Review: The Perfect Mother

Before I became a mother, I had a lot of preconceived notions about the “proper” way to do many mothering things — how to handle sleeping, whether to breastfeed or offer formula, what kind of behavior was acceptable from women who were mothers. To an extent, many of my core values remain unchanged; but my understanding of variations in mothering has deepened exponentially.

For example, there’s not a chance in hell I’m going to bring a baby into my bed to sleep between my husband and me — I’d be up all night, fearful of rolling over the wee babe or smothering him with blankets — but I know that parenting is often merely about survival (yours + theirs) and if that demands bedsharing from some families, so be it.

And while I won’t pretend to never pass judgement on other parents (c’mon, I’m human), I do refrain from publicly shaming parents on social media, because #NotMyBusiness. Unfortunately, not everyone adheres to this standard, and it’s almost always the mothers who take the fall for “bad parenting.”

In Aimee Molloy’s highly-anticipated debut work titled The Perfect Mother, readers are in for a tense ride when a mom-buddies group gets together for a night out on the town that culminates in the disappearance of one mother’s newborn and an investigation that becomes increasingly public as the mother — and then the group of mothers — are put on trial by the court of public opinion. Winnie, Colette, Francie, and Nell are part of the May Mothers — a group of first-time moms whose babies arrived in the same month and by accident or grand design, happened to become friends in the process. The four (and some other, less important mom-characters) met at a park in NYC a handful of times leading up to the birth of their children and continued to do so after their births.

It’s Nell’s idea, to start with: a night out on the town. The mothers are frazzled with the fears and nerves and sleeplessness that constitutes early motherhood, their social lives have been reduced to the marginal park visits with one another, and their careers have taken a backseat to diaper changes and growth charts. Winnie seems particularly discontent, and the mothers have just discovered she’s doing it all alone (an unfathomable task, to be certain). So Nell makes arrangements for a sitter, wheedles Winnie into joining the girls for a few drinks and some dancing, and everyone’s life goes to hell in a handbasket within a matter of hours.

When Winnie arrives at her expansive Brooklyn home to discover her son missing, she’s heartbroken — though it seems, at times, not quite as much as she should be. (Like there’s a standard expectation for mourning mothers, right?) Colette, Francie, and Nell take an immediate interest in the outcome of Baby Midas’s disappearance and soon find themselves engaging in suspicious behaviors and inserting themselves into conversations and situations they should really remain distant from.

The novel moves fairly rapidly forward from the events leading up to and following the baby’s disappearance: I devoured this 300-page thriller in less than two days. There was a lot to appreciate in this debut work, though a few components left me dissatisfied.

Here’s what worked: Molloy’s real treat for readers lies in her mostly spot-on portrayal of the rigors of motherhood: the unforgiving pressure to breastfeed rather than formula-feed; the struggle to maintain a sense of personal identity, separate from one’s new identity as Milk Cow and Primary Caregiver; the unfairness of a constantly-judging (& publicly posting) society. At times she got a bit preachy (there’s a section on maternity leave in the US vs other countries at the start of the novel that, though absolutely accurate and on point, feels hyper-clichéd and drawn out — most of her readers are likely to be women and have heard the facts and felt the fury themselves; ultimately, it felt like a tirade for the author’s sake, rather than the reader’s) but the majority of Molloy’s commentary on what it means to be a modern mother was on point. Molloy also has this very strong mob-mentality vibe going throughout the novel (re: judging public) but it’s a bit different from other books in which the reader is part of the collective we — in The Perfect Mother, the reader is part of a smaller collective we, the mothers group, which is less focused on burning a witch at the stake and more focused on the horrors done to one of their own. The mothers in this group have only known each other for a few months, and most of their friendships are far from deep and meaningful; but Molly effectively captures the immediately-tethering relationship among new mothers who are so ready to welcome others into their wobbly (& sometimes capsizing) boats of uncertainty.

Here’s what didn’t: The narratives are messily pieced together, leaving the reader confused about which character is the narrator at any given time. It’s like Molloy wanted to deviate from the now-traditional method of starting each chapter with a different character as the heading/narrator, but didn’t quite succeed in creating seamless transitions. There are lots of red herrings in this book, most of which worked for me; but a couple that I felt could have been trimmed. And mostly, Francie: oh, Francie. Her character was a hot-mess express and almost always unbelievable. Molloy isn’t wrong in that postpartum mothers have been known, on occasion, to effectively “lose their minds”; however, I don’t feel that Francie’s character had an adequate resolution, nor were her issues fully addressed. At several junctures, characters indicated they were “worried for her,” but never were definitive steps taken to correct these problems; instead, Francie was simply absorbed into the sweeping conclusion of the book and her borderline-psychosis was just accepted for what it was. Didn’t work for me.

Overall: 3 stars. This was a *pretty good* domestic thriller and one that many mothers — first time or otherwise — will certainly appreciate, though organization was wobbly at times.

_______

I received an advanced copy of The Perfect Mother from Harper Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts above belong to me, myself, & I. Thanks to the publisher for the free review copy!

Review: Jar of Hearts

I’ve received a lot of thrillers and books that fall under the heading “women’s fiction” lately. Some are more original than others — Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier being one of that select group.

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This book isn’t slated to hit shelves until June 12, but I received an early copy after winning a Goodreads giveaway. (Had some pretty great luck with giveaways in January/February and have been in a dry spell ever since. Ha!) I didn’t know much about the novel, only that it promised to be a thriller (um, I’m in) and the title is evocative of Christina Perri’s hit song (yep, definitely in).

Sometimes I have a hard time focusing on books that start in “the thick of it” if I don’t go into the novel with a lot of background information. I get antsy, wondering what the heck is going on; often I have to fight myself to not look up the blurb on Goodreads. (Anyone else have this problem, or am I just a weirdo?) Jar of Hearts starts in this manner: a bit obscurely, and definitely with more than a hint of suspense. I suppressed the urge to Google for more info, though, and I’m so glad I did. This is one of those books that is better if you just go in blind, you know?

But for those of you who want to know a little more, here’s the important stuff:

Georgina “Geo” Shaw is 30 years old and the formidable driving force behind Shipp Pharmaceuticals in Seattle. She’s got it all — a powerhouse fiance, a noteworthy career, Louboutins. What could possibly slow her down?

Readers are thrust into Geo’s past (and present, and past, and present) as the novel opens during a trial in which Geo is a prime witness — and also a player in one of the most heinous crimes committed in the PNW in recent decades. The book makes leaps between Geo’s former and prsent lives to unwrap the neat package that is her hidden history . . . and a series of highly compartmentalized secrets that just won’t stay buried.

I don’t want to give away too much, so I’m going to end the synopsis there — trust me when I tell you this is one book you’ll want to go into blindly. I will, however, highlight a few components of the novel below, for the sake of the review.

The Good: This book is seriously one of the most original thrillers I’ve read in many moons. The plot is unexpected — I guessed very, very little of what would come as the story unraveled — and characters are unconventional. Some tropes are present (the “bad boy” man candy and picked-on-kid-turned-cop), but they worked for this book. Geo’s development is captivating, and I found her a refreshing deviation from the typical female leads that seem to dominate the thriller genre currently.

The Bad: In my humble opinion, Hillier’s editor did her a disservice by not convincing her to cut the epilogue. It’s maddeningly convenient and unnecessary, and I rolled my eyes the whole time. In an otherwise thrilling and enjoyable novel, the epilogue is a sharp reminder that books do not need to end neatly in order to be successful.

Overall: 4 stars. Read this book if you like twists and turns, tv shows like Law and Order: SVU or CSI, and dark (but compelling) narratives.

Buddy Read: How (& Why) to Host Your Own

The month of March became the month I lost my Outlander virginity (oh, boy, did I!) and the second buddy read I’ve participated in. In short, neither was a disappointment and as I gear up for round two, I’ve been reflecting on what makes the buddy-reading experience so wonderful.

First things first: What the heck is a “buddy read”? Well, friends, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a couple of buddies reading the same book at the same time (or at a relatively similar pace) and discussing the book as they go.

There are a handful of ways to tackle a buddy read, but today I’m going to focus on my two (very different) buddy reading experiences. I’m a firm believer in sharing what works for me on the off chance that it might work for others, hence this post.

Buddy Read Experience #1: The Slow-Chat Method

My first time around, I fell into a buddy read by chance via the social-media-for-book-lovers app, Litsy. I had recently acquired the novel Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich and stumbled upon the account of one of a few co-hosts for the buddy read. The method was straight-forward enough: the hosts broke the book into three parts and scheduled allotments of time by which readers should complete those parts. (I think we ended up spanning 4 weeks?) At the end of each “part” and its respective length of time, the hosts posted 4-5 questions on Litsy and those participating chimed in with their thoughts, questions, observations, etc.

This format may work well for some; but it definitely wasn’t for me. Here’s why:

  • The use of social media to host our discussions made for delayed, hasty attempts to convey deep thought in short chunks. There isn’t a chat feature on Litsy (maybe there is now, it’s been a few months since I’ve been on — thanks, Bookstagram), so all of our conversations took place in the comments section of a post. Talk about a headache!
  • Since conversations took place publicly, there was more risk of spoiling the book for others. In Litsy, there is a fabulous feature that allows users to mark comments and reviews as “spoilers,” but even so — when you’re caught up in a book discussion, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has read the book and therefore forget to mark spoilers.
  • It felt vastly impersonal. Lots of people participated — maybe ten total — and I was only “familiar” with a couple. This is seemingly a minute issue to have when it comes to talking over the finer points of a book with others; but for me, it made the experience more superficial. I was afraid of hurting someone’s feelings if I said something too harshly, because I didn’t know the other readers.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad way to buddy read; the method just wasn’t for me. I felt like I was tied to my phone when the conversations were happening, and since the comment-method was so dependent on the speed of other users, discussions took hours. Since I’m married and have a little one, it’s just not realistic for me to drag out a conversation that long.

Buddy Read Experience #2: The Video-Chat Method

My second go-round also came about thanks to social media; this time, however, due to some random comments on an Instagram picture I posted in January. I had taken a “shelfie” to post on my Bookstagram account and asked a question that I didn’t *really* expect to get any replies to: “See any favorites on my shelves?” Two users I hadn’t really interacted with before pointed out my copy of Outlander, both of them mentioning that they had the same title on their shelves but they were daunted by its length. I suggested a buddy read, they thought that sounded fun, and we went our separate ways for a few weeks.

In February, though, I knew I wanted to read the book so I reached out to see if they were interested in starting it in March. We didn’t know each other, we didn’t know each other’s reading abilities or needs, and the other two had never participated in a buddy read before — so our initial chat conversations were stilted a bit. I suggested that we break the reading into chunks, see how the first bit went pace-wise, and set weekly video-chat dates when we had a better feel for pacing.

This method quickly became my idea of the Gold Standard of Buddy Reading. Here’s why it works:

  • We were able to use a group chat via Instagram for as-you-go banter and observations. I can’t tell you how many times I received a message from Taylor or Betsy that made me snort with laughter or flush the deepest of reds. As much as I enjoyed this component of our buddy read, though . . .
  • Our video chats became the highlight of my week — and one of the best parts of the reading experience. Usually we aimed for weekends while Henry was napping (I live in Kansas, and they’re back East, so I was constantly thanking them for accommodating not just my time zone, but also my kid’s sleep schedule). We used Google Hangouts, mostly because I was familiar with the platform and I knew we’d be able to have 3+ people in our video calls. These “face-to-face” discussions were much more fluid, easier to navigate, and lent an air of familiarity to our reading experience.
  • Because we were meeting via video chats, I came to consider the other two girls my friends. We learned a bit about each other, which made our book discussions more open: no need to fear stepping on anyone’s toes.
  • And again — video chats meant that I could plan for an hour or two of scheduled discussion time each week while my husband was working and my kid was sleeping. I didn’t need to feel guilty about being on my phone nonstop or ignoring them for an extended period of time.

Here’s a few tips to get your own buddy read established:

  1. Find a couple of people with interest in reading the same book as you (OR people who share similar reading tastes). 
  2. Keep the grouping small: more people = more opinions, yes; but too many readers and you’ll end up chatting for an entire day. Nobody’s got time for that.
  3. Incorporate a messaging tool for as-you-read chats. We used Instagram’s private messaging system, but I can also see this working well via iMessages or text messages. In fact, I may eventually suggest we switch to iMessages because I’m all about that GIF life and IG just isn’t there yet.
  4. Be flexible. In the first buddy read I did, dates to have finished reading by were already established and since I was in the middle of some other books, I sometimes didn’t quite get the selections finished in time. Since Taylor and Betsy and I opted to start slow and get a feel for the book and each other’s reading needs, there wasn’t any guilt about not being fast enough or not getting the text finished in time. Again, this is where a small group comes in handy: no need to cater to fourteen readers’ needs.
  5. Find a video-chat platform that works for everyone. Google Hangouts is easily accessible via phone, tablet, or computer; but you do have to utilize Google Chrome or the app. Zoom is another great tool for multi-person video calls.
  6. Mark passages as you go and search for reader’s guide discussion questions — but don’t limit your talking points to a strict set of discussion points. Our video chats were hilarious and so much fun — mostly because no one was operating on a script or felt the need to address specific questions.

One more thing before you leave: the why of buddy reads. I don’t want to buddy read everything that comes my way — trust me, I don’t have the patience to read every single book at a pace that suits someone else — but I do plan to buddy read a few times a year, from here on out. Why? It’s simple: buddy reading forces me to take books into deeper consideration, like I did in my English-major college days. I’m a voracious reader and often get through 2-3 books per week . . . but I don’t like that I’m not always challenging myself to meaningfully examine each book that comes my way. Buddy reading is the perfect solution, and a great way to make new friends in the process.

Now tell me — what’s a big book that’s been daunting you for years, or a title you’re otherwise interested in buddy reading?

 

Review: Barracoon

I recently had the opportunity to become a Bookstagram/blogging partner with Harper Books (yippee!) and jumped at the chance to receive hard copies of to-be-released titles for review. One of the first titles I snagged: Barracoon, written nearly a century ago by the literary goddess Zora Neale Hurston.

Barracoon is an anomaly: as a biographical work about Kossola “Cudjo” Lewis, one of the last living “imports” of the Clotilda, which brought more than one hundred slaves to the United States in 1860, the work documents the life of an African person who was sold into slavery by his own countrymen and endured years of servitude in America before becoming a freed man once again. As the editors of this work note, Hurston’s sketch of Cudjo’s life is a rarity among slave narratives of men and women who were born into slavery in the U.S. Few works exist that detail the experiences of an individual who was stripped of his homeland prior to being stripped of his most fundamental human rights.

Written in vernacular and broken into a handful of sections that start with Cudjo’s experiences in “Afficky” and end with his lonely existence as a freed man in Plateau (“African Town”), Alabama, Barracoon isn’t a terribly lengthy narrative but it’s both utterly despairing and surprisingly uplifting in its conveyance. I was surprised by how little the narrative focused on Cudjo’s six and a half years in slavery; rather, much of the work dealt with the circumstances surrounding his capture, his commute to America, and the nature of his life after his emancipation. One of the most striking components of the story is his relentless longing to return to his homeland — I grieved for the man who had been removed from all that he knew and was never able to return again.

A few particular quotes resonated with me; I found myself returning to passages I’d highlighted and contemplating on Cudjo’s repeated vocalizations of his frustration at having been hauled away to a foreign land, made to do the bidding of another man while living at subhuman levels, and then freed — unable to build a home in the unfamiliar land, unable to return to the home he loved, a stranger with his feet in one world and his heart in another.

Upon his arrival in America, and departure from the ship once the masters had divvied up their bounty:

“We very sorry to be parted from on ‘nother. We cry for home. We took away from our people. We seventy days cross de water from de Affica soil, and now dey part us from one ‘nother. Derefore we cry. We cain help but cry.”

The following passages particularly capture the conundrum of non-natives in a foreign land and the urgent requisite to shed customs in order to be re-cast as members of their new society:

“When we at de plantation on Sunday we so glad we ain’ gotee no work to do. So we dance lak in de Afficky soil. De American colored folks, you unnerstand me, dey say we savage and den dey laugh at us and doan come say nothin’ to us. But Free George, you unnerstand me, he a colored man doan belong to nobody. . . . Free George, he come to us and tell us not to dance on Sunday. Den he tell us whut Sunday is. We doan know whut it is before. Nobody in Afficky soil doan tell us ’bout no Sunday. Den we doan dance no mo’ on de Sunday.”

And on the subject of names:

“In de Afficky we gotee one name, but in dis place dey tell us we needee two names. One for de son, you unnerstand me, and den one for de father. Derefo’ I put de name of my father O-lo-loo-ay to my name. But it too long for de people to call it. It too crooked lak Kossula. So dey call me Cudjo Lewis.

“So you unnerstand me, we give our chillun two names. one name because we not furgit our home; den another name for de Americky soil so it won’t be too crooked to call.”

I won’t assume to know or understand the immigrant experience (and absolutely recognize that Cudjo, by no means, falls into what one might consider a “typical” immigrant mold), but I am struck by the sheer loneliness and longing that emerges in narratives of displaced peoples. Cudjo’s desire to be back among his native people and in the land that he was raised in is achingly present in Barracoon, only offset by the small joys he takes in the community built by Africans in southern Alabama in the late 1800s.

A couple of gripes: I wish that the endnotes had been made footnotes, as I didn’t like flipping to the back of the book multiple times each chapter. I also wish that there had been . . . more? . . . to Cudjo’s narrative; as it was, the bulk of the text is devoted to an extensive introduction that deals with claims of plagiarism and literary criticism while the tail end is a thorough appendix with stories, footnotes, and resources. (Obviously, I recognize that this isn’t something that can be changed, as the author has long been deceased.) I also feel that the work would have benefited from the inclusion of some photos, maps, or other illustrations.

Overall: 4/5 stars. This work is an essential piece of literature in the realm of slave narratives and absolutely has a vital place in the classrooms of both high schools and collegiate institutions.

Motherhood, No. 3

You are playing on the shag carpet, the fat of your milky thighs spread luxuriously while you sit erect, spine rigid, arms waving erratically. It’s great fun to your ten-month-old self, this arm flapping extravaganza: every so often, a shrieking squeal tumbles up from your throat and you look at me with glittering eyes — See what I did, Mama?

You’ve begun to suck your thumb at odd times — no longer just for naps and bedtime — and as I watch you examine a battered wooden block, you suddenly pop your right thumb between your pink lips and begin slurping while the other fingers of your hand reach up toward your nose, feeling, and your left hand immediately floats up to your hair. With an open palm, you sweep your left hand across your scalp, ruffling wispy silver-blonde locks in that comfort-seeking manner of small children. Our eyes lock — your unfathomably navy blues trained on my deep chocolate browns — and you slurp a few more times, content. I’m suddenly struck: there is no greater stage in life, I am certain of it. Your every moment is somehow both remarkably simple and exhilarating. Children must be so generally joyous because they live in a constant state of discovery.

Still watching me, your lips part and curve upward, thumb sliding out as you break into a toothy beam. I smirk back at you, incapable of resisting your wily charms. I brush aside the faint echo of a thought I’ve had more than once: we’ll have to fend off teenage girls with a stick, someday.

“Henry-boy, hello! Can you wave hi to Mama?”

At the lilt of my voice, your face takes on a look of concentration and you wave your left fist in my direction.

“Hi there! Hello, baby!” I proclaim, wiggling my hands to your delight. You raise the right arm now, fingers spread wide, and flap at me. I think, not for the first — or last — time: I would give ten years of my life to preserve these unremarkable moments forever. 

In a blink, you’ve twisted around, back to me, as you blaze a trail to something more interesting and stimulating than just plain ‘ole Mama.

Review: The Comedown

I grew up in a pretty straight-laced household. We were Catholics, which meant that I felt guilt about, well, anything that might be a sin (stole two dollars from my sister’s piggy bank when we were ten, still feeling that guilt). I made it a personal mission of mine to achieve only the highest marks in school, wouldn’t dream of being sent to the office, and generally avoided anything that resembled trouble (i.e. drugs, alcohol, careless teenage sex). So, you know, a book that is devoted to the saga of two families entwined by a drug deal gone wrong (& decades & decades of drug abuse and general debauchery) sounds like it would be . . . right in the opposite direction of my alley, right?

Wrong.

The Comedown by debut author Rebekah Frumkin features a cast of debased characters who struggle with addiction and generally make some of the shittiest choices known to mankind, meaning that this isn’t a novel I would’ve picked up if the publisher hadn’t sent it to me (& that I initially thought I was probably definitely going to hate it).

love when authors prove me wrong, y’all.

At the start of the book, there are two family trees featuring the major members of the Bloom-Mittwoch and Marshall families. Each family’s troubles can be traced back to the choices of their patriarchs, Leland Bloom-Mittwoch, Sr., and Reggie Marshall — addict and dealer, respectively. Leland is obsessed with Reggie in a way I can only assume that addicts might be with their dealers — he thinks they’re friends, despite Reggie’s obvious disgust for Leland’s depravity. (The irony here is not lost on me.) One night, Leland witnesses a deal that results in a fired weapons, a couple of cold bodies, and a suitcase that is chock-full of greenbacks. The events of that night forever alter the course of their families, and The Comedown is a fascinating portrayal of the decades that follow.

Each chapter of the novel is devoted to the telling of a family member’s (or close acquaintance’s) personal history. Readers aren’t given a full picture — that would take ages to read through, and besides, would be tedious — but rather, are told a bit about the character’s early years before touching on the present (2009). The result is a novel that is largely character-driven and immensely engrossing. Although it may seem like readers never get a full glimpse at each of the family members and/or friends who comprise the story’s unraveling, I would argue that Frumkin has created marvelously distinct characters in limited portions — snapshots, if you will.

Although I can’t say that I loved any of the characters, I was drawn in by their histories. This isn’t a novel to read so that you can find your next favorite character — most had variously unlikeable qualities and habits that are often cringeworthy, if not appalling. But again, Frumkin somehow makes these overwhelmingly lost individuals somehow worthy of readers’ attention and pity — and that is what I love most about this novel. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy to write a character that everyone loves; but it is far more challenging, in my opinion, to craft a character (or a slew, if you will) that has few redeeming qualities and yet still somehow manages to make readers sit up and pay attention.

Mingled in there with the character portraits we’re given, Frumkin weaves together this absolutely improbable storyline that falls a bit more into place with each character narrative. By the end of the novel, readers will not have been given the complicated story’s outcome in a series of first-this-next-that events; rather, readers will arrive at the conclusion in a yo-yoing manner as the tangled lives of the Mittwoch-Blooms and Marshalls are strategically outlined.

The Good: See above. Basically, I loved Frumkin’s careful construction of characters and the more subtle plot development that occurred as a result of their choices. Also — I know I didn’t talk about this much, but this novel’s sense of setting is solid. The book spans several decades, primarily the 70s-2000s. As I wasn’t born until the near-90s, there was much about the earlier decades that I needed to look up (I had heard of Kent State shootings, but the book made me want to know more) . . . but I’m perfectly fine with abusing Google while reading if the subject matter is intriguing. That it was, Frumkin; that it was.

The Bad: You know, I’m reflecting on this book a week after I finished it, and I can’t say that there’s anything in here I hated. At first, I was a bit put-off by the rampant drug use; but as the plot developed, I found myself shaking my head at the characters’ choices before furiously reading on to discover the next individual in the Mittwoch-Bloom/Marshall saga.

Overall: 4.5 stars. If you love a novel with solid characterization and a strong sense of place, this is the read for you!

Review: Let Me Lie

It’s probably a fair assessment to state that the literary market is overrun with thrillers and psychological “noir” novels at this time. It’s not an exaggeration to state here that every month, I see another hot-ticket item hitting Bookstagram and the blogosphere, touted as “the next Gone Girl” boasting an unreliable narrator, chapters told from multiple perspectives, and “WTF-worthy” conclusions.

On one hand, this is undoubtedly a good market for authors who excel at churning out fast-paced thrillers and detective mysteries — readers are eating that up right now. On the other hand, said readers are left with a deluge of mostly-middling works that primarily feel predictable, if not a bit repetitive.

Clare Mackintosh’s latest thriller — Let Me Lie — falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum; not nearly as chilling as Flynn’s works (to be fair, has anyone lived up to her gorgeously calculating Amy Dunne?), but better than most thrillers I’ve picked up lately.

Here’s what it’s all about: A young woman (and new mom) deals with grief on the one-year anniversary of her mother’s suicide. This suicide came just a few months after her father’s suicide, and both are so similar the authorities have chalked up the mother’s as a copy-cat grief-stricken decision. Something doesn’t feel right, though, and the daughter decides to investigate their deaths more closely when an ominous note appears on her doorstep the morning of the anniversary. Characters prove untrustworthy, there’s a retired detective-turned-civilian-investigator thrown in the mix of things, and more than one twist gave me whiplash.

Anna, the main character, is predictably thrown off-kilter when she begins to discover things that aren’t quite as they had originally appeared. Sadly, she’s fleshed into a weak female lead, who at best seems erratically passionate about solving the mystery behind her parents’ suicides, thanks to the dubious involvement of her live-in psychologist boyfriend and her floundering businessman of an uncle. I think Mackintosh wanted readers to come to appreciate Anna’s persistence as strength, but I mostly felt like she was just another stubborn-but-weak heroine determined to play the detective. Either way, she was okay, but not she’s not a character I’ll remember (or think of) in two weeks, and that’s okay.

Overall, most of the elements are fairly recyclable, but I do have to give props to Mackintosh for a few major twists I didn’t see coming. I had a strong idea about what the underlying truth was, but didn’t know how or when readers would get there, and that was the fun of this read.

The book was quick and mostly engaging, and won’t disappoint — as long as you head into it with an eye for what the book is: your run-of-the-mill thriller.

3 stars — & a big thanks to Berkley Pub who sent me an ARC after I won it on Goodreads!

The Mom Admission Nobody Wants to Make

I’ve been in the heart of baby season for a year now — my own firstborn arrived last June, and the calendar has been peppered with the arrivals of various friends’ own first children since that date. I don’t want to say that Zack and I “started something,” but, it’s possible, right? . . . (I kid, I kid. Pun intended.)

The year has brought an onslaught of firsts and in the early months, I found myself bombarding two of my longtime gal pals (and seasoned moms) with daily texts about poop, nursing, rice cereal, poop, fevers, poop, bath time shenanigans, travel solutions, poop, and more poop. (Side note: there aren’t enough resources in the world about the weird stuff that comes out of babies’ bums.) Time and again, I thought: Damn. I’ve got a great mom tribe. I am so lucky.

Before I knew it, I was the one getting texts from new moms, desperate for advice (despite my clear lack of what one might call “expertise”). I guess, at least, there’s something to be said for having gone through the same experiences just months previously, rather than decades earlier like our own moms. So I tried helping the best I could.

Travel during nap times.

Use Aveeno bath products for sensitive skin.

Try Selsen Blue for cradle cap, if it’s really bad. But be careful! That stuff will burn through their eyeballs like acid.

Make your husband go with you to get your child’s vaccines.

Don’t apologize for not letting everyone and their mother hold your child in the heart of flu season.

And then I got a text, a few weeks ago, that was filled with remorse and pleading and probably a bit of shame: Do you sometimes resent your child?

Oh. Oh. This text made me stop in my tracks for a few moments before I fired back —

YES.

Plus some other stuff, meant to reassure my friend that she isn’t a garbage mom (because she’s not) and that she isn’t a weirdo (because she’s not, at least not in this particular sense) and that she isn’t alone (because, let’s get real — she’s definitely not). This was a question I hadn’t been brave enough to ask my own girlfriends in the frustrating, tiresome early months of my own motherhood; in truth, it wasn’t a realization I could even admit to myself. So I knew the courage it took to ask and I knew it was something I wanted to write about later, at the risk of being mom-bashed on social media by friends who don’tevenhavekids and moms who won’t admit the truth to themselves.

Hi. My name’s Renee, and sometimes I resent my kid.

There. I said it.

I find myself experiencing bitterness when I’m run ragged, firing on a few measly hours of sleep and in a state of self loathing because #mombodprobs (which, of course, never keeps me from eating more chocolate . . . ). The resentment grows when he wakes up every night for weeks to cry inconsolably, even though I know the appropriate emotional response should be only compassion. It doubles when my husband lifts weights in the evenings — just steps out of the shop, gets in his car, drives to the weight room, lifts for a couple hours — while I have to fight guilt to ask my mother-in-law to watch Henry for another hour this week so that I can go for a run or meet the girls for a workout. The resentment deepens when I can’t drive three hours to meet a friend who’s passing through Kansas because Henry hates the car and it wouldn’t be fair to drag him all that way and I can’t ask Cindy to watch him again this week. It grows exponentially when we travel to my parents’ house and he screams three of the four hours in the car. It sneaks up on me when we’re with family for the holidays, and everyone wants to go to a movie or out to eat or stay up till 3 playing games and I’ve got to wreck their plans — I’m staying in with Henry — or go to bed at ten, because he’ll be up at midnight, anyway.

I don’t remember the first time I was hit with a wave of nauseating resentment toward Henry, but I know I haven’t experienced the last — and I’m forgiving myself for each of those times and the moments to come, without hesitation. Here’s why:

  • Momming is friggin’ hard work. It’s often thankless, and the constant state of being needed but not appreciated can wear away at a girl.
  • It doesn’t mean I don’t want my kid. I just don’t want him to cry all night, dammit.
  • I’m human, too. I’m selfish, even when I don’t want to be. I can try to repress the feelings as much as I want, but being a mom is a transition and it’s ridiculous to expect my own selfish desires about how I want to spend my time to just fade or disappear — poof! — overnight.
  • The resentment always, always melts away. Usually just as quickly as it’s come.

And here’s the big one: for every moment of bittnerness or childish resentment I feel toward my little guy, there are a thousand moments of boundless adoration, overwhelming love, and sheer joy.

It’s a challenge, admitting this sort of truth to yourself; especially when you tried for so long to become pregnant or when you acknowledge that these feelings are directed toward a helpless, ten-pound squish. These rare moments of bitterness overwhelm me with shame. They make me feel lesser, even though I know I am a good mama. They make me feel embarrassed and unnatural and cruel — and human.

In the past year, I’ve grown to appreciate just how much struggle, devotion, and sacrifice it takes to be a good mother. I’ve seen old friends with new eyes, regretted my years of teenage jackass-ery (sorry, Ma & Dad), and generally come to accept that motherhood demands nothing short of superhero status on a daily basis.

I’ve watched Batman, though, and I know that sometimes, even the best heroes have moments of darkly humiliating weakness.

It’s what makes them human.