The Girl in the Red Coat
Kate Hamer (Adult Fiction)
“We took the train that day. I wanted it to be special for Carmel and taking a train rather than the usual bus was a treat.” That is how the day started for newly single mom Beth and her daughter, Carmel. A day that Beth would look back on as Day 1. A day brimming with excitement and anticipation, but ending with every parent’s worst nightmare. On Day 1, Carmel disappeared during an outdoor festival. You wouldn’t think that an eight-year-old girl wearing a red coat could be so easily overlooked. Could so easily vanish. But a heavy mist had settled on the grounds, visibility was deteriorating, and just like that, Day 1 had started. While Beth begins an exhaustive search for her missing daughter, Carmel starts her own harrowing journey into a religious sect with a man she must trust to survive. As days turn into weeks and then months, will Beth ever see her little girl in the red coat again?
I have yet to read a modern British author’s work that I didn’t enjoy and Kate Hamer’s The Girl in the Red Coat is surely no exception. Hamer—born in Plymouth and raised in Pembrokeshire (she’s says she feels Welsh)—gives readers a thrilling story that alternates between the points of view of Beth and Carmel. As a parent myself, I’m not sure which of the two stories was more disturbing to read: a mother helpless and tormented by guilt over losing her child or a child being emotionally manipulated and fearful of losing her identity. Both stories keep the reader breathlessly captivated and drawn into a nightmare scenario that no one should have to bear. Hamer delves into the subtleties of loss, grief, and shame as Beth seeks personal absolution for Carmel’s disappearance. We feel her guilt when she completes an errand or leaves the house and only realizes later that she didn’t think of or search for Carmel during that time. Her stages of grief are excruciating and Hamer boldly lays it out so that we may process and endure it with Beth. In turn, she allows us equal time to share in Carmel’s isolation, confusion, and fear as she is ripped from everything she knows and loves and is forced to accept a new way life with a stranger whom she feels obligated to trust. Both Beth and Carmel feel an overwhelming amount of guilt and regret over their actions, yet they desperately cling to the smallest modicum of hope that they will once again be reunited.
The color red is used liberally throughout this book and represents different things. This story has a strong religious component so for Christians, red symbolizes atonement and sacrifice. Red is also an intense color representing extreme emotions such as hate, jealousy, and anger which we see through certain members of Carmel’s “surrogate” family. It’s the color of danger and Carmel’s beautifully unique coat unfortunately turns into a beacon for an unscrupulous stranger. For Carmel, it serves as an interesting color choice. She is fiercely drawn to this color whose main purpose is to make the wearer stand out, yet Carmel is desperate to break loose from her overprotective mother and often seeks out dark, far-off spaces to hide. For someone wanting to disappear, red wouldn’t be an obvious fashion option. But it would be this same color that would serve as Carmel’s anchor to holding on to her identity. Red would remind her that she is Carmel Wakeford and that red, above all else, is the color of strength, heart, and love.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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Sophie Hannah (Adult Fiction)
Imagine you leave your newborn at home with your spouse for just a few hours. When you return, the front door is slightly ajar, your spouse has just awakened from a nap, and in your nursery lies a beautiful and perfect baby…only this baby is not yours. Your baby is gone and life suddenly stops. It’s every mother’s worst nightmare only this nightmare is now Alice Fancourt’s reality. Her infant, Florence, has been mysteriously replaced with another baby and no one believes her—not the police, not her mother-in-law, and not even her husband, David. Everyone attributes her hysteria to some kind of postpartum shock or psychosis, but when Alice and Florence disappear without a trace only a week later, suddenly this strange case takes an even stranger and unexpected turn.
Little Face is a provocative thriller that explores and examines the complex lives of two very different mothers: one willing to do anything to keep her family together and the other doing the unimaginable to keep her family safe. It’s a story filled with action and suspense that delves into some rather weighty topics such as depression, sociopathic tendencies, emotional and psychological manipulation, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. The action is kept at a heightened pace with chapters alternating between the day of Florence’s disappearance to the next week when both Alice and Florence vanish. Narration switches from first-person (Alice) to third-person so we’re able to both clearly understand what Alice is thinking while also being able to view the effects of her decisions and actions through an impartial lens. While Hannah effectively delivers an intense and absorbing psychological thriller, the only issue I had was with the characterization of her husband David. Hannah chose to make this individual unseemly sadistic and his treatment of his wife, regardless of her credibility or sanity, is nothing less than barbarous and inhumane. We are given a glimpse into his background and gather that his mother is overly controlling and protective of him, but that doesn’t justify his sudden spiral into depravity and the unexplained erosion of his both his humanity and morality. The reader is literally blindsided with this side of him and this character trait appears to have been included for the sheer and sole sake of shock value.
American civil rights activist Rosa Parks once said, “There is just so much hurt, disappointment, and oppression one can take… The line between reason and madness grows thinner.” Little Face demonstrates just how thin this line truly is by showing us what extraordinary measures a person is able and willing to take in order to protect whatever or whoever is most precious to them.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
It’s Tween & Teen Tuesday when we review either a Juvenile (J) or Young Adult (YA) book.
Along Came a Dog
Meindert DeJong (Juvenile Fiction)
The little red hen was having a splendid day in the barnyard. Spring had finally arrived and the weather was warm, the sun was bright, and she had just laid her first egg of the season. Proudly, she sat atop the man’s shoulder as he cleaned the coop floor and spread out fresh hay. Life on the farm was splendid indeed…until the big black dog appeared. Suddenly, this fur-covered menace had disrupted her otherwise splendid day and that wouldn’t stand one bit. After all, it was a pack of dogs that had killed all of the red hens in her flock and she alone had survived. No, the big black dog had to go and it was up to the man to do it. But no matter how determined the man was to get rid of the dog, the dog was more determined to stay for he had decided that this farm was his and no distance was going to separate him from his newly found home.
This is the second book I’ve read by Meindert DeJong (the first being The Wheel on the School) and he again delights with a beautifully told story that reads almost like a fairytale. The actions and emotions exhibited by the animals are true to their nature so don’t expect camaraderie within the flock or gentle misunderstandings between the hen and the dog. DeJong gives us an accurate portrayal of farm life in all its splendor and savagery and readers will soon understand that life is hard and often unfair in the barnyard. Thankfully, DeJong is mindful of the age of his intended reader so he makes sure that bad is always followed by good and those possessing purity of heart and deed are eventually rewarded. Also, the story does seem to lag just a bit near the middle, so readers are encouraged to dutifully plow ahead as the ending will merit their effort and patience.
Along Came a Dog is a story of duty, purpose, loyalty, and an overwhelmingly desire to belong, and it serves as a wonderful example of the benefits of perseverance and the virtues of honor. It was both heartbreaking and heartwarming to see dog so steadfast in his mission to return to a place where he obviously wasn’t welcome. But, his rationale was quite simple: “He was back. Twice he’d been taken away, and twice now he’d come back. And if the man were to take him away thirty times, he’d come back thirty times. He wasn’t dim-witted—he knew he wasn’t wanted here. But every time he was taken away, he’d try to come back. It wasn’t a plan in the big dog’s mind. It was a need, a desperation to have a home. He was going to have a home! It was that simple.” On that fateful spring day, a friendship was formed and a home was discovered when a hen with broken feet and a dog with an unbroken spirit found each other. When you think about it, it turned out to be a rather splendid day after all.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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In honor of Halloween, we’ll be reviewing ghoulishly scary and spooky books throughout the month of October.
The Woman in Black
Susan Hill (Adult Fiction)
It’s Christmas Eve at Monk’s Piece. Lawyer Arthur Kipps, his wife and children are gathered around the fire telling ghost stories, as is ancient tradition. They all take turns until it comes to Arthur. “Now come, stepfather, your turn. You must know at least one ghost story, stepfather, everyone knows one…” Arthur does know a ghost story. One haunted by a child’s anguished screams, an approaching pony and trap, a moving rocking chair with no occupant, and a mysterious woman in black. A ghost story made even more horrifying and terrible because this story is true…absolutely true.
I wasn’t familiar with Susan Hill before this book, but about twenty pages in, I was so impressed with the eloquent and nuanced writing style, and so immersed in the story, that I wondered if she was English. Sure enough, she is. There is no mistaking a truly adept English or British author. The turns of phrase, the sentence structure, and the painstaking attention to detail without being overly verbose all add up to an exceptionally well-crafted book.
Hill gives us a satisfying horror story which achieves its goal of raising the hairs on your neck and increasing the beats of your heart. By introducing noises in the dark, mysterious brushes against your body, and an invisible presence that always seems to be just right behind you, she goes to the very core of our fears and keeps them tucked into the deepest, darkest corners of our soul—very far away from the light. Hill gives us a gripping and suspenseful story that builds at a steady and progressive pace until the final climax. With one last blow thrown in at the end, it might be best to read this with a torch (flashlight) nearby…just in case.
* Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com
I Let You Go
Clare Mackintosh (Adult Suspense)
Jenna Gray hopes to escape the memories of a tragic hit-and-run accident by moving to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast. Meanwhile, two detectives are assigned to the case in hopes of finding justice. The unexpected occurs when both their worlds collide.
This book truly surprised me (in a good way) inasmuch as I had already determined what direction the story was taking and how it was going to end. The plot took such an unexpected turn, that I was left asking myself, “Wait. What just happened?” Very seldom does that happen so when it does, I relish it! And if that wasn’t enough, Mackintosh throws in a few extra twists at the end…just for good measure.
I rated this book four stars rather than five only because it did languish a bit at the beginning, but the extra care and attention to fully developing the story and characters do pay off in the end.