I finally read “The Maidens” by Alex Michaelides. It doesn’t have the edge-of-the-seat, twisted quality of his first novel, “The Silent Patient.” Rather than being caught unaware as in “The Silent Patient,” readers feel that they are always a couple of steps ahead of the protagonist, Marianna, and wishing she would get out of her own way so that she can see obvious red herrings for what they are. More than the murders that take place, Marianna’s inability (or unwillingness) to recognize what is so obvious to everyone else is the underlying story of this novel. The big surprise is that this story takes place concurrently with “The Silent Patient.” I can’t wait to know how that plays out in the next book - because there will surely be a next book.
I should probably devote an entire column to “The School for Good Mothers.” Merrile Stroud and I have a long-standing joke proclaiming ourselves as cool, or awesome, or good mothers. So, when we saw this title, we pounced on it. This is not a lighthearted book. It is a commentary on motherhood in our society. It is deep. We have all heard horror stories of how child protective services will only intervene if a child is in imminent danger, and sometimes not intervene at all. Imagine that, due to all the bad-press it has received, CPS made a 180-degree change and became hyper-vigilant about protecting children? Are you a working mother who has ever struggled to balance those responsibilities? Has your child ever broken a bone or needed stitches? Have you ever allowed your child to eat bread and ketchup for dinner, rather than have a meltdown over a healthy meal? Have you ever felt like a drama-mama because you rushed to the doctor’s office only to be told that your child’s stomach pain is nothing more than constipation, or felt guilty because you waited to go to the doctor’s office only to be told that your child’s stomach pain is appendicitis? Have you ever taken your eyes off of your child to check your phone, or dinner, or the laundry? Have you ever said or done something that your child just didn’t like? If you can relate to any of these situations, in Jessamine Chan’s novel, you would probably lose custody of your child, and be sentenced to a year at The School for Good Mothers, where, no matter how hard you work, you could never attain the level of mastery necessary to be reunited with your child. I have to admit that I found myself embarrassingly empathetic toward Frida - a mother who had “a very bad day.”
I read Ruta Sepetys’ new book, “I Must Betray You,” in one day! I remember the end of Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist regime in Romania in 1989. The historical part of this historical fiction made me feel a little old, but I could not put down this book. You won’t either. Readers of historical fiction should look for Sepetys’ other books, “Salt to the Sea,” “Between Shades of Gray,” and “Fountains of Silence.” She is absolutely my favorite writer of historical fiction.
In “The Maid,” by Nita Prose, Molly is described by many as a special girl - and she is. She’s extremely trusting. Some want to take advantage of that; others want to protect her. It’s difficult for her to know the difference! Before long, she’s embroiled in a murder investigation! But is she trusting the right friends? Whodunnit fans will enjoy this book. Readers who enjoyed 2017’s “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman will also enjoy it - although it’s not nearly as heavy as “Eleanor Oliphant.” And if you didn’t read that but enjoyed the 2009 Sandra Bullock-Bradley Cooper movie, “All About Steve,” I think you will enjoy it.
Enjoy your April reading!