Emma is an at-home book editor, riddled with anxiety, cowed by her domineering mother, Jude and her unusual upbringing. She wishes she knew who her father was, and struggles to forgive her mother for kicking her out of the house as a young teenager. Jude never got over the subsequent loss of her charismatic boyfriend, Will, and still blames her daughter for much of their rocky past. Angela is a woman who had a child stolen from her hospital room when she went for a quick shower, many decades ago. Though she bore two other children, she never stopped hoping to find news of Alice. All of these women carry ghosts and long-buried secrets with them. Kate is a newspaper reporter who stumbled on a news clipping about a tiny baby’s skeleton found under a large flower pot in the foundation of an old apartment building that is being torn down. Her insatiable curiosity will lead to many answers to questions she never thought to even ask, as the events of an apartment building and the lives of its tenants unravel in this psychological thriller about lies uncovered by a curious, empathetic reporter.
- How did Angela’s grief and unwillingness to let go of her lost daughter, Alice, affect her family? Did support groups help her?
- How did her husband Nick feel about Angela’s grief and anger, and the loss of their first daughter?
- Why didn’t Emma want to see a specialist or talk about her search for her father and feelings about Jude and Will? Why did she think that would begin the unraveling?
- What part did Al Soames play in the lives of Emma and Barbara?
- How did Will use his charm to get what he wanted from Jude and others? Was Jude really deceived, or did she choose to believe what she wished?
- Why did Jude kick Emma out of the house as a young teen? What was the real reason for her erratic behavior? Was Emma or Will more important to Jude? Why?
- Kate had “learned to silence people with body language.” What were some of the moves and tactics she used to obtain information from people? Did she ever cross the line with them or push them too far?
- Why did Emma choose to confide so much in Kate, and Barbara did too, but Harry Harrison was cold to her at the house call Kate and Joe made?
- Why did Barbara warn Kate that “people are not what they seem. You see them on the street or at a party and they look like normal people, but they’re not.” To whom was she referring?
- How did Emma’s job of writing lies or half-truths in celebrity memoirs to match their public persona compare to the lies she felt she had to tell about her past? How was she different from Kate and what she tried to write in the paper, including her empathy for many victims and trying to capture the truth of the situation?
Ginger Nut Biscuits or Ginger Snap Cookies as they are called in America, are mentioned specifically as the treat Emma offers Lynda, the nosy, fellow-professor’s wife who checks on her periodically. However, each visit Kate makes to Barbara’s home, she is met with “biscuits” of some sort, and tea and biscuits are often mentioned as an offering throughout the book.
Ginger Molasses Cookies or “Ginger Nut Biscuits”
- 1 cup salted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/4 cup for rolling
- 1 tbsp molasses
- 2 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp baking powder
- Combine the butter with the granulated and brown sugars in a mixing bowl on medium-low speed for about one minute. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and baking powder. To the mixing bowl, add the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, and the molasses. Then add the flour mixture until just combined. Refrigerate the cookie dough for at least 20-30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop the cookie dough into small circles using a melon baller or small ice cream scoop onto a plate with the extra ¼ cup of granulated sugar for rolling. Roll the balls of dough in the sugar, then place on the parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn brown. Allow to cool at least ten minutes before eating.
Another book by Fiona Barton is the New York Times bestseller The Widow about a woman whose husband committed a crime long ago, and has kept his secrets until his recent passing. Praised by Stephen King as “engrossing” and “suspenseful.”
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is about an alcoholic with a troubled past who witnesses a crime and seeks to investigate it and discover the truth about a woman’s disappearance.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a psychological crime novel about a wife who appears to be in a loving marriage, but suddenly disappears, leaving everyone to wonder if her husband killed her, and who she really was in private.
A Simple Favor by Darcy Bell is filled with very sinister, corrupt characters, beginning with two women best friends, who keep dark secrets and manipulate others to obtain what they desire.
Several Shakespeare references were made by different characters including to Ophelia from Hamlet, “out damned spot” and Banquo’s ghost from Macbeth. The Forsyte Saga is also mentioned in this book, as Al Soames’ last name is similar to the first names of the main characters from those novels. The Carpetbaggers was also a book Emma used to read secretly at school.
The Life She Was Given is also a dark psychological leer into a family’s malevolent secrets and brutal lies to cover up selfish desires.
© 2017 Amanda Leitch