The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Growing up, I always wished that I had an identical twin sister. I blame The Parent Trap movie for that wish. Having someone who looked exactly like me who would be there to trick our friends and family into thinking they were the other person sounded like so much fun. I met a set of identical twins in middle school, realized just how confusing that would actually be, abandoned that desire, and stuck with my normal, not identical, siblings. A lot easier that way. I had forgotten about my twin sister desire until I picked up The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand and got a glimpse into what it is like to have an identical twin as an adult.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand tells the complicated stories of Tabitha and Harper Frost. One twin lives on Nantucket, while the other lives on Martha’s Vineyard: a distance of only two and a half hours away by ferry. Yet that two and a half hour separation is widened by years of disagreements, arguments, and resentment that continuously builds because the two never talk to each other. While the two may look exactly like each other, that doesn’t mean they are alike AT ALL. Their personalities, life decisions, and clothing choices only prove to illustrate this point.

Harper and Tabitha have spent their entire lives trying to separate themselves from the other twin and from their other parent. You see, when Tabitha and Harper were young, their parents divorced and each parent took one of the twins to live with them year round with vacations thrown in so the other twin got to see the parent that they didn’t live with. This awkward situation left the twins with some major resentment towards each other and weird interactions with the other parent.

A major family crisis forces the two women together after many years apart. This forced reconciliation sounds like a recipe for disaster, but add in the twin’s mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter and things are bound to get interesting. Each twin’s personal life keeps forcibly making itself known to the other twin which results in confusion amongst others as they try to figure out which is which. Tabitha and Harper may not want to have to band together through this family crisis, but they sure know how to appear like they like each other. These false appearances can only last so long though and the twins are soon forced to turn to each other for real.


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Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

I find myself frequently wondering about the lives of celebrities and political figures outside of the spotlight. While I never wish to live their lives overrun with media attention and constant scrutiny, my desire and curiosity about their normal day-to-day lives still lingers. Books and documentaries are one way that I am able to satisfy my curiosity to learn more, so I’m always on the hunt for more.

Pouring over OverDrive recent releases, I found Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. I remembered hearing one elderly relative refer to the Bush family as the Bush Dynasty and as a result, the Bush twins lived in my mind as royalty. After all, both their grandfather and father were presidents, so that must mean they would grow up to be presidents too, right? My young mind always wondered what it would be like to grow up in such a politically minded family where the whole world had a vested interest in all of the decisions your father and grandfather made on a daily basis.

Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life was an intriguing look into the lives of former first daughters Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. When they were very young, they watched their grandfather become president. The stories the twins tell of their grandfather, though, are less of him being president, and more of him being a doting grandfather who just wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. Twelve years after their grandfather became president, the twins were right back again watching their father take the oath.

Living a life with their father as president meant that Jenna and Barbara had increased security. Secret Service agents followed them around throughout their college years (College was hard enough! I can’t imagine having to check in with Secret Service agents continuously!). The paparazzi and Secret Service agents seemed to control and follow their every movements. Every teenage mistake they made could be found splashed across the national headlines the next day.

Despite the constant attention, Jenna and Barbara worked hard to form their own individual identities separate from their father’s and grandfather’s histories. They were still trying to figure out what their futures would look like, still forging friendships and intimate relationships, even with the extraordinary circumstances that ruled their day-to-day lives. This book provides a glimpse into the little known and seldom discussed personal lives of political families and the impact being born into a political dynasty has on the young children involved.

Jenna and Barbara fill this memoir with equal parts political and personal, funny and poignant stories of their childhood, young adult, and current lives within the Bush family and the greater world. Their lives may not have been the typical American story, but it’s all they knew. As the tagline of this book says, the Bush twins lived a ‘wild and wonderful life’ that was piled full of adventures, bonds, love and loss. I enjoyed the broad-sweeping stories present in this narrative that covered everything from their childhood to their current lives.

If you get the chance, I recommend that you listen to this book as an audiobook. Both Jenna and Barbara narrate their respective sections with their mother narrating at the very beginning. Hearing their voices lent both more credibility and a sense of relatability as each sister told of the events that forged them to become the people they are today. I really enjoyed seeing history through the eyes of the Bush twins as young children, then teenagers, and then young adults.


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The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Have you ever looked at the cover of a book and knew that the story was going to hook you? That’s how I felt when I saw The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. Swirling fire, a deep red cover, and a bold font all signaled to me that the content of this book was going to leave me wanting more. Shreve exceeded my expectations with this novel.

The Stars are Fire is a piece of historical domestic fiction that focuses around the Great Maine Fire of 1947. This real event is given a fictionalized twist as Shreve tells the story of Grace Holland’s attempts to survive and rebuild after her life falls into ruins around her. After a summer-long drought, fires began near Bar Harbor and started ravaging the coast of Maine. People were left wondering where to escape to and hoping that the closeness of the sea would spare them from the brunt of the fire.

Grace Holland lives with her husband Gene and their two small toddlers. Five months pregnant, Grace is left to protect her children on her own after Gene leaves her to go help fight the fires. Grace and her best friend, Rosie, race to the sea with their four children to try to survive the flames. Keeping their children alive is their only priority as Grace and Rosie watch in abject horror as their houses and the community that they have grown to love bursts into flames. Hunkered down in the sand by the ocean, Grace fights to keep her children alive, sacrificing her own body to do so.

In the morning, Grace finds herself and her children wonderfully alive, but their lives have irrevocably changed. They’re penniless, homeless, and without a father or husband. Gene never returned from fighting the fires and no one knows where he is. Facing an uncertain future, Grace is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers until she either finds Gene or her mother or gets a job to support herself. Grace has to make a new life for herself and her children, something that both frightens and excites her since her life with Gene was not the most loving or supportive. While she has suffered great losses, Grace is able to move forward, find new happiness, and discover all the things she was missing when she was living with Gene. Just when she is settled into a new normal, something out of the blue happens and Grace is forced to be braver than she ever was before.

I really enjoyed this book. It was the first Anita Shreve book that I read and the first book in a really long time that had me wishing it would have been longer. There were so many characters whose backstories I was yearning to know more of and the ending had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. This book is set up so well that Shreve could easily spin it into a series. Here’s to hoping she does!


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Escape by Barbara Delinsky

What would you do if one day you woke up and realized that the life you were living was not the life that you wanted for yourself? Walking into work and having that one bad day, that one interaction, that pushes you over the edge? How would you handle it? Would you try to work through it? Talk to your significant other? Would you take a much needed vacation? Quit your job? Start all over in another city with another job and another family? All of these are questions that Barbara Delinsky tackles in her novel, Escape.

Escape tells the story of Manhattan lawyer Emily Aulenbach. She is 32 years old and has been married to another lawyer, James, for the last seven years. Emily has become increasingly frustrated with her life, both professionally and personally. In law school, she dreamed of representing victims of corporate abuse and campaigning for the little guy. Always the idealist, she hoped to brighten the world. Now she sits in a cubicle alongside hundreds of other lawyers in their tiny cubicles, a headset plastered to her ear, talking to victims of tainted bottled water. You’d think that this would partly be Emily’s dream, except for the major fact that she is on the bottler’s side, NOT the victims.

After a particularly devastating interaction with a victim, Emily has had enough. She packs up, leaves town, and just drives. Looking for a purpose in her life and an escape, she meanders aimlessly and eventually ends up in the place that gave her great joy ten years ago. This small New Hampshire town is rife with good and bad memories. Emily has to find a way to deal with both, interact with the people from her past, and convince her husband and family that she’s okay and not crazy. By putting her happiness first, Emily’s selfishness reverberates throughout all the lives of the people that she knows. She must work to find her center and to decide what she actually wants. Add in an animal refuge, a former lover, and someone in desperate need of legal advice and Emily’s escape brings up some dilemmas that she cannot run away from.

This book did not go the direction that I thought that it would, for which I am very grateful. I have read too many novels where the main character decides that she needs a complete do-over and throws her entire life into shambles trying to find herself. Delinsky goes another route of self-discovery that still hits all of the necessary emotional highs and lows, but thankfully misses all of the predictable actions. This was my first Delinsky read and I am quite ready to pick up another! There was nothing that didn’t delight me within this novel.


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The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty is a diving read into the secrets that we all have within ourselves and between our families and friends. Cecelia Fitzpatrick stumbles upon a letter written by her husband that is only to be opened after his death. Concerned about what the letter is about, Cecelia wrestles with whether to open it or not, coming to the decision that her husband, whom she has been married to for 15 years and has three daughters with, must have just forgotten to give it to her. His reaction to her admittance that she found the letter makes Cecelia doubt her decision and causes a great chasm to open up between her and her husband, as well as between her and the people she comes into contact with on a daily basis.

Tess O’Leary lives with her husband and young son. Tess started a business out of her home with her husband and her best friend as her business partners. Everything is going along perfectly until her husband and her best friend sit her down to tell her they’ve fallen in love. Shattered, Tess packs up her son and heads to her childhood home, which just so happens to be the same town that Cecelia lives in. Tess must deal with her feelings towards her husband and best friend, her entertaining relationship with her mother, her son’s confusion, and her lingering feelings about returning to her childhood home and the people she grew up with.

Rachel Crowley works at the local school as a secretary. She comes into contact with the parents, children, and teachers on a daily basis, something that drives her crazy because she believes that one of the teachers at the school killed her daughter twenty years ago. With her daughter and now her husband dead, Rachel looks forwards to the days that her toddler grandson comes over to visit. That joy is soon snatched from her when her son and his wife announce that they are moving to New York. Her grandson will be gone too. Rachel doesn’t know what to do.

The letter that Cecelia finds has the power to destroy so many lives, but also the ability to answer so many questions. Secrets run amok in this book and the characters involved struggle with their inner demons on a daily basis. Seeing the interplay between people and how each secret connected really hooked me into the book and had me wanting more.

I have listened to and read almost all of Liane Moriarty’s books, leaving me with a little disappointed that I don’t have very many left! She is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. This is due to the fact that her stories are so relatable. The narrator(I’ve listened to all of her books through OverDrive) has a fantastic accent and has a really animated delivery as well. This book is wonderfully crafted and I greatly enjoyed it.


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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff has a gorgeous cover. I have been wanting to read this book since it came out because I wanted to figure out if the blue on the cover was supposed to be waves or feathers. (It’s waves, guys!) I listened to this book through OverDrive and was very glad that I did. Fates and Furies is told from the point of view of two separate people and the audiobook has two separate people doing the narration! That allowed me to fully invest in each character’s life and imagine them more vividly. On to the explanation!

Fates and Furies is all about relationships and stories. Lauren Groff has woven a masterful novel about relationship dynamics and the representation of both sides of a story. Each story always has two sides, while each relationship always has two perspectives. The outside world only sees the relationship as one flat surface, while each person in the relationship is really only fully aware of their side of the relationship. It’s rare for people outside a relationship or even for people within the relationship to fully know the complete truth of what is happening in the relationship. Unless a letter is left after one person dies or one person in the relationship writes a memoir, little will be known. (And yes, I know there are those who swear that they don’t keep anything from their partners. Really? You tell them everything? Hmm.. This book examines the truth behind that principle perfectly.)

Fate and Furies tells the story of a marriage over twenty-four years. Lotto and Mathilde fell madly in love at the tender age of 22. At the very end of their senior year of college, Lotto spots Mathilde at a party, pushes through the crowd, falls to his knees and proposes marriage. She says yes on the spot. Two short weeks later, they’re married. Lotto and Mathilde are both glamorous and gorgeous people and separately are the envy of their friends. Put them together and their relationship is unstoppable. Lotto and Mathilde are destined for greatness. Years later, their friends are still in awe of their marriage, but through this book and the side conversations presented, we realize that their relationship has developed some intricate complexities that has twisted them. Lotto and Mathilde have grown over the years and their relationship has matured to encompass a number of layers that have mixed, mashed, and changed the foundation of their marriage and who they are as separate people.

This novel is told from the point of view of multiple people and flashes back to the past. These different viewpoints and histories allow readers to form a better understanding of Lotto and Mathilde as separate people and also as a whole. I enjoyed seeing Lotto and Mathilde’s dynamic change over the years. The examination of how both inside and outside factors can change a relationship was really insightful. The little and big truths and lies a person has can either make or break a relationship. Our past selves also influence how we present our current selves and then our future selves as well. Highly recommended.


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The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee

Books that deal with heartbreak seem to be my go-to listen lately. Maybe that’s just because I know the plot will be interesting and engaging, but nevertheless, I find myself gravitating towards heart-squeezing family dramas. The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee is full of devastating consequences, yet heartwarming relationships that make you yearn for each character’s eventual happiness.

The Expatriates is the inter-woven tale of three American women living in Hong Kong. Each woman is a part of the same very small expat community. Their reasons for coming to Hong Kong as well as their personal and professional lives may be different, but the situations that they find themselves in all become intertwined rather quickly, sometimes without them even realizing it. (I was constantly reminded of the idea that we are only separated from someone else by six degrees of separation throughout this book. And also by the fact that the smallest action can change our lives so drastically.)

Mercy is a young Korean American who finds herself in Hong King after her graduation from Columbia. She has moved to Hong Kong looking for a change from the normal and the promise of a more lucrative job. Marcy is haunted by a terrible accident that happened to her recently. Hilary is a housewife whose marriage is on the rocks. She gave up the bulk of her career to follow her husband, David, to Hong Kong, so he could further his career. Hilary finds herself thinking over and over about her inability to have a child and how if she was only able to conceive, her marriage problems would evaporate. Margaret is a married mother of three who is forced to deal with a shattering loss that has destroyed her life and her family. She is having to find a new normal, something she must survive even if she isn’t quiet sure how to do so.

Mercy, Hilary, and Margaret soon find their lives to be thoroughly enmeshed together in was neither of them expected. Each woman must deal with their own separate issues and struggles, but soon they fins that there are many common threads linking them together. Consequences run rampant through their lives, dictating their decisions, their lifestyles, and their relationships. This book was very moving and I found myself listening to it obsessively to try to figure out how their lives were going to unfold.


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Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I’m a cover girl (not the make-up kind of cover girl), but the kind of person who is intrigued by book covers and usually picks her next read based on what cover catches her eye. That’s how I started my latest read. In my latest fit of boredom in a doctor’s office, I was scrolling through OverDrive trying to find something new to listen to. I stumbled upon Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, an author whose book covers always caught my eye, but also an author that I had never read. The book blurb sounded promising(“Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?” – provided by publisher), so I decided to give it a go.

I loved it. Truly Madly Guilty is a domestic fiction romp into the lives of three different families: Erika and her husband Oliver, Clementine and her husband Sam (and their two little girls, Holly and Ruby), and Tiffany and her husband Vid (and daughter Dakota and their dog). Tiffany and family live next door to Erica and Oliver, while Erika and Clementine have been friends since childhood. Sam and Clementine seem to have everything together. Clementine is a cellist preparing for a new audition and Sam just started a new job. They are also busy parents to two adorable daughters.

Erika and Clementine have been friends for so long that they can have whole conversations just by looking at each other. Their friendship is immensely complicated though. The real story of Erika and Clementine’s friendship unfolds throughout the book. I was reminded of unpeeling an onion or a head of lettuce. There are so many layers to their relationship that just when I thought I had them figured out, I didn’t really know anything at all.

One day, Vid, Erika’s boisterous neighbor, invites everyone over to his house for a barbecue. Clementine is delighted because that means that Vid and Tiffany will be able to be a buffer between her and Erika. Erika and Oliver are the uptight, childless, responsible, and type-A couple, while Sam and Clementine are more care-free and go with the flow. Plus Clementine has always felt an obligation to Erika, due in part to the fact that her mother always forced her to hang around Erika even when she didn’t want to. This barbecue is just what they all needed: a chance to relax and enjoy good food, good company, and good music. A series of unfortunate events both leading up to that day and the events of the day of the fateful barbecue changes everything for all three seemingly perfect families. They are left reeling and feeling guilty for their actions.

Truly Madly Guilty is told from multiple characters’ points of view, as well as by switching back and forth between present day and the day of the barbecue. Readers are given crumbs of information throughout the book, but what really happened at the barbecue isn’t revealed until towards the end of the book, about 3/4s of the way through. I really liked all the background information that was given before we found out what happened the day of the barbecue. I’ve read reviews that disliked all the build-up, but I really enjoyed being able to guess what could have possibly happened.

This story is read in OverDrive by one narrator who manages to change her voice subtly for each character she is voicing, so much so that it seems at times that there is more than one narrator for this book. I was easily able to keep all of the characters separate in my mind, a feat I was amazed at given how many different points of view are represented within. I enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty and am looking forward to reading more Liane Moriarty books in the future.


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Africa’s Child by Maria Nhambu

africa's childMaria Nhambu’s memoir of growing up in an orphanage tucked remotely in the Usambara mountains of Tanzania is not for the faint of heart.  She is not shy about sharing candid details of what she remembers from her childhood as a half-caste girl (a descendant of an African mother and a European father) with no parents to claim as her own.

Though the story was hard for me to read at times, it was also impossible for me to put down. I found it painful to read about the emotional, physical, and sexual abuses rained down on her and her contemporaries. Yet, Nhambu’s indomitable spirit and unwavering focus on her goal of getting an education makes hers one of the most uplifting books I have read in a long time.

Though Nhambu now has over seventy years of experience in this world and has earned every bit of wisdom she possesses, the child self she shares with her readers was one bearing a wisdom way beyond her years. Her story reflects her heart: rare, strong, lovable…compelling. Please read Nhambu’s memoir and if you feel, like I did, that Africa’s Child will forever be a part of you then perhaps this world will become a better place to live, one heart at a time.

 

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

landlineLandline is Rainbow Rowell’s second trip into adult relationships, following the release of Attachments. Having read two of her young adult books, I decided to give Landline a try, not knowing what I was getting myself into.

Landline begins by introducing readers to Georgie McCool. Georgie is a writer for a popular television sitcom. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Neal, and their two young daughters. On the outside, it looks like she has it all, but inside, Georgie knows that her marriage is in trouble. It’s not recent trouble, but something that seems to have been brewing under the surface for a long time.

Two days before she is supposed to leave with Neal and the kids to head to Omaha for Christmas, Georgie and her writing partner find themselves under a pile of work that has to be completed as soon as possible. As a result, she is unable to head to Omaha for Christmas, something she knows will anger Neal. He is upset, but instead of the family staying in Los Angeles with her, Neal packs up the kids and heads to Omaha anyway. This makes Georgie worry if she has finally done the one thing that will make her marriage break apart. Is her marriage broken? Has she ruined it?

Desperate to fix things, Georgie begins calling Neal. She never seems to be able to get a hold of him on his cell phone and her phone is always dead. Georgie digs a rotary phone out of her childhood bedroom’s closet and uses it to call Neal at his parents’ house. Their conversation is slightly off-kilter though and bothers Georgie. When she realizes why, she just can’t believe it. Georgie has found a way to talk to a past Neal. What she chooses to do with this will determine what happens in all of their lives.


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