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.
  • Check out other posts, and…

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