The Stranger in my Home, Adele Parks

Standard

In all honesty, I’m really disappointed by this novel and wish I had picked up something better. It was just so… average. I thought it would be a lot more practical. It didn’t need the dark turn of an insane father; just exploring the journey that had led us to the shocking revelation that two children were swapped at birth, and the impact of this discovery, would have been enough.

I get that Parks wanted to keep her ‘twist’ secret for as long as possible, and there were some really subtle hints, but they were almost too subtle for too long. I was incredibly bored just under a quarter of the way through the novel and skipped to the end to see what was going to happen. Soon after, I started noticing the hints a little more, but without knowing what was coming, it’s doubtful that I would have picked up on them. It’s almost like Parks has tried to write a book that you need to read twice, but the book itself is so boring that I wouldn’t put myself through that just to see where things started to go wrong.

The premise sounded fascinating – what do you do when you discover your teenage daughter was swapped as a baby and you’ve been raising someone else’s child? The tagline of the novel, however,: ‘I thought she was my daughter. I was wrong’ is incredibly misleading. It sounds more like something from a horror film than the introduction to an average family, an average novel with average characters which basically achieve nothing and make no personal gains throughout the period the novel covers.

Parks tries to create an interesting history for Alison, but half way through, it’s like she’s forgotten that she intended to do that. We lose the chapters in italics and gather together information so piecemeal that none of it seems relevant. I didn’t care that Alison didn’t pass her GCSEs or O Levels, because it was just so boring to read about and at no point was relevant to the more important story that we were following.

The first person narration was incredibly dull, and whilst I believe Parks must think that she’s written a believable, realistic character, she just hasn’t. I understand the love of a mother for her child is indescribable and that a mother would do anything for her child. But Alison was just so boring. She had no appeal other than through Katherine, and having her narrate the book undermined that love, because it was confused and obsessive. I’m actually more concerned about Alison’s mental health than I ever was about Tom’s.

The book addresses issues such as adoption, cancer and parenthood in far too callous a manner. Tom uses cancer and the death of his wife for sympathy WHEN ANNABEL DIDN’T EVEN DIE. This is brushed over in a horrific manner, and Jeff and Alison are far too accepting of it all.

Whilst Parks attempts to create sympathy for Alison through the tale of her teenage self giving birth and putting up for adoption a son, the journey that she has doesn’t have ANY RELEVANCE TO THE DAMN STORY!! It just doesn’t matter. It was so frustrating because none of it mattered. There was no coherent plot structure, linking threads or purposeful narration.

Books like this are why I spent a long time avoiding popular literature because they just make me so mad. The writing was average, the book was about 400 pages longer than it needed to be, the characters were unbelievable, undynamic (is that a word?) and annoying, and mostly the content was padding rather than necessity. Perhaps Parks should just stick to writing short stories, that grip and let go, without worrying about making it a novel. I shall not be reading anything by this author any time soon, because I really have better things to be reading.

Thirty Six and a Half Motives, Denise Grover Swank

Standard

Ah, it’s been a long and fascinating journey travelling with Rose Gardner from the downtrodden 24 year old girl to the brave, mystery solving 25 year old woman who has a tendency to find, and solve, trouble. And Denise Grover Swank certainly didn’t disappoint with this novel – I was on tenterhooks most of the way through, and despite the many surprises in the previous 8 books, there were plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing!

Caution! Spoilers!

Rose is finally single! As much as I appreciate Grover Swank’s development of Rose as an independent young woman, she has always been too dependent on being loved and manipulated by the men in her life. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Mason. He is wonderful and kind and absolutely wrong for Rose. Joe was always a source of contention for me. And James (Skeeter) Malcolm, well, let’s just say that’d never work out. No, Rose and Neely-Kate are perfectly capable of striking out on their own, and I think this was an appropriate end to the series.

The Simmons family is all wrapped up. About time too, let’s be honest, since JR was the cause of Rose’s and Joe’s break up many, many books ago. Every mystery was solved – Rose’s father, the father of Hilary’s baby, Kate’s reason for seeking revenge… I question the pure evil that Grover Swank creates in the character of JR, who shows no remorse, or fear or restraint and who can only be defeated by being killed. I’m not sure I appreciate the one dimensional nature of his character – grasping constantly for money and control. However, Kate’s descent into madness is well represented, and the reasons for it were well hidden up until the end. Hilary’s changes seemed temperamental and entirely dependent on who she was talking to, but you were able to develop some sympathy for her. Only Joe really came out on top. He finally let Rose go, he was making an effort to be a better person to Hilary, and he saved Rose in the final showdown. That said, I wouldn’t want to be associated with any of them!

Overall I just feel a little deflated. I adored the original few Rose Gardner novels, but I think I’m done with her now. I have found with Grover Swank’s other novels that they are often very similar, following on mildly different story lines, and I loved Rose because she stood out. But now Rose is following the same pattern within her own novels, and the idea of a mystery series is very… Nancy Drew. One of the things I really loved was Rose’s visionary abilities, but these never really came up in this novel, except to save Jed’s life, and I don’t think they’re really going to shine in a mystery solving series. So, as much as I’ve enjoyed the novels, I am done for now, though I think that as a mystery series, if Grover Swank can focus on the crime solving, then Rose will do well with a teenage audience.

The one person in the novel who really deserves a shout out is Skeeter Malcolm! He is an in depth, likable antagonist, a man with many layers and loyalty. Aside from Rose, I really feel like he was the only character fully explored by Grover Swank to the greatest depth. His development from when we first met him to his final interaction with Rose was well crafted and thought through.

The series, and the author, have lost their shine for me a bit. It doesn’t help that as kindle publishing authors, she releases several ‘novellas’ which you should be able to cope without but which always hold important information before the next novel comes out. It’s all a bit too commercial for me.

Grover Swank’s writing style is clear and simple, and she builds suspense well. Her protagonists are always well developed and her stories always have an interesting and unexpected twist.

Thanks for 9 books of Rose Gardner. I’m glad that she’s finally able to stand on her own two feet.