Mrs. Fletcher

22251436_10155998166083392_1225992379_oThis is my first book my Tom Perrotta, but I look forward to reading the rest of his books that have been sitting on my shelf for a long time. Mrs. Fletcher (Eve) is a forty-six year old divorcee who just dropped her son off for college and returns home to an empty nest. Eve is witty and funny and I liked her immediately.  She is lonely and seeking ways to fill the void so she begins watching porn at night and that leads to a sexual awakening of sorts.  “She wanted something else-something different-though what that something was remained to be seen.  All she really knew was that it was a big world out there, and she’d only been scratching the surface.” She decides to take a class at the community college and quickly develops friendships with the others in her class. “The important thing was that she was here, trying something different, meeting new people, making her world bigger instead of hunkering down, disappearing into her own solitude.”

The class she takes introduces us to a whole assortment of other troubled individuals. Margo is the instructor of the class. She is a transgender who is struggling with acceptance from the world and confidence within herself.  “She didn’t really feel middle-aged. In her heart, she was a teenager, still learning the ins and outs of her new body.  Still hoping for her share of love and happiness and fun, all those good things that the world sometimes provided.” “She was there to show the world what happiness and freedom looked like.  You glowed with it. You did exactly what you wanted to.  And whatever costume you wore, you were still yourself, unique and beautiful and unmistakable for anyone else.” “What she wouldn’t have given back then (as a teenager) to hear a trans adult tell her that she wasn’t alone, that happiness and wholeness were possible, that you could find a way to become the person you knew in your heart you truly were, despite all undeniable evidence to the contrary.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Fletcher’s son, Brendan is having a hard time at college. Eve says of Brendan: “He presented himself to the world- as a big, friendly, fun-loving bro- a dude you’d totally want on your team or in your frat.” Even though Brendan comes across this way, it becomes clear that he has a lot of built up issues, a lot of them to do with his father who left the family for another woman when Brendan was younger.  Eve: “…something had gone out of him in the process (of divorce), all the boyish softness and vulnerability that had touched her so deeply. He just wasn’t as nice a person as he used to be- not nearly as sweet or as kind or as lovable- and she couldn’t forgive herself for letting that happen, for not knowing how to protect him, or how to fix what was broken.” “The divorce had left her with a permanently guilty conscience that made it almost impossible for her to stay mad at her son or hold him accountable for his actions.”

Brendan begins to struggle with fitting in, finding friends, and keeping his grades up. “One thing you realize when you’re on your own is how happy the people who aren’t alone look.”  His father comes for a visit during family day with his wife and Brendan’s autistic step-brother, Jon-Jon.  He says of his step-brother, “the whole time he was screaming and thrashing around, I kept thinking how unfair it was the my father loved him so much and held him so tight- way tighter than he’d ever held me-and wouldn’t let go no matter what.” Brendan is jealous of his step-brother and desperate for his father’s love and attention. He has felt neglected by him his whole life.

By the end of the book, most of the characters have managed to find some sort of happiness and understanding. I think this quote from the cover sums up the book perfectly: “a moving and funny examination of sexuality, identity, and the big clarifying mistakes people can make when they’re no longer sure who they are and where they belong.”

“You feel what you fucking feel. You don’t have to apologize to anyone.”

“You couldn’t turn away from the truth just because it ripped your guts out.”

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the burgess boys

21868206_10155691102708392_1382185691_oThe Burgess Boys, Jim and Bob, along with their sister, Susan, are a true portrait of a dysfunctional family. Susan’s son Zach, throws a pig head into a mosque and is charged with a hate crime and the family comes together to be a support system for Zach and to try to prevent Zach from going to jail.

Jim Burgess is the successful man in the family. He is a famous attorney in New York and always the one in charge. The more we get to know Jim, the more we realize he is a very angry and unhappy person. His feelings start to come out as Jim has to deal with his family and the memories that resurface from being back in his hometown. “Everything to do with this family depresses me.” “It’s all gone to crap. I’m scared. I think about death a lot. I’m grieving for myself. I’m a sham.” I am a dead man going down. It’s just a matter of time. I could not keep it up.”  Buried secrets are revealed as we watch Jim unravel.

Bob Burgess is a lonely man, divorced, with no children. Bob: “Nothing lasts forever, there is nothing to be counted on.” He also lives in New York. “He thought of all the people in the world who felt they’d been saved by a city. He was one of them. Whatever darkness leaked its way in, there were always lights on in different windows here, each light like a gentle touch on his shoulder saying, “Whatever is happening, Bob Burgess, you are never alone.”

Susan Burgess is Bob’s twin. She is also divorced and lives alone with her only child, Zach.  Growing up, Susan was most often the recipient of her mother’s so called jokes and disapproval.  Her son, Zach, has become her whole life.

Zach is friendless, quiet, hesitant in all his actions, just not quite right. He was teased mercilessly in elementary school and beaten up in high school. Zach’s father, who often put Zach down, left while he was in high school.  Zach is a lonely, fragile boy who cries and never has friends over.  The hate crime he is accused of has left him even more scared and lonely.

Abdikarim is the man who was there when Zach threw the pig head into the mosque. He is an Islamic immigrant who fled from the violence in his country. He is the perfect example of what immigrants have to face in America these days. Abdikarim was a great character.  “There was a heaviness inside him.  It grew each passing month, to stay or go he couldn’t make that decision.  He felt too old for the spring of excitement to return to him. Too old to learn English.  Without that, he lived with the constancy of incomprehension. THE incomprehension was a danger.  Living in a world where constantly one turned and touched in comprehension-gave the air the lift of uncertainty and this seemed to wear away something inside him.  He always felt unsure of what he wanted, what he thought, even what he felt.”

This book touched on some of today’s controversial issues of immigrants and hate crimes but also explored what family really means. Elizabeth Strout is an amazing novelist.  She writes beautifully.

a stranger in the house

21268160_10155451585333392_209012515_oA Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena

Tom Krupp comes home from work one night to discover his wife has left the house in a hurry, leaving the front door unlocked and her phone and purse behind.   He soon gets a call from the police that she has been in a car accident and is in the hospital with a concussion that has resulted in temporary amnesia.

Karen Krupp ran head on into a light pole after driving way too fast and erratically and has no idea how or why she did so. Soon we discover that there was also a murder the night of her accident and she becomes the prime suspect.

Tom wonders how well he really knows his wife after all. Does she really have amnesia? Could she possibly have murdered a person? Doubts start to cause cracks in their perfect marriage.

Karen also begins to doubt herself, her husband and her friends. By the book’s conclusion, buried secrets are reveled and there is a nice little plot twist at the end. I can’t say much more without giving away the book. You will wonder while reading who is telling the truth and what really happened that night. A good thriller, but not as good as Lapena’s first thriller, “Behind Closed Doors.”

Ordinary Grace

21037855_10155394490383392_1273885445_o.jpgOrdinary Grace

by William Kent Krueger.

“For thirteen –year old Frank Drum, the preacher’s son, it was a grim summer in 1961 in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.” A coming of age story set among an unsettling Minnesota background.

Frank is growing up scrambling for meaning and full of confusion and fear. In the midst of that, a lot of frightening things happen that leave him in a constant state of apprehension. There are so many troubled characters in this book:

Jake is Frank’s younger brother. Jake is often quiet, especially outside of his home because he has a bad stutter: “I don’t like to talk to people because I’m afraid I’ll stutter and they’ll make fun of me. I feel like a freak sometimes.”   There is a lot more to Jake than his stutter. He also has a way of understanding things and seeing things others don’t notice.

Ariel is Frank and Jake’s older sister. Ariel is her parents golden child. Everyone believes she is destined for greatness. She is her mother’s favorite. Ariel is hope for mother’s unfulfilled longings. Jake and Frank adore her. She is their confidante, conspirator, defender, encourager, and supporter.  But is she as innocent as everyone thinks? Frank often catches her sneaking out late at night and he knows something isn’t quite right.

Their father, Nathan Drum, is a preacher. He is also a war vet and is clearly troubled by his past.  There are several other war vets in the book as well. Gus- his father’s friend, a drunk, who lives in the basement of the church. Nathan often says that he owes Gus his life, but we never find out why.

“There are a lot of men left troubled by the war. Every man handles in a different way the damage war did to him. Some men seem to have put their wars behind them easily enough.”

“Whatever cracks were already there the war forced apart, and what we might otherwise have kept inside came spilling out.”

“The truth is when you kill a man it doesn’t matter if he’s your enemy and if he’s trying to kill you. That moment of his death will eat at you for the rest of your life.  It’ll dig into bones so deep inside you that not even the hand of God is going to be able to pull it out, I don’t care how much you pray.”

Emile (Ariel’s piano instructor and Mrs. Drum’s dear friend) returned from World War II blind and disfigured and wanting to feed in isolation on the meat of his bitterness. He lives with his sister Lise who is also a bit of a recluse. Lise is mentally retarded and has no future that anyone could see. They are both two damaged souls that the rest of the family has pretty much abandoned.

The preacher’s wife and mother to Frank, Jake and Ariel is less than delighted with her life as a minister’s wife. She has a fondness for martinis and as things progress that summer, she becomes angrier and angrier at her husband for putting God before his family.

I had great expectations for this book and was a little disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to them. It was a little slow going at first, but once things start happening, I had just had to know how they ended. I hate that I had figured the book out before it ended, but not everyone will.  A literary mystery that isn’t that thrilling, but will really get to the heart of things.

“What is happiness? In my experience, it’s only a moment’s pause here and there on what is otherwise a long and difficult road. No one can be happy all the time.”

the people we hate at the wedding

book cover weedingThe People We Hate at the Wedding is the story of a dysfunctional family that have come together in London for a wedding. All the characters are having some problems of their own. Amid family drama, buried secrets, heartaches and a big fancy wedding, chaos ensues. I laughed out loud a lot.

Paul is the bride’s half-brother. He is beginning to confront the fact that his partner Mark is a real douche bag. Everyone else has seen this all along, but Paul just feels that he doesn’t any deserve better. He also realizes that he is very obsessive. “It’s what he does; it’s how he survives.” He mulls things over so much that “he often finds himself in a state of overwrought paralysis.”

His sister says of him, “He has become curiously unhinged since his father’s death. He’s blindly groping for something-an explanation, someone to blame, a metaphorical or literal lifesaver. Just-something.”

His mother says of him, “Paul was a fragile and sentimental boy who had grown into a slightly less fragile and sentimental man, someone who lived in romantic superlatives, that the truth could so readily destroy. Paul was the boy who was forever searching for ways to escape who he feared he might be, but who always managed to stumble back to himself again.”

Paul’s sister, Alice, is having a crisis of sorts herself. She is having an affair with a married man and has been battling something in her past for a long time. She has been popping pills and drinking excessively, because she would prefer to feel nothing at all. Getting high helps her to temporarily forget.

Alice has harsh feelings toward her half-sister, Eloise for many reasons. She feels rage about Eloise’s perfection and kindness. Her mother treats her like an employee and Eloise like a prize. Eloise was not there for Alice when she went through a traumatic experience. Paul and Alice both sort of resent Eloise because of the charmed life she has lived. Alice begins to unravel and realizes that things have gotten so bad that she is afraid of herself and what she might do.

Eloise feels that no matter how hard she tries to crack Paul and Alice, they just won’t let her in. Her whole life, she has constantly been trying to find equal footing with her half siblings. “Comforting her siblings has always confounded her. She wants to fix them, to save them, to pull Paul and Alice up and out of the messes they’ve made. She worries her own gilded life somehow prevents her from empathizing with them as deeply as she should.” No matter how hard she tries, they always take her the wrong way.

Donna is the mother of the siblings. Paul and she have not been speaking for a long time and she is desperately trying to work her way back in his life. “She thinks of her children. She wants to drill inside their heads, to split them open and excavate their thoughts. She wants to know what they are feeling. Are they enduring the same bowel-loosening cocktail of heartbreak, memory, grief, and above all regret?” Donna is also feeling “daunted by the years of obscure and shapeless loneliness that lies before her.” She smokes weed to make her feel better and it’s hilarious.

After all the drama, they all manage to be there for each other and work a few things out. Paul: “He thinks of the beautiful, gut-wrenching future awaiting them, and the claw marks they’ve left in everything they’ve given up. He thinks of all the times they’ve faced the world on two steady feet, and all the times he knows it will knock them over to the ground. Mostly, though, he thinks that for today, at least for today, they’ll be ok.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Summer Must-Read

A Publishers Weekly BEST SUMMER BOOKS, 2017

New York Post Best Books of Summer

Redbook‘s 10 Books You Have to Read This Summer

the identicals

0316375195_01__SX142_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand. 

Twin sisters, Harper and Tabitha, have been estranged for many years when their father dies and they are suddenly forced into each other lives again.

Tabitha lives on Nantucket with her troubled teenaged daughter Ainsley.  When their parents divorced, Tabitha went to live with their mother Eleanor, “who had the countenance of a queen, a regal being, an unassailable authority.”

Harper lives with her dog, Fish, on Martha’s Vineyard. Harper went to live with her father when her parents divorced.  She has been taking care of her father the whole time he has been sick and simultaneously having an affair and falling in love with her father’s doctor.  When her affair is discovered she escapes the island and the rumors by going to stay at her sisters house to care for her niece.

The sisters end up switching islands and lives.  Tabitha returns to her father’s home in Nantucket to remodel the house and get it ready to sale and ends up gets romantically involved with the carpenter working on the house.

“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.”

This wasn’t my favorite Elin Hilderbrand book.  It wasn’t terrible, but some of her other books are way better. To me, it just felt a little too mushy and chick-litty. I would still recommend it for a light, summer read and I still believe that Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of summer reading.

behold the dreamers

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Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

When Oprah announces a new book, I am always that person running out to buy and read it immediately and I am never disappointed. Behold the Dreamers is a moving novel about the American dream. It explores what home means to us and it really gives you a glimpse into the typical life of an immigrant.

Jende Jonge is a Cameroonian immigrant who has come to New York to make a better life for himself, his wife and their children. He believes everything is better and anything is possible for Americans.

He finds a job as a chauffeur. He quickly develops a relationship with the Clark Edwards, the businessman he drives around. “Theirs was a solid bond as could be between a man and his chauffeur. Their bond had been firmly established-they were two men bound by the relationship they had forged after cruising on highways and sitting in rush hour traffic.”

Jende and his wife Neni wake up every day and do everything they can so their children can have a good life and be somebody one day. Neni has always dreamed of America. To her, America was synonymous with happiness. “America might be flawed, but it was still a beautiful country. She could still become far more than she would have become in Limbe.” It is the land of boundless opportunities and a place where her children could have a bright and better future.

Then the financial world that Clark Edwards’ is a part of suddenly crashes and the country is in a horrible recession. Things quickly go downhill for the Jonges. Jende is out of a job, possibly facing deportation, having severe pain caused by stress and worried sick about providing for his family. Neni says of her husband, “He hadn’t been the same man since the day the letter for the deportation hearing arrived. He was now a man permanently at the edge of his breaking point. It was as if the letter of his court appointment had turned him from a happy living man to an outraged dying man intent on showing the world his anger at his impending death. For the first time in a long love affair, she was afraid he would beat her. And if he did, she would know that it was not her Jende who was beating her, but a grotesque being created by the sufferings of an American immigrant life.”

Jende, “They say this country will get better but I don’t know if I can stay here until that happens. I don’t know if I can continue suffering just because I want to live in America. “It’s just not easy, this life here in this world.” “It’s a long hard journey from struggling immigrant to successful American.”

The book also gives you a look inside the Edwards’ family. Clark’s wife, Cindy is a troubled and unhappy woman. Neni soon finds out that despite her image of being a self-assured woman, Cindy has a need for a sense of belonging, an utterly desperate need she could never seem to quench.

Cindy came from a very poor family and had an abusive mother. “I came away from all that. I worked my way through college, got a job, my own apartment, learned how to carry myself well and fit effortlessly in this new world so I would never be looked down on again, or seen as a piece of shit. Because I know what I am and no one can ever take away the things I’ve achieved for myself. I fight hard to keep my family together.” Cindy really starts to unravel, even with all the money and the life they have, Cindy is still truly unhappy. Her whole life beginning to seem more and more meaningless, she needed to do something now if she ever hoped to taste happiness again.

Will the Jorges make it in America or will they be forced to return to their home country? Will their marriage survive the hardships they endure? How much is too much to sacrifice to achieve the American Dream? Will the Edwards’ marriage survive? Will Cindy Edwards find a way to finally make peace with herself? Can a man can find a way to make a home anywhere?

I wish everyone would read this book so they could better understand the immigrant situation in our country. Mbue says of immigrants: “They return home because they can’t remain in our country to make better lives for themselves. America is a country that has forgotten how to welcome all kinds of strangers to our home. There are many out there who do not have a warm, peaceful country to return to. There are many for whom the only chance at ever having a home again is in America.” And in her novel, “Behold the dreamers,” we meet and fall in love with two such immigrants, Jende and Neni.

the shark club

19723966_10155193407113392_1709718675_oThe Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor is a lovely beach read, “set against the intoxicating backdrop of palm trees, blood orange sunsets, and key lime pies.” The book is about Maeve, her twin brother, Robin and their childhood friend, Daniel.

Maeve is a traveling marine scientist, often called the shark whisperer, who returns to the small island off Florida’s coast where she grow up in her grandmother’s hotel. She was bitten by a shark at the age of twelve and has been obsessed with sharks ever since.  She has just began a romance with her colleague Nicholas, who also shares her passion for the ocean and its creatures, but that relationship is threatened when she arrives home and discovers her past love, Daniel is also staying at the hotel.

As children, Maeve, Daniel, and Robin were very close. All three of them had lost parents. “They shared fatherlessness like a glue that connected them.” According to Maeve, her and her brother “had an empty place, but we’d tried to fill it in such different ways.  For me, it was with sharks and oceans, with Daniel and the dream of a family.  For Robin, it was writing. After Robin’s writing was rejected over and over and he walked away from it, he turned to other ways of filling the void- parties and drinking and a sort of aimlessness.”  Robin’s grief never seemed to heal. Making trouble was his way of expressing his grief.  When Maeve returns to her home, she discovers Robin has finally written a book, but she is shocked and hurt to discover the book is about her and Daniel.

Daniel and Maeve proclaimed their love to each other when they were just 12 years old. This love progressed into adulthood and when their wedding was abruptly called off Maeve was devastated and heartbroken. “I experienced his loss like an actual death. I went underwater in more ways than one.” He was a wound I carried that wouldn’t heal.”  She later tells Daniel, ““There is always a sadness in me. I don’t want it to be there, but it is.  It sleeps inside of me, and when it wakes there’s nothing I can do about it.  It takes over, and when that happens nothing else exists. You did that. For the last seven years, I’ve hated you for it.”

So we have a love triangle. Will Maeve finally have a second chance at love with Nicholas or can she finally forgive Daniel and have everything she ever wanted. But the book isn’t just a romance, there is also a mystery intertwined.  There is an illegal shark finning operation going on and sharks are being killed for their fins.  Maeve is very upset by it and involved in trying to find the culprits. ”I’d given my life to sharks and people were killing them faster than they could reproduce.” “The sea, its creatures, its sharks-they were my religion. I could die for that.”

I adored this book. The perfect beach read. Written very well. It hooks you right away.

 Interesting side note: the author’s mother is Sue Monk Kidd, who wrote the Secret Life of Bees.

A few more quotes:

“We all have to live with our mistakes.”

“I’d make a fortress of myself and it caved like one of the sand castles that dotted the beach.”

“Whatever makes you feel alive, you ought to pay attention to it. If it makes you happy, it’s worth following.”

the sunshine sisters

19399260_270259136714177_6877271573633100356_nThe Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green. This book wasn’t really that beachy, but it would still be the perfect book for a summer afternoon. Ronni Sunshine is a former actress who recently got a bad diagnosis/death sentence of sorts and wants to end her own life before she has to endure all the pain the disease will bring. She calls her three estranged daughters home to reveal the news and her plan. She wants to apologize for not being the mother they deserved and have them all there with her when she dies. Her diagnosis made her made her realize the damage she has done to her daughters. The one last thing she can for them is try to bring them back together. She now realizes she wasn’t a good mother, too focused on her career and disinterested with her children. “By the time they were old enough for me to want to get to know them, none of them were interested.” Dying has brought everything back into focus.

Enters Ronni’s three daughters, the Sunshine Sisters:

Lizzy is the youngest sister and she is the most like her mother. She is a renowned chef, in a failed marriage, driven and gorgeous. She has always been the wild child and the one who got away with the most when it came to getting in trouble with her mother.

Meredith is the middle sister. She left home for London because her mother never made her feel good enough. She is engaged to a man she really doesn’t like. She is a very sweet person who lacks self-confidence and doesn’t think she can do any better than her fiancé.

Nell is the oldest daughter. As soon as she was old enough she fled her mother’s home to work on a farm and has been there ever since. Nell is a loner who doesn’t expect anything from anyone. She is strong, self-sufficient, but scared to let her guard down. She is alone because of her fears.

None of the sisters have ever been able to accept their mother with all her self-absorbed, dramatic flaws. They resent her for not being warm, interested, concerned and for not being maternal.” They have all endured a lot of hurt and have issues because of their mother. Will they be able to forgive their mother before she dies? Will they be able to build their relationships with each other?

The book goes back to look at all their lives leading up to where they are now. A really good women’s fiction, chick-lit, beach read.

Quote: “If we’re not showing other people our true selves, our weaknesses and flaws, how can we ever allow ourselves to be known?”

the curious charms…

19400836_10155128682113392_1592830941_oThe Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Arthur Pepper has been a lonely widower for a year when he finds a charm bracelet he never knew existed that belonged to his wife. Arthur has pretty much spent all the time since his wife died like a recluse, isolated from others and depressed.  “He carried his loss around with him like a bowling bowl in the pit of his stomach.” “The only feelings he experienced were sadness, disappointment and melancholy.”  “There didn’t seem much point in discovering things alone.”

Arthur’s curiosity gets the best of him and he begins his adventure of tracking down where this bracelet and charms came from and why his wife had them. The search stirs something in Arthur and he experiences “emotions he didn’t know existed.  He began to discover people that excited him.  It made him feel alive.” With each person he encounters along the way, Arthur begins to change and grow.  He discovers things about himself: He was braver than he thought.  He was good at offering advice to others. He was more open and accepting of others than he knew.  He was stronger and had more depth.  These people stirred a desire in him to carry on with life.

The characters he meets along the way are all curious and charming as well. There is Bernadette, the neighborhood woman who likes lost causes and takes it upon herself to try to help them, including Arthur.  Bernadette’s strange, silent son Nathan. The man who lives with tigers, a former drug addict who is now a peddler, a gay young man who lives and takes care of an old, demented writer, a friendly man from India and a rude woman painter.  Each of these characters have their own story. Arthur really struggles with all the people and things that his wife Miriam kept from him, but by the end of the book he was made peace with it, made a lot of friends and come out of his shell.  “The past year of living alone had made the color fade from his life.  He had needed something to fill the void.” And he finds it.  Lovely and charming book!