with style, for example, dividing a page into two or three columns, and writing a different scenes to be read in parallel. I’ve never seen this done, but it was creative and served the story.

DISLIKE– The only negative and this is minor, is that I found myself unevenly interested in places, in these spots, I thought the pacing, which was generally rapid, slowed. Usually this happened during the Dustin narrative. Too much Dustin.

RECOMMEND– Yes, Ill Will is exciting and surprising. I’m definitely going to read Chaon’s other novels. I love finding these new-to-me-authors, that have already written several novels that I can immediately devour!

The Roanoke Girls

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Thank You to Crown Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy of Amy Engel’s novel, The Roanoke Girls, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Fifteen-year-old Lane Roanoke’s life has just been turned upside down. Her mother, Camilla, has committed suicide, and Lane has been uprooted from her city life in New York to live with her maternal grandparents and younger cousin, Allegra, in rural Kansas. Lane has never known her grandparents; her mother ran away from their home as a pregnant teen and remained estranged. Lane soon learns that the Roanoke family harbors a dark secret and that the females of the family either runaway or die young from tragic causes. Will Lane become the next victim in the Roanoke curse?

LIKE- The Roanoke Girls is a compelling story; a page-turner. I ripped through it in less than a day. The great Roanoke secret is so utterly disturbing, that it’s like a car crash: I knew I shouldn’t want to look, but I did. I had to. It’s taboo, salacious, and shocking. I can’t remember the last time I read a novel with this much shock value. The Roanoke secret isn’t necessarily a surprise, as the hints are clear early on, however the element of surprise isn’t necessary, as being in on the secret, and watching how it all plays out, is the hook.

Shock value aside, what makes The Roanoke Girls so readable, is Engel’s writing. Her narrative is strong and she deftly handles that delicate balance of writing in a way that is plain and  flows, yet is filled with unusual descriptions and sensory imagery. In other words, her writing isn’t flowery or bogged down with description, yet in many place, I paused to admire her descriptive phrases. She has a knack for constructing beautiful, powerful sentences. The pacing and intensity never drops either. The Roanoke Girls has all of the elements of a well-balanced, readable novel.

The Roanoke Girls is told both in flashbacks and in the present day, where we learn that Lane left the Roanoke household shortly after arriving, but Allegra, who stayed, is now the latest girl missing. Lane returns to Kansas to search for her cousin. The story is revealed in a third way; through short chapters dedicated to each Roanoke girl, giving us a closer look at these mysterious women, such as Allegra’s mother or a female baby that died. I like how Engel used these chapters to slightly lift the veil of mystery and tease out the ultimate secret of the Roanoke household.

DISLIKE– I’m trying to write this, without giving spoilers, so it may be vague…but I’m not sure why all of the Roanoke girls fell under the same spell. Although I found the story fascinating, I’m not sure that I found it believable. Maybe adding another perspective would have given this clarity? I’m not sure.

RECOMMEND– Yes, if you can handle stories that are shocking and uncomfortable. You will squirm. The Roanoke Girls is not going to be for everyone, but if it sounds up your alley, I can recommend it as an engaging read and Engel as a talented storyteller. The Roanoke Girls will certainly stick in my memory for a long time.

 

The Trophy Child

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Thank You to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an advanced copy of Paula Daly’s novel, The Trophy Child, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Ten-year-old Bronte Bloom, is overworked and stressed-out. Her mother, Karen, keeps Bronte on a tight schedule, shuttling her between various lessons and tutors, accepting nothing less than excellence. She insists that her daughter is gifted and exceptional, but even if that isn’t quite true, Karen believes that it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by pushing her daughter to work harder, or by hiring more qualified teachers.

Bronte isn’t an only child. She has an older teenage brother named Ewan, who is a slacker, and rather than finding a job or attending college, he spends his days playing video games and smoking pot. He is Karen’s son from a previous relationship, although the name of his father is a mystery. Bronte’s older half-sister, Verity, has moved into their home. Verity’s mother has multiple sclerosis  and was moved to a nearby live-in care facility. Verity and Karen do not get along. Verity is fiercely protective of Bronte, whom she feels is being pushed too hard. The family patriarch, Noel Bloom, stays on the periphery of the madness going on in his own home. He is unhappy in his marriage, yet afraid to take on the force that is Karen.

When Bronte goes missing for a day, the Bloom family is in a panic. Bronte has been so sheltered, that they fear she cannot survive on her own. When she returns the following day, happy, unharmed, and unwilling to talk about her disappearance, the Bloom’s are left feeling perplexed. Karen faces a public backlash for her parenting style and is even accused of giving Bronte a reason to run away. The backlash is so intense, that Karen gets harassing phone calls and written death threats. Karen vanishes a month later, her car found abandoned with splattered blood. Could Bronte and Karen’s disappearances be linked? Was Karen attacked for being too much of a “Tiger Mom?”

LIKEThe Trophy Child has two separate elements going on: It’s a family drama, but it is also a murder mystery. I preferred the family drama to the suspense/mystery elements of the story. As a drama, we have a blended family struggling to make it work, and that dynamic is compelling.

At the start of the story, we don’t know if Verity is an unreliable character. When we meet her, she is in trouble for choking her step-mother in a blind rage, and her private school is threatening to expel her, if she doesn’t attend therapy sessions. However, we quickly learn that Verity is incredibly protective of Bronte and through Karen’s rigorous demands of her younger daughter, she was physically hurting her. Yes, Verity was enraged, but Karen was also acting in an extreme manner. Verity is actually incredibly mature for her age and compassionate of others. Not only does she try to help her younger sister, but she is kind to her half-brother, Ewan and his mentally handicap friend, who is a frequent visitor to the house. Verity visits her mother, sneaking her in marijuana, which calms her mother’s tremors. She is even patient with Karen’s bullying parents, who accuse her of potentially harming Bronte and Karen, when each goes missing. Verity takes this all in stride, even though her life has been nothing but upheaval with factors out of her control. This makes her even more sympathetic than Bronte, and it’s hard to beat the sympathy factor of a abused child!

I love the setting of the Lake District in England. Having visited there ( it’s magical), I could easily picture the village and the houses. I could see Lake Windermere, which is the setting ofa pivotal scene in The Trophy Child. I have such good memories of my visit there, that I was delighted to revisit it in this story world, even if murder and shady characters were involved!

I’m intrigued by the helicopter parenting/tiger mom thing. I have step-children, but they do not live with us, so I don’t really have parenting experience, and my mom, although she pushed me, definitely didn’t fall under this category. I liked how Daly played with the backlash that Karen receives. Clearly, Karen thought that she was doing the best thing for Bronte, but she could not see or admit to the negative ways it was affecting her daughter. Certainly, Karen was extreme and doing Bronte harm, but Daly adds another layer of the community members being judgmental regarding her parenting, and the idea that you never quite know what is going on in someone else life.

DISLIKE– I’m on the fence about the murder mystery and the character of detective Joanna Aspinall. I didn’t find the budding romance between Joanna and Noel to be compelling or necessary. I kept expecting that this would have a large repercussion on Joanna investigating the disappearance of Karen, but other than a slight internal conflict, i.e.- she knew she should mention it to her boss, nothing came of it.

The very end of the story, in which the crime is finally resolved, felt like a very big coincidence. Too many pieces of the puzzle slid together neatly. Although the twist played out as far as me not realize the story would head to that conclusion, I didn’t feel that the twist was satisfying.

I think part of the problem with the crime aspect of the story, is it lost momentum when Bronte returned home and the mystery of her disappearance was quickly eclipsed by the disappearance of Karen. We do learn what happened to Bronte, but it doesn’t come until the end of the story, and it doesn’t have much of a link to Karen’s disappearance, other than it put Karen into the spotlight.

RECOMMEND– No. The Trophy Child was a quick read. Daly has a knack for writing family dynamics and conflict. I would be inclined to seek out other books that she has written, but The Trophy Child was an uneven read.