Thursday, March 08, 2018


Title: Close to Home (DI Adam Fawley #1)
Author: Cara Hunter
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 320
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

An 8-year-old girl, Daisy Mason, disappears from her home while her parents, Barry and Sharon, are hosting a barbecue party. DI Adam Fawley believes that it is someone close, a family member or someone in the community who is responsible.

Adam and his team, Gareth Quinn, Chris Gislingham, Verity Everett and Andrew Baxter, among others, question the neighbours and guests. The fate of Daisy takes a dangerous turn when her leggings are found all bloodied in a bin. That’s when the police discover something even stranger. The kid that everyone thought of as Daisy at the party wasn’t Daisy at all. So where is Daisy?

There are other questions that bother Fawley. Why is Barry so defensive under questioning? Why does Sharon appear so cold and calculating? And surely there is something wrong with Daisy’s older brother, 10-year-old Leo, who appears secretive and strange?

As the police struggle for answers, public opinion heats up, and the pressure to solve the case mounts up. But will the police find Daisy or will it be too late?

Along the way, we are taken on flashbacks of the day of the disappearance, dating back to the day before the disappearance, and then 2 weeks, 42 days, 55 days, 68 days, 69 days, 71 days, 79 days, 94 days, and even 106 days before her disappearance. The earliest flashback goes back all the way to the year 1991 when Sharon is a child of 14, who has just lost her little sister.

With each flashback, secrets and lies come tumbling out and more elements fall into place. But we are unable to piece them together and we wait for the police, who do not have the benefit of these flashbacks, to do that for us.

As the flashbacks go further and further back in time, I wondered why they didn’t start at the earliest period and then go forward in time, so we could see how things turned out. At first, I could not understand the reason for why these flashbacks weren’t converging on the day of the disappearance, but by the end of the book, I understood why it was so.

The story is written in the first person present tense point of view of Adam, as also the 3rd person present tense viewpoints of Everett, Quinn, Gislingham and the other characters, including the members of the Mason family and the teachers. The format is rendered even more interesting by the addition of tweets, FaceBook posts, transcripts of key witnesses being questioned, emails and news reports. These elements add layers of authenticity to the narrative.

Pop culture references to fairy tales such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, films like Brave, and the names of football clubs (The quip on Aston Villa was funny) and TV police procedurals also helped root the story in reality.

While these elements were interesting, the Twitter conversations quickly became tedious and excessive, especially when they stretch over pages. Thankfully, they disappeared during the investigation, then began to show up once again, as the case appeared to be wrapped up by the police.

I found this book disturbing on account of a number of factors, including the dysfunctional family unit, the danger posed by a paedophile gang that abuses young children, and the sheer horror of a young child vanishing so completely from the comfort of her home.

The omniscient narrator takes us into the lives of the protagonists. The characters are all well-fleshed out. Especially the parents, Sharon and Barry Mason. Their behaviour is odd; it seems as if they are guilty and hiding something. As we come to terms with their behaviour, we see the influence on the kids, and understand the influence of the family unit on the individual.

Leo was the one Mason that my heart went out to. He is so secretive, and withdrawn. Knowing that he was bullied at school, and unloved at home, was bad enough. When I learned that Leo suffered from Fetal Alcoholism Syndrome, I wanted to reach into the pages of the book, and give him a warm, reassuring hug. It was yet another reminder that so much of our physical and mental makeup is inherited, and how we live our lives with the odds stacked against us, thanks to decisions made by others.

Daisy herself, though only an innocent child, sometimes comes across as mean and manipulative in the flashbacks. Despite her flaws, I liked Daisy for her concern for Leo, for the fact that she tells her father that he made it to the school football team, when Barry pays no attention to his son at all. Even though, for the most part, she doesn’t seem likeable, we, as readers, don’t lose sight of the fact that she is still a child who needs to be rescued and brought home quickly.

Adam has his own family history, which is not fully explored, but which we see in bits and pieces. He and his wife, Alex, lost their young son, Jake, to suicide. His loss causes him to take the case more personally, and I appreciated the fact that he understood Leo’s desire to self-harm: Doing this hurts less than all the rest of the hurt, doesn’t it? It makes it feel a bit better. Even if only for a little while.

The police team was able and efficient. Led by DI Adam Fawley, and ably supported by Gareth Quinn, Chris Gislingham and Verity Everett, I liked the dedication with which they worked first to find Daisy safely, and then to seek justice for her. I’d like to see this team in action in another book.

Neither the police nor I had the slightest clue about what could have happened to Daisy and where she might be. Even so, I was impressed with the turn of the investigation, and the manner in which the police built their case.

As the investigation proceeds, we find the accusing finger pointing at different people in turn. And because of Fawley’s contention that it’s the closest people that are to blame, we can’t help but look askance at Barry, Sharon and even Leo.

The book was tightly plotted and I was impressed with the resolution of the case, and with the fact that random details about the father’s profession and mother’s behaviour were carefully tracked. It was only when the twist showed up in the Epilogue that I felt cheated.

No matter how twisted the twist, there must be an explanation for why a character did what they did, and how. None of those answers were forthcoming.

It was misleading that the Prologue and the Epilogue took us in different directions; that the Prologue did not, in fact, reveal its promise at all through the course of the book.

Had the twist been better explained, I would have given this book 5 stars. As it is, I’m going with 4.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Tuesday, March 06, 2018


Title: The Joy of Mindful Writing: Notes to inspire creative awareness
Author: Joy Kenward
Publisher: Leaping Hare Press
Pages: 144
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

No book on writing can teach us how to write. It can, however, coach us to write better, steer us to think more effectively. And that is why they serve a purpose.

Writing my first book has been a long-held dream, one that I find myself deferring at the close of each year. I picked up this book in the hope that a mindfulness infused approach would help me put pen to paper and finally finish that manuscript.

I was certainly in a position to benefit. Hard-pressed as  I am for time, I find myself routinely giving way to doubts about whether my writing is of value and whether  the world  cares.

When I first started reading, I wondered what mindfulness had to do with writing, but I was convinced soon enough.

The author builds a most effective case for mindfulness, arguing how the heightened level of awareness and attention to detail that listening to all our senses brings to our lives can only enhance our writing.

The mindfulness exercise where you notice your breathing and accept the thoughts that pass through your mind calmly and without judgement helped centre me on the task at hand.

The list-making technique and senses meditation, the walking meditation, the meditation where you write down your daydreams, and respect your tools etc are all designed to induce a sense of calm, where you are able to set aside all distractions, and focus on the task at hand – filling the blank paper with your thoughts and emotions.

The Joy of Mindful Writing benefits from the sense of calmness that the author creates. She seeks to inspire us to give life to our creative voice, to use the right words to create mood and atmosphere.

The author advocates that we buy books to help our writing. Dictionaries, books on English usage, grammar, punctuation, quotable quotes, rhyming, and the meaning of names, and a thesaurus. Except for the rhyming book and the book about the meanings of names, all the others have a place of pride in my collection.

She takes us through the elements of writing, from constructing the narrative, building the structure, to doing the right research. She tells us to imagine an ideal reader who will attentively ‘listen’ to our work. She adds that the intention for the book will emerge.

She brings out the difference between journaling where you express your own inner thoughts and feelings… as closely as possible and fiction where we must try to write opinions that are not your own, and to make them convincing.

Write about what you love, she says. It makes research more appealing.

Mindfulness, according to the author, allows greater access to our knowledge, experiences and emotions, enabling us to be original and creative.

The book raised within me the hope that it was not impossible for me to gain creative awareness.

The author, who suffered from dyslexia as a child, credits her parents and Mr Lewis, her class teacher when she was 10 years old, for gently and patiently enabling her to enjoy reading and writing.

At the end of it all I found it hard to believe that the author ever suffered from dyslexia. So fluid is her writing.

Reading this book helped me nudge myself out of my laziness and start writing again. I've written more in the last month than in the six months preceding that. Mindfulness has definitely helped me.

(I read this book through NetGalley.)


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