31 May 2013

Book Review: The Lying Game by Tess Stimson

"There are some things we are never meant to know . . . Harriet Lockwood has never really bonded with her daughter, Florence, the way she has with her three sons. Then one day, she discovers why. The girl she’s raised for the last fifteen years is not her biological child. Zoey Sands is a single mother with a chaotic lifestyle. The one constant in her life is her daughter, Nell. Nothing can ever come between them – can it? When Harriet turns up on Zoey’s doorstep demanding to see her biological daughter, the two families are plunged into a storm of bitter rivalries… and unexpected alliances." 

Rating: 4/5

You can buy The Lying Game as a paperback or an eBook now.

I love novels that I can really get involved in, and have a story that is a little bit shocking as well. Tess Stimson is one of those authors who always delivers on those things for me, and I have really enjoyed all of the books I have read so far by her. Her publishers Pan have gone for a brand new cover look for her new book, The Lying Game, and while I don't really know how it exactly ties in to the story, I think it's a nice looking and striking book cover, it's certainly bright and colourful. The story itself sounded like every parent's worst nightmare, but I was intrigued to read more and find out which family's side I would come out supporting and why - I do love a good gritty novel!

Although Harriet loves being a mother, she's the first to admit that she hasn't really got a good bond with her eldest daughter Florence. Being her only daughter, Harriet wonders if it's something she's done that has stopped her bonding, or if it's her being too caring over her daughter's diabetes. Either way, she knows something is amiss. So when she finds out her baby was switched at birth for another woman's daughter, things start to fall into place for Harriet, and she realises why she has struggled to bond with Florence. Zoe Sands' daughter Nell, is the other baby who was switched at birth. The two are close, and are a small, tight family unit. But when Harriet suddenly appears on their doorstep one day, the lives of two families are thrown into utter disarray, and both women know that their lives will never be the same again. But has Harriet done the right thing by everyone in tracking down the daughter she never knew?

Thankfully, stories like this are not very common, especially in this day and age, but you do still read about the odd one, and yes, it is every parent's worst nightmare. You trust hospitals, you trust nurses and midwives and you know that the baby you take home from the hospital is yours. So Stimson has certainly chosen to write about a controversial issue here, and part of me was actually unsure I wanted to read it because I didn't know how it would make me feel as I read it. The two families, set in two very different parts of the world, couldn't be more different, and I think this not only highlights their lifestyle differences, but really emphasises the differences between Nell and Florence as well, and again makes for very interesting reading once you're involved in the book.

I have to confess that I didn't really warm to Harriet from the beginning. I found the way she was awkward with her daughter to be a bit awkward to read, and her blatant showing of it to Florence was to me awful. That said, you can understand why Harriet struggles, the lack of a bond between them is plain to read. One the other hand, you have Nell and Zoe, a very close mother and daughter who can share anything as it's always been just the two of them against the world. Stimson makes the families so incredibly different, and how they handle the news of their birth swaps is too very different. Harriet's happily married to husband Rob, Zoe is engaged to Richard but isn't sure he is 'the one' she's meant to be with. Either way, both women know the discovery and subsequent activities will impact on their relationships, but neither can forsee what happens. At times, I found Harriet's actions to be terrible, I found her selfish and entirely unrepentant, then suddenly I would dislike Zoe and hate what she did next, despite what else she was going through. I loved how Stimson made me unsure of who I was supporting, and keeps the story twisting and turning all the way to the final pages.

Stimson takes a while to set the stage of the story, and I enjoyed this because I felt like I really got to know the families and could feel something for them as their shocking news came to light. Harriet and her family live a very well-to-do life in Vermont in America, whereas Zoe and Nell live pretty much on the breadline in a flat in London. Their reactions to the news were hard to read, denial, acceptance, grief and excitement, I dread to think how it must feel to get that news. This must have been an interesting story to research for Stimson, and this comes across in her writing and how she deals with the issues and the characters after. In fact, the finding out about the baby swap is just the tip of the iceberg of this story, with lots more revelations appearing as you read on, but I don't want to spoil them because you simply have to read it to find out the shocking things that happen!

This is a fantastic book by Tess Stimson that you can really get taken into as you're reading, and it certainly made me glad that I will never be in that position with Harry, he's a carbon copy of his dad so no doubts for me! But the book highlights how easily these things can happen, and how catastrophic the consequences can be for those involved when things are revealed many years later. I found myself swinging between supporting Harriet, then Zoe, and it kept changing right up until the end when I just couldn't choose whose side I was on. You can see both women's side and whilst neither of them make particularly good decision, they do what they do for mainly the right reasons, and you can feel their pain and anguish in what they have been told. It's an emotional read, but one that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

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