What She Never Told Me – Kate McQuaile

Rating: 5 stars

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Louise Redmond is back in Ireland, where she was born and grew up until her mother, Marjorie Redmond, persuaded her to go to England to study music. She’s no brothers or sisters and she’s never known her father: all her mother’s told her about him is that he was an Englishman named David Prescott, who left Ireland before Louise was born. Her much-loved stepfather, Dermot, has already died, and now the death of her mother after a very short illness leaves poor Louise with many unanswered questions, trying to sort out who she really is and what to do with her life.

And she’s doubly bereft: Sandy, her husband of ten years, has left her. As Louise tries to make sense of everything, she’s haunted by shadows of memories from when she was a tiny child, memories she finds unsettling and threatening. She seeks help from her mother’s older brother, whom she barely knows, and accidentally stumbles upon what may well be the key to her life. But there are lots of twists and turns on the way, before she eventually discovers the truth about her parents and her family, and is able at last to achieve a greater peace with herself and come out of her mother’s shadow and into the light.

I read this over the course of two long train journeys, and was completely gripped. Kate McQuaile has created a rich variety of characters, who weave their through the complexities of the plot. I loved the descriptions of Louise’s journeys through different parts of Ireland, from the rich suburbs of Dublin to rural Kerry to find the family she never knew she had. She has the love and support of her oldest friend, Ursula, and her stepsister, Angela, both of whom are unfailingly kind and generous, but it’s a difficult journey which Louise is on and many truths and lies have to be uncovered along the way, both from other people to her and also from her to other people.

Should people ever tell lies or hide the truth in order to be kinder? These are tricky matters and many of the characters have got it wrong at times; sometimes their motives have been far less than kind, too, and more to do with self preservation. In the end even Louise has some truths which she understands are best not told, not just to protect herself but to be kind to other people. But finally she has achieved a greater peace than she could have dared to dream of less than a year before.

A terrific first novel – I strongly recommend it.

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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The Good Neighbour – Beth Miller

good neighbourA huge vote of thanks to Beth Miller’s publishers, Ebury Press, for the timely arrival of this review copy. I’m struggling with slipped discs and spent 48 hours unable to do much except drink tea and read. And what better, more gripping read could I have had than Beth Miller’s second novel, The Good Neighbour.

It’s a compelling, well-written novel about a couple – Minette and Abe – who have a 9 month old baby – Tilly – and have been living with neighbours who constantly complain about the smallest noise emanating from them, making their lives unbearable. So their relief when new neighbours move in and are friendly is enormous. Her new neighbours are Cath and her two children, Davey (8) and Lola (4). They are a complicated family – Davey is in a wheelchair, suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, while little Lola has multiple allergies, Cath explains. Andy, her husband, is working away as a driver, and they miss him and talk frequently on Skype.

Minette gets rapidly drawn into Cath’s world, joining her in training for a fundraising triathlon, pleased to have a change from the routine of looking after the baby while her husband is at work. And Minette is also drawn into much closer relationships with other neighbours, including handsome Liam. The readers soon realise that all is not well with Cath’s family – she is extremely keen to extract information about everyone else but very good at withholding information about herself and her family. And a series of events leads Minette to get enmeshed in the web of deceit which Cath has drawn around them. I don’t really want to give away more detail about the plot because it’s such a great tale, full of twists and turns, which keeps us in suspense throughout. It’s a terrific read which had me gripped.

It was all too easy to believe in Minette’s boredom and annoyance at her endless walks to the toyshop or the park, trying to keep little Tilly quiet (and to retain her own sanity), wondering whether to go back to her job or to give it up to become a permanent stay-at-home mother. It’s a dilemma which so many people face, and for Minette the first months have been even more difficult because of her constant worry about her neighbours complaining.

Cath is a wonderful creation – we hear her thoughts and her worries, her feelings of anxiety, and soon we realise that something is not right, and that she is not exactly what her new neighbours think she is. She covers her tracks, even to herself, really well, but at times things happen, inevitably, which are beyond her control and her complicated chains of stories begin to snap.

Beth Miller has again come up with a book which left me wanting more. There are lots of unanswered questions left at the end – could there be a sequel? I really hope so, as I’d love to hear what happens next to so many of these entirely believable characters.

Rating: 5 stars

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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