Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells

41BJHcaW-KL.SX316Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells will be released for publication on 6/27/17.

Howells’s debut novel is set in present day Cornwall, in a small coastal town. Part of the Silence is an atmospheric suspense novel, with many of the major scenes in the story occurring in or around the woods. The story unfolds in alternating points of view from different main characters, as well as flashbacks from Casey,  a character who doesn’t show up in many of the present day scenes. The way Casey is introduced and weaved into the story begs the questions: “Where is Casey now?” and “What became of her?” The questions regarding Casey certainly enhances the mystery of the story.

Howell really set a high mark with rich character development in her first novel. Readers will feel like they know some of the main characters very well; Jack, Charlotte, Jen/Evie, and Casey.

Jen, now known as Evie, was brutally assaulted and left for dead in a cornfield. She has no memory of what happened, but eventually remembers her name as Evie and the name, Angel, her three-year-old daughter. However, there is no sign of Angel, as well as no evidence Evie ever had a child – no birth records, no children’s clothing or toys at the house, and no one but Evie who claims to have seen a child. Even Nick, her ex-boyfriend, thinks she has lost her mind because he doesn’t know a thing about a child. Jen/Evie was babysitting three-year-old Leah Danning 15 years prior when Leah was abducted. Is Jen imagining she had a daughter but thinking of Leah, from all those years ago? Even in her fragile state of mind, Jen/Evie knows without a doubt that she has a three-year-old daughter. But where is she? And why does it seem like she never existed?

Jack is a great detective, despite being preoccupied with grief from the loss of his fifteen-year-old son two years prior and, more recently, being left by his wife. Jack is the type of detective who doesn’t leave work at work; always on the job and observant of his surroundings.

Charlotte becomes involved with Jen/Evie when she realizes that Jen was her schoolmate long ago. She offers to help Detective Constable Abbie Rose keep an eye on Jen and serve as a friend, hoping it might spark Jen’s memory. Charlotte has a live-in, surfer boyfriend named Rick and their relationship is not too stable.

As mentioned, Casey’s character is revealed in flashbacks weaved into the story. She is the older sister of Leah Danning, who went missing fifteen years ago. Casey’s life has always been tough, beginning when she was sexually assaulted as a child. She surrounded herself with drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and bad relationships, and all the while she was jealous of people like Jen, with her easy childhood and movie-star looks.

Readers may wonder why Charlotte becomes so involved with Jen/Evie’s situation and offers to help, being a mere acquaintance from school so many years ago. Is she feeling guilty about something? Does she have something to do with three-year-old Leah’s disappearance fifteen years ago? And what about her surfer boyfriend, Rick, who comes and goes like the swell of the waves he surfs. Does he have something to hide?

Someone knows what happened to Leah and to Jen/Evie’s daughter, Angel, providing there really was a daughter who was abducted at the time of Jen/Evie’s attack. Is it Casey? Xander? Nick? Miller? Charlotte? Jack? The story allows for many possible suspects to keep readers guessing until the end.

The plot doesn’t move along as quickly as most psychological suspense novels. It wasn’t a “read in one sitting” novel for me, but it did keep my interest until the end. I was blind-sighted by the twist and turn of events in the final chapters. Fans of psychological suspense and unreliable narrators will love this story.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the early review copy.

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In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

First of all; one of the reasons I wanted to read this book was the clever title. We’ve all heard the old rhyme “In a dark, dark wood, there was a dark, dark house, and in that dark, dark house, etc.” The title alone sets up a creepy atmosphere. At the beginning of the book, we meet the main character, Leonora, a mostly reclusive crime fiction writer who normally only leaves her flat to go for a daily run. Out of the blue, Nora, receives an email from a girl she has never met named Flo inviting her to a hen do (bachelorette party for those not familiar with British terms) for Clare Cavendish. Nora hasn’t seen or heard from Clare for 10 years (since high school), and is hesitant to attend the hen. Nora and Clare’s mutual friend Nina makes a pact with Nora that they will both go together and leave early if they do not want to stay. There are clues that something major happened which caused Nora (who was actually known as Lee 10 years prior) and Clare to stop speaking and not speak to each other for the past 10 years. When Nora and Nina arrive at the hen to spend the weekend with Clare and three other complete strangers (Clare’s friends), strange things begin to happen. Mix in alcohol and secrets from Clare and Nora’s past, and the plot thickens and twists even more. This book is written so that the pace is quick, switching back and forth between present date with Nora in the hospital suffering from amnesia after a car accident, and the past weekend of the hen do. The setting of the hen adds to the suspenseful nature of the book. The party takes place in what is known as the Glass House. It’s a newly built, modernly furnished home which has glass walls all the way around so that it seems like its occupants are on display for those on the outside. But, the Glass House is in the middle of a heavily wooded, secluded area and there really shouldn’t be any people on the outside in, as it is bitter cold and snowing. So why are there footprints to the garage? I would put this book in a category with other titles such as Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and Luckiest Girl Alive. Readers are in for a few surprises as Nora starts to remember the details of the final day at the Glass House which caused her to be in the hospital under watch by the police. Also, the ending stopped abruptly, and not the way I thought it would. I would recommend this book for any fans of suspense and thrillers; it’s a great read.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

wewereliarsI’ve heard a lot about this popular YA book and I’ve been meaning to read it for some time. This past week, one of my students checked it out from the public library and put it on my desk with a demand to “read it!” So, I did. And, I am pleased. It was a beautifully written story spanning 3 (what should have been) idyllic summers with the Sinclair family, as they spent time on their own private island, wanting of nothing. However, money doesn’t buy happiness, as they say. The book is surrounded by mystery as the reader follows the main character, Cadence or Cady, as she tries to remember what happened during the summer she was 15 that caused her to have such terrible migraine headaches. She remembers small details, but can’t quite put together the whole story, and no one will answer her questions or tell her what happened, because they don’t want to upset her. By the end the book, I was glad to finally figure out what happened, but it was definitely not what I expected. It’s a quick read, and I would recommend it to my HS kids. I’ve ordered a copy for our school library.