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.

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

9781250121004_9c076.jpgI was excited to see Lara Avery had a new novel coming out, because I read A Million Miles Away and loved it. Now The Memory Book has become my favorite Lara Avery novel. I devoured it in just over one day. The chapters are short, mostly written as journal entries into Sammie’s memory book, making for quick, easy reading. Avery’s characters seem so real that readers will have no trouble loving them, despite their flaws.

This is the story of Sammie McCoy, a high school senior and valedictorian of her class, who is preparing for the national Debate finals and starting college at her dream school. She has worked tirelessly for the past 4 years, planning out everything so her future would be bright. Sammie’s family plays a big part in her life, and she enjoys time spent with her parents and three siblings.

However, Sammie is writing everything down hoping to never forget. She is hoping Future Sam will be able to read and remember all the things she likes, dislikes, and all the things she has experienced. True to her personality of being a go-getter, perfectionist, planner, and fighter, Sammie plans to keep living as best as she can, even after she is diagnosed with a rare genetic disease (Niemann-Pick Type C) which will cause her to lose her memories and eventually die. She doesn’t tell anyone about the disease at first, keeping it from her best friend and even her boyfriend. Sammie doesn’t want to be pitied, because she is determined to beat the odds and go ahead to college and chase her dreams.

Sammie is inspiring and brave. She is determined to spend her remaining time on earth really living, and being with the ones she loves. Even as her health declines, she still records all of the everyday moments in her memory book. She wants it to be real, showing both the ups and downs of her life.

One of the most memorable parts of the story was the scene where Sammie and Coop are together and Coop is reviving Captain Stickman, a character who made his appearance often when they were children. The way the scene is written with the back-and-forth shouting is hilarious, but also touching because it shows how Sammie can and has always been able to truly be herself with Coop, even if they have grown into young adults with pressure and responsibility. I was laughing out loud during this scene because it was a perfect way to capture Sammie and Coop’s easy-going relationship.

I also cried a lot while reading Sammie’s memory book, especially near the end when all of the people she loves are writing in the book. Fans of All the Bright Places and The Fault in our Stars will love this story, as it touches on some similar themes. However, I found it to be unique and an absolutely beautiful, touching story. I’ll be recommending The Memory Book wholeheartedly to all of my students when school starts up again in August.

Thanks to Little, Brown, and Company for the Advance Review Copy.