An Evening with John and Hank Green

Because I like to write young adult fiction, I also read a lot of it, too. I’m not crazy about dystopian literature or fantasy titles and gravitate more toward contemporary topics. I think this is what drew me to novelist John Green several years ago. I started hearing people talk about how great The Fault in Our Stars was, and then I saw it had been optioned for a movie. It was then that I picked up the book and starting reading the tale of Hazel Grace (cancer patient) and Augustus (cancer survivor). I cried for hours after finishing it and loved the movie just as much.

From there I read Looking for Alaska, which I believe has been banned from some schools. If you’re like me, if something is banned from a school, I definitely want to read it! From there I went on to An Abundance of Katherines, which was a great concept but I couldn’t really get into it. Then I heard Paper Towns was being made into a movie with scenes shot in the city I live in, so I read it next. I knew Green had been busy for several years working on the development of two films, which was exciting. Every author’s dream, right? But what I didn’t know was that he was also suffering from a case of writer’s block trying to produce his follow-up to The Fault in the Stars. I got to hear the backstory last night at the “Turtles All the Way Down with John and Hank Green” event last night here in Charlotte, N.C.

I feel fortunate that I even heard about the event. I happened to be scrolling through Facebook one day and saw Green post a tour schedule with the comment, “I’ve been told these events might sell out quickly.” I clicked on the schedule, saw Charlotte on it, and immediately went to buy tickets. I was also shocked when I saw the ticket price of $21 included a signed copy of his new book, Turtles All the Way Down. Talk about a deal! (The event did indeed sell out quickly.) The tour includes John and his brother Hank, who I have to admit is very lovable. Together, they join forces to produce the popular YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers.

First of all, the venue was beautiful. The theater at Spirit Square was intimate, with red upholstered seats and stained glass windows surrounding us. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, which was good because our tickets were general admission. We chose a seat in the middle and had no problem seeing.

Spirit Square in Charlotte, N.C.

The evening started with us receiving swag tote bags that listed the 19 cities on this tour (I feel special), our signed copies of the book, a booklet with some letters from John Green, a bookmark, a cardboard poster of the tour, and some post-its.

I brought my 14-year-old daughter along and as a self-proclaimed nerd, I’m pretty sure she had more fun than I did. John began the evening with a reading from the book, and then in a slightly shaky voice, discussed his lifelong battle with OCD. The main character in the novel has OCD so this book is very near and dear to his heart. Then we got a science lecture on Phylogenetics and Taxonomy from Dr. Lawrence Turtleman, a comical turn from Hank Green. The two brothers also took questions from the audience members (you could fill out a form on the way in) and Hank performed a few songs—my daughter’s favorite was “The Universe was Weird.”

The event lasted an hour and a half, and time flew by. I can hardly wait to dig into Green’s new novel, which is already getting rave reviews from some of the major media outlets. Tonight, John and Hank are headed to Asheville to the UNC-Asheville, my old alma mater, and I’m sure they will be just as well received.

Hearing John’s personal story, learning about the book, and joining the cause to fight against the stigma of mental illness also made me itching to get back in front of my computer to write.

Thank you, John and Hank, for a fun and inspired evening.

True Crime Wednesday: Kyle Fleischmann

I moved to the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C. in late 2003, and in 2007 I saw the original news stories when local resident, 24-year-old Kyle Fleischmann went missing. He has never been found and it’s a case that bothers me every time I think about it, mostly because it could have happened to anyone. How many times did I meet friends at bars when I was in my early 20s and walk in the dark to my car, alone? When you’re that age, you think you’re invincible. This case shows us our vulnerability. And also to be wary of walking alone, especially at night. It also inspired a flash-fiction short story I wrote several years ago.

Kyle is described by his friends and family as fun-loving, happy, and at a good place in his life. He had a nice job and had just moved into a condo in the trendy part of uptown Charlotte. On the night of Nov. 9, 2007, Kyle’s best friend organized an outing to see a Dane Cook concert (I believe his parents were there, too), and then the friends decided to end the evening with a stop at the Buckhead Saloon. I saw one interview where his friend said he saw Kyle talking to an attractive young woman at the bar, and he asked Kyle whether he was staying or leaving. Kyle opted to stay. Based on some reports I’ve read, surveillance footage caught a discussion between the guy the woman was with and a few of his friends. Kyle then exited the bar alone around 2 a.m. He left his jacket and debit card at the Buckhead Saloon, and went out into the cold night wearing only a t-shirt and jeans.

Here’s where the story gets strange. An employee at nearby Fuel Pizza claimed Kyle came in and ordered a few slices of pizza around 2:30 a.m. A little while later, he made calls to his parents, his best friend who was with him at the concert, his sister, and maybe one other person. He didn’t leave messages on any of those calls. He was never seen or heard from again.

When police investigators started searching for Kyle, they tracked his cell phone records. They could tell that when he made all the early-morning calls, he was walking through uptown and into what’s considered a bad part of the city. At some point after that, his phone went dead. Based on an interview with Kyle’s dad, Dick Fleischmann, that ran in Charlotte Magazine, Dick thinks Kyle is dead, and probably died that same night. He believes Kyle may have been intoxicated and tired and wandered into a bad part of town, where someone attempted to rob him. His theory is that Kyle’s body was left in what was then a construction site in that area. If this is what is happened, it is all the more sad because Kyle likely had nothing of value on him. He had left his debit card at the bar, must have used some cash to buy the pizza, but he probably didn’t have much more than a few dollars on him. Because wouldn’t he have used money or another credit card to call a cab?

To learn more, you can visit the Help Find Kyle Fleischmann Facebook page, where his father often posts.

 

Book Review: 100 Days of Real Food-Fast and Fabulous

Anyone who knows me knows I love to cook. This wasn’t always the case–ask my husband about the slop I used to try and whip up for us when we first got married. There was a LOT of processed food and frozen dinners thrown in there. Then when I was pregnant with our first child and we were both working demanding jobs, there was mostly take-out. Slowly I started cooking more, little by little, but I was still using a lot of processed ingredients (like those yummy condensed soups) because that’s all I knew. Several years ago I came across the 100 Days of Real Food blog and was happy to find recipes that included nothing but whole food ingredients. If you don’t know about the family behind the blog, including mom and Charlotte, N.C. resident Lisa Leake, you can read more about their story here.

I absolutely loved the first cookbook and learned so much about what is considered real food and what has added ingredients. I found so many great recipes I added into my usual rotation, such as the Slow Cooker Potato Soup, Slow Cooker Fajitas, Mini Quiches (my daughter even makes these herself now!), Whole-Wheat Pasta with Kale-Pesto Cream Sauce, etc. I also learned how to make my own whipped cream and it is yummy!

The second cookbook Lisa Leake released, 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous, features a whole slew of ways to help you integrate healthy, real food into the household with quick and simple recipes. I ordered this cookbook the second I realized it was coming out. Some of my favorite recipes include Layered Jar Salad with White Beans, Quick Cauliflower Soup, Kale, Sausage and White Bean Soup, the Orange Cream Bundt Cake, Fresh Ranch Dressing (my kids won’t eat the stuff out of a bottle now–they will only eat this!) and much more.

Orange Cream Bundt Cake with Whipped Cream

One recipe I’m dying to make but haven’t yet is the Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole (like Cracker Barrel’s but without the MSG and other additives). Also, these brownies are delicious and my kids can make them without my help!

Simple Salad Mix

The book also includes make-ahead meal suggestions that don’t require a recipe, such as hard-boiled eggs, cooked quinoa, granola, hummus–things that are great for lunch boxes and the days/nights when you want to feed everyone quickly but without grabbing fast food.  There are also meal plans for each season that include shopping lists to make things so much easier.

These two cookbooks have become a staple in our house when meal planning and I can’t wait for her next one to come out.

Podcast I’m Loving: For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

I’ve been hearing about how fun podcasts are for years, but kept telling myself “eh, those aren’t really my thing. I don’t like to listen to audio books, so it’s similar, right?” I started thinking more and more about podcasts after interviewing a local podcaster last year. She was a former radio announcer who also became a huge advocate for Type 1 diabetes when her son was diagnosed. After leaving her job at a radio station, she started putting together a podcast designed specifically to educate the community about Type 1 diabetes, talk about new medications and technology and that featured experts and some celebrities that have it. Victor Garber was an especially fun guest. This podcast now has corporate sponsors and has won a few different awards, as well as garnered a pretty big following. I loved hearing about her success story.

So I started slowly. First I listened to a few episodes of the Type 1 diabetes podcast, Diabetes Connection, so I could get background info for the article. Stacey Simms, who runs the podcast, showed me the podcast app native to my phone and helped me select a few podcasts to check out.  I listened to several episodes of Up and Vanished, which profiled the case of a missing beauty queen and high school teacher from Georgia, Tara Grinstead. Interestingly enough, right around the time I started listening to the podcast, police arrested two of her former students and charged them with her death.

I found I like to listen to podcasts while I’m walking or running outside, or if I’m in the car or doing things around the house, like tidying up or cooking. I follow Christian author Jen Hatmaker on social media and started hearing about the podcast she has, For the Love with Hatmaker. Then I saw the line-up for her series titled “For the Love of Moxie” and knew I had to listen to a few of the episodes. Jen Hatmaker described one of them, an interview with Dr. Brene Brown, as “a free hour of therapy.” She nailed it. Jen is such a personable, funny and engaging interviewer (or an emotional one depending on the guest–I’ve heard her shed a few tears) that you do feel like you are sitting in a coffee shop with a few of your closest friends.

And while Jen is a Christian author and speaker, I don’t believe you need to be particularly religious to enjoy her podcast. For example, one of my favorite episodes featured Melissa Hartwig, who founded Whole30. I was surprised to learn that she overcame a drug addiction prior to founding her program. I love hearing about strong women who overcome their vulnerabilities to help bring other people joy and contentment in their lives.  Another fascinating (and heartbreaking episode) included interviews with Anna LeBaron and Ruth Wariner, cousins who were both part of different factions of a polygamist cult. They’ve both written memoirs about their experiences that I now want to read.

So I guess you can say I’ve been converted to podcasts! I love checking new ones and will regularly feature reviews of different ones here on my blog. Now I want to hear about any podcasts you’re loving!

True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Zebb Quinn

In March of 2015 a newspaper article caught my eye online because it involved the disappearance of a couple in Leicester, N.C., which is near my hometown of Asheville. Cristie Codd and her husband J.T., who had only recently moved to the area, had gone missing from their home and no one could locate them. The disappearance made national headlines because Cristie, a celebrity chef, had starred on a season of the reality show “Food Network Star” and also made her living catering on film and TV sets. She met her husband, J.T., when the two both worked on the crew of the CBS show “Without a Trace.” The two were expecting their first child and had wanted to raise their family in the quiet and serene mountains of Asheville.

I kept track of the case for several days until a suspect’s name caught my eye—because I had heard it before connected to another disappearance in the Asheville area. Jason Owens had been questioned when Zebb Quinn, 18, went missing in January of 2000. But more in that later in this post.

A few days after the Codds’ disappearance, police picked up Owens, who had worked as a handyman for the Codds, after receiving reports from a local a resident grew suspicious of Owens throwing a large bags of items in a private dumpster. Upon examining the items, police discovered they belonged to Cristie Codd. When presented with the evidence, Owens claimed he had accidentally run over Cristie as he was trying to get his truck out of a ditch. However, this doesn’t explain the death of her husband. By the time police were able to get to Owens’ home and property, where they found charred remains of the couple in a wood stove, most evidence had all but been destroyed. Owens eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of dismembering remains. He will serve a minimum of almost sixty years in prison for the crime.

Several years ago I watched an episode of Investigation Discovery’s show “Disappeared” that focused on Quinn. I immediately suspected his co-worker Jason Owens, because he told conflicting stories about the last night anyone saw Quinn. Quinn seemed like a nice guy who was probably too quick to trust people. Because he was interested in buying a new car, it sounds like Quinn had some cash on him when he went to peruse some used car lots after work. Guess who went with him? Jason Owens. The two were caught on a video camera at a local convenience store buying sodas after they left work at Wal-Mart.

Owens told police the two boys had taken separate cars on that errand, and that Zebb had received a page and made a call from a pay phone that upset him, prompting him to leave early. Supposedly when he sped away, he rear-ended Owens’ truck. What’s interesting is that hours later, Owens received treatment at a local hospital for fractured ribs and a head injury he told doctors happened in a second accident, one that he never filed an accident report for. Quinn’s car was found a few days later in a local restaurant parking lot, with the lights on and a puppy inside. Using red lipstick, someone had also drawn a pair of red lips on the back windshield. This reappearance of his car has never been explained.

After hearing Owens’ name come up in the Cristie and J.T. Codd case, my heart sank. I’ve suspected all along that Quinn was dead, and that he probably died the night of Jan. 2, 2000. My guess is that Owens tried to rob Quinn of the cash he had saved up and the two boys fought, or had an altercation that involved their cars. In March and May of 2015, investigators searched Owens’ property and a portion of a national forest in Asheville searching for evidence of Quinn’s remains. I haven’t heard anything about the results of those investigations, but Owens was indicted in the murder of Quinn in July of this year.

I hope Quinn’s family can find the closure they’ve been looking for, because this may be all that they ever get. I believe Owens is a coward and a thief who will probably never tell the truth about what happened to the Codds or Quinn. He likely robbed Quinn and my guess is that he was stealing from the Codds and they confronted him about it shortly before their deaths. I only wish investigators had been able to charge Owens for Quinn’s murder before another innocent family had to die.

Book Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I remember running down a road on my way to a nursery of flowers.

I remember her smile and her laugh when I was my best self and she looked at me like I could do no wrong and was whole.

I remember how she looked at me the same way even when I wasn’t.

I remember her hand in mine and how that felt, as if something and someone belonged to me.

-Theodore Finch, All the Bright Places

I don’t know any other way to describe this book except that it broke my heart in a million little pieces and left me crying for hours. You may read this and think, “Well, I won’t be reading THAT book.” But if you’re like me, and sometimes you seek out certain songs, books, movies, etc., so that you can feel something more deeply than you’ve ever felt before, then maybe you’ll consider this beautifully-written book that gives the best depiction of bipolar disorder that I’ve ever seen.

All the Bright Places is told from two viewpoints—Violet and Theodore Finch (a.k.a. “Finch). When the book opens they have both snuck up to the bell tower on their school’s campus—Violet, because she is still reeling from the death of her older sister in a car accident, and Finch, because as he so bluntly puts it, is wondering if “Today is a good day to die.” Finch is surprised to find himself talking Violet into climbing back off the ledge, as he knows the crowd she hangs out with is pretty popular and she doesn’t strike him as the depressed type. After their encounter, he becomes curious to learn more about her and pursues her until they are paired together on a class project where they are challenged to learn more about their home state of Indiana. He even pens a set of “Rules for Wandering” for them both.

Chapter by chapter, the layers of Violet and Finch are revealed. Their home lives couldn’t be more different, and Violet watches as her ex-boyfriend and his teammates relentlessly bully Finch for reasons she can’t understand. Listening to Finch describe the way he feels when he is “awake” versus when he is “asleep” gives the reader an enlightening picture of the highs and lows of someone with bipolar disorder (Finch never says he has it but it becomes more and more clear throughout the book that he is undiagnosed and should probably be medicated).

Violet and Finch work together on their class project where they wander all over the state (this takes some doing at first, as Violet hasn’t ridden in a car since she and her sister’s accident) visiting unusual places like Hoosier Hill (with its elevation of 1,257 feet) to a farm where a man has built one-person amusement parks ride out of scrap metal. Finch’s hard work pays off—he slowly starts to pull Violet out of her shell and against her wishes, she finds herself drawn to him. She also learns a few of the family secrets he’s been hiding all his life, and begins to realize the highs and lows of his personality may be doing him more harm than good.

This book is a difficult read for anyone who has ever watched a loved one go through a mental illness. Violet is a normal teenage girl who truly believes love can help them both overcome their obstacles. Unfortunately, the novel does not have a happy ending. Author Jennifer Niven shared her own personal story at the end of the book which sheds lot of light on the trajectory of the story.

In that moment, I’m thankful I’m not a parent and I wonder if I ever will be. What a terrible feeling to love someone and not be able to help them.

Actually, I know exactly how that feels.

–Violet Markey, All the Bright Places

This young adult novel is a painful read, but the prose and the love between the characters is so beautiful and haunting and realistic that I think it expands far beyond the scope of teenage readers. There is one scene where Violet and Finch quote Virginia Woolf to one another on a computer chat and I couldn’t help but think what I would have done if a boy had spoken my language in such a way at that age. He also calls her “Ultraviolet.”

If you look at this book in my Kindle, you’ll see pages upon pages of highlighted material that made me pause. It’s one of those books that you wish you had the courage and talent to write yourself. Bravo, Jennifer Niven, and I’m sorry for what you had to go through to get to this place.

The Name You’re Not Supposed to Call Women

 

A few months ago, I was watching something on TV when this PSA came on. It stopped me in my tracks, mostly because it brought some old memories to the surface. I’ve been thinking about writing about the topic of emotional abuse for a while, but wasn’t sure how to do it. I have one YA manuscript with a male character who is both physically and emotionally abusive to his girlfriend, but sometimes people don’t even realize they’re in a damaging relationship because they’ve never been hit, punched, slapped or kicked.

At least, that’s why I didn’t realize I was in such a relationship when I was 17 years old. I thought because my boyfriend was older, in college, and took me to nice places that I could overlook the tiny things he did that made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came to understand he was emotionally abusive. I finally sat down and decided to put some ideas down on paper, and the next thing I knew, I had a short story that featured a lot of my own personal experience through the eyes of a fictional character. It’s still a work in progress, but I hope it will be something teenagers can read and learn from one day so they don’t make the same mistakes I did.

There were so many red flags I should have noticed. Like the way he didn’t want me talking to any other guys, period. I thought it was normal jealous boyfriend stuff. Then he didn’t really want me hanging out with my friends, either, because he was afraid other guys would be around. If I mentioned another guy—a friend, classmate, or whatever, he would let out a string of very unflattering names for that person, even if he had never met them. It made me uncomfortable, but I let it go because he was smart, attentive, bought me nice things, and seemed to genuinely like me. Wrong, I know. After a few months, he started calling me names and acting like I wanted to leave him for any other guy within a 10-foot-vicinity. It seems melodramatic, but that’s about how ridiculous his jealousy was. Thank goodness there were no cell phones back then. He would become furious if I couldn’t/didn’t want to spend time with him. I started to feel smothered after about six months, because I was a senior in high school and felt like I couldn’t be a teenager anymore.

Me, in my teenage years.

When I was accepted into a college other than the one he went to, he was so angry he almost couldn’t see straight. He told me we should go ahead and break up then and there because he knew if I went to another school I would cheat on him. Immediately. Nice, huh? Once I made the decision to go to the same college as him, he wanted to know where I was at all times. He memorized my class schedule and if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, he would interrogate me when he found me. (“You weren’t in the building where your class was, or the dining hall, library, or any of the parking lots. Where the hell have you been and who were you with?”) As you can imagine, all his controlling behavior drove me away. I became interested in another classmate, and broke up with my boyfriend because I was still young and wanted to be able to date other people. From there, the ex-boyfriend left threatening notes on my car, egged my house, sent his friends into my place of employment to call me names, etc.)

Even though I saw his behavior escalate, for some reason in a moment of weakness a few months later I reconciled with him briefly. But after the behavior started up again I called it off. I knew I couldn’t continue to live like that. I had been called so many names (including the title of this blog post and my short story) that I had very little self-esteem left. I knew he made me feel terrible and that his behavior couldn’t be considered normal, but because he had never laid a hand on me I didn’t think it was abuse.

I know now I was wrong. I have a teenage daughter, and I’ve shared my story with her in the hopes that she never finds herself in a similar situation. And if she does, I want her to know it’s not her fault, and she should not be afraid to tell someone. I was lucky—he finally left me alone a few months after I broke things off the second time. And I’m fortunate to have been married to a wonderful man for 17 years now, but the scars from this experience are still there. I guess they always will be. #ThatsNotLove

True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Maura Murray

When I first decided to start up my blog again I knew I wanted to designate one day to true crime posts. (Hey—I had to find some way of justifying my addiction to the unsolved/unresolved missing persons and cold cases, right?) For today’s post I had originally planned to talk about Kyle Fleischmann, a young man who disappeared in Charlotte, N.C. in 2007, but after I saw a new program scheduled to run on the Oxygen channel this weekend titled “The Disappearance of Maura Murray,” I changed my plans.

For those not familiar with the case, on the night of Feb. 9, 2004, Maura Murray e-mailed her college professors at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and employers and told them she needed to take a week off due to a death in her family. (This was later determined to be a lie). She researched renting a condominium in the mountains of New Hampshire. She left campus, withdrew most of the money in her bank account from an ATM, purchased alcohol at a liquor store, including a box of wine, and drove to Haverhill, New Hampshire, a few hours away. She crashed her car on a country road there around 7 p.m.

A school bus driver stopped to ask her if she needed help on his way home but she said, no, she had already called AAA for help. He drove to his home just a few houses away and placed a call to police. He doubted her story because the area had no cell service whatsoever.  By the time police arrived around 15 minutes later, there was no sign of Maura. Some of her possessions were found in the car, along with an empty bottle that appeared to have residual wine in it and the smashed up box of wine she had purchased at the liquor store. Her debit and credit cards and cell phone were missing. Maura was never seen again.

Disappearance of Maura Murray Sneak Peek 101: A Timeline of Events

I’ve listed to a few episodes of the Missing Maura Murray podcast , produced by Tim Pilleri and Lance Reenstierna, where they discuss different theories out there about Maura’s disappearance as well as a detailed timeline of the events leading up to the night she went missing. James Renner is another journalist who has a blog devoted to this case, My Search for Maura Murray, as well as a nonfiction book titled True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray.

I think people are fascinated with Maura’s case because on the surface, she looked like she had everything going for her. She was young, beautiful, athletic, intelligent, studying for a promising career in nursing. But Maura’s story goes much deeper than that. Scratch the surface a bit and secrets would be revealed, one by one. So many secrets and transgressions that when added up, could result in a person wanting to run away, disappear, or take their own life rather than be exposed.

Some of those secrets (from what I’ve been able to glean from news articles, podcasts, and television broadcasts of the case) are that Maura had been asked to leave West Point Academy, which she originally attended after graduating from high school, for an honor code violation. She transferred to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to study nursing. While there, she got into trouble for using the credit card of someone who lived in her dorm to order food from a local restaurant. The day before she disappeared, she crashed her father’s brand-new car near campus around 3:30 a.m., causing a lot of damage. The next day, she put most of her belongings in boxes in her dorm room, e-mailed professors and her employer for the time off, researched condos in the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, and drove away. Then she crashed her car again around 7 p.m. that night. How could this girl not be scared that her world was caving in?

Some people theorize that a local resident snatched Maura as she stood outside of her car wondering how she was going to get out her second car accident in two days. Me? Personally I believe she panicked because she was probably going to get a D.U.I., and that, along with the rest of her troubles, was too much for her to handle. She probably grabbed what she needed and took off into the woods before police could arrive. She could have gotten disoriented in the woods and succumbed to the elements. I don’t really believe any of the theories that she faked her own disappearance and is living in Canada somewhere. It seems a little too far fetched to me. But, who knows? I could be wrong.

Do you have any theories about what could have happened to Maura Murray? Have you watched “The Disappearance of Maura Murray” or followed any of the blogs? Do you think the case will be cracked anytime soon?

 

 

Book Review: The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Digging in with my afternoon cup of coffee! #elinhilderbrand #theidenticals #summerreading

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“The most underrated force at work in the universe is that of coincidence. And yet who among us hasn’t been at its mercy?” – The Identicals

Elin Hilderbrand is one of my favorite authors, and every summer I look forward to meeting a new set of characters in her latest novel. In my favorite book, The Blue Bistro, it was Adrienne, Thatcher, the mysterious chef Fiona, and the whole colorful front and back of the house staff at the restaurant. In The Castaways it was Tess and Greg, Addison and Delilah, Addison and Phoebe and Andrea and Jeffrey, a group of couples who had all grown too close for their own good—I almost couldn’t keep up with all their secrets! In A Summer Affair it was the illicit romance between Claire and Lock as they worked together on a summer gala, even though both were married and had a lot to lose if their secret was discovered. The list goes on and on. This year, I couldn’t hold myself back when I heard about The Identicals, a tale of two identical twins who were raised on the separate islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

In fact, both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard each serve as narrators in different parts of the book. Nantucket says things like, “Famous residents: Prefer not be named,” while Martha’s Vineyard adds, “Famous residents: Meg Ryan, Lady Gaga, Carly Simon, James Taylor, John Belushi,” etc. The book is also told from the points of view of twins Tabitha (raised on Nantucket with her mom after her parents’ divorce when she was a teenager), Harper (who traveled to Martha’s Vineyard with the twins’ dad) and Ainsley, who is Tabitha’s 16-year-old daughter and quite the handful.

Both women are 39 and have lives that couldn’t be more different. Tabitha never married but had two children with her ex-boyfriend Wyatt, Ainsley and an infant son who only lived a few months. She also followed in her mother’s business trying to keep a clothing line (think Lilly Pulitzer variety) afloat, while Harper never really settled on a career and got into one scrape after another, including a drug trafficking charge. When the book begins the two women are united when their father Billy dies, and the reader learns the women haven’t spent any time together since the death of Tabitha’s son—a death for which she blames Harper for some mysterious reason. When their mother Eleanor falls and breaks her hip, there is no one to stay and watch over Ainsley, who has become quite a rebellious and indulgent teenager, on Nantucket. Harper ends up traveling to Nantucket to help out against Tabitha’s wishes while Tabitha first helps her mother in Boston, and then makes her way to Martha’s Vineyard.

I enjoyed reading about the dynamic between the two sisters, especially their complicated love lives. The character of Ainsley had the most growth throughout the novel, which was a nice surprise. I did grow a little frustrated at the hints of what happened the night Tabitha’s son died, because at the end blaming Harper was a little more than misplaced. It also reminded me a little of the storyline in Summerland that involved Ava and Jordan’s infant son who also died.

As usual, Hilderbrand’s love of food comes into play (Harper is a great cook and the meals she prepares are decadent) and it was a change of pace to read about Martha’s Vineyard this time along with Nantucket. It made me add one more place to my travel bucket list! I also purchased the book from Barnes and Noble and it featured bonus content at the end that gave a little backstory to the Tabitha and Harper’s parents, Eleanor and Billy.

Have you read any Elin Hilderbrand books? Which was your favorite? If you haven’t, what is your favorite author famous for writing “beach reads?”