Meg Wolitzer, “The Interestings”

Cover design, Lynne Buckley; book design, Susan Walsh; Jacobson is a frizzy-haired, odd-looking outsider at Spirit-in-the-Woods in the summer of 1974. Before long, however, Julie – who quickly assumes the nickname “Jules” – is welcomed into a privileged group of the camp’s most popular attendees: Cathy, a dancer; Ash, an actress; Goodman, Ash’s older brother; Jonah, the talented son of a famous folk singer; and Ethan, a cartoonist. The sextet quickly bonds at camp, but maturation and scandal gradually changes the group’s core, turning it from naïve to hardened and, at times, bitter.

Plot Overview: Friends, Future and Art

After the initial summer at Spirit-in-the-Woods, Jules’s path takes a major detour. Before, she was a solidly lower-middle class girl from upstate New York who had just lost her father to cancer. After, she became a New York City neophyte, ushered into the city’s one percent of rich kids. She’s a fixture at Ash and Goodman’s apartment, and given that the other members of “The Interestings” live in the city, their tight-knit social group continues to meet throughout the school year.

Eventually, however, life adds stressors to the burgeoning bonds. Ethan, for whom success is inevitable, maintains unrequited love for Jules, though he eventually marries the lovely, feminist-minded Ash. Likewise, Goodman, a wannabe architect, jumps into a relationship with the emotionally needy Cathy that ends in tragedy and disgrace. And Jonah, the group’s enigmatic, handsome musician, struggles with past abuse and shifts his focus from art to engineering at MIT.

Over the years, the group drifts between intimacy and exclusion, but their time at Spirit-in-the-Woods keeps the accurately dubbed “Interestings” together, through divorce, money struggles, immense wealth and cancer.

Criticisms and Compliments

Here’s the thing about The Interestings: it is interesting, even as it’s wildly pretentious. The book, according to a librarian friend, is divisive; readers either hate it or love it. On the hate side, it’s snobby and elitist and a tale of friends so self-absorbed and egotistical that it’s almost a farce. On the love side, the development of the characters from teenagers to middle-aged friends is fascinating, and Wolitzer deftly captures the years between Nixon’s resignation and 9/11.

What resonates with The Interestings is its realism. The nostalgia the friends feel for camp, the ambitions and failed dreams, the pervasive envy that seeps into the relationships, it all feels natural. The dynamics between the six friends – which really whittles down to three main characters, Jules, Ash and Ethan – naturally evolve as the group ages, but not a single friend every really escapes his or her identity from adolescence (a fact made more obvious by Wolitzer’s non-linear storytelling).

Overall, The Interestings is worth a read, especially with Wolitzer’s writing, but, as a warning, the characters can be frustratingly conceited.


  • Wolitzer, Meg. The Interestings. Riverhead Trade (Reprint edition), 2014 ISBN 9781594632341

Harlan Coben, “Missing You”

Design, Leonard Telesca; officer Kat Donovan has her share of baggage: a murdered father, a tendency to fall into the bottle, an insatiable curiosity. When the consummate single forty-something decides to give online dating a whirl (after a few drinks and heavy persuasion by her best friend), Kat stumbles upon the one who got away. But “the one” fails to remember her, and Kat, quickly running through her nine lives, can only dig through the secrets and lies to find the truth about him, her father’s killer, and her ability to commit.

Plot Overview: Secrets, Love and Crime

When she messages Jeff Raynes, the ex-fiance who left her years ago, Kat waits eagerly for the response. His answer, which indicates he doesn’t remember the song that Kat sent a link to, is puzzling. While Kat is determined to track him down, her career takes a turn.

Kat has yet to come to terms with her father’s unsolved murder, and her continual digging puts her career in jeopardy. When a young teenager approaches her about his missing mother, only Kat takes him seriously – and subsequently earns herself a reputation as unstable.

After she is suspended from her job, Kat multitasks, ferreting out answers about her father’s secret life, the missing mother and Jeff. Luckily for Kat, each case overlaps; she just needs to figure out how and why.

Criticisms and Compliments

Coben has a well-earned reputation for being the master of plots, and Missing You is no exception. Kat follows two tangled strings: the mystery of Jeff and the murder of her father. Add to that a snag with a substantial red herring and a disturbing conspiracy, and Missing You is a gripping read (though the dialogue, per Coben’s style, borders on corny).

While many thriller writers tend to shy away from romance, Coben – who invariably writes about both sensitive macho men (Jake Fisher, Myron Bolitar) and intimidating, deviant men (Win) – usually includes at least some aspect of love. In Missing You, love plays a major role, not only between Kat and her beloved Jeff, but also between her father and his (SPOILER ALERT!!!) secret lover. Considering that Coben’s characters don’t always take precedence in his novels (usually character development falls secondary to plot), the added aspect of love, in all its variations, gives Missing You a little more depth.


  • Coben, Harlan. Missing You. Dutton Adult, 2014 ISBN 9780525953494

Emma Straub, “The Vacationers”

Book design, Meighan Cavanaugh; should be a time of relaxation and rejuvenation. For the Post family, however, the trip to Mallorca only exposes the cracks in the family, the infidelities and resentments and grudges. Over the course of two weeks, Jim and Franny, Sylvia, Bobby and Carmen, and family friends Charles and Lawrence will rip open new wounds to scour the injuries and patch them back up.

Plot Overview: Holiday, Growth and Forgiveness

Franny and Jim originally planned to travel to Mallorca to celebrate their 35th anniversary. But then Jim cheated with a 23-year-old intern and was forced out of his Manhattan magazine job into early retirement. Franny, a food writer, is furious with her husband but is trying to keep the conflict under wraps so she doesn’t disturb her daughter, Sylvia.

Sylvia, an 18-year-old recent graduate, is ready to shed high school drama for life at Brown University. She’s also determined to lose her virginity – preferably to her handsome, twenty-something Mallorcan Spanish tutor.

Franny and Jim’s son, Bobby, and his much-older (and disliked) girlfriend, Carmen, live in Florida. Carmen, a personal trainer, and Bobby, a former real estate agent turned gym rat, unsuccessfully shifted to other sources of income after the economy crashed. Bobby is now deep in debt, and Carmen is pressuring him to ask his parents for money. Not helping matters is that the May-December romance has reached its breaking point.

Charles, Franny’s best friend, and his husband, Lawrence, accompany the family to Mallorca. The couple is anticipating the approval of their adoption petition, but they worry about Franny’s reaction. More, Lawrence, who lacks the connection to the Posts that his husband has, fights off jealousy as Charles and Franny bond over her failing marriage.

What’s meant to be an ideal vacation becomes, for all involved, into a cathartic, life-changing experience. Relationships evolve, hearts are broken and mended, and the family (and friends) return home with – if nothing else – closure.

Criticisms and Compliments

While The Vacationers is a decent read, it’s surprising that it’s so popular. The pace meanders along – reminiscent of time on vacation, perhaps – and the raw relationships between the characters could be deeper. As it is, Straub taps into the varying dynamics between the Posts and their friends, amplifying the negative emotions that can fester while all try to put on the cliched good front. Another check in the plus column for Straub is that she deftly creates the coveted world of “vacation”: the sunshine, the slowly dripping hours, the homemade meals, the day trips and the exoticism of new places.

The weakness of the novel lies in the predictable plot. Whether it’s Franny and Jim’s marriage, Sylvia’s romance or Bobby and Carmen’s relationship, it’s clear how each will resolve. Still, for those interested in delving into a book of family secrets and dysfunction, The Vacationers is an excellent choice – just don’t expect it to be a quick, powerful read.


  • Straub, Emma. The Vacationers. Riverhead Hardcover, 2014 ISBN 9781594631573

Liane Moriarty, “The Husband’s Secret”

Book design, Amanda Dewey; letter said for it to be opened only on his death. Cecilia Fitzpatrick, who couldn’t imagine her husband, John-Paul, having any kind of secret, decided not to open it. Then changed her mind. What resulted from that piece of paper became a veritable Pandora’s box, unleashing pain and destroying families in a small Sydney, Australia, community.

Plot Overview: Family, Secrets and Fate

Tupperware queen Cecilia is a woman who does it all. Her pantry is an organized dream, her daughters are bright and beautiful (though one is a bit of an odd duck), and her husband is handsome and successful. The consequences of the letter, however, spread through the marriage, through her role as PTA Queen Bee and to the children.

Tess O’Leary has an established ad agency with her husband, Will, and her cousin, Felicity. Or, at least, it was a great agency until Tess discovered Will and Felicity were having an affair. Furious, she abandons the couple in Melbourne to return to her mother’s house in Syndey with her son, Liam, in tow. There, she enrolls Liam in St. Angela’s School – the same school Cecilia’s daughters attend – and rekindles a relationship with an old flame, currently a gym teacher at St. Angela’s.

Rachel Crowley, St. Angela’s school secretary, is a tragic figure. Her daughter, Janie, was murdered decades earlier, and the case remains unsolved. Rachel has her own suspicions, and her determination and continued grief lead her to confront the would-be killer.

Each of the women is tenuously linked – until the letter, which irreparably changes the quiet existence of the three.

Criticisms and Compliments

The Husband’s Secret is a story of choices, of paths taken and not taken. While Moriarty’s tale could be one bogged down with sentimentality and “what ifs,” it’s actually more in tune with Moriarty’s reputation of creating fluffy chick-lit. In fact, because Moriarty injects so much levity with her humorous observations of middle-aged mothers who can (and cannot) have and do it all, the fate theme is that much more effective. Had Moriarty not struck such a balance between heavy and light, The Husband’s Secret would not be such an enjoyable read (i.e. this book is one that can and should be read in one sitting). The only small piece of criticism is that the content of John-Paul’s letter is obvious, but that predictability doesn’t take away from the plot as a whole.

As mentioned previously on “The Book She Read,” readers, on occasion, must take time to absorb a story after finishing the last page; The Husband’s Secret is one such story. Not only does Moriarty allow the readers to find out what might have happened (who doesn’t love a good epilogue?), but she also inspires readers to ask themselves the same questions: How would my life have turned out differently if I’d decided to go this way instead? Where would I be now if I hadn’t made this choice?

Overall, The Husband’s Secret is an easy, thoughtful read, and Moriarty is a top-notch storyteller.


  • Moriarty, Liane. The Husband’s Secret. Putnam Adult, 2013 ISBN 9780399159343

Sandra Brown, Deadline

Grand Central Publishing; Scott is a battered combat journalist who returns from the Middle East to find himself on the losing end of a power struggle with his new editor. He reluctantly agrees to travel to Idaho to write about hot-air balloons, but a tip from his godfather sends him to an island off the coast of Georgia. There, he finds his next story – and unexpected answers to questions he’d long buried.

Plot Overview: Determination, Conspiracy and Birth

Willard Strong is standing trial for the murder of his wife, Darlene Strong, and her lover, Jeremy Wesson; Wesson’s body, however, was never found. Dawson, at his grandfather, former FBI agent Gary Headly’s, urging, travels south from Alexandria, Va., to attend the trial. At first, he’s reluctant to follow the story of Wesson, a soldier who suffered from PTSD before his disappearance. But when Wesson’s widow, Amelia, takes the stand, Dawson perks up.

Dawson follows the beauty to a small island off the coast of Georgia. As the two bond, Dawson tries to glean facts about Wesson and his family (Headly believes Wesson is the son of Carl Wingert, an infamous domestic terrorist who has remained on the run for decades).

Meanwhile, Amelia notices oddities around the beach house. A deflated beach ball turns up patched and blown up, light bulbs are changed. When Amelia’s nanny is murdered during a violent storm, her (and Dawson’s) suspicions of Wesson’s survival seem realized. The question is, where is Jeremy? More importantly, where is Carl? And finally, what is Dawson’s connection to the outlaw and his son?

Criticisms and Compliments

Sandra Brown, like Nora Roberts, is one of the reigning queens of the romantic suspense genre; the difference between the two, however, is that while Roberts has an established style, Brown gets grittier and, frankly, better with each novel. There is a clear improvement between the former journalist’s earlier forays into romance and the thrillers released over the last several years. With that said, Deadline has some weaknesses. First, though Brown includes a number of twists, the plot is easy to predict (never a good sign for what should be a thrilling whodunit). Second, usually the female half of a potential relationship takes precedence in a novel, but Brown alternates between Amelia and Dawson, the latter of whom is the more developed character. Amelia reads slightly shallower than her new love. Finally, the romance is secondary to the plot – which is not necessarily a bad thing, but Brown readers are more likely to pick up her books for the added lust factor.

Overall, Deadline is still a good read, particularly with Brown’s clear, engaging writing. For readers who like a little more suspense and a little less romance, Deadline is worth checking out.


  • Brown, Sandra. Deadline. Vision, 2014 ISBN 9781455501502

Cheryl Strayed, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail”

Book design, Laura Crossin; Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) stretches from Mexico to Canada, through California, Oregon and Washington. On it, hikers trudge through thick drifts of snow and negotiate rocky valleys parched by a scorching sun. For Cheryl Strayed, a promiscuous heroin user struggling after divorce and her mother’s death, the miles-long journey of heat and cold, solitude and quick bonds, is physical, emotional and, ultimately, cathartic.

Plot Overview: Solitude, Recovery and Relationships

Strayed grew up in a rustic environment, where the grasses and snows of rural Minnesota cradled her family’s patched-together home, complete with outhouse and a lack of electricity. That childhood, however, was little preparation for the trek before her.

From the first day, Strayed’s journey is raw. Her feet become bruised and swollen – she loses toenail after toenail – and her desperation, her thoughts of “why did I do this” echo her life prior to the walk. Her mother’s death from cancer was the catalyst to her downward spiral of grief and infidelity; she and her husband, Paul, eventually divorce, and Strayed drifts from man to man until she finds one who introduces her to a new love: heroin.

The drug addiction gives Strayed the final push to rock bottom; her way to climb out is to hike the PCT, with only her “monster” pack, her thoughts and the occasional hiker for company. By the time she reaches her final destination, Strayed is the proverbial older and wiser – and on her way to healed.

Criticisms and Compliments

Strayed’s approach to Wild, like the PCT, is unflinching. She doesn’t gloss over her past mistakes, her drug use and her cheating, nor does she overly romanticize them. She presents her actions as facts, and the inevitable emotional fall out gives her story enough of an edge to keep the reader engaged. The concept of the memoir – a look at an 1100-mile hike – sounds, to be honest, a little boring, but with Strayed’s writing and introspection, it is anything but. In fact, Wild is one of the best memoirs on “The Book She Read.” It’s intelligent and interesting, and it’s easy for the reader to imagine hiking alongside Strayed.

The only weakness of the book, as other critics have pointed out, is Strayed’s use of metaphors. As a literary device, the metaphors serve as links between the trail and Strayed’s past. For the most part, Strayed transitions well, but the number of metaphors may not be appealing to some readers. Overall, however, Wild is a terrific read (and hopefully the movie does the story justice).


  • Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail. Vintage Books, 2013 ISBN 9780307476074

Nora Roberts, “The Collector”

Putnam Adult; leads a nomadic, luxurious life, moving from stylish penthouse to villa and back as a housesitter. Her commitments are few and her belongings can fit in a couple of suitcases. But Lila’s fascination with people – and her neighbors – turns her calm existence into one chaotic after she witnesses a murder.

Plot Overview: Faberge, Collections and Chance

While gazing through her binoculars one evening, Lila sees a woman the victim of violence. Gasping at the attack, Lila fumbles for her phone to dial 911. Before she can call, she looks across to her neighbor’s again, only to see the woman fall through a glass window to the ground 14 floors below. Shocked, Lila calls the police.

At the police station, Lila runs into Ashton Archer, wealthy brother of the deceased woman’s murdered boyfriend, Oliver. Ash accurately pegs Lila as the witness, and the two embark on an uneasy alliance that quickly turns romantic.

Meanwhile, Jai Maddok, a beautiful, cunning killer, searches for a cherished item for her employer. Her investigation leads her first to Lila and Ash, then Ash’s uncle, whom she and her associate promptly kill.

Stunned by the murders, Lila and Ash, as well as their respective best friends, Julie and Luke, try to untwist the mystery behind the killings and the beloved object: a lost Faberge egg that Oliver found. The resulting cat-and-mouse game between Jai and her employer and the band of friends crosses oceans, passes through mansions and eventually ends in a bloody standoff.

Criticisms and Compliments

Nora Roberts’ latest, The Collector, while highly anticipated, falls just short of the mark. On the plus side, the plot is less formulaic, and Roberts acknowledges her nod to “Rear Window” within the first few chapters. The problem, however, lies with some of the characters. Lila is a friendly, open and independent woman, and her vibrant personality helps propel the story forward; her romance with Ash does not. Rather, Ash appears shallower on the page, and the dynamics of their relationship can be frustrating. As with many of Roberts’ novels that focus on a couple (or couples) uniting against a common enemy, the men take charge, and the women – though they protest otherwise – fall in line because the men love them and want to protect them. Why do all romance-genre novels have to feature a man (one wealthy and physically strong) riding in white knight-style to rescue a helpless female? Does the woman, even if she’s not helpless, have to capitulate to a man’s “superior” know-how? Why not focus on a more equitable partnership?

Like Ash and Lila’s relationship, Julie and Luke’s connection is not as developed as it could be. Considering the connection between the four friends, the B plot between the gallery manager and the baker could have been a more substantial addition to the story. Similarly, in the first third of the story, Roberts includes Jai’s narrative, but it disappears as the story develops; had Roberts kept Jai’s perspective, the story could have had a little more suspense.

Overall, The Collector is worth a read, but the novel is not one of Roberts’ best.


Roberts, Nora. The Collector. Putnam Adult, 2014 ISBN 9780399164453

Emily Perkins, “Novel About My Wife”

Bloomsbury USA; a Hackney house near a crumbling playground, a husband, devoted but cynical, builds his love for his wife on a foundation of denial; the wife, older, an artist, is coping with a psyche in crisis by creating odd clay talismans that litter the home and, by extension, the couple’s life. The man and woman attempt to focus on the impending arrival of their first child, but the marriage, like the playground, is falling apart, piece by piece.

Plot Overview: Spouses, Secrets and Mental Illness

Tom is a struggling, somewhat unlikeable screenwriter who made the choice between career and love long ago. Now, with his wife gone, he holds his grief close, and, in an attempt to reconcile the tragic path his life took, uses his writing skills to put his love into words.

Ann was Australian by birth, English by choice. With her background murky, Tom knows little of her life before they met. What he knows is her devotion to the unborn baby and, with the gift of hindsight, her increasingly bizarre behavior following a freak train derailment.

Ann begins to vigorously clean the house, complaining of smells that only she can detect. She also claims that a man is following her, but Tom finds little evidence of the stalker’s existence. Still, he supports his wife, even as she begins to cling to new friend Kate, wife of Simon, a successful T.V. and movie writer who also survived the train accident.

As Ann moves from first to second to third trimester, her body evolving to accommodate the growing baby, her mind regresses to a point from which she cannot return. She, like Tom before her, makes a choice, this one between love and life. And life loses.

Criticisms and Compliments

Novel About My Wife is unlike any book that has appeared on “The Book She Read.” It’s a stream-of-consciousness-esque study unencumbered by chapter breaks. The narrative is winding and, at times, confusing, reflective (the reader would think) of Tom’s struggle to understand the demise of his marriage, his wife and his life. And while the story is interesting, the climax – equally vague – is a little disappointing. Where are the sparks, the fire, the drama of the death of a woman beloved to the narrator?

Oddly, even though the premise and the characters are unique, Novel About My Wife is not a riveting read; it’s more like Richard Ford’s Canada, a well-received novel by an award-winning writer that’s more contemplative than action-filled.

Novel About My Wife is well written, but readers should be aware that the summary (a thrilling gothic tale of a couple dealing with madness and a stalker) is more exciting than the story that plays out on the pages.


  • Perkins, Emily. Novel About My Wife. Bloomsbury USA, 2008 ISBN 9781408814420

Book Sale!

Dear Readers,

While I have a book review planned (I’m in the middle of Emily Perkins’ A Novel About My Wife, which is structured unlike any other book I’ve read – no chapters!), I am so excited to share the new reads I got at my city’s annual book sale. Last year, I bought roughly 10 books, most of which I chose because I felt like I needed more intellectual reading material; I snatched up any books with award stickers. But then I never got around to reading them. This year, I took a different approach and bought books only from my current favored genre: mysteries. And I literally bought what I could carry (about a baker’s dozen of hardbacks). They are:

  • Sandra Brown, Deadline (What a find! I have been on the waiting list at the library for this book for weeks)
  • Harlan Coben, The Woods (A rarity – a Coben I haven’t read)
  • Michael Connelly, The Harry Bosch Novels: The Black Echo, The Black Ice, The Concrete Blonde (I am always inspired by journalists-turned-novelists; I’m hoping to join that club some day)
  • Sue Grafton, S Is for Silence (I’m on a mission to collect them all!)
  • John Grisham, The Confession
  • Kay Hooper, Sleeping with the Enemy (I haven’t read a romantic thriller in quite a while)
  • J.A. Jance, Queen of the Night
  • Ed McBain, Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear
  • Sara Paretsky, Hard Time
  • James Patterson, Honeymoon (I made a promise to myself awhile ago that I would not read any more James Patterson unless he wrote the book by himself, but the truth is that I’ve been wanting to read Honeymoon for a long time)
  • Nancy Pickard, The Truth Hurts (Fingers crossed this one is as good as The Scent of Rain and Lightning, which I loved)
  • Lisa Scottoline, Accused
  • Karin Slaughter, Fracture (A favorite writer, through her grittiness occasionally borders on disturbing for me)
  • Jennifer Weiner, Then Came You (An exception to the mysteries-only approach)

I can’t wait to get started!

Sue Grafton, “D Is for Deadbeat”

St. Martin’s Paperbacks; Kinsey Millhone’s latest case, there is an abundance of flaxen-haired suspects: the murder victim’s daughter, his (second) wife, three women related to a previous crime. The victim, John Daggett, was a charming conman with a taste for the bottle, and the collateral damage he left in his wake makes it easy for Kinsey to deduce who(might’ve)dunit; it’s separating one blonde from another, one alibi and motive from another, that proves to be her biggest challenge.

Plot Overview: Family, Enemies and Liars

When John Daggett first speaks with Kinsey, she knows something isn’t quite right, but she can’t pinpoint what it is. Daggett simply wants her to deliver a check for $25,000 to a Tony Gahan. He prepays for Kinsey’s services and slips out.

By Monday morning, Kinsey discovers that the paycheck bounced. The stingy private detective decides to track Daggett down – who would work for free? – only to find out from his battered wife, Lovella, that he’s hit the streets.

Before Kinsey can find him, his body washes up on the beach. Although one mystery is (sort of) solved, Kinsey has a hunch that Daggett was murdered. Now on his daughter, Barbara’s, payroll, Kinsey learns of Daggett’s other wife and a wealth of suspects. Daggett, an alcoholic, killed five people in an automobile accident a few years earlier; Tony Gahan was the only survivor of the family wiped out by the sot’s bender. Daggett served a short sentence and had only just been released when he sauntered into Kinsey’s office.

With plenty of potential murderers to sift through, Kinsey needs only eliminate who didn’t do it. But what if everyone had a reason to kill John Daggett?

Criticisms and Compliments

With D falling fourth in the alphabet, Grafton is just settling into the series, and D Is for Deadbeat allows her to focus on Kinsey’s greatest strength (and weakness): her vulnerability. Despite all of her protestations and her desire for solitude, Kinsey is a feeler. That is, she is deeply affected by those with whom she comes into contact. Case in point, Tony Gahan, the recipient of Daggett’s stolen $25,000. Like Kinsey, Tony’s parents were killed in a car accident, and an aunt is raising him. He’s also troubled, and though he sees a therapist, his grades are low, his social life practically non-existent, and he is plagued by migraines.

Although Kinsey has “all the feelings” (which gives her an appealing depth and explains her loner tendencies), she has a dry sense of humor that balances out her range of emotions. If only all detectives were as moved by the incoherent ramblings of a rabid religious fanatic at a funeral that features a wax-like corpse and a drunken wife clad in a cocktail dress.

D Is for Deadbeat is an entertaining read, and like all of the books in the series, features consistently good writing and unforgettable characters.


  • Grafton, Sue. D Is for Deadbeat. Henry Holt and Co., 2010 ISBN 9781429909327