REVIEW: THE IDENTICALS, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

Harper Frost is laid-back, easygoing. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. She likes a beer and a shot and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything fashionable. She’s inherited her father’s rundown house on Martha’s Vineyard, but she can’t hold down a job, and her latest romantic disaster has the entire island talking.

Two beautiful islands only eleven miles apart.

Tabitha Frost is dignified, refined. She prefers a fine wine and has inherited the impeccable taste of her mother, the iconic fashion designer Eleanor Roxie-Frost. She’s also inherited her mother’s questionable parenting skills–Tabitha’s teenage daughter, Ainsley, is in full rebellion mode–and a flailing fashion boutique on Nantucket in desperate need of a cash infusion.

One unforgettable summer that will change their lives forever.

After more than a decade apart, Harper and Tabitha switch islands–and lives–to save what’s left of their splintered family. But the twins quickly discover that the secrets, lies, and gossip they thought they’d outrun can travel between islands just as easily as they can. Will Harper and Tabitha be able to bury the hatchet and end their sibling rivalry once and for all? Before the last beach picnic of the season, there will be enough old resentments, new loves, and cases of mistaken identity to make this the most talked-about summer that Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have experienced in ages.

My Thoughts: I loved the alternating narrators in The Identicals. Harper Frost, living on Martha’s Vineyard with her father Billy has been estranged from her twin Tabitha for fourteen years.

Something happened all those years ago that kept them apart. On Nantucket, Tabitha is struggling with raising Ainsley, her rebellious teen, and she would love nothing more than to escape.

When Billy dies, there is a reunion of sorts…but it does not go well. Someone mistakes Tabitha for Harper and throws a drink in her face.

Harper has definitely stirred up some animosity from the folks on the Vineyard, so when she and Tabitha change places, what could happen next?

I loved how they each stepped into the other’s life, sort of, and something about this exchange stirs up in me a bit of empathy for the other.

Finding love on the “wrong” island could be just what the two need in order to forge a reconciliation. I found myself rooting for each of them, as I stepped into the perspective of who happened to be narrating. A five star read for me.

 ***

REVIEW: BEFORE WE WERE YOURS, BY LISA WINGATE

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

My Thoughts: The alternating narrators in Before We Were Yours kept me intrigued throughout. Sometimes I couldn’t wait to get back to Rill’s storyline in the 1930s, as there was a lot of intensity as she described the horrors of her life in the orphanage.

But then I became caught up in Avery’s story as she began to put the pieces together and discover the connections between the past and the present.

How is May Crandall connected to Avery’s Grandma Judy? What brought them together, and what tore them apart?

As more and more discoveries are unveiled, I could not stop reading. A story that resonated, since I spent years as a social worker putting families back together again. Families torn asunder always tug at my heartstrings. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: EMMA IN THE NIGHT, BY WENDY WALKER

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.
My Thoughts: Emma in the Night was a story that began when Cassandra Tanner came home, three years after she and her sister Emma had disappeared. Jonathan and Judy Martin remained at the family home, and when Judy opened the door upon Cass’s knock, she didn’t seem to recognize her daughter. Or was she pretending?

Alternating narrators take us from the past to the present and back again, weaving together a tale of a narcissistic mother, a cruel stepfather and his equally cruel son, and two sisters who learned at an early age that love means playing tricks and resorting to emotional weapons. A bitter custody battle, a home that was a battleground, and uncertainty of one’s place in the world or in the family would create the kinds of scenarios that unfold in this novel.

Dr. Abigail (Abby) Winter and Leo Strauss are FBI agents tasked with interviewing Cass and her family. The stories Cass tells are interspersed with her reflections and thoughts about past events. She constructs a story that will capture the interest of the media and the agents…and then, at some point, the story starts unraveling as Abby realizes that some things about Cass’s tale feel contrived. They don’t quite add up.

I thought it was interesting that Cass referred to her mother as Mrs. Martin, even to her face. It was clear that there was no love lost between them, although Judy Martin, the mother, was good at putting a perfect face on things. Sometimes she could even fool her daughters, making them believe that she loved them. She definitely needed to “win” whatever battle they were playing, garnering all the attention from whoever happened to be in the room.

Very cleverly drawn, the characters felt real, while their actions had me wondering what to believe, even as I wanted everything to come together in a picture perfect way at the end.

Abby’s narratives were astute and it was clear that she had expertise with the narcissistic personality due to her own family life. Sometimes she worried that she wasn’t objective, but in the end, her assessment was spot on.

I liked how we slowly discovered the truth…and then were left with a bit of hope, along with some fear for the future. 5 stars.


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

REVIEW: THE SWALLOW’S NEST, BY EMILIE RICHARDS

Three women fight for the chance to raise the child they’ve all come to love…

When Lilia Swallow’s husband, Graham, goes into remission after a challenging year of treatment for lymphoma, the home and lifestyle blogger throws a party. Their best friends and colleagues attend to celebrate his recovery, but just as the party is in full swing, a new guest arrives. She presents Lilia with a beautiful baby boy, and vanishes.

Toby is Graham’s darkest secret—his son, conceived in a moment of despair. Lilia is utterly unprepared for the betrayal the baby represents, and perhaps more so for the love she begins to feel once her shock subsides. Now this unasked-for precious gift becomes a life changer for three women: Lilia, who takes him into her home and heart; Marina, who bore and abandoned him until circumstance and grief changed her mind; and Ellen, who sees in him a chance to correct the mistakes she made with her own son, Toby’s father.

A custody battle begins, and each would-be mother must examine her heart, confront her choices and weigh her dreams against the fate of one vulnerable little boy. Each woman will redefine family, belonging and love—and the results will alter the course of not only their lives, but also the lives of everyone they care for.

My Thoughts: Lilia, Graham’s wife, and the woman who has been raising little Toby since he was three months old, was the narrator I came to root for. I liked the excerpts from her blogging posts, including her opening lines: “Feathering your nest with imagination and love.” I enjoyed her thoughts about family and growing up in Hawaii, and the feeling of betrayal she felt when she learned of Graham’s infidelity. Then I rooted for her as she came to love the little boy and eventually forgive Graham. She always seemed to put the little boy first, even when the challenges of the custody case sometimes made her struggle.

Despite the annoying characteristics we first see in Marina, the birth mother, eventually I started to feel a bit of compassion for her, especially after we were granted an up close look at her mother and how she grew up. But then she would do something that would make me wonder about her judgment and her ability to put the child’s needs first…and I would revert to disliking her, worried about what would happen to the child if she grew bored or frustrated with him.

The least sympathetic character, in my opinion, was Ellen, the paternal grandmother, whose coldness and judgmental attitude put me off. But then we caught a glimpse of moments from her past as she spent time in the home she lived in when Graham was a baby. The house she bought after they moved and which she hung onto for sentimental reasons, although she maintained that it was an investment. Despite the evidence that she regretted the mistakes of the past, however, I felt insufficient hope that she could make the child’s needs a priority.

I wasn’t sure how the custody battle would turn out…I had my wishes, and then I thought about how courts usually rule with regard to biological connections. Would The Swallow’s Nest end in a way that would serve the child best? Would the characters come to accept the decision? I couldn’t stop turning the pages, so this one earned 5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: ONE PLUS ONE, BY JOJO MOYES

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Ed Nicholls finds himself in quite a pickle. He was just trying to break it off with an annoying and somewhat clingy girlfriend when he spouted off about a new software launch in his company. He certainly had no idea that he would live to regret it.

To say that Ed is clueless at times would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, Jess Thomas, a single mother with a daughter and a stepson to raise, is struggling and trying to make it against all the odds stacked against them. On the plus side, her daughter Tanzie is a maths genius; but the downside: she could benefit from a private school. Jess doesn’t have the money, since she cleans rental units at a resort, and works at a nearby pub in the evenings. A Maths Olympiad looks like a possible answer, as the prize money could turn things around. But they have no way to get there–it’s in Aberdeen, Scotland, and they are in England–so as a last resort, she decides to drive the old Rolls Royce that has not been driven in ages.

Meeting up with Ed was a side effect of her two jobs, but when he stops on the highway to help out when the police have pulled her over, neither of them could have imagined what would happen next. He is, after all, a stranger.

The road trip could not have been more uncomfortable, but along the way, something changes. And suddenly each of them has something to offer the other, and what might seem like a most unlikely pairing seems almost possible. But then something happens that tears them apart.

Will they manage to sort out their problems on their own? Can they mend the differences between them?

I thoroughly enjoyed One Plus One: A Novel, a story that reminded me of real people trying to connect with one another, despite their flaws and their mistakes. The characters were wonderful, especially Tanzie and Nicky, and the dialogue between them all on their amazing road trip made me smile, even the parts that revealed their quirky aspects, and most definitely when their flaws were most apparent. The story was also one with important themes of morality, bullying, societal differences, and all the messy details of family life. A definite 5 star read; another wonderful book from this author.