I know that in the sidebar of this page I said that most of my reviews are positive since I don’t often finish books I don’t like, and I will not review a book I didn’t finish. Well... The Perfect Nanny was short, and it was listed as one of the 10 best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, and Entertainment Weekly gave it an honorable mention, and it was a finalist for the Edgar Award and a national best-seller, so I kept reading, even though it failed to ever really grab me. I was curious if at some point it would live up to the hype.
For me, it didn’t. It reminded me of another much-hyped book that I started a few months ago, Sweetbitter, about someone working in the restaurant business. That one I did stop reading, once I realized that I didn’t care about any of the characters, and that the writing style was more about being literary than emotionally compelling. Call me crass, but I much prefer an engaging story with a likeable, or at least a compelling, protagonist. The Perfect Nanny was not my preference.
It was written in 3rd person omniscient POV, an unusual choice nowadays for popular fiction, and it gave the story a clinical feel, like it was an objective account of this horrific story, and the reader is meant to be kept at arm’s length. I suppose if it was written any other way the story would be unbearable, because it begins with an account of how this “perfect” nanny murdered the two young children she watched, and then she tried to kill herself. The rest of the book was then an unemotional narrative of how the parents came to have children, hire a nanny, and how the nanny had a breakdown. Except, there were a lot of pieces missing and the story ends without the reader really knowing what led the nanny, Louise, to snap. Instead, we’re giving random details about passing characters throughout the story that seem irrelevant.
I don’t understand why critics loved this book so much. None of the characters were likable and it didn’t make me feel anything except regret. I don’t recommend it.
I REALLY love a good identical twin story. The Sweet Valley High novels were a guilty pleasure growing up. And there was this novel that came out in the 80s, about these identical twins that swapped places but one of them died, and there was even a sequel where it turns out the dead twin was still alive! LOVED IT! So imagine my delight at finding a brand new identical twin story, full of intrigue and drama. I was incredibly delighted, with one caveat. Weeks ago, I decided to try my hand at writing my own identical twin story, and I still haven't decided whether to enter it in a contest, or get it published somewhere, or just post it here on laurellit.com. Anyway, the main character twin in my story plays piano, just like the main character twin in The Girl in the Mirror, which I read AFTER I wrote my story. Just saying...
Anyway, The Girl in the Mirror, by Rose Carlyle, was incredibly addictive. It’s about this set of identical twins who were conjoined at one point in the womb, but they managed to break apart. Summer is the elder twin and her organs are on the expected side of her body. Iris, the narrator of the story, is the younger, turned around twin, with her heart in the wrong place. She is literally the mirror image of Summer.
Iris has always been jealous of Summer, who seems kinder, more generous and more together than Iris. Even though they are identical, Iris is sure Summer is also more beautiful, because her beauty comes from the inside. Summer is married to Adam and they seem to have the perfect relationship, while Iris is divorced at 23. This has implications that reach beyond the status of their love life. When Summer and Iris’s dad died, he left a provision in his will that his first child to have a baby in wedlock and to give that baby the family name, will be the sole beneficiary of the 100 million dollars he left behind. Summer and Iris are the eldest of his kids, but they have a younger brother (who happens to be gay, making him less likely to procreate any time soon) and several half-siblings, one of whom is turning sixteen and is from New Zealand, where that is the legal age to marry.
Summer and Iris know that their stepmother will stop at nothing to get the money, even if that means forcing her daughter into a childhood marriage and motherhood.
So, the stakes are high. Things get even more intense when Summer has a family emergency and needs Iris to sail her yacht, because sailing is one of the only things Iris is better at than Summer (the other thing is playing piano.) Still, Summer is on board, and she announces that she’s pregnant, and Iris is pissed, but she loves Summer and will do anything for her. Then, Summer disappears and Iris assumes she’s dead, and she has to make sure her creepy half-sister doesn’t get the money, so she’s forced to swap places with her twin and tell everyone that she is Summer.
And things only get crazier from there.
I loved this story. A lot of the first half was told through flashbacks, where we learned about the dynamic between Iris and Summer, and why Iris is so insecure. By the time Iris decides to fake everyone out and tell them she’s Summer, the flashbacks end, and though we know Iris is making some really bad choices, it all makes sense and you can’t help rooting for her.
Then there are twists and turns and tons of tangled webs. I saw a lot of stuff coming, but I didn’t know when or how it would all materialize. I realize there is no shortage of “evil twin” or “twins trading places” stories, but this one managed to be original, shocking, and well-written. I cared about the main character, Iris, and I appreciated her growth over the course of the story. And, I was sad when it was over.
I highly recommend The Girl in the Mirror.
The Night Before, by Wendy Walker, is not your typical thriller. It centers around two sisters, Laura and Rosie. Laura is the unpredictable, intriguing younger sister and Rosie is the older, stable, happily married sister. Laura has come home to live with Rosie and her family for a while, because Laura’s latest romantic relationship ended badly. Really, really badly. So, Laura does what any of us would do, and tries online dating. She goes out on a date with this guy who looks nice and seems nice, but is he? When Laura doesn’t return home the next morning after her date, Rosie gets super worried. But here’s the twist: she’s more worried about what Laura may have done to the guy, than what the guy might have done to Laura.
It seems Laura has a past, even though she’s not even thirty yet. Some bad stuff went down when she was still in high school. Ever since she was found with blood on her hands, standing over the body of the guy she’d thought was her boyfriend (but he’d just been stringing her along), well, she’s had issues to get over and a reputation to live down. Laura has gone through a lot of men, but can’t seem to find lasting love. Meanwhile, Rosie married her childhood sweetheart and she’s never even dated anyone else. Both sisters have daddy issues, and a whole host of problems that need solving, and Rosie’s husband and her neighbor, who also grew up with her and Laura, seem to want to solve these problems for them. But can they be trusted, or are they hiding things?
The chapters alternate between Laura and Rosie’s POV, and slowly secrets are revealed and revelations are made. The story is intricately told and it’s all very entertaining and well done. Except, once I got to the climax, I stopped reading. There was a lot of explanation at the end that didn’t feel necessary.
I liked this novel but I didn’t love it. I wanted to keep reading, but I never felt that “I can’t put this book down” feeling. I recommend it though.
I heard about Such a Fun Age several times, but it wasn’t until I saw it listed as one of 2020’s best novels that I finally paid attention and downloaded it. I’m so glad I did, because it was one of the best novels I’d read in a long time.
The premise is fairly simple. Alix is a wealthy white woman who started her own business by writing letters, mostly to companies, asking for free merchandise. But she somehow turned her letter writing into a woman’s empowerment venture, and now Alix gives workshops on cover letter writing, she has scored a book deal, and she is involved in Hillary Clinton’s campaign (the novel takes place in 2016). Alix is also a mother of two young daughters, so she has hired Emira, a twenty-five year old African American woman, to babysit her older daughter, Briar. Emira is very bright but also aimless, and while she loves babysitting Briar and is very good at it, Emira also knows she needs a salaried job with health insurance.
At the beginning of the story, Emira does some late night emergency babysitting and takes Briar to an upscale grocery store, where Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar. One customer, a man named Kelly, films the whole incident, and later, he and Emira start dating.
Then, it turns out there are all sorts of tangled webs, hidden motivations, and complications that ensue. Throughout the novel I kept asking myself, “Who is worse? Alix or Kelly?” The answer to that is complicated and it keeps changing, and in the end, the story is more about challenging our own preconceptions on race, class, friendship, and loyalty. One thing author Kiley Reid does exceptionally well is illustrate how vastly a story can change depending on the perspective of the person who is telling it. That, and that we are always the heroes in the stories we tell about ourselves.
I saw parts of myself in Emira. I also saw parts of myself in Alix, though I didn’t want to. Working where I do, in a public high school that is highly diverse and mostly low income, I try to constantly check in with myself and be aware of my white privilege. I resist becoming a “Karen” - though I hate that term. Nobody should abuse their power, but women are criticized for doing so far more than men. With men, it’s assumed they’ll use their power. But a woman using her power? She’ll be condemned. Alix is also aware of the dangers of becoming a “Karen” and I could connect at times with her well-meaning cluelessness, even if ultimately, she makes unforgivable mistakes.
Anyway, this story is so good; it’s riveting and layered and surprising. The writing is superb and never condescends. It also gives the reader so much to think about and perhaps, to learn from as well.
If you’re a human with a half (or more) of a brain, you’ll love Such a Fun Age.
My Book Reviews
I love novels! My favorite genres are high-end women's fiction, suspense, and psychological thrillers, but occasionally I'll also pick up some chick lit or YA. I mostly read books on my kindle, and I also listen to audio books every morning when I go for my run.