Book Review: In a Book Club Far Away by Tif Marcelo

Title: In a Book Club Far Away
Author: Tif Marcelo
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: April 6, 2021
Length: 381 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From the author of Once Upon a Sunset and The Key to Happily Ever After comes a heartwarming and moving novel following three Army wives—estranged friends—who must overcome their differences when one of them is desperate for help.

Regina Castro, Adelaide Wilson-Chang, and Sophie Walden used to be best friends. As Army wives at Fort East, they bonded during their book club and soon became inseparable. But when an unimaginable betrayal happened amongst the group, the friendship abruptly ended, and they haven’t spoken since.

That’s why, eight years later, Regina and Sophie are shocked when they get a call for help from Adelaide. Adelaide’s husband is stationed abroad, and without any friends or family near her new home of Alexandria, Virginia, she has no one to help take care of her young daughter when she has to undergo emergency surgery. For the sake of an innocent child, Regina and Sophie reluctantly put their differences aside to help an old friend.

As the three women reunite, they must overcome past hurts and see if there’s any future for their friendship. Featuring Tif Marcelo’s signature “enchanting prose” (Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake) and the books that brought them together in the first place, In a Book Club Far Away honors the immense power of female friendship and how love can defy time, distance, and all old wounds.

In a Book Club Far Away is a story about the lasting value and importance of women’s friendship. Set amidst a group of Army wives, with chapters taking place both in the present day and 10 years earlier, it tells the story of close connections, long grudges, and the possibility of reconciliation and renewal.

In the present, Regina and Sophie both receive “SOS” messages from their old friend Adelaide. [Note: The synopsis above is inaccurate — Regina and Sophie have remained closed with Adelaide across the years, but are estranged from one another.] Regina is a former officer herself, a divorced mom, and the owner of a struggling catering company in Georgia. Sophie is a nurse, whose life partner is retired military, raising their soon-to-be-college-students twin daughters in Florida. When Adelaide calls for help, they both drop everything else to be there for her… although discovering that Adelaide failed to disclose the other’s presence to Regina and Sophie almost sends them out the door again.

But Adelaide is in dire need of help, and the old code amongst Army wives, to always be there for each other, especially when their husbands are deployed, can’t be ignored. The affection Regina and Sophie each have for Adelaide is enough to get them to agree — unwillingly — to spend time in each other’s presence for the week.

Meanwhile, there are chapters that take us back ten years, to when the three women first met and bonded at an Army base in upstate New York. As their men, members of the same military unit, head out on a nine-month deployment, they turn to one another for companionship. Adelaide decides to organize a military spouse book club, to help bring people together during the long months of loneliness. From this book club, Sophie, Regina, and Adelaide soon form an unbreakable bond.

It’s clear early on that something terrible happened back in those days to break up the trio and destroy their trust and affection, but we don’t completely find out the details until late in the book. Meanwhile, as Regina and Sophie care for Adelaide and her toddler, their close proximity forces them to reconsider past events, examine their own lives, and start to form a shaky new relationship.

I might not have been drawn to this book if I’d bumped into it in a bookstore, but because I had an ARC, I decided to finally read it — and I’m glad I did. The cover and the title don’t particularly convey the main themes of the story. This is, first and foremost, a story about how meaningful women’s friendships can be. Yes, they all have relationships and partners and families, but they turn to each other for understanding and support that they can find nowhere else.

I thought the book did an excellent job of showing the lives of military spouses — the pain of separation, the worry, the loneliness, the seemingly unwinnable challenge of having to start all over again every few years, even the challenge of having the military member return from deployment and finding a way to reintegrate them into the life they’ve been away from for so many months.

I really enjoyed the interplay between the past and the present, and of course, a big plus for me is the importance of the book club. The book is broken into sections corresponding to the books the group is reading, and it makes sense thematically (as well as just being entertaining). And how could we not love a book that shows how important books are in our lives?

I did the think the big reveal about what caused the friendship to break up ten years earlier was a little less dramatic than I expected. It sounded as though there were some miscommunications and misplaced blame that caused the big fight. It was sad to think about all the wasted years, but this made me appreciate how the women came back together even more.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The women’s lives were all interesting, their relationships with the significant others in their lives were varied and well portrayed, and most essentially, their bond of friendship was just lovely to read about.

This isn’t a particularly heavy read, although there are sad moments and challenging issues from the women’s lives that are honestly shown. Still, the overarching theme of the women’s connection and their importance in each other’s lives is beautiful and makes this a fulfilling read.

Audiobook Review: That Summer by Jennifer Weiner

Title: That Summer
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Narrator: Sutton Foster
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: May 11, 2021
Print length: 432 pages
Audio length: 13 hours, 21 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Big Summer comes another timely and deliciously twisty novel of intrigue, secrets, and the transformative power of female friendship, set on beautiful Cape Cod.

Daisy Shoemaker can’t sleep. With a thriving cooking business, full schedule of volunteer work, and a beautiful home in the Philadelphia suburbs, she should be content. But her teenage daughter can be a handful; her husband can be distant, her work can feel trivial, and she has lots of acquaintances, but no real friends. Still, Daisy knows she’s got it good. So why is she up all night?

While Daisy tries to identify the root of her dissatisfaction, she’s also receiving misdirected emails meant for a woman named Diana Starling, whose email address is just one punctuation mark away from her own. While Daisy’s driving carpools, Diana is chairing meetings. While Daisy’s making dinner, Diana’s making plans to reorganize corporations. Diana’s glamorous, sophisticated, single-lady life is miles away from Daisy’s simpler existence. When an apology leads to an invitation, the two women meet and become friends. But, as they get closer, we learn that their connection was not completely accidental. Who IS this other woman, and what does she want with Daisy?

From the manicured Main Line of Philadelphia to the wild landscape of the Outer Cape, written with Jennifer Weiner’s signature wit and sharp observations, THAT SUMMER is a story about surviving our pasts, confronting our futures, and the sustaining bonds of friendship.

That Summer is a beautifully crafted story about women’s lives, women’s friendship, raising daughters, and keeping secrets. It’s going to be very hard to talk about without revealing major plot points, so I’m going to go light on content and talk instead about themes and how it made me feel.

First off, though — even though I tend not to include or want to read content warnings, I do think it’s important for readers to know in advance that this book includes sexual assault as a major plotline. While it’s handled sensitively and thoughtfully, please know that if this is a subject you find triggering in fiction, then this isn’t going to be a good reading experience for you.

Onward with That Summer! I won’t go into how or why, but the chance encounter described in the synopsis is much more intentional and meaningful than Daisy knows. As the book unfolds, we learn about Daisy’s early life, her choice to marry very young rather than complete college, and how her life has been shaped by her husband’s decisions. We also get to know Diana very well, and she is not what she seems… but while the initial set-up may seem like the start of a psychological thriller, it’s instead an exploration of the turning points in a young woman’s life and how an entire trajectory can be derailed by moments of tragedy and violation.

Beyond the POV chapters told from Diana and Daisy’s perspectives, there are also chapters where the action is seen through the eyes of Beatrice, Daisy’s 14-year-old daughter. These are fascinating as well, especially as the older women reflect back on their own tumultuous teen years and how those years shaped the women they’d become.

The writing in That Summer is lovely, especially the way the author so skillfully and thoughtfully shows us each main character’s inner world and how they experience the world around them. I loved getting to know both Daisy and Diana — and this is a big achievement, as the initial set-up led me to believe that Diana, clearly hiding something and with a secret agenda, would be a sinister or unlikable character, which is absolutely not the case.

The book is very much informed by the #MeToo movement and the moments of reckoning catching up with perpetrators of sexual assault. It’s fascinating to see the characters’ reactions to the seemingly daily news coverage of one celebrity or public figure after another being exposed for their bad behaviors — including the reactions of male figures in the characters’ lives, which vary from anger to disbelief to internalized guilt.

Sutton Foster is the narrator of That Summer, and I loved listening to her voice the varied characters. The book is a pleasure to listen to, as well as to read.

As I said, I’m going to keep this short because I just don’t want to delve into the plot any further, so I’ll wrap up simply by saying that I found this book moving and important, with a story that feels current and powerful, and character voices that truly shine. Don’t miss it.

Book Review: The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

Title: The Bookshop of Second Chances
Author: Jackie Fraser
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: May 4, 2021
Length: 431 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A woman desperate to turn a new page heads to the Scottish coast and finds herself locked in a battle of wills with an infuriatingly handsome bookseller in this utterly heartwarming debut, perfect for readers of Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Thea Mottram is having a bad month. Her husband of nearly twenty years has just left her for one of her friends, and she is let go from her office job–on Valentine’s Day, of all days. Bewildered and completely lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But when she learns that a distant great uncle in Scotland has passed away, leaving her his home and a hefty antique book collection, she decides to leave Sussex for a few weeks. Escaping to a small coastal town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what she needs.

Almost instantly, Thea becomes enamored with the quaint cottage, comforted by its cozy rooms and shaggy, tulip-covered lawn. The locals in nearby Baldochrie are just as warm, quirky, and inviting. The only person she can’t seem to win over is bookshop owner Edward Maltravers, to whom she hopes to sell her uncle’s antique novel collection. His gruff attitude–fueled by an infamous, long-standing feud with his brother, a local lord–tests Thea’s patience. But bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting, leading Thea to develop feelings she hasn’t felt in a long time. As she follows a thrilling yet terrifying impulse to stay in Scotland indefinitely, Thea realizes that her new life may quickly become just as complicated as the one she was running from.

When Thea discovers that her husband has been cheating on her with her close friend, her carefully ordered life falls apart. And when said husband and said friend declare their intention to start a life together, Thea moves out of her house, packs her belongings, and has to figure out what’s next.

Answers are provided by the news that a distant relative, a great-uncle she barely knew, has left his Scottish home to her, along with a nice sum of money to go with it. At loose ends, Thea heads to Scotland to see the property and decide what to do with it, intending to spend at most a few weeks assessing the place and making plans to sell it.

She doesn’t count on how lovely the place is, or how charming the small village nearby. Uncle Andrew left behind an impressive book collection, including many rare and valuable editions, so Thea contacts the local bookseller, a grumpy man named Edward, to arrange to sell some of the books. Edward is indeed grumpy, but he’s also quite engaging and very attractive, not to mention being the estranged brother of the lord whose estate borders Thea’s new home. All in all, Thea finds him fascinating, and they develop an easy rapport, only enhanced once she takes on a job working in Edward’s bookstore.

As the months pass, Thea finds herself falling into a comfortable rhythm in her new home, but she’s still not over the betrayal of her marriage and the sense of self-doubt it’s left her with. Still, as she gets to know Edward, she eventually realizes that life may have a few surprises left for her… even the possibility of a new romance.

It’s refreshing to read a book about love between mature adults, and also a nice change to have a lead character be a woman in her mid-40s. Thea is lovely, but she’s experienced and not naive, and feels that the romantic part of her life is over with, now that her husband has left her. She doesn’t expect to find new opportunities or to have a dashing local find her attractive, and she certainly doesn’t expect that this little town in Scotland may turn out to be a place where she’ll find happiness.

The Bookshop of Second Chances is a lovely, engaging read. The dialogue is often quite funny, and Thea herself is a delightfully practical, blunt-speaking, and intelligent character to spend time with. The dynamics between Edward and his brother Charles are fraught, silly, and often humorous, but there are also some real issues there to navigate, and it was interesting to see those play out.

The main romantic storyline between Thea and Edward is well-paced, as she spends a great deal of the book not looking for more than friendship while she heals from the pain of her marriage and learns to trust and be optimistic again.

All in all, this is a sweet, entertaining, and thoughtful take on finding new purpose and new love in middle age. I really enjoyed it, and recommend it heartily!

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Buy now at Book Depository – Bookshop.orgBarnes & Noble

Book Review: The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley

Title: The Invisible Husband of Frick Island
Author: Colleen Oakley
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 25, 2021
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Sometimes all you need is one person to really see you.

Piper Parrish’s life on Frick Island—a tiny, remote town smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay—is nearly perfect. Well, aside from one pesky detail: Her darling husband, Tom, is dead. When Tom’s crab boat capsized and his body wasn’t recovered, Piper, rocked to the core, did a most peculiar thing: carried on as if her husband was not only still alive, but right there beside her, cooking him breakfast, walking him to the docks each morning, meeting him for their standard Friday night dinner date at the One-Eyed Crab. And what were the townspeople to do but go along with their beloved widowed Piper?

Anders Caldwell’s career is not going well. A young ambitious journalist, he’d rather hoped he’d be a national award-winning podcaster by now, rather than writing fluff pieces for a small town newspaper. But when he gets an assignment to travel to the remote Frick Island and cover their boring annual Cake Walk fundraiser, he stumbles upon a much more fascinating tale: an entire town pretending to see and interact with a man who does not actually exist. Determined it’s the career-making story he’s been needing for his podcast, Anders returns to the island to begin covert research and spend more time with the enigmatic Piper—but he has no idea out of all the lives he’s about to upend, it’s his that will change the most. 

Frick Island, home to under 100 people, is a charming little community in Chesapeake Bay, where everyone knows everyone, tourists are tolerated, fishing and crabbing is the main livelihood, and a proposed new cell phone tower is the scandal of the decade. Frick Island is also dying — climate change has affected the sea life, resulting in smaller catches and dire times for the fishermen, and rising sea levels mean that the island itself will be uninhabitable in the not-so-distant future.

When Anders visits Frick Island on assignment, he’s startled by how foreign it all feels, from the unreliable ferry schedule to the lack of cell and internet service, to the peace and satisfaction (and oddity) of the people he encounters. When he sees a young woman — who strikes him as the most beautiful person he’s ever seen — sitting alone at a table for two at the island’s only restaurant, he gets up the nerve to ask her to join him… and is confused when she informs him that, as he can plainly see, she’s having dinner with her husband!

Piper and her husband have been together since their teens. Married for one year, they’re happy and in love, content with their small cottage and quiet life. When Tom’s boat is lost in a storm, Piper hides herself away in grief for two weeks, finally reemerging full of smiles, talking about Tom as if he were still present. The townspeople are confused, but end up supporting Piper by playing along — so when she walks Tom down to the docks each day, they all call out greetings to Tom as if they can see him too.

Anders has struggled to find his audience as a podcaster, but once he stumbles across Piper’s story, he’s inspired. He digs into the island’s history, researches post-bereavement coping strategies, and starts visiting the island week after week — ostensibly to learn more about climate change’s impact on the people of Frick Island, but in reality, looking to understand how an entire community could pretend to see a man who isn’t there. Anders begins a new podcast series, What the Frick, focusing on Piper’s story, then expanding the series to include all the stories of Frick Island that he can find. And it’s a hit — suddenly, his listens are in the thousands.

But as Anders spends more time on Frick Island, he’s also building connections to the people there and developing feelings for Piper. Soon, he realizes that with the cell tower nearing completion, the people of Frick Island will have access to his podcast, and they aren’t likely to be happy with him. He’s falling in love with Piper, but knows that she’ll feel horribly betrayed by his sharing of her story without her permission. He’s treated Piper, and the entire island, as an oddity to be marveled over, and he knows that unless he deletes the podcast completely, there’s going to be hell to pay.

In many ways, I was charmed by The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, although Anders’s behavior is hard to tolerate. He’s depicted as kind of gawky and young and afraid of everything, developing self-confidence and connections to others through his continued visits to Frick Island and his growing involvement with the community. He should have known all along how his podcast would be viewed if the islanders ever heard it. There’s no getting around that he crossed a huge line by sharing such personal stories without permission — even if there’s a benefit to the island in the end (which is a very rosy-eyed solution to the problem).

Piper’s behavior too is problematic, once we learn more later in the book. There are a lot of false leads about what’s truly going on, and the answers felt a little flat and unsatisfying. I tried to give both Piper and Anders some benefit of the doubt because of their ages (early 20s), but even so, their actions are both questionable. At least with Piper, she’s managing her grief and loss the best way she can, but there’s a lack of honesty about certain elements that made me like her a little bit less.

I was entertained by The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, but because of my issues with the main characters’ behavior, I couldn’t quite embrace the story fully. The island community is charming, if a little too much the typical fictional cute/quirky small town filled with cute/quirky/weird-but-memorable people. I did like that the book ends not with a swooning romantic HEA, but with a positive outcome for the characters and the island’s future — and I especially liked Piper’s next steps at the end, which (without saying too much) is the best possible course of action for her.

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island would make a good choice for a summer read — it’s light and entertaining, despite the plot points I couldn’t quite get behind.

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Book Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Title: Beach Read
Author: Emily Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 19, 2020
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really. 

Sometimes you pick up a book and it’s exactly what you need in that moment. And for me, Beach Read was it this week — as evidenced by the fact that I read it in about a day and a half, ignoring the real-world obligations nagging for my attention.

Beach Read is sweet and uplifting, but also a little heavier than you might guess from the title and the cover.

Main character January is a young, successful romance writer. She’s known for her swoony love stories and happy ending. However, she’s been thrown for a loop, and isn’t able to summon her inner belief in the power of true love — and her looming book deadline isn’t helping at all.

January’s father recently died, so she’s dealing with the loss of her incredible dad — but on top of that, at his funeral, she met That Woman. It turns out that her father had an on-again, off-again mistress for years, including during her mother’s battle with cancer. January is shattered and angry, and feels like her foundation has been swept out from under her. After all, it was her parent’s shining love story that taught her to believe in love-story-quality love — and if that was all a lie, then what is she supposed to believe? And how can she possibly write a believable love story when she’s not sure her heart will ever be in it again?

January’s father left her a beach-side bungalow in a small-town in Michigan. With her book deadline looming and a serious lack of funds, she decides to spend her summer writing at the cottage, while also cleaning, sorting, and getting it ready for sale. And the fact that this was her father’s place with That Woman is not helping in the slightest.

Also distracting is her next door neightbor, who turns out to be the revered young writer Augustus Everett — whom January knew as Gus back in their college days, when they were fierce competitors, and shared one steamy “almost” at a party.

As January and Gus reconnect, initially with resentment and animosity, they realize they’re in the same boat when it comes to lack of inspiration and dire writer’s block. Gus is battling his own inner demons and past hurts, and he can’t seem to make progress on his next book.

In the book’s central (cute) twist, they challenge each other to write each other’s genres. Gus has always mocked January’s belief in the HEA — now, he needs to find a way to see the possibility of happiness, rather than going for the gloomy conclusion. And January needs to be open to grim reality and the idea that love isn’t always perfect, that messiness and secrets and hard choices are parts of life, and that fairy tales never (rarely) come true.

Beach Read is so much fun, start to finish, but it’s not only sunshine and swooning. (But yes, there is swoon-worthy romance, to be sure.) The author has a lot to say about families and love, how the ideals of childhood can be tarnished by the realities of adulthood, how families can hurt one another but can also save one another in all sorts of different ways… and how true love doesn’t mean no one ever makes a mistakes or hurts the other person, and that sometimes love takes work, compromise, and second chances.

January and Gus have a great chemistry together, and I loved the scenes of them writing in their respective cottages, but communicating through notes held up to the window. It’s adorable — so much better than texting!

The small-town setting is charming, and there’s a wonderful bookstore, so that’s a plus! One of the central plot elements of the book is Gus and January’s series of field trips/dates, where each exposes the other to something that feels related to their own writing style and genre. So, line dancing alternates with going to the site of a tragic fire at a cult compound… and all their excursions bring them closer to each other and also give them each different insights into their own process and emotions.

The writing is cheerful and light, but the author doesn’t shy away from harder emotions. January and Gus both have baggage to deal with, and we do see their pain and confusion as they deal with the events in their lives and try to move forward.

Bonus points too for a terrific female friendship, which helps January realize that true love can also be the bond between two lifelong friends who have each other’s backs and love unconditionally.

Falling’s the part that takes your breath away. It’s the part when you can’t believe the person standing in front of you both exists and happened to wander into your path. It’s supposed to make you feel lucky to be alive, exactly when and where you are.

Beach Read is a wonderful depiction of falling in love, but also a moving exploration of the messiness that comes with growing up and facing real life and accepting the fact that parents aren’t always perfect.

As I mentioned at the start, this book came into my hands right when I needed it, and I enjoyed every minute. A great summer reading choice — and also a great way to escape our current isolation through fiction!

Shelf Control #159: The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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A little note for 2019: For the next short while, I think I’ll focus specifically on books I’ve picked up at our library’s fabulous annual sales. With all books $3 or less, it’s so hard to resist! And yet, they pile up, year after year, so it’s a good idea to remind myself that these books are living on my shelves.

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Title: The Atomic City Girls
Author: Janet Beard
Published: 2018
Length: 353 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes a riveting novel of the everyday women who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.

The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.

When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.

How and when I got it:

LIBRARY SALE!

Why I want to read it:

I feel like there have been several fiction and non-fiction books recently which have centered on women doing war work during WWII, not just with the Manhattan Project but with other wartime industry support functions as well. I’m always interested to learn about the roles women played behind the scenes and how their lives were affected, for better and for worse, by the new opportunities that came their way when the country was at war. I’ve heard this book mentioned by other bloggers a few times, and it piqued my interest enough to grab it when I saw it at the book sale.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
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Have fun!

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Book Review: War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen

War of the WivesSelena and her husband have been happily married for close to thirty years and have three children. Lottie and her husband have been married for seventeen years and have one teen-aged daughter. Both women wish their husband could be home more often, but understand that his demanding job is important to him. Both look forward to the moment when he walks back in the door after his latest business trip to Dubai.

And both show up as the newly bereaved widow when Simon Busfield is laid to rest after a fatal drowning.

Yes, Simon was a busy guy. He lived in London with Selena in a beautiful, posh home, keeping Selena in fashionable clothing and expensive getaways to their house in Tuscany. Simon also lived with Lottie in a smaller flat, after living with her in Dubai for most of their marriage. Wife #1 knew nothing of wife #2, and vice versa. But an untimely death lets out all the secrets, and to say that chaos ensues is an understatement.

I’ll be honest: My first thought upon reading the synopsis was “Hmm. Sounds like a Lifetime movie.” I’m pleased to say that War of the Wives is a lot more than that.

In War of the Wives, author Tamar Cohen skillfully gives each wife a voice that’s distinct and true. We often get both women’s viewpoints on the same situation, and it’s enlightening to see how two people can interpret a statement or gesture so very differently. In what must be a very difficult feat, the author creates two sympathetic characters, almost daring us to take sides. And the truth is, it’s really impossible. Neither woman is culpable. Lottie didn’t know she was sleeping with a married man. Neither intentionally set out to steal the other’s husband. The guilty party here is Simon, but he’s no longer around to blame, so of course it’s the women who have to pick up the pieces.

There’s plenty of pain and remorse, doubts and anger. Both women remember Simon as a loving husband and father. Was one life a lie? Can Simon be faulted for loving both of his families so much that he couldn’t give either up? (Of course he can! Selfish beast.)

Selena and Lottie are wrecked not just emotionally, but financially too. The homes, the lifestyles, the luxuries all have to go. The legalities and taxes and mortgages are so intertwined that neither woman can walk away from the other, and so they have to navigate their post-Simon lives together, hating it every step of the way.

I do feel that the title of the book is a bit misleading. When I first saw the title War of the Wives, I expected cat fights, public scenes of bitchiness, scheming and nastiness. But that’s not what happens. The book ultimately is less about two women battling each other and more about them figuring out how their lives took such wrong turns and how to rebuild.

There’s a mystery here too: Simon died under suspicious circumstances — did he really just fall into the river, or did he commit suicide? Or was he pushed? Just what sort of shady business dealings was he involved in? Who keeps sending Selena all these random spam texts and emails? Who broke into Lottie’s flat? It all comes together by the end, and it definitely was not what I expected… which is a very good thing.

I love a book that keeps me guessing, that gives me plenty of clues but none that make an outcome obvious. The inner lives of Selena and Lottie are fascinating to read about, and I was invested in both women, their struggles to rebuild, to be good mothers, and to stand on their own two feet. Because they really were the victims of their husband’s deceptions, it’s easy to relate to both women and want both to find happiness and get a fresh start.

War of the Wives is a compulsively readable novel with a dark streak amidst the scenes of domesticity. I enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the unexpected plot twists. Author Tamar Cohen does a great job of taking a melodramatic, seemingly made-for-TV set-up and giving it an original spin that keeps the reader guessing.

Final note: Tamar Cohen is a new-to-me author, but I’ve now heard from other bloggers that she has some other can’t-miss books as well — and I’m looking forward to checking them out!

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The details:

Title: War of the Wives
Author: Tamar Cohen
Publisher: Mira
Publication date: January 27, 2015 (originally published in UK in 2012)
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Mira via NetGalley