Thursday, July 7, 2016

Three Summer Reads

It's that time of year when I don't have the energy to read anything heavy.  So here are the last three books I read - don't expect great literature but they are an entertaining enough read for on the beach or by the pool.

Here's to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

Hilderbrand has come out with her annual Nantucket based book.  I certainly enjoyed this one more than last year's.  In this novel, Deacon Thorpe, a celebrity chef has passed away suddenly.  In accordance with his wishes, his lawyer and best friend gathers his two ex-wives, his current estranged wife and his three children (one from each wife) at his favourite place in the world - his rustic Nantucket cottage.

Though the three wives shared a love for Deacon, they could not have been more different.  Laurel is his high school sweetheart - they married at a young age when she became pregnant with his first son.  She is now a social worker who has never found love again after Deacon left her for his second wife. Belinda was a famous actress who made a play for Deacon and took him away from Laurel.  They shared a damaged past and together adopted a baby girl, Deacon's second child and the one who ended up being his successor in the restaurant business.  In a cliche move, Deacon left Belinda for their young nanny, a Southern debutante, many years his junior.  She bore him one daughter who is now just a child.

Deacon struggled with drugs and, unbeknownst to his wives or children, money problems.  So his lawyer must tell the women that not only are they left with nothing, but a one third share in the Nantucket cottage, but they will have to give up the cottage if the multiple mortgages cannot be paid. Belinda is the only wife with the money to do that - but she is unwilling to help the nanny who stole her husband and Deacon's first wife is unwilling to accept her help.

The women are not the only ones with problems - Deacon's son is suffering from a heroin addiction and his older daughter has just been dumped after carrying on with a married man.

The book deals with what happened when these characters join together in Nantucket to spread Deacon's ashes interspersed with flashbacks into his past with each of his wives.  Again, not great literature but a decent read with lots of interesting characters.

The Island House by Nancy Thayer

Thayer also comes out with about a book a year set in Nantucket - hers also deal with complicated families and their love and money troubles.  In this book Susanna Vickerey, a mother of four is celebrating her sixtieth birthday and her natural children as well as her "island children" gather to celebrate.  Each of the four children has brought at least one friend to the cottage since they were children and they have been "adopted" into the Vickerey family for the summers.  This summer, daughter Robin's friend Courtney is also headed to the island to explore whether she has a chance at a relationship with son James or should accept the marriage proposal received from her childhood friend in Kansas City.  She has kept her feelings for James a secret from everyone until now.

The oldest son Henry is dealing with the impact of bipolar disorder on both his medical career and his relationship with his long term girlfriend.  James seems to be in love with a family friend - a quirky artistic girl.  Courtney is carrying on a clandestine affair with a person who she thinks her family will disapprove of and Iris the youngest has just graduated from college, no longer has a lot in common with her wealthy New York "island sister" and is looking for some direction.

The story shows us what happens when all these characters gather on the island.  The relationship outcomes are fairly predictable but nonetheless entertaining.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This was my first book by the New York Times best-selling Australian author and I liked it enough to pick up another one.  While this is mainly another story of relationships, it is also a bit of a mystery.  The action opens with the scene of a primary school fundraising trivia night where, through the eyes of an elderly woman who lives near the school, we learn that a person has died, or perhaps been killed.  The narrative then jumps back in time by six months and we meet the main characters, all of whom become the potential victim and suspect.  Each chapter ends with snippets of police interviews with various attendees at the trivia night which we need to try to piece together what happened.

Madeline is a strong, outspoken woman married to her second husband, Ed.  Her first husband Nathan, and father of her oldest daughter, Abigail, has remarried a younger woman.  His second wife, Bonnie is a health conscious, socially responsible yogi who Abigail is enamoured with, much to Madeline's dismay.  To make matters worse, Nathan and Bonnie's daughter Skye will be in kindergarten with Madeline and Ed's youngest daughter, Chloe.

Madeline befriends the beautiful Celeste who seems to lead a charmed life with her husband Perry and twin sons.  But beneath the charm there is an abusive relationship.

Both women take the young single mother Jane under their wings.  Jane's son Ziggy is accused of bullying and Jane worries he may have inherited a violent streak from his biological father with whom Jane had a violent one night stand.

There are many other minor characters involved in tense situations around the school relating the the alleged bullying and other power issues.  Everyone of the main characters seems potentially able to snap and hurt another (with cause or at least perceived reason).  I can't say I actually guessed what happened though it seemed believable once I got there.  So it kept me intrigued trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together.

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