REVIEW: THE TROPHY CHILD, BY PAULA DALY

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Karen Bloom is not the coddling mother type. She believes in raising her children for success. Some in the neighborhood call her assertive, others say she’s driven, but in gossiping circles she’s known as: the tiger mother. Karen believes that tough discipline is the true art of parenting and that achievement leads to ultimate happiness. She expects her husband and her children to perform at 200 percent—no matter the cost. But in an unending quest for excellence, her seemingly flawless family start to rebel against her.

Her husband Noel is a handsome doctor with a proclivity for alcohol and women. Their prodigy daughter, Bronte, is excelling at school, music lessons, dance classes, and yet she longs to run away. Verity, Noel’s teenage daughter from his first marriage, is starting to display aggressive behavior. And Karen’s son from a previous relationship falls deeper into drug use. When tragedy strikes the Blooms, Karen’s carefully constructed facade begins to fall apart—and once the deadly cracks appear, they are impossible to stop.

My Thoughts: In The Trophy Child, the Bloom family enjoyed a privileged life, with private schools, social connections, and a lovely home in the Lake District. Despite the world of privilege, Karen seemed driven. She was a character almost impossible to like. She wasn’t just questing for excellence for her children and her family. She lashed out on a regular basis, arousing fear, loathing, and anger in those she targeted. Sooner or later, someone would surely strike back.One could almost describe Karen as delusional, as she so firmly believed that her daughter Bronte was gifted, despite evidence to the contrary, and insisted on scheduling every imaginable activity, to her detriment. The child reacted with fatigue and displayed symptoms of stress.

Who would crack first under Karen’s tyrannical regime? What might bring about the toppling of the little kingdom of superiority she has envisioned? How will the family members express their resentments of the roles they are expected to play? Verity, the teenage stepdaughter, is literally overlooked to the point that she has to prepare her own meals and eats separately, while Karen is gallivanting around with Bronte to her activities. Karen’s son, a young adult, lives over the garage and does drugs and lays about with an equally troubled friend.

I was totally engaged in the author’s depiction of the characters, each of them realistic and three-dimensional, with all the emotions one would expect in a family as dysfunctional as this one. I especially enjoyed the character of DS Joanne Aspinall, on hand to help the family with their tragedies. She is diligent, down-to-earth…and she will get the perpetrator, even if she must put her own life in jeopardy. Discovering motives, connections, and the gradual unfolding of secrets led to a very satisfactory culmination. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.

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REVIEW: MOTHER, MOTHER, BY KOREN ZAILCKAS

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From the outside, the Hursts look like the picture-perfect family: a beautiful home; the tech guru father Douglas; two beautiful daughters, Rose and Violet; and a brilliantly intelligent son Will. Josephine, the mother, can certainly credit herself with this perfect facade. But after the oldest daughter Rose takes off with her mysterious boyfriend, the ties that bind them all begin to unravel. And on one tumultuous night, violence erupts. Will’s hand is badly injured and Violet is hauled off to the psychiatric unit. Fingers are pointed, and she is targeted as the perpetrator.

In alternating chapters, we see the world through the eyes of Violet and Will. Each of them has a very different view of the family, and most especially the mother. But this is a family dynamic that soon begins to reveal itself as a very pathological one. Will’s view of his mother is strongly biased by his “favored child” position.

Josephine has a way of making herself the center of the universe, and chooses on whom to shine her benevolence, depending upon which child is pleasing her at that moment. Her narcissism is overwhelming, and as time passes, Will, who is “gifted” by her benevolence at this point in time, seems to hover between sanity and insanity.

Meanwhile, in the psych ward, Violet is learning more about how her mother’s manipulations have affected all of them. But will she be able to bring anyone around to seeing things her way? What will have to happen before the truth about their family is revealed? And as more and more of the deadly secrets unfold, who can save them? Can anyone be redeemed?

The story made me feel a bit unbalanced, just trying to stay on top of of Josephine’s machinations; I could not stop reading, wondering what she would do next. Dark, disturbing, and totally captivating, Mother, Mother: A Novel is a tale that makes me very happy not to be part of this family. Five stars.