Book Review: The Wife and the Widow

Set against the backdrop of an eerie island town in the dead of winter, The Wife and The Widow is an unsettling thriller told from two perspectives: Kate, a widow whose grief is compounded by what she learns about her dead husband’s secret life; and Abby, an island local whose world is turned upside when she’s forced to confront the evidence of her husband’s guilt. But nothing on this island is quite as it seems, and only when these women come together can they discover the whole story about the men in their lives. Brilliant and beguiling, The Wife and The Widow takes you to a cliff edge and asks the question: how well do we really know the people we love?

What would you sacrifice to protect someone you love?

The plot of “The Wife and the Widow” is reminiscent of Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient, the latter being one of the most awarded and talked-about thrillers of 2019. Novels of this caliber are truly deserving of praise greatly attributed to the authors’ intelligent manipulation of multiple timelines and dual perspectives. The sheer likability of this novel is not the story itself but the way White circumvented the multiple timelines, setting the pace for the big reveal. The result is a brilliant and staggering thriller piece that will leave you breathless afterward.  

The story revolves around the novel’s two female characters, Abby Gilpin and Kate Keddie-the wife and the widow, respectively.  Kate and her daughter, Mia, were supposed to surprise Kate’s husband, John, at the airport from his two-week conference in London for a palliative care research colloquium; but he didn’t arrive as scheduled. Kate soon learns that her husband lied about the conference and so many other things: dark secrets connecting her husband to a tragedy that took place in Belport Island.  What Kate discovers as she sets foot in their holiday home in Belport, starts to unsettle her usual passive demeanor, prompts her to reflect on how well she knew her husband urging her to seek for answers to questions that would reveal so many hidden truths. As Kate learns more about her husband’s past, she knew she will stop at nothing until she finds out what truly happened, even to risk her life for it.

Abby Gilpin’s seemingly normal life changed drastically when her husband confessed to a crime that was the biggest thing to happen in Belport Island in a long time.  Abby soon learns to face the truth about what her husband did and what she decides after that is tethered to the most basic of all maternal instincts: a mother’s protective nature.

Both wives were lied to.  Both husbands were not who they appear to be.  The hunt is on but are they prepared to handle the truth?

This is a clever and brilliantly written book, far better than what I expected.  In terms of plot, “The Wife and the Widow” sits on a high ground due to the complexity of its narrative structure. But the book’s value lies within White’s depiction of the roles mother play in defending and protecting their children even in the most afflicting of circumstances.  The moral problems explored in the book left me with an emotional discomfort that makes me question how far would I go to protect my children. Would the fear of moral ramifications even deter me from making unethical decisions to defend my family? White wishes to implore his readers to think about the implications of every action portrayed in his book.  I just couldn’t help but gush how thought-provoking this novel is. I don’t think I have ever devoured a book as unputdownable as this in a long time and my final verdict is that every reader must learn from stories like this because it may not be far from reality.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Christian White

Genre: Mystery Thriller / Crime Fiction

Length: 352 pages

Publisher: January 21st 2020 by Minotaur Books

ISBN-10: 1250194377

ISBN-13: 9781250194374

Book Review: Such A Fun Age

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Kiley Reid’s debut novel, “Such A Fun Age”, is an ambitious, funny, yet compassionate novel that explores race, class, and white privilege. Everything about the novel is fresh that while themes about race and privilege are social issues that when explored in fiction usually exude a downright heavy atmosphere, Reid’s book is light and subtle yet an eye-opener like no other. 

Here is Emira, a young black woman who receives a late-night call from her white employer, Alix Chamberlain,  asking her to take her daughter, Briar, to the grocery store while Alix tends to a domestic situation. Emira, of course, said yes though she was having a wonderful time celebrating her friend’s birthday, she decided she could really use the cash.  What was supposed to be a night of earning extra for herself, Emira got into a familiar situation for a person of color in a majority-white neighborhood grocery store. Accused of kidnapping three-year-old Briar, Emira was nearly taken into police custody had it not been for Briar’s father who rushed to the grocery store to clear Emira of the accusation.  What Emira soon realizes is how the incident greatly affected her employer, Alix, in ways Emira finds overbearing. 

This book stabs at privileges that come with being “white.” It explores a contemporary version of the “white man’s burden” (the supposed obligation of white colonizers to manage the affairs of their non-white colonial subjects) disguised as a narcissistic obsession.  This burden comes with the persuasions concerning what white people can offer to black people so white people can be seen as sympathetic to their plight. Similarly, it also delves on the psychology that exposure to blackness is quarantining white people from behaviors that could judge them as racist.  Take, for example, Kelley Copeland’s character who enjoys the company of black friends and prefers to date women of color. Emira has struggled to draw the line if Kelley’s obsession with black people is sincere or if he does so as a means of purgation. It is hard not to feel the seeming tug-of-war tension between Emira and Kelley. While Kelley pushes Emira to stand her ground, she argues that Kelley is no better, that his argument against Alix applies to him as well. 

Alix’s character is Reid’s antagonist but she does so in a way that Alix seems to be devoid of any knowledge of her self-serving motivation.  All Alix sees is her need to protect her babysitter at all costs founded on what could only be described as a deep sense of ownership toward Emira.  Moreso, Alix wanted what she thought was best for her babysitter by being over-protective but in so doing, Alix’s overcompensation defense makes her blind to what Emira truly wants; to what she truly needs like health insurance and a full-time job so she can pay her rent.  The dynamics between Alix and Emira as they explore their differences–entitlement vs the lack of it–is the heart and core of this novel.  

While there are other themes explored in the novel, what strikes me the most is Reid’s use of irony as a literary device.  Whereas Alix and Kelley are both obsessed at protecting Emira from prejudice and discrimination; their incessant justification as to why she should defend her being black, she only concerns herself with issues like health insurance and rent payment. If anything, “Such A Fun Age” is a fun novel all the while exposing the duplicity of overcompensation making it hard for people of color to understand the true intentions of white liberals.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Kiley Reid

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Length: 320 pages

Publisher: December 31st 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

ISBN-10: 052554190X

ISBN-13: 9780525541905

Book Review: The Other Mrs.

She tried to run, but she can’t escape the other Mrs.

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbor Morgan Baines is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie.

But it’s not just Morgan’s death that has Sadie on edge. And as the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of what really happened that dark and deadly night. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs. Baines, the more she begins to realize just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light.

Kubica has created a well-researched narrative that explores multiple layers of mental illness which is quite a common trope in most thriller novels.  The fate of the characters in this nerve-wracking fictional work hangs on a balance and to be dealt with yet again the powerful tool of the unreliable narrator is enough to stay right till the end regardless of its almost predictable plot.

The most important theme of the novel concerns stigma and discrimination against mental illness.  People with mental illness are easily dismissed either as targets for public stigma and/or the stigma against the self.  The lesson to be learned from this work of fiction constitutes the 3A’s: awareness, acknowledgment, and action. Ignorance is not an excuse and apathy could dismiss any fundamental hopes of building confidence and healthy relationships and conditions. There is nothing more admirable than thrillers morphing into social novels that catalyze consciousness and elicit fury against injustices from people and society.  

What this novel presents, is real people dealing with real, oppressive problems. Kubica managed to represent characters battling against physical and mental health disorders and how self-centered, coercive, and manipulative people have taken advantage of their situation.  Bullying and abuse were also portrayed in this book and these socio-psychological problems are lethal seeds that grow into destructive ammunition later on in life.

Multiple timelines and multiple narrators, each with different perspectives and persuasions are the tools by which the author made use of to manipulate the readers.  The complexity of each of the characters–flawed and immanently human, yet vile and greedy–forms many archetypes common in fiction: “the villain”, “the victim”, “the rebel” and “the trickster”. But the element of surprise, judging by this book alone, is Kubica’s poison that kills whatever disappointment one reader may have of the plot’s predictability.  One might have misjudged the book early on but surprise, surprise, the narrative is not what you think it is. Just when you thought you already know the path the book is heading toward, the remarkable twist hits you right in the face. There seem to be no inhibitions on Kubica’s creative genius of a mind and to think that this novel is another suspenseful yet formulaic domestic thriller, will be in for a treat.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Mary Kubica

Genre: Thriller / Mystery

Length: 368 pages

Publisher: Park Row; Original edition (February 18, 2020)

ISBN-10: 0778369110

ISBN-13: 978-0778369110

My Most Anticipated Reads for 2020

Surely 2019 is coming to a close yet we are torn whether to love or hate it.  As exciting as it is to welcome the new year with a bang, there are those who seek closure from an entire year that went by so fast.  Good or bad, as creatures of habit, we bid goodbye to 2019 saddened by all things that failed us but hopeful for yet a second chance at trying to fix things come 2020.  Oh yes, I’m aware that I’ve fallen into an emotional trap of sentimentality but that is how it is every year. Now back to reading, just as we’ve all had our bad seasons, we tend to compensate for all the reading challenges that we’ve failed to accomplish.  We are weeks away from hitting our reset buttons–hopeful for yet another chance at exceeding our reading goals. So, for all of you bookworms out there here’s to a grand start as we all welcome the new year with new and exciting reads that will hook us once again to the magnificent stories written by our well-loved and soon to love authors. 

1. AMERICAN DIRT

Author: Jeanine Cummins

Length: 400 pages

Publisher: Flatiron Books (January 21, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250209765

ISBN-13: 978-1250209764

Already being hailed as “a Grapes of Wrath for our times” and “a new American classic,” American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope.

Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with four books he would like to buy–two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a page-turner; it is a literary achievement; it is filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.

2. SUCH A FUN AGE

Author: Kiley Reid

Length: 320 pages

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (December 31, 2019)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 052554190X

ISBN-13: 978-0525541905

A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

3. THE GLITTERING HOUR

Author: Iona Grey

Length: 480 pages

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (December 10, 2019)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250066794

ISBN-13: 978-1250066794

An unforgettable historical about true love found and lost and the secrets we keep from one another from an award-winning author

Selina Lennox is a Bright Young Thing. Her life is a whirl of parties and drinking, pursued by the press and staying on just the right side of scandal, all while running from the life her parents would choose for her.

Lawrence Weston is a penniless painter who stumbles into Selina’s orbit one night and can never let her go even while knowing someone of her stature could never end up with someone of his. Except Selina falls hard for Lawrence, envisioning a life of true happiness. But when tragedy strikes, Selina finds herself choosing what’s safe over what’s right.

Spanning two decades and a seismic shift in British history as World War II approaches, Iona Grey’s The Glittering Hour is an epic novel of passion, heartache and loss.

4. LONG BRIGHT RIVER

Author: Liz Moore

Length: 496 pages

Publisher: Riverhead Books (January 7, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0525540679

ISBN-13: 978-0525540670

Two sisters travel the same streets,though their lives couldn’t be more different.

Then one of them goes missing.

In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.

Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.

5. THE HERD

Author: Andrea Bartz

Length: 336 pages

Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 24, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1984826360

ISBN-13: 978-1984826367

When an exclusive New York women’s workspace is rocked by the mysterious disappearance of its enigmatic founder, two sisters must uncover the haunting truth before they lose their friendships, their careers–maybe even their lives.

The name of the elite, women-only coworking space stretches across the wall behind the check-in desk: THE HERD, the H-E-R always in purple. In-the-know New Yorkers crawl over each other to apply for membership to this community that prides itself on mentorship and empowerment. Among the hopefuls is Katie Bradley, who’s just returned from the Midwest after a stint of book research blew up in her face. Luckily, Katie has an “in,” thanks to her sister Hana, an original Herder and the best friend of Eleanor Walsh, its charismatic founder.

Eleanor is a queen among The Herd’s sun-filled rooms, admired and quietly feared, even as she strives to be warm and approachable. As head of PR, Hana is working around the clock in preparation for a huge announcement from Eleanor–one that would change the trajectory of The Herd forever. Though Katie loves her sister’s crew, she secretly hopes she’s found her next book subject in Eleanor, who’s brilliant, trailblazing–and extremely private.

Then, on the night of the glitzy Herd news conference, Eleanor vanishes without a trace. Everybody has a theory about what made Eleanor run, but when the police suspect foul play, everyone is a suspect: Eleanor’s husband, other Herders, the men’s rights groups that have had it out for The Herd since its launch–even Eleanor’s closest friends. As Hana struggles to figure out what her friend was hiding and Katie chases the story of her life, the sisters must face down the secrets they’re keeping from each other–and confront just how dangerous it can be when women’s perfect veneers start to crack, crumble, and then fall away all together.

6. THE SUN DOWN MOTEL

Author: Simone St. James

Length: 336 pages

Publisher: Berkley (February 18, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0440000173

ISBN-13: 978-0440000174

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden.

7. THE GLASS HOTEL

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Length: 320 pages

Publisher: Knopf (March 24, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0525521143

ISBN-13: 978-0525521143

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star hotel on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for Neptune-Avradimis, reads the words and orders a drink to calm down. Alkaitis, the owner of the hotel and a wealthy investment manager, arrives too late to read the threat, never knowing it was intended for him. He leaves Vincent a hundred dollar tip along with his business card, and a year later they are living together as husband and wife.

High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. He holds the life savings of an artist named Olivia Collins, the fortunes of a Saudi prince and his extended family, and countless retirement funds, including Leon Prevant’s. The collapse of the financial empire is as swift as it is devastating, obliterating fortunes and lives, while Vincent walks away into the night. Until, years later, she steps aboard a Neptune-Avramidis vessel, the Neptune Cumberland, and disappears from the ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

8. MY DARK VANESSA

Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Length: 384 pages

Publisher: William Morrow (March 10, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 006294150X

ISBN-13: 978-0062941503

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

9. THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

Author: Louise Erdrich

Length: 464 pages

Publisher: Harper (March 3, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0062671189

ISBN-13: 978-0062671189

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?

Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids. She makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely pays her enough to support her mother and brother. Patrice’s shameful alcoholic father returns home sporadically to terrorize his wife and children and bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to follow her beloved older sister, Vera, who moved to the big city of Minneapolis. Vera may have disappeared; she hasn’t been in touch in months, and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence, and endangers her life.

Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.

In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature. Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.

10. A SONG BELOW WATER

Author: Bethany Morrow

Length: 288 pages

Publisher: Tor Teen (June 2, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250315328

ISBN-13: 978-1250315328

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Nevermind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.