Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Skinnytaste Fast and Slow

I don’t know about you, but I discover many great recipes on social media channels. Someone will share a recipe or I’ll see one of those cooking videos that makes preparing a dish look so easy that I’ll seek out the blog or Facebook page it originated from. That’s how I found Gina Homolka and Skinnytaste.

 

I can’t remember which recipe of hers I tried first, but I love how she uses real food ingredients in her dishes and includes the Weight Watchers points for anyone who may be on the program. She also has many slow cooker offerings. I’ve saved many of her recipes and cooking videos on Facebook and Instagram, so when I came across the Skinnytaste Fast and Slow cookbook a few months ago while browsing in our local independent bookstore I made an impulse buy. It didn’t disappoint. Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes includes 140 dishes that can be made in a slow cooker, in the oven or on the stovetop.

At the beginning of the book, Homolka explains her cooking philosophy–she loves eating decadent and savory foods but doesn’t want to sabotage the results of her fitness routine. That’s what led her to experiment with different dishes that could be full of flavor but still healthy. She also gives tips on how to successfully get dinner on the table even in the midst of a hectic schedule. For example, stock your pantry with seasonings and spices, baking products, canned and jarred goods, prep for the week with meal planning (she also sells her own meal planner to help with this), how to freeze certain dishes, etc. She also provides advice on how to prepare delicious meals quickly and slow cooker secrets. Plus, there’s a handy chart with a month full of meals to get you started.

I’m still working my way through the cookbook but so far we’ve loved pretty much everything we’ve tried and I haven’t even attempted any of the breakfast or dessert recipes yet!

Some personal favorites out of Skinnytaste Fast and Slow:

Slow Cooker Beef Ragu Pappardelle (we served this to some dinner guests a few weeks ago and they loved it)

Chicken and Zucchini Noodles with Black Bean Sauce

Zesty Lime Shrimp and Avocado Salad

Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup

Excited to try the Lasagna Soup from @skinnytaste tonight. #healthyeating #comfortfood #skinnytastefastandslow

A post shared by rlroberson (@rlroberson) on

Easiest One-Pot Pasta and Broccoli

Chicken Scaloppine with Broccoli and Melted Mozzarella

Book Review: The Rules of Half

(This article originally ran in the September 2017 issue of Lake Norman CURRENTS.)

When Sherrill’s Ford resident Jenna Patrick first got the idea for her debut novel, “The Rules of Half,” she was juggling the demands of a career in engineering and the schedules of her two daughters, who are both competitive gymnasts. She says it took her about a year to finish the first draft of the book, which centers around a family dealing with mental illness set in small-town America. While Patrick’s path to publication was different than she first imagined it, she couldn’t be happier with the reception of her novel.

She says she first got the idea for the story after reading a newspaper article about an accidental death in a family, and wondering if she would be able to live with herself personally if something similar happened to her. She has also struggled with depression in the past and has had family members also deal with mental illness. After finishing the novel, hiring an independent editor sending out queries to agents and publishing houses, she learned about SparkPress, an independent publishing company (and imprint of Ingram Publisher Services) that specializes in merging the traditional publishing model with new and innovative strategies.

Redbook has listed “The Rules of Half” as one of “10 Books You Have to Read this Summer” and she has also received reviews from Kirkus, Buzzfeed, “Working Mother,” Popsugar and SheKnows. In addition, while promoting the novel, she published essays with “Harper’s Bazaar” and “First For Women.”

Patrick says she always loved writing but wasn’t sure she would be able to sustain a good career taking the English major route.

“As time went on I missed it so much,” she says. “For me, it’s a great release. If I’m stressed, I write. It soothes me. A page became a chapter, and a chapter became a book. It helps me. It’s complex and there are a lot of different things going on at once and my engineering background helps.” She likes to work on outlining and plotting using the software program Scrivener and Excel spreadsheets.

Patrick is working on her next novel, while continuing to work as an engineer three days a week and drive her daughters to their practices and competitions, many of which are out of town. She always credits her husband for making sure she has time to write when she needs it.

To learn more about Jenna Patrick, visit jennapatricknovels.com.

Review:

Will was his Bipolar Disorder.

But it was easier not to argue over a technicality, so instead Will thought of happier times. He thought of swimming in Half Moon Creek and picnics afterword at the dam. He thought of his mother’s homemade, blueberry pie and his father’s old transistor radio crackling in the background. He thought of a time when he was just little Will Fletcher–future wide receiver for the Half Moon Howlers. Not crazy Will Fletcher–the example parents cite to their children when explaining the meaning of stranger danger.

I was working on this assignment when my family took our annual beach vacation this year, and was fortunate to have an advance copy of the novel with me. I was hooked in no time. The cast of characters in the fictional town of Half Moon Hollow are written with depth, and Patrick expertly peels away the layers to prove to the readers that things aren’t always what they seem. Fifteen-year-old Regan Whitmer is escaping the controlling eye of her step-father, mourning the loss of her mother, and seeking out the biological father she has  never known. Unbeknownst to her, that father, Will Fletcher, has lost  his way and fights a daily battle with bipolar disorder, made worse after a tragedy in his family. He is not exactly in proper frame of mind to meet the daughter he never knew existed, especially one who is requesting to live with him and Janey, the sister determined to keep him healthy.

As the story unfolds, you learn more about Regan’s relationship with her mother, the guilt she is harboring, the secret Janey is keeping, and the past that Will isn’t sure he remembers clearly. Patrick does a great job pacing the story, and making the reader feel both frustrated and exhilarated while trying to unlock the mystery that remains at the core of the story. I was very impressed by the quality of this novel, as well as the uniqueness of the story and give kudos to the author and her decision to work with SparkPress. I look forward to checking out more of their titles in the future.

Book Review: Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver

A few years ago I took my daughter to a literary festival called EpicFest in uptown Charlotte. This was yet another one of those events where I used my sweet, accommodating daughter as an excuse to go and hear one of my favorite children’s authors speak.

Lauren Oliver has written many books I’ve enjoyed, as well as one adult novel that confused me a little bit so I’ll probably need to read it again. I’m mostly drawn to her young-adult novels such as Panic, Vanishing Girls, Replica, Before I Fall (which was adapted into a film this past year), but I picked up a copy of her middle-grade novel, Liesl and Po,  for my daughter to get autographed at the festival. I was intrigued by the premise of the novel after hearing Oliver answer a Q&A at EpicFest. She said she was inspired to write the story after the death of one of her best friends. In fact, she said she wrote it mostly as a way to process her own feelings of loss—she wasn’t actually sure the novel would be published. In the back of the book, she writes:

The idea for the book came from a fantasy I entertained during those months: I dreamed about unearthing my friend’s ashes from the decorative wall in which they’d been interred and scattering them over the water, the only place he’d ever felt truly at peace.

Below is the synopsis of the novel:

Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost named Po appears from the darkness.

That same evening, an alchemist’s apprentice named Will makes an innocent mistake that has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

Review:

One of the things that always impresses me about children’s novels is how deep and profound they can be. Children are resilient beings, and I think sometimes we forget that. Liesl and Po tackles some tough subjects in the way that’s reminisent of Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling. After the death of her father (which readers soon learn was a murder) Liesl is trapped in a small attic room with only the barest scraps of food and drink (think items one might be served in a concentration camp) with only an androgynous ghost named Po to keep her company. She questions Po about what live is like “on the other side” and finally becomes motivated to escape her circumstances and take her father’s ashes to the only place where he was happiest.

Will, the alchemist’s apprentice, also lives a hardscrabble life, as he is an orphan who is verbally (and sometimes physically) abused by the alchemist. He is also forced to skulk around in the dead of night to fetch unimaginable items such as chicken’s heads or a dead man’s beard from a local mortuary. He’s carrying a large box full of magic that is supposed to be delivered to a local wealthy woman, The Lady Premiere, who lives in a castle. When the box of magic gets mixed up with the ashes of Liesl’s fathers, well, you can imagine that the two children get caught in quite a pickle.

The setting of this book is stark, and grey, much like the author viewed the world after the death of her friend. But slowly, through a tale of adventure and lovable characters such as Po, a ghost-animal named Bundle that could be a dog or cat, and a sweet but not-so-bright security guard named Mo (short for Molasses), the color gradually creeps back onto the pages, both literally and metaphorically. It also takes place in a setting and time period that could be anywhere and at anytime.

The back of the book says appropriate for ages 8-12, but I would probably recommend it more for ages 10 and older, because there is so much talk of death, “the other side” and description of a crematorium and the pretty scary character of the stepmother.

Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down

People always talk like there’s a bright line between imagination and memory, but there isn’t, at least not for me. I remember what I’ve imagined and imagine what I remember.

I imagine this book had to have been one of the hardest to write for author John Green, because much like the main character, 16-year-old Aza, he has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  Prior to reading this book, much of what I knew about OCD centered around behaviors I’ve seen on TV and in movies (think Jack Nicholson in “As Good as it Gets” or the clean-freak Monica in “Friends”). Turtles All the Way Down gives you a first-hand look into the mind of a person with OCD, and how those instrusive thoughts can paralyze us in our everyday lives.

Thoughts are just a different type of bacteria, colonizing you. I thought about the gut-brain information axis. Maybe you’re already gone. The prisoners run the jail now. Not a person so much as a swarm. Not a bee, but the hive.

Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

This book is a much quicker read than The Fault in Our Stars but I’m not sure it’s any less painful. The characters are well drawn, except I still don’t know what Aza looked like–she never described herself nor did anyone else around her. Daisy is a wonderful comedic sidekick–tough when it’s warranted, zany in her world of Star Wars fan fiction, and forever loyal, even as frustrated as she gets with Aza. Daisy and Aza provide much of the light-hearted banter I remember from Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars. I couldn’t help but think of how much this story is the opposite of what most YA books represent. While other books have characters fussing about their parents and wanting distance, Aza and Davis both have voids in their lives in the parental department, and these voids deeply impact them.

Green also nails how isolating having a mental illness can be. When you’re in the throes of it, you don’t want to see or talk to anyone else lest you feel the pressure to appear “normal,” but there can also be a deep crushing sadness that hits you when you feel like your “weirdness” and idiosyncrasies keep others away.

There are many beautiful and complicated relationships in this book–Davis and his younger brother, Noah; their relationship with the missing enigmatic Russell Pickett, Daisy and Aza, Aza and Davis, Aza and her mother, etc. But, as Green writes:

You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in the world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.

Book Review: Last Night at the Viper Room

Halloween is fast approaching, and along with it is the anniversary of the death of an icon I adored in my teen years, River Phoenix. “Stand By Me” continues to be one of my favorite movies of all time. I knew vaguely of Phoenix’s background–that his parents had been “hippies” and he and his siblings lived in a commune for a while, and he didn’t eat meat. Beyond that, I guess you could say I knew what he and his management allowed the public to know. I do know I was devastated (and shocked) when I learned of his death by drug overdose during my senior year of high school.

There was a lot we had no idea about. Times were different in the late 1980s/early 1990s. There weren’t blogs to around to share the dirty little secrets of celebrities, and paparazzi didn’t seem quite as aggressive as they do now. A few months ago I came across a show on the Reelz channel called “Autopsy: The Last Hours of River Phoenix.” I was drawn in immediately. I think what struck me the most was that River didn’t have to die in the early morning hours of Oct. 31, 1993 at the Viper Room in Hollywood. By all accounts he had been clean during the filming of his last movie, “Dark Blood,” and decided to let loose that night. He had marijuana, valium, cocaine, and pseudoephedrine in his system (he was nursing a bad cold). He went to the Viper Room in the hopes of jamming on stage with Johnny Depp and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The stage was too crowded and they couldn’t let him perform.

Even though he wasn’t consuming alcohol that night, at some point he ingested a speedball (mixture of cocaine and heroine) in a liquid form. It was too much for his body to handle. Even though the nearest hospital was only a mile away, the group he was with didn’t want anyone to know he was on drugs, so they sat with him as he more violently ill. No one called 911 until he started seizing, and by the time the paramedics reached the club it was too late.

One of the people interview for the Reelz program was Gavin Edwards, author of Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind. I immediately sought out the book. Edwards is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and has also written for DetailsSpin, and the New York Times Magazine. The book follows the life of Phoenix (born River Jude Bottom), from his humble early beginnings living with the questionable Children of God cult (which encouraged free love, even among young children) to his family’s decision to have their children seek fame and fortune in Hollywood.

I love how the book is structured–it reads like one long magazine article, featuring interviews from actors/directors Phoenix worked and pulling from previous media interviews. I learned so much reading this book, and it was heartbreaking. Phoenix never had a proper education, and he had trouble relating to kids his own age because he had not spent a lot of time with them in normal social settings. He most likely had dyslexia. His first love was music. He desperately wanted to be a musician, but acting did a better job of paying the bills. His work supported his entire family–he was the breadwinner. Although he talked about being “anti-drugs” in media interviews (he was also a devout vegan), he was first exposed to drug and alcohol use in his preteens on various movie sets.

The other thing I found interesting about Last Night at the Viper Roomwas how the author also wove in a timeline of other up and coming young actors in Hollywood (Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, etc.) and what was happening in their careers as Phoenix’s career progressed. For a pop culture junkie such as myself, this was just a bonus.

If he had been given medical attention earlier in the evening of Oct. 30, Phoenix might not have died that night. But with the downward spiral he was on, we can’t really say if he would have lived any longer. Reading this book helped me understand how such a talented young actor could have become overwhelmed and led down the path he ended up on. I couldn’t put this book down until I finished it, and then my heart hurt for a very long time afterward.

Book Review: Between Me and You by Allison Winn Scotch

Ben knows my story, Ben knows my soul. I want him to write for that, to that, to me. Because when he taps into me, and I braid myself to him, we are a galaxy unto and of ourselves.

Sometimes she’s like a firework, explosive but still mesmerizing, and it’s not like I don’t want to sit back and watch the show.

I like author Allison Winn Scotch for a number of reasons—her books are always fun and fast-paced escapes, often with a touch of the mystical (The One That I Want, Time of My Life) and tackle the popular topics of “What if?” I enjoyed her last novel, In Twenty Years,  where a group of college friends reunite after twenty years (think “The Big Chill” in a modern-day setting). She’s also a funny presence on social media, having first started out as a freelance journalist for big-name magazines like InStyle, Redbook, Shape, etc. (my dream job!) before becoming a best-selling author. When I heard about her latest book, Between Me and You, and how its plot centers on an actress and a screenwriter and their complicated relationship, I knew it was for me, the gal who has piles of celebrity gossip magazines around her house at any given moment. (In Touch and UsWeekly are my favorites.) I was lucky enough to get an advance digital copy of Between Me and You to read and review and I dove right in.

Synopsis:

When their paths first cross, Ben Livingston is a fledgling screenwriter on the brink of success; Tatum Connelly is a struggling actress tending bar in a New York City dive. They fall in love, they marry, they become parents, and they think only of the future. But as the years go by, Tatum’s stardom rises while Ben’s fades. In a marriage that bears the fallout of ambition and fame, Ben and Tatum are at a crossroads. Now all they can do is think back…

A life of passion, joy, tragedy, and loss—once shared—becomes one as shifting and unpredictable as a memory. As the pieces of their past come together, as they explore the ways love can bend and break, Ben and Tatum come to see how it all went wrong—and wonder what they can do now to make it all right.

Review:

The book starts out in the present day, when Ben and Tatum are in their early 40s and have been separated for some time. Ben is waiting for Tatum on the beach, reliving their history together in his mind, but then someone else shows up instead. From there the book alternates chapters telling both Tatum and Ben’s stories. Tatum’s chapters propel the narrative forward (1999 to present) while Ben’s work backward (2016 back down to 1999). We learn how they met by chance in a bar in 1999, when Tatum was a theater student and part-time bartender and Ben working on an MFA. He was also in the process of breaking up with his long-term girlfriend when he meets Tatum.

Through the years, we watch as both of their stars rise after their move from New York to Los Angeles, like the quintessential Hollywood couple. The relationship of Brad Pitt and Angelina came to mind (Tatum goes from struggling actress to Oscar winner to influential director throughout the course of the book, much like Angelina) as well as Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck (this one because of the infidelity that invades the marriage and because Tatum is from a small town much like Garner). I did read an article  not long ago that said she interviewed several different celebrity couples while researching this book to help provide authenticity, and she thanked Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer in the acknowledgements section.

Throughout the book, Ben and Tatum face their share of challenges, from the death of Tatum’s mother, to her alcoholic father, to a loved one lost in 9/11 and a family member with a heartbreaking drug addiction. They also have a son and struggle with the balance of parenthood while Tatum is often away filming or directing and Ben gets frustrated with his job of writing for TV when he really wants to be writing the screenplay that will put him on the map. The chapters kept me guessing, as each one dropped crumbs of the story along the way. I found myself rooting for Tatum and Ben and also cursing them for the foolish decisions they made and refused to communicate with one another. I was on the edge of my seat by the time I got to the end.

I will say that if you are going to read this book, don’t read it on a Kindle like I did. Because of the way the chapters alternate time periods, I found myself wanting to quickly flip back and forth to double-check information, and that’s not easy to do on a digital device. So read this in the print version and you will feel much less frustrated.

Thank you to NetGalley and Scotch’s publicity team for allowing me the opportunity to read this book in advance, I enjoyed it and will read it again now that I have a better handle on the way the timeline worked, I’m sure I can pick up on even more tidbits the second time around!

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.

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.

Book Review: The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

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

A post shared by rlroberson (@rlroberson) on

“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?”