Audiobook Review: The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

The Perfect Couple
by
Elin Hilderbrand

Even though summer is over, I decided to try one of Elin Hilderbrand’s popular beach reads. I listened to the audiobook version of The Perfect Couple. This is the third book of the author’s Nantucket Series and, although I hadn’t read the first two, the story is very easy to follow as a standalone.

Set on Nantucket, Massachusetts, the story begins on the eve of Celeste Otis and Benji Winbury’s wedding and it’s a classic story of the stark contrast between the wealthy and regular folks. Benji’s parents are English and dripping in money. His mother, Greer, is a famous mystery writer and his father, Tag made his money in a vaguely-described investment career. Benji sits on some boards and lives in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, with a trust fund coming his way. Celeste, however, comes from much more modest beginnings in Easton, Pennsylvania. Now she is the head herpetologist at the Bronx Zoo’s World of Reptiles. Her parents, Bruce and Karen, work every day jobs: Bruce in the men’s department at Nieman Marcus and Karen at the Crayola factory gift shop.

The Winburys are revered and established vacationers on Nantucket and the lavish wedding will take place at their Summerland retreat by the sea. Karen Otis is dying of breast cancer, Greer has taken over the wedding plans, and money is no object.

Guests arrive for the rehearsal dinner and are greeted with plenty of lobster, oysters, fancy hors d’oeuvres and strong drinks, prelude to a fancy dinner. As the alcohol flows, things begin to happen. But despite drama between various characters, all systems are go for the wedding until a shocking death halts the plans.

As details emerge, Chief of Police Ed Kapenash investigates and several guests are under suspicion. Between Kapenash’s investigations and alternating chapters in which the reader learns how Celeste and Benji meet and the back stories of both families, Hilderbrand challenges the reader to come up with a definition of the perfect couple.

The Perfect Couple is a true beach read as well as a light mystery, told in an expected soap opera format. Stereotyped characters and lots of references to brands, fashion, food and local attractions are a given. This story is in the pure entertainment category, with some touching moments and more serious themes, including love, family, and friendship. I enjoyed listening to this story and recommend it when you’re looking for something light and fun.

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Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca
by
Daphne du Maurier

Here’s a classic Gothic novel about a young, unsophisticated and insecure second wife who tries to overcome the memory of her husband’s revered first wife, Rebecca. When Maxim de Winter brings his second wife to Manderley, she hardly knows how to act. She and Maxim have only just met in Monte Carlo, where she worked as a companion to the social busybody Mrs. Van Hopper. Newly widowed and darkly brooding, Maxim was in a hurry to forget the past and they soon marry.

Rebecca’s memory and her recent tragic death in a boating accident hang heavily in the air at Manderley, an isolated mansion on the Cornish coast in England. Told from the new Mrs. de Winter’s point of view, who is unnamed in the story, the narrator agonizes about Maxim’s dark and often patronizing moods and how to manage a large staff and social engagements.

Her first opponent is Mrs. Danvers, Manderley’s severe and sinister head housekeeper. Deeply resentful, Mrs. Danvers determines to preserve Rebecca’s memory and make the narrator’s life miserable. The new Mrs. de Winter has never run a household, directed servants or called on neighbors and Mrs. Danvers upends the narrator’s unsteady confidence with aggressive questions about household decisions and continuous praise of Rebecca.

Although sure she can never live up to Rebecca’s faultless reputation, the narrator is nevertheless curious about Rebecca and her death. Why are Rebecca’s rooms preserved, untouched, as if Rebecca will return to them? Why won’t Maxim walk down the Happy Valley trail to the shoreline or talk about the cottage at the beach? And who is the mysterious and half-witted man who hangs around the cottage? Few will answer, but she has tentative allies in Maxim’s agent, Frank Crawley and Maxim’s sister Beatrice. They may at least give her the confidence to learn the truth.

The story reaches its climax at the fancy dress ball where Rebecca’s costume causes a shock. Maxim shuns her and the marriage seems doomed. The second Mrs. de Winter should have listened to Mrs. Van Hopper when she said, “I think you are making a big mistake—one you will bitterly regret.” Mrs. Van Hopper was quick to add, “The fact is that empty house got on his nerves to such an extent he nearly went off his head. He admitted as much before you came into the room. He just can’t go on living there alone…” Maybe Mrs. Van Hopper was right.

After the ball, an accident at sea propels Manderley into an unstoppable finish, but Rebecca’s newfound confidence may be enough to save their marriage.

I could say a lot more about Rebecca and how it fits right in with what I love about certain books that incorporate nature into their story lines. There are hundreds of examples of how Manderley is surrounded and defined by the plants, flowers and the sea and how it’s affected by changes in weather. And I love stories in which the house plays a major role in the atmosphere. I would love to be able to walk through the rooms of Manderley and imagine its characters there with me. Or walk down the paths to the sea…

I highly recommend Rebecca, which was published in 1938 and is a best-seller that has never gone out of print. The 1940 film of the same name was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. (Daphne du Maurier also wrote the story for Hitchcock’s film, The Birds.)  And Netflix is releasing a new version of Rebecca on October 21. You can watch the trailer here.

Have you read Rebecca or watched the movie? Leave a comment and let me know what you thought!

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New Review of Encounters: Relationships in Conflict by Fred H Rohn

Hello, today I’m sharing this recent review of my father’s book of short fiction, Encounters: Relationships in Conflict. Thank you to Sam Standard for this wonderful review, posted on Amazon!

Encounters: Relationships in Conflict is a rare, lovely collection of short stories, written by a man with a true grasp on the subtleties and quirky…

Click below to continue reading:

New Review of Encounters: Relationships in Conflict —

Book Review: The Raft by S. A. Bodeen

The Raft
by
S. A. Bodeen

Here’s a fast-moving Young Adult survival story about fifteen-year-old Robie Mitchell, who lives with her parents on the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Islands. The story begins on Honolulu where Robie often stays with her young aunt, A. J. When A. J. is called out of town, Robie convinces her she can remain in Honolulu alone, rather than return to Midway.

But a series of bad decisions puts Robie on a cargo plane back to Midway. The plane crashes into the Pacific and she finds herself on a raft. Robie faces the usual dangers of being lost at sea: dehydration, starvation, and shark attacks are just a few.

Until this point, Robie has faced very few difficulties, but as an independent only child, she’s developed many untapped inner strengths. She’s learned much about sea life from her research biologist parents, knowledge that will come in handy on the raft. But, as with all dangerous situations that demand sudden physical and mental strength, Robie must also cope with several quick decisions she’s had to make, including a few moral ones. Now she has plenty of time to consider them.

These worries rotate through Robie’s mind, but the most important task is survival. I enjoyed seeing how she celebrates new hope when she discovers unseen resources on the raft. I also gained confidence in her as she learns to improvise with what little she has. New and dangerous problems are a given as time passes and it’s all up to Robie to figure out how to get rescued.

The author includes interesting details about bird and marine life, including hard facts about how these creatures survive. Bodeen also points to an alarming amount of trash that floats in this part of the Pacific, debris that interferes with sea life. These details make Robie’s story modern and realistic.

The Raft is another YA book I grabbed off the shelf at the library. It’s an easy read and think it would be especially great for reluctant readers and for those who like survival stories.

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Book Review: The Year They Fell by David Kreizman

The Year They Fell
by
David Kreizman

I was in the mood for a Young Adult book so I picked up The Year They Fell by David Kreizman at the library. It’s a teenage drama about five former friends whose lives suddenly change the day their parents head off to an island vacation. The plane crashes and there are no survivors.

Josie, Jack, Archie, Harrison and Dayana were great friends in preschool, but that was a long time ago. Now about to start senior year of high school, their lives are vastly different. Twins Josie and Jack hang with the fast crowd, but Archie, Harrison and Dayana are awkward outsiders to that world.

Josie and Jack may seem perfect, but they have their demons. Josie, queen of the social scene, has a terrible secret. Jack is a hulking football star with a violent temper. The others also struggle. Archie clings to his sketch pad and wonders how he fits into his adoptive white family. Harrison’s dad abandoned him and his mom and he suffers from major anxiety. Dayana’s parents aren’t getting along and she pops pills to cope. In addition, past dynamics from years ago interfere with their current relationships.

As the former friends awkwardly circle each other, Harrison launches an investigation. Soon the group must confront painful details about their parents’ lives. Harrison determines the crash might not be an accident and tries to convince the others with his extensive research.

I enjoyed this fast read, set in River Bank, New Jersey, a town I hadn’t heard of, but was surprised to find in a familiar part of the Jersey shore. In addition to the tragedy, the author packs a lot of major developments and problems into these high schoolers! Probably not realistic and that is my one gripe with the story. The high school setting and dialogue seemed true to life, but I hope no sample set of high schoolers has this many things to deal with.

In addition to suffering tragic loss, Kreizman introduces important themes into his story, including love, friendship, sexual identity, family relationships, fitting in, anxiety, sexual abuse, and drug addiction. While these are all important, I think the story would have been better if the author focused on fewer issues. As a result, the story reads more like a soap opera. Pretty interesting because Kreizman used to write for television soap operas and even spent time as a writer for the WWE. I laughed when I read that because those plots are really over the top!

Despite these comments, I’d still recommend The Year They Fell as an engaging story with modern themes and plenty of teen angst. I also love the cover and think the title is great because it makes potential readers wonder what the story will be.

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Book Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys
by
Colson Whitehead

I don’t know how I can properly review a book that has already received as much recognition and praise as The Nickel Boys, except to join the crowd in saying how great I think this novel is. I read The Underground Railroad over the summer and thought it was excellent (read my review here). I think The Nickel Boys is even better, if that’s possible.

The Nickel Boys is the fictional story of Elwood Curtis, a young black boy growing up during the 1960s in Tallahassee, Florida. His mother and father are long gone and he’s raised by his grandmother Harriet, who introduces Elwood to the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Elwood is smart, ambitious and on his way to something better when he’s unfairly sentenced to time at the Nickel Academy, a reform school for boys in Florida. He arrives at Nickel as a Grub and hopes to earn his way out, through the ranks of Explorer, Pioneer and Ace. But rules and punishments are both random and cruel, with no guarantees of getting out. Administrators use brutal physical and sexual abuse to control their charges and it’s even worse for the black boys in this segregated institution.

Elwood hangs on Dr. King’s words for comfort and strength, hoping that “the ultimate decency that lived in every human heart” would carry him through his time at Nickel. He soon makes friends with another black boy named Turner, who has a different strategy for survival. Early on, Turner tells Elwood,

The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course. If you want to walk out of here.

He adds,

Nobody else is going to get you out—just you.

The friendship between Elwood and Turner influences both their thoughts and actions. They both want their freedom, but they have different ideas about how to get it, if they can. Their friendship and what they do with their ideas are at the heart of the story and its aftermath, better experienced first-hand. I highly recommend The Nickel Boys. On top of being a great story, it’s a powerful reminder of the history of racial injustice and the abuse of power and its continued effects on modern thinking.

Although The Nickel Boys is fictional, Whitehead based the Nickel Academy on the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. The reform school was established in 1900 and had a reputation for cruel and violent abuse, resulting in many deaths at the school. Several investigations between 2009 and 2011 confirmed the abuse and the state closed the school in 2011. An archaeological investigation uncovered fifty-five burials on the school grounds, most outside the cemetery, with nearly one hundred deaths at the school. Further investigations discovered additional graves.

Colson Whitehead is an American author of seven novels and two books of nonfiction. The Underground Railroad (2016) won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. The Nickel Boys (2019) won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Visit colsonwhitehead.com for more about Colson Whitehead and his books.

These nonfiction books tell the story of the abuses at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida:

The White House Boys: An American Tragedy by Roger Dean Kiser

The Boys of the Dark: A Story of Betrayal and Redemption in the Deep South by Robin Gaby Fisher

Here’s an excellent article and interview from Time:

‘I Carry It Within Me.’ Novelist Colson Whitehead Reminds Us How America’s Racist History Lives On – from time.com June 27, 2019

Have you read any books by Colson Whitehead? Do you think you would read The Nickel Boys? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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Book Review: It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way by Mary Rowen

It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way
by
Mary Rowen

Molly Dolan dreams of a steady relationship. At twenty-five, she’s floundering, drinking too much and making poor decisions. The only good thing going is Molly’s job. She got in on the ground floor at FSI as senior marketing writer, but she’s just learned of a big a change.

Molly’s relationship problems began in high school. When her one close friendship ended tragically, she tried to suppress her feelings, but the burden of loss and regret led to reckless decisions and she has carried that burden into adulthood.

Molly’s neighbor Fred Flaherty is alone at seventy-two. Divorced for many years, he listens to Jim Croce records and talks to buddies on his ham radio. But his failed marriage and the recent death of his younger brother, Davey weigh heavy on him.

When Davey was born, Fred’s awkward and lonely childhood turned happy. The twelve-year difference didn’t matter because they adored each other. Now Fred looks back at how Davey’s once promising future dissolved when he returned from Vietnam.

With seemingly little in common, Molly and Fred strike up a friendship that, despite many unforeseen obstacles, may help them find happiness and direction in their lives.

Mary Rowen’s charming new book, It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way, is due out this fall. It’s a hopeful and touching story about how people make mistakes and get caught up in bad situations, even when they’re trying to do the right thing. Set outside Boston, in Arlington, Massachusetts, the story begins in 2012 and begins with Molly’s first-person narrative. Alternating third-person chapters provide details about both characters’ lives, framed by chapters named after Jim Croce’s music. Readers will like how Rowen’s flawed characters navigate modern and realistic situations. She introduces serious themes of family problems, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual assault, harassment and mental health and buffers them with everyday examples of kindness and humor.

I recommend this women’s fiction story about difficult relationships and hopeful friendships and look forward to more books by Rowen.

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Book Review: The Deadly Houses by Charlie Gallagher

The Deadly Houses
by
Charlie Gallagher

Detective Sergeant Maddie Ives is on the night shift at the Canterbury police station when she receives an unusual call. A man waits outside, ready to confess a murder. Adrian Hughes claims he kidnapped and brutally killed a young woman and he’s ready with all the details and evidence that will put him in jail, including where to find the woman.

The details check out but Ives thinks Hughes is lying. Her new boss is anxious for a quick conviction, however, so Ives must dig fast if she wants to uncover the whole story. While she’s out in the field, she relies on the sharp investigative skills of DC Rhiannon Davis to gather information. And soon her former partner, Harry Blaker is on the team, pulled from a quieter, low-pressure assignment he’d requested after a personal tragedy.

The reader knows there’s more because additional characters reveal strange and confusing details. And alternating scenes put the reader in an abandoned building where prisoners are forced to watch violent and disturbing videos. In a race against time and unknown enemies, Ives will need sort it out before more people die.

The Deadly Houses is the sixth book in the Maddie Ives police procedural series set in the UK but it can be read as a standalone. It was easy enough to get into the plot and I did not feel like I was missing out on a back story. That said, I found the story somewhat overloaded with details and its bad guys were a little too twisted and extreme for my tastes. The author is also a police officer and his knowledge of procedures and politics shows, making that part authentic.

The dominant theme of this story is the protection of women and children from violent partners and the author gives the reader a closer look at important police and social programs designed to help.

As with many thrillers, readers will need to bring with them the usual suspension of disbelief. Maddie Ives powers through many injuries and defies the odds in a number of situations. But she’s a likable character and has good rapport with Blaker and Davis and a peek at her personal life rounds out the story nicely.

All-in-all, I liked The Deadly Houses, but think this series is more geared towards fans of police procedurals.

I received a copy of The Deadly Houses from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Short reviews from 2013: The Fault in Our Stars, The Silent Wife and Old School

In celebration of my 7-year blogging anniversary, here are three short reviews of books I read in 2013.


The Fault in Our Stars
by
John Green

This is the kind of book you are self-propelled to read non-stop until you finish. I loved it because of the many gem-like moments that give you a wonderful, emotional feeling. But this is also a sad story, with heart-breaking moments. Seventeen-year-old Hazel is dying. She meets Gus, a bone cancer survivor, and they fall in love. They have an intense courtship and they know they are short on time.

I think John Green does a great job portraying Hazel and Gus. I have heard others say their conversations are too intellectual for teenagers. I don’t think so and I think he really captures the teenage intensity along with their heightened sense of the loss of time.

Although the story is written through Hazel’s point of view, Green also shows us what it is like to be parents of cancer patients, and how they must prepare themselves for loss. And he shows how Gus and Hazel cling to each other and their friend Isaac, and try to have normal teenage lives.

There are unexpected plot turns and surprising characters, and the story is nicely tied together, with some open endings to keep the reader thinking. I think the ending is uplifting and makes the best of tough loss.


The Silent Wife
by
A. S. A. Harrison

What’s beneath the surface of a seemingly happy relationship? Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert have a smooth way of being together and it’s worked for twenty-some years. They’ve never officially married, but it doesn’t matter. This is a marriage and they have a nice rhythm, live a very nice life and have everything they want.

Then we get to know them a little better. Todd is a big person with a big personality. He’s made a success of himself in real estate, flipping office buildings in Chicago. He loves Jodi, but has other relationships. Jodi works part-time as a psychologist, seeing patients in their home. She loves Todd, likes taking care of him and making their life nice and comfortable.  She also likes the routine of their life and looks the other way because she’s settled.

Then things begin to happen and the balance is upset. What comes next is a look at how far a person will go to make things right and fair.

Harrison has written a great story and I enjoyed every word. Her characters are fun and, despite the dark side of the plot, strangely likable. The story unfolds in a comfortable and humorous way.  I liked their life, their condo, their conversations and what they ate.  I liked the nice way they had with each other. I think she does a terrific job introducing these characters.

I like the way Harrison builds suspense and then returns to the plot, giving the reader a taste of what’s to come. The story moves at a very good pace and still provides a solid background.

Through therapy sessions that are a required part of Jodi’s training, Harrison explores Jodi’s character, her childhood and the events that shape her. Harrison helps the reader understand these characters by applying psychological theory to their backgrounds. This element adds a nice layer to the story.

There are surprises and twists all the way to the end and that makes it work. I wish I could have read it in one sitting!


Old School
by
Tobias Wolff

I thought this was a very interesting premise for a book, in which actual authors become characters in the story. Wolff’s story takes place in 1960 at an elite Eastern prep school for boys, which takes pride in its literary connections and achievements. The plot revolves around the school’s literary contest, whose winners are given an audience with famous authors.

Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway are featured and, at a reception in Rand’s honor, students and faculty participate in an extended discussion of her characters and philosophies in Rand’s novel The Fountainhead.

There are more complex parts of the story as well. The narrator, on scholarship to the school, is acutely aware of class distinction and privilege and keeps his modest background and Jewish heritage a secret. He struggles with his own self-image as he mirrors the looks and actions of his wealthy classmates, inviting the false assumption of wealth and class. The contest puts him at the center of a scandal that reveals deceptions and radiates to classmates and faculty. Its conclusion shows Wolff’s characters in their true form.

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Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie
by
Courtney Summers

Sadie Hunter is nineteen and missing. She left the Sparkling River Estates trailer park in Cold Creek, Colorado and the only clue is an abandoned car found in Fairfield. Where is she? On a revenge trip, hunting for the person who killed her thirteen-year-old sister, Mattie.

When podcast producer West McCray and his boss learn of Sadie’s disappearance, they know they have a story to tell and create a serial podcast called “The Girls.” While McCray conducts interviews and follows leads, Sadie follows her own leads, desperate to catch up and kill the man responsible.

Sadie alternates between a script of McCray’s podcast and Sadie’s personal narrative of her search for justice. In telling, she reveals painful details about her alcoholic and drug-addicted mother, Claire, who hooks up with a string of move-in boyfriends. She ignores Sadie, who develops a paralyzing stutter, and favors little Mattie. When Claire abandons her daughters, young Mattie is nearly crushed, and Sadie steps in. Determined to give Mattie a decent upbringing, Sadie drops out of high school to be around for her little sister. The sisters are close because, besides May Beth Foster, their surrogate grandmother and manager of the trailer park, they’re all they have. But by the time Mattie is thirteen, she’s resentful and rebellious, sure she can handle herself.

Sadie had done her best, but she was just a girl too. Now she wonders what more she could have done to protect her sister.

In her search, Sadie makes risky connections, but she’s ready for anything, with a switchblade in her pocket, vowing to carve her name into the killer’s soul. She’s not afraid and reasons,

…here’s the thing I tell myself to dull the sharp edges of everything that’s surely left to come: The worst has already happened.

She meets and befriends others, seeking information, but also getting a taste of the privileged life in Montgomery, Colorado. Sadie has only known hardship and neglect and at one point when she connects with a boy her age, she wonders,

why can’t I let myself be worth a moment’s tenderness?

Sadie’s narrative and the podcast reveal details about the sisters and advance at a similar pace, but from different angles, until they nearly intersect in Fairfield. By this point, the reader has the full dark story of the sisters’ childhood and Mattie’s death.

I enjoyed reading this fast-paced mystery. At times I wanted to pull Sadie out of the story and give her a good home and at other times I was right there with her, chasing after her sister’s killer. Sadie’s story is dark and heavy, but full of tender and raw feelings. Readers will be surprised and maybe unhappy with the story’s finish, best left alone in reviews. I was a little disappointed, yet I find myself thinking about Sadie days after I’ve finished, always a good sign of a book.

Sadie is the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult, which honors the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television.

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