The Perfect Mother: Book Review

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy published in 2018.

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“They call themselves the May Mothers—a group of new moms whose babies were born in the same month. Twice a week, they get together in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for some much-needed adult time. When the women go out for drinks at a hip neighborhood bar, they’re looking for a fun break from their daily routine. But on this hot Fourth of July night, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is taken from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but her fellow May Mothers insisted everything would be fine. What follows is a heart-pounding race to find Midas, during which secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are destroyed.”

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This is both the best and the worst book for a mother to read.

The May Mother’s are a group of women who gave birth to their children in the same month of May. They meet to discuss their new daunting roles of mothers and exchange advice on their newborns. The regular members are Francie, Nell, Colette, Token (given this nickname because he’s the “token male” of the group) and finally, the mysterious and beautiful Winnie Ross. Yet when the group convinces Winnie to go against her better judgement and join them for a night of drinks, her son Midas is taken from his crib. The police are proving to be incompetent in solving this case, and soon the whole country has an opinion about the infant abduction. Was it an act of terrorism? Revenge from an old stalker of Winnie’s? Or maybe Winnie has something to do with this herself? Even besides the detail of who did this, how irresponsible was it of this new mother to leave her newborn at home to go drinking? As the press preoccupies themselves by pointing fingers and placing blame, the police stray further away from finding Midas, so one of the May Mother’s stars to take things into her own hands. Secrets are revealed, people are killed, and tensions are high on the search for baby Midas.

The characterization was definitely not ideal for me. It took a while for all the main characters to gain a sense of individuality and a strong personality. I kept getting all of their jobs, husbands and kids confused. Since they’re all in similar situations (new, nervous mothers), it’s difficult to distinguish between Francie, Nell and Colette. Eventually, I did get them sorted out, but I attribute that mainly to time. If you read about any character for long enough, you’re bound to remember certain things about them, even if they aren’t particularly memorable.

This is labelled as a thriller, but I didn’t really find it that thrilling for the majority of the novel. I felt as if it sort of plateaued for most of it, just an endless search for Midas with very few major twists and turns or any sort of heavy action scenes. I kept waiting for some minor peaks of action to spice up the story, yet the only bit of noteworthy action was the final reveal at the end. Then it was approximately forty pages of intense drama with an abrupt happyish ending.

Speaking of the big twist, I wasn’t too impressed by it. Was I surprised by the reveal of what happened to baby Midas? Somewhat. Was I absolutely blown away by it? Not really. Actually, when I was telling my dad about the general plot of the novel, he guessed part of the ending so you can interpret that any way you’d like. My exact thoughts while taking in the ending was, “Oh, that’s it?” Also, it left some unanswered questions, which is quite annoying, especially in a thriller/mystery novel that dedicates about two hundred pages to creating questions that need answers.

I will say it did have an interesting commentary on modern motherhood that was intriguing to read, even as someone who isn’t a mother. The external pressure to be the perfect mother (hence the title) is presented with a contemporary flair with hints of traditional doubt. It ranges from a parenting website sending daily “mommy advice” of how the perfect baby should be acting, to the underlying disdain of using formula milk versus breast milk. Reading this book is just a constant reminder that trying to keep a little human alive is hard enough without a world of strangers telling you that you’re doing it wrong, so we should appreciate the work that mother’s do.

I heard some people describe this book as “disturbing”, but to me, that’s a bit of an ambitious adjective for The Perfect Mother. Besides the whole plot point of a newborn being kidnapped, there are very few scenes that I would describe as disturbing. Maybe it’s because I’m adventurous when it comes to potentially unsettling books (check out my review for Girls Burn Brighter—that one was a doozy), but this definitely was not the most disturbing book I’ve ever read, if anything I found it rather tame.

Molloy has achieved writing a very average book. All the characters, plot and writing style are just fine to say the most. If you’re looking for a novel to introduce yourself to the thriller genre that has little to arguably no disturbing scenes, this would be a good one to check out. Yet if you have a strong stomach and are searching for something with a bit more bang for your buck, it might be worth skipping this one.

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Surprise Me: Book Review

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella published in 2018.

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“After ten years together, Sylvie and Dan have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, and beautiful twin girls, and they communicate so seamlessly they finish each other’s sentences. They have a happy marriage and believe they know everything there is to know about each other. Until it’s casually mentioned to them that they could be together for another sixty-eight years…and panic sets in. They decide to bring surprises into their marriage to keep it fresh and fun. But in their pursuit of Project Surprise Me—from unexpected gifts to restaurant dates to sexy photo shoots—mishaps arise, with disastrous and comical results. Gradually, surprises turn to shocking truths. And when a scandal from the past is uncovered, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other at all.

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This book stayed true to its name because it definitely surprised me.

The reader follows Sylvie as she navigates through her picture-perfect life with her husband Dan and two young children. This is until they get the news that they’re going to live for another sixty-eight years, which is a dauntingly long time to be married to one person. To fix this dilemma, Sylvie starts to implement a plan to regularly surprise her spouse, and he to do the same towards her. After one momentous surprise, her husband Dan starts to stray away from her, both physically and emotionally. The only logical explanation Sylvie can think of is that he’s having an affair with an old flame. It also doesn’t help that there’s tension between Dan and her parents, even though her father died in a car accident years before. Sylvie is convinced that Dan is jealous of the abundant charm and wealth that her father possessed. As the gap in their relationship grows, Sylvie is driven to discover a family secret that she did not see coming.

Unfortunately, this book did not start off on the right foot for me. I did not like the characters at the beginning, specifically the main character Sylvie. I found her annoying and spoiled, the kind of person I would try to avoid in my real life. I mean, what grown adult calls their parents “Mummy and Daddy”? (Is it a British thing?) Either way, I found myself raising my brows and rolling my eyes that Sylvie’s mentality for most of the novel.

So because the main character has all these qualities, it spills over into the actual narrative of the book, since it’s written from her perspective. The writing style sort of sounded like a thirty-something-year-old trying to sound younger while gossiping over a wine lunch. This sort of quirky-ness could be charming for a bit, but for me, it grew old quickly. Maybe I’m just not the target demographic though, which I can accept.

Now I do understand that the character was created to be imperfect for the sake of the plot, because (without spoiling anything) she goes through somewhat of an epiphany near the end when secrets are revealed. After this breakthrough, her personality does a 180 turn and it’s almost as if a new person is narrating our story. The character development in Sylvie was ideal because her eyes were opened to becoming the best version of herself that she can be, which, granted, wouldn’t be possible if she hadn’t started out annoying and spoiled. It’s just that it took almost three hundred and fifty pages for the secret to be revealed that caused her big change in attitude, and I was getting a bit impatient.

Regarding her father, Kinsella made it quite obvious that something was going to happen with him. There are countless times throughout the book that it’s mentioned, either in dialogue or Sylvie’s inner narrative, how absolutely spectacular, amazing, wonderful, beyond perfect he was. Every single positive adjective in the English language was used to describe Sylvie’s late father, so you don’t have to be a literary genius to know that Kinsella wasn’t being subtle when setting up a future plot point revolving around her father. That being said, she did throw some curveballs when the actual secrets were revealed, so that was a delightful way to shake up the story.

The last one hundred pages or so was definitely an improvement from the first three hundred, as I eluded to above with Sylvie’s character development. Not only did I warm up to the characters, but the theme became much more solidified. I quite enjoyed the theme of focusing on the present and it was delivered really well near the end. Kinsella wrapped up everything in this book nice and neatly.

Surprise Me tricks you into thinking it’s a quirky love story of a happy couple trying to spark up some excitement in their marriage. Problems slowly start to trickle in though, starting off with a light suspicion of infidelity, to something a bit more serious. Sadly, for me, it took too long for this build-up to go anywhere substantial. Even though the character development was well done, it didn’t make up for the lack of plot development until the end. If you’re looking for a lighthearted, summer read that will inspire you to live in the present (but also want to skip to the future of the book when the plot becomes relevant) consider picking up a copy of Surprise Me.

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How to Walk Away: Book Review

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center published in 2018.

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“Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her; a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment. In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that life might find her in the last place she would ever expect.”

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This might be my favourite title for a book because it represents the story in both a physical and emotional way.

The novel is from the point of view of Margaret, a young woman who has her entire future mapped out. In a grand gesture to propose, her boyfriend practically forces her to fly in the plane that he’s piloting (even though she had a fear of flying). He ends up crashing the plane on landing, and while he walks away without a scratch, she is left is third-degree burns on her neck and paralyzed from the knees down. Margaret is now faced with a totally different future than she expected, and the reader follows her through conflicting emotions of despair and hope.

First thing I usually touch on in these reviews is characters, so let’s discuss. The voice of Margaret is very powerful yet relatable. She has this dry sense of humour that resonates well with me, yet it also leads to the unavoidable dark thoughts one might have if they were in her place. I’m so glad that it didn’t have the sickeningly inspiring commentary that a lot of tragic stories have, as Margaret’s character told it as it is. It’s awful. It’s something that no one would ever wish to go through, no matter how “wise” or “enlightened” you come out on the other side. It’s like most things terrible things in life when it happens, you just deal with it and move on best you can.

Speaking of characters, Center had this incredible ability to flip my feelings about a character, specifically Margaret’s mother, Linda. She is made out to be the villain at first, yet it’s later her vulnerable side is revealed through exposing her past faults. I went from hating her presence to wanting to comfort her, a giant leap for a side character in a grander story. I was thoroughly impressed.

Prefacing the novel, Center opened her acknowledgments by saying that she had to do massive amounts of research for this book, and you can definitely tell by the events that take place. Like I mentioned before, it’s realistic in the mix of positive and negative emotions. It’s the epitome of the saying “You don’t know what you have until you lose it.” I caught myself wiggling my toes a lot while reading this, and thinking of all the times I’ve used my legs, and all the times I will use my legs in the future. If there’s ever a book to read that will put you in your place and allow you to feel grateful, it’s How to Walk Away.

There was a scene that reminded me of one of my favourite books, The Catcher in the Rye. I have no idea if this minimal connection was intentional, but I noticed it and it warmed by heart. For those of who have never read The Catcher in the Rye, the main character Holden makes an observation about time while visiting the Museum of Natural History. He remarks that every time he visits it, he’s changed in some kind of way as a person, yet the museum stays the same. There’s a scene in this book where Margaret feels a remarkably similar feeling about her grandparent’s cabin for the first time after the accident,

“Being back here was exactly as bad as I’d feared. Everything was the same as it had been since my grandparents had bought the place in the sixties. The screen porch door still squeaked and slapped. The gopher hole by the back steps hadn’t moved. The pear trees my grandmother had planted still rustled in the breeze.

The only thing different was me.”

I love this scene for more than just its relation to Holden, but for its relevance in everyone’s live. We all have a place like Holden’s museum or Margaret’s cabin.

A major aspect of the story I didn’t mention in my personal summary was that Margaret ends up falling in love with her physical therapist, Ian. Their journey of healing by each other’s side is heart wrenching and genuine. Though my favourite part is that the story did not revolve around this romance, it was simply another aspect of Margaret’s story. This story had so much more to it; identity, estranged families, rocky recoveries and more. He is not the prince that comes to save her, but just someone that helped her save herself. I will admit, some scenes with him were a bit too cheesy for my taste, such as on the boat near the end, but I’ll also say that this story is so bleakly realistic that maybe Margaret deserved a few fairytale moments. Some parts near the end even made me cry a little bit.

I want to be best friends with Margaret and her sister Kitty. I was itching to help them and for them to help me at the same time. In fact, I feel like I do know these characters as if I just sat down with Margaret for an afternoon and she told me her life story. I think everyone should immerse themselves in her world and try and learn a little from her. The heartbreak and desperation were almost palpable, yet the hope that ultimately founds its way to Margaret is awe-inspiring to the extreme and definitely worth the read for anyone who can get their hands on this book.

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The Woman in the Window: Book Review

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn published in 2018.

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“Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times…and spying on her neighbors. Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.”

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This might end up being a short review because there are only so many different ways of saying “I love this book so much.”

I had the amusement of following Anna Fox, a former child psychologist living in her New York home, or should I say, never leaving her New York home. A traumatic incident leaves her with agoraphobia (an anxiety disorder that causes one to fear open and unfamiliar spaces), which causes her to be a prisoner in her own home. To pass the time, she watches her neighbours live their own lives. When the Russell family moves into the house across the park, Anna’s world is turned on its head. She finds solace in Jane Russell and her son Ethan, staying clear of the short-tempered Alistair Russell. One day she witnesses something that wasn’t for her eyes, yet the mixing of her medications and alcohol causes her accusations to sound…a bit untrustworthy to those around her. Fighting to be believed and convinced she is being gaslighted, we are by Anna’s side as secrets are spilled and true identities are revealed.

I hope I don’t sound like I’m exaggerating when I say this is one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time. There isn’t anything I avidly disliked about this story. It was beautifully crafted from the very first page to the last sentence. The Woman in the Window is the epitome of suspense. I was on the edge of my seat for the majority of the novel, enthralled at each twist and turn (and there were quite a few twists). It was very Hitchcock-esque, which is ironic because the main character is an ardent fan of classic thriller movies.

One of the many aspects I adored was the short and sweet chapters. Overall, the book was organized by what day the chapters took place on, and the chapters that were within these sections were typically no longer than five pages or so. Personally, I love that. It builds a delectable tension that is meant to be savoured in quick bursts. The end of each chapter ended in thrilling one-liners that kept me wanting more. Actually, just by appearance, it’s one of my longer reads (a hearty 427 pages), yet I sped through it surprisingly quick. After reading some other reviews, I discovered this is not uncommon, so obviously others can’t keep themselves from putting this book down either.

Another thing I loved was Finn’s actual writing style. It was comfortable and casual, not too advanced or pretentious. Specifically, the imagery is picture-perfect. A huge reading pet-peeve I have is over-analyzed imagery. I don’t need a paragraph long description on the shape of one cloud or how the coffee tastes. Give me the necessary details with some classic metaphors so I can have a colourful view of my character’s surroundings and I’ll be happy. That’s what Finn gave me, and I’m so thankful I didn’t have to suffer through endless adjectives and pointless explanations.

The characters were quite intriguing, specifically our protagonist Anna Fox. I found myself pitying her and her situation, wanting to reach out and help her. But I also related to her and believe that any average person who reads this will also understand her emotions. I think everyone knows that frustrating feeling when what you’re saying is not believed by the majority of people. The motivation and determination one might feel to prove that they are right are palpable, and we see this through Anna. She’s likeable yet has her flaws, as every notable character does, and I was rooting for her every step of the way.

Now I need to address the ending—nothing will be spoiled, so don’t worry. There is definitely a major twist in the end that I didn’t see coming (though I’m rather naïve when it comes to story twists). The final scenes were dramatic but not impractical. It was very action-packed and made up for some sedated parts around the middle of the story. The ending surpassed my expectations and left me utterly satisfied with every aspect. The length was ideal and all loose ends were tied up, only leaving the faintest elements to the imagination, leaving an endless amount of possibilities for Anna’s character in the future.

I’m not typically the one to re-read books, but I can see myself picking this one up again in the future. It’d be so interesting to dive back in now that I know the ending so I could revel in my newfound dramatic irony. This book is for anyone and everyone. If you can read, you should go pick up The Woman in the Window. After you’re done reading it, give it to your friend so they can read it too. And then give it to everyone in your family, and your co-worker as well, and maybe your dog while you’re at it. I promise none of you will regret investing yourself into Anna’s story.  

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Welcome to The Opaque!

Hello!

My name is Rose and I am an English major at the University of Windsor. Here I plan to post book reviews for modern favourites and upcoming page-turners! I will also be sharing some poetry every month to spread some literary joy. Perhaps after I gain the confidence, I will probably share some of my own writing! I hope that you will follow me on this journey of reading and discovery.