Newly single mom Beth has one constant, gnawing worry: that her dreamy eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, who has a tendency to wander off, will one day go
And then one day, it happens: On a Saturday morning thick with fog, Beth takes Carmel to a local outdoor festival, they get separated in the crowd, and Carmel is gone.
Shattered, Beth sets herself on the grim and lonely mission to find her daughter, keeping on relentlessly even as the authorities tell her that Carmel may be gone for good.
Carmel, meanwhile, is on a strange and harrowing journey of her own—to a totally
unexpected place that requires her to live by her wits, while trying desperately to
keep in her head, at all times, a vision of her mother …
Alternating between Beth’s story and Carmel’s, and written in gripping prose that
won’t let go, The Girl in the Red Coat—like Emma Donoghue’s Room and M. L.
Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans—is an utterly immersive story that’s
impossible to put down . . . and impossible to forget.
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Melville House (February 16, 2016)
The plot of a missing child and a mother desperately looking for them and fighting the guilt of having let them out of their sight for only a moment is not a new one, but The Girl in the Red Coat feels fresh, different, and special. There is a bit of a misty, mysterious fairy-tale feel to this story that starts with Carmel vanishing at a storytelling festival, but remains throughout the book with the authors beautiful and descriptive words. Told in past and present, through the views of Beth, the mother, and Carmel, who disappears at age eight, it immediately drew me in and made me care deeply about both of them. Carmel's voice is of a child, intelligent for her years but often distracted, with a vivid imagination that makes the reader wonder what is real and what is in her mind. I have no children myself, but my heart went out to Beth, who for all of her worries about Carmel going missing and her vigilance so that it won't happen, loses sight of her in a foggy field of tents. A single mother, still reeling from her husband leaving her for a younger woman, Beth is crushed by her guilt and it is the thought of finding Carmel that causes her to push on for months and then years. I don't want to go too much into the plot of the story but it is made clear who has Carmel (and why they do) fairly early on and the premise felt realistic and chilling--how this child could so thoroughly disappear without a trace. Since there is no real mystery, the book is about the love between mother and daughter, the journey that each takes, and the anticipation of finding out if they make it back to each other.
I was reading The Girl in the Red Coat while busy with work, house guests and life stuff and it was tough to read in the short bursts whenever I had a free moment simply because I wanted to keep reading it and not set it down. Although tagged as a psychological thriller and mystery, it's more a family drama that builds more angst and tension than being a roller coaster ride of thrills, but that makes it no less engrossing. My only complaint was the ending, which without divulging spoilers, left me partially satisfied but still longing for an additional chapter or two from Carmel's viewpoint. After so much emotional buildup and becoming so attached to her, I wanted to hear her feelings about the resolution. I would happily read a second book about the lives of this mother and daughter going forward.
Kate Hamer is a winner of the Rhys Davies Short Story Prize. Girl in the Red Coat is her first novel. It is shortlisted for the Costa Book Award for First Novel and a finalist for The Dagger Award. She lives in Cardiff, Wales with her husband and two children.
Between a mother looking and grieving for her missing child and a young girl now living a nomadic and somewhat hand-to-mouth existence, there is not much time for food inspiration in The Girl in the Red Coat--but there are some mentions. The day she went missing Carmel and her mother had hot dogs at the storytelling festival and before she went missing there was pizza after a school conference. When there is money in Carmel's new world, they eat chicken stew, a long sausage that Carmel thinks is a snake--that is heavily spiced because "we like our food with fire in it" and beans, ham sandwiches and apples. Beth's friends come to help her 100 days after Carmel is gone, bringing "a strange banquet" of cake and wine, soda bread, goat cheese, and plump purple grapes. As Beth becomes friends with her ex-husband and his new wife, they eat together and have asparagus risotto.
For my book review dish, I decided to take inspiration from Carmel's name and the color red. Carmel does everything she can not to lose herself and holding on to her name is a big part of that, as is her love of the color red and her desire to wear a red coat, like the one she was wearing when she was taken.
'My name,' I say slowly, but trying not to be upsetting, especially as I liked the way she rubbed my head so much. 'is Carmel. Mum said it's a name of a place that's supposed to be like paradise and it's Catholic like her mum and dad. Dad liked it because it sounds like caramel.'
--The Girl in the Red Coat
Always interested in a little food magic in the kitchen, I have been wanting to try a vegan caramel made from dates that I have seen on Pinterest and some different sites. I thought it would be fun to make snack 'sandwiches' out of red apple slices with the date caramel spread in between and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top--kind of a healthier, deconstructed caramel apple.
Vanilla Date Caramel
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen, inspired by Healthy Happy Life and Veganosity
(Makes about 1/2 cup caramel)
10-12 fresh medjool dates, pitted
1/3 cup non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk) + extra as needed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
large pinch of sea salt, to taste
Place dates, 1/3 cup non-dairy milk, vanilla and sea salt into a high speed blender or food processor, adding additional non-dairy milk as needed and blending until dates are thoroughly blended, smooth, creamy and a dip-able/spreadable consistency.
Place in fridge for an hour or so to firm up caramel, then spread on apple slices or use as a dip or topping as desired.
Notes/Results: I had my doubts of how caramel-like the dates would taste, but it definitely has a caramel feel and flavor and was quite delicious when paired with the apples. I think I needed to let my caramel firm a little more and maybe thinner apple slices, as these sandwiches were messy to eat (the caramel oozing from in between when taking a bite), but they were worth a bit of mess. ;-) Using it as a dip/spread was a bit neater but maybe not quite as fun. ;-) Although this isn't a low calorie or low sugar treat by any means, it is natural sugar from fruit and rich enough that a little goes a long way. If you don't have a high speed blender, use a food processor if you want a thicker caramel--a low-speed or low-power blender will require more liquid to blend successfully, resulting in a thinner caramel. This date caramel was quick, easy, and fun to make and it has lots of different uses--I'll make it again.
I will be sharing this book review and food pairing with Beth Fish Reads: Weekend Cooking Event, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
The publisher has generously offered a copy of The Girl in the Red Coat to one of my readers as part of this TLC Blog Tour. (Open to US/Canada addresses)
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Note: A review copy of "The Girl in the Red Coat" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.