THE PERFECT COUPLE by Elin Hilderbrand

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The maid of honor’s body washed up on the Nantucket beach the morning of the wedding.  It was the bride who found her.  Needless to say, the wedding was canceled.  Now it is up to the chief and his lead detective to interview the shell-shocked bridal party and figure out what happened.  The simplest explanation, of course, would be that it was an accident.  Girl has too much to drink, goes for a late night swim, washes up on the beach the next morning.  But what about the abandoned kayak that belongs to the father of the groom?  Why does the other bridesmaid seem so reluctant to discuss the MOH’s love life?  Why was the bride on the beach so early in the morning carrying a suitcase?  And where is the best man?  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that everyone has at least one secret and no one is as perfect as they seem.

A character-driven mystery, this novel will appeal to some mystery fans, but also realistic fiction fans who like some good old-fashioned family dysfunction.  In the end, exactly what happened is less important than the complex web of relationships between the characters.  A fast and enjoyable summer read!

DEATH PREFERS BLONDES by Caleb Roehrig

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Margo started pulling heists because she was bored.  She certainly didn’t need the money, being the heir to the Manning fortune; in fact, the tabloid accounts of “Mad Margo,” the wild party girl, provide a useful cover for her real illegal activities.  The four acrobatic drag queens who form the rest of her team all definitely need the money, though, and when a job that could be worth millions falls into their laps, it is impossible to pass up, even though it involves breaking into the highly fortified mansion of a Russian mobster.  Unfortunately, although they pull off the heist unscathed, Margo underestimated the danger she has gotten them all into.  And when things at her father’s company take a dark turn, Margo suddenly finds herself in over her head with hitmen chasing her around the globe.  The only people she knows she can trust are her team, but she may need to take a chance on a young accountant who is quickly becoming more than just a friend.

The premise is gimmicky and the plot absurd, but it sure is a fun ride!  There is a weird balance of far-fetched action plot and intense, realistic character development, which made for strange pacing.  But once I got into it, I had trouble putting it down.  I’d recommend this novel to teen thriller fans.

If you liked Death Prefers Blondes, you might like Kristen Orlando or Ally Carter.

 

 

THE MISSING PIECE OF CHARLIE O’REILLY by Rebecca K. S. Ansari

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Charlie’s little brother, Liam, disappeared almost exactly a year ago, and Charlie is the only one who remembers him.  When he disappeared, every trace of him vanished with him–his clothes, his photographs, even the top bunk of Charlie’s bed.  Charlie’s mother also changed when Liam disappeared.  Even though she can’t remember him, she almost never gets out of bed these days.  Charlie is determined to find Liam and bring him back, because he knows it’s his fault Liam is gone.  After all, the night before Liam disappeared, Charlie fell asleep wishing he didn’t have a brother.  As Charlie and his best friend Ana search for Liam, they stumble upon a secret asylum full of disappeared children and realize that Charlie’s unusual dreams about an Irish family from the past may hold the key to freeing the trapped children–but only if they want to be released.

No mistake is too big to be forgiven in this novel about how family makes us whole.  As Charlie discovers what happened to Liam, the mystery of his disappearance gives way to a race to escape from a magical prison.  Interwoven with this suspenseful story is the theme of self-forgiveness as the characters must learn to accept themselves and their past mistakes.  Character development and plot work together beautifully to drive the story forward.  I highly recommend this book to middle grade readers who enjoy realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy and character-driven suspense.

INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri

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In a Pulitzer prize-winning collection of short stories, Lahiri explores themes of relationship and cultural identity through a variety of compelling characters.  A power outage seems to offer an opportunity for Shoba and Shukumar to reconnect after the stillbirth of their child disfigured their marriage.  A young girl forms a friendship with her family’s Pakistani houseguest as he waits for word of his own family, still in Dacca during a violent civil war.  A tour guide and interpreter observes the idiosyncrasies of the marriage of two Indian-American tourists and finds himself drawn to the seemingly disaffected wife.  An elderly, ailing refugee serves as the unofficial doorwoman for a Calcutta apartment building until the unexpected promotion of one of the residents leads the others to reconsider question their own social standing.  After conversations with her coworker, Miranda begins to see her affair with a handsome, married Bengali man in a different light.  Eliot experiences a fascinating new culture under the care of his new nanny, Mrs. Sen.  Sanjeev cannot understand his new wife’s delighted obsession with the Christian paraphernalia left hidden throughout their house by the previous occupants.  An ailing woman knows that a marriage would cure her strange illness, but her stingy cousin refuses to arrange one for her.  A young immigrant to America forms a friendship with his centenarian landlady as he struggles to connect with the wife his family chose for him.

The stories are beautifully told glimpses into Indian culture in America and abroad.  While the majority of them are somewhat contemplative with realistic, but not particularly uplifting endings, there are a couple of exceptions.  Pick up this book if you enjoy thought-provoking literary fiction.

WHEN THE TRUTH UNRAVELS by Ruthanne Snow

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Elin, Jenna, Ket, and Rosie have been best friends since forever.  But since Elin’s suicide attempt, the dynamic of their foursome has been somewhat changed as each of them struggles to process the event and tries to figure out how to be a friend to Elin now that they know she is not as happy-go-lucky as she always seemed.  They each wonder why Elin tried to end her life, but Elin won’t talk about it.  But on the night of senior prom, a frightening turn of events will force the friends to confront everything that they haven’t been talking about–because it turns out that Elin isn’t the only one who has been hiding something.

A balanced blend of suspense and compelling character development drives this story about relationships and identity.  Elin’s depression is realistically portrayed, as are her friends varied reactions to it as they struggle to understand what their friend is going through.  But the story is as much Jenna’s, Ket’s, and Rosie’s as it is Elin’s.  Each character has a struggle independent of Elin, and must therefore wrestle not only with their own issues, but with the desire to put their own lives on the back burner to help their friend–something which is not always possible or healthy.   For me, this book was a page turner and thoroughly enjoyable.  The ending was a bit forced and expository, but since the real point of the book was the journey to get there, I didn’t find it disappointing.  I highly recommend this novel to teens who enjoy realistic fiction.

 

THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE: DANISH SECRETS TO HAPPY LIVING by Meik Wiking

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The Danish concept of hygge embraces everything comfy, cozy, and homey, and may be part of the reason that Danes are the happiest people on Earth.  In brief chapters, Meik Wiking breaks down “how to hygge,” teaching readers how to reject artifice, embrace genuine friendships, and find peace and joy in simple things like mood lighting, baking, and spending quality time with small groups of loved ones.  There are a lot of anecdotes, recommendations, and instructions (such as recipes) in this brief book, some of which are more compatible with an American lifestyle than others.  Overall, this book reads kind of like a Real Simple article; it creates a pretty picture of what life could be, with lots of ideas that you may or may not be able to apply in certain aspects of your own life.  A light read that may interest people who want a glimpse into another culture, or readers looking for ways to simplify or relax in their own lives.

THE ALICE BEHIND WONDERLAND by Simon Winchester

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Famously, the story that would become the enduring classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland began as a tale told aloud to a young girl named Alice Liddell. The author, Charles Dodgeson, had done some writing in the past under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, but he did not dream of becoming a novelist or a children’s entertainer. Instead, he spent his pittance of a salary from his low-level position at Oxford on the new and exciting art of photography. Much of the surviving evidence of his relationship with the Liddell family comes from the photographs he took of the children. A particularly enigmatic photograph of Alice dressed as a beggar serves as the focal point for Winchester’s examination of Dodgeson’s photographic passion and his relationship with the girl whom he would immortalize in his tales of Wonderland.

Although I have enjoyed some of Winchester’s other works, I found this book underwhelming. He devotes a significant amount of time to discussing photography practices and other photographs Dodgeson took, occasionally losing the focus on Alice and the Liddell family. Furthermore, the book contains no reproductions of the many photographs it discusses–a true limitation since the comparison and contrast of Dodgeson’s relationship with the Liddell siblings and other children largely depends on the reader’s ability to imagine and mentally compare the photographs. Winchester also mentions Dodgeson’s diary frequently when discussing his relationship with the Liddells and his relationships with and attitudes toward young girls, but the book would have benefitted from more direct excerpts from these diaries to help support Winchester’s conclusions.

Overall, if you are interested in the subject matter, this is a brief and interesting read, but it lacks a certain amount of depth and supporting material which could have elevated the book to a truly engaging narrative.