Cleaning House

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land is a memoir telling the experiences faced by Land as she navigates life as a single, working mom. I decided to read the book before watching the Netflix series.

Pregnancy changes everything as the narrator postpones her dream to attend college in order to raise her daughter Mia. She takes as much maid work as she can at the risk of her own health in order to provide the basic necessities for her daughter. Chapters outline the different houses she cleaned including the personalities she encountered and the lessons learned from each. Through this are the many hardships of getting assistance, a suitable/affordable home, food and child care.

The author’s conversational tone adeptly explains the frustration, degradation and anxiety of a person living in poverty. She shares the difficulties of raising a child between two households. It also shows her extreme diligence and dedication to achieve more for herself. It is a reminder to maintain hope through struggle, to appreciate life, and to treat people with kindness.

True Loves

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller is the story of a love triangle with main character Elle at its center. Elle loves her husband Peter and their three children; however, a sexual encounter with her childhood love Jonas makes her question which man she wants more.

Elle’s past is interspersed with present day throughout the book. Elle’s childhood is a mixture of traumatic and joyful moments. Elle and her older sister Anna are bounced around to various caregivers as kids due to their parent’s divorce. The story reviews their rocky relationship with their dad and his wives, and their relationship with their beautiful mother and her husband.

Summers at the paper palace, the name given to the small beachside cottages built by her grandfather, are the setting of some of Elle’s happiest memories. It is also the place where she endured her stepbrother’s abuse. Elle and Jonas became friends here, and forged a much deeper relationship based on shared experiences. A random meeting years after not seeing each other rekindles a friendly relationship after Elle is already with Peter.

Shared trauma, secrets and the ups and downs of family relationships along with sharp writing make this a compelling read. I rooted for the strong women characters and found myself with very mixed feelings regarding Elle’s decision.

Surf’s Up

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the ups and downs of the Riva family.

It all started with young June and Mick. June wanted more for herself than running her family seafood restaurant, and Mick seemed like the ticket out. He was an aspiring singer with good looks and charisma. His success gave them all that June hoped for until he began having affairs, and eventually abandoned his family.

The Riva offspring, Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit, grew up mostly without Mick while June slipped into alcoholism. Ultimately, Nina took on the mother role for her younger siblings. Nina is discovered while out surfing, and begins making a name for herself as a model. Jay becomes a popular surfer and Hud becomes an accomplished photographer.

The events build to a climax as the siblings get ready to host their infamous annual party, which has grown in size and status each year. This year’s party is full of drama with the return of Nina’s recently returned philandering husband, Hud’s girlfriend who is also one of his brother’s exes, an unknown sibling, and an appearance from the main man himself, Mick Riva.

Relationships, finding oneself and rebirth are all important aspects of this entertaining read.

House of Horror

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone takes readers into the childhood fantasy world of twin sisters Cat and El. After being estranged for twelve years, Cat is suddenly plunged back into her past when her sister goes missing during a solo sailing outing. She returns to their childhood home in Edinburgh and all its suppressed memories.

Mirrorland is the name for a hidden space in the girls’ childhood home where the twins, Ross (El’s husband and Cat’s former boyfriend), and Mouse escaped from evil pirates, among other adventures. The investigation into El’s disappearance reveals that the twin’s childhood was abusive and full of sinister secrets.

Cat does not feel that her sister truly died; rather she believes it’s an elaborate hoax for attention. This is even more true as she starts receiving mysterious emails and notes that lead her on a scavenger hunt through her past. During this time she stays with Ross. Cat is hearing that Ross was a violent husband and that El was scared for her life. When El’s body is eventually recovered, it seems that Ross might be to blame after all.

Each character has plenty of emotional trauma in his/her past and we must forage into their attempts at escape to figure out the truth. This was a gripping read that kept me guessing until the very end.

Marital Secrets

That Summer by Jennifer Weiner speaks to any woman who has feelings about the #metoo movement.

Diana was only fifteen when a recent prep school graduate raped her while his friends stood by. At the time, she was working as a nanny to a family friend in Truro. The story explains her mental decline afterward. She is changed forever until she gets a second chance to go back and rebuild herself while staying in the same family friend’s smaller cottage.

Eventually, Diana finds love. This is when she hatches the plan to revisit her former attackers. For the main transgressor, she decides to befriend his wife first (also a Diana). This creates an interesting situation for wife Diana (known as Daisy). Daisy is starving for friendship and respect. Their new relationship will force her to analyze her marriage and her choices.

Vacation to Forget

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz is my second psychotic female friend read of the summer. Kristen and Emily are best friends who love to travel together. Unfortunately, they are bonded by a terrible secret; they have committed two murders and cover ups together.

The first was during a trip to Cambodia. Emily took Sebastian back to their room, but things turned very rough. Luckily, Kristen came to the rescue which resulted in Sebastian’s death. The friends disposed of his body and attempted a return to their normal lives. Emily suffered from severe anxiety and depression afterward, and Kristen was her rock the whole time. About a year later, the girls decide to travel to Chile. The trip is therapeutic, and Emily feels she may finally be able to leave the whole Cambodia experience behind her. Except their last night becomes a repeat of their previous trip. Kristen kills Paolo in self defense. This time the body is found, and Paolo’s family is wealthy enough to attract major publicity. A serious investigation begins.

The girls’ friendship will be put to the test like never before. During the process, Emily begins realizing that Kristen may be more unbalanced, manipulative and coldblooded than she could have imagined. Can she be stopped?

Finding Refuge

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri is an emotional story of profound loss and struggle. It is also a story of strength and hope.

Nuri and cousin Mustafa have an incredible bond which has allowed them to grow their own successful beekeeping business. The telling of the beekeeping is beautiful and full of symbolic meaning to me (I wrote my Master’s thesis on bee imagery!). Their peaceful existence is upended when Syria is sieged, which causes horrible loss for both of them. They both lose a son, and their apiaries are burned to the ground. Mustafa leaves to join his wife and daughter; he sent them to the UK before the real danger started. Meanwhile, Nuri’s wife Afra won’t leave. She was blinded by the explosion that took their eight year old son, and she refuses to leave their home… until they are given no option.

The story continues following Nuri and Afra’s journey to find refuge. Their travels are filled with danger, filthy camps, and so many others with their own stories of pain and determination. Both are traveling in the wake of severe depression and PTSD. Through all of this, Nuri’s only driving force is to rejoin Mustafa and to somehow get back a little of their previous existence.

This story has a beautiful flow as it reveals previous events and characters. I found it incredibly touching and powerful.

Small Town, Big Drama

Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann is the perfect fix for soap opera fans. The Briscoe family has its share of drama. June and Peter are parents to three children. Their daughter Thea purposefully moved far from her family, and sons Hap and March have not been in contact since March’s affair with Hap’s wife Vera. Peter also has twin children in town, Arlo and Artie, from one of his numerous infidelities. (Note- several spoilers ahead…)

After estranging himself for two years, March returns to town in an attempt to make amends with his brother and mother. This seems to set off a string of other events that force the family to come together, and to confront their own shortcomings. June reflects on her tainted marriage and her damaged relationships with Thea and March. Hap and Vera must face the actual problems in their relationship now that March is back in town. Can Hap ever truly forgive his brother and can March overcome his own rage issues? Artie and Arlo’s close-knit relationship is put to the test when Artie’s new boyfriend is accidentally killed.

There are many intricate pieces to this novel with switching viewpoints from most of the important characters. Readers become familiar with the whole family; it’s impossible not to take sides or to root for favorites.


The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz is one of my favorites so far this summer.

Jacob has been chasing after the success of his first bestselling novel without much luck. It seems he is destined to spend his time teaching other aspiring writers instead of doing his own. All that changes when he meets an obnoxious student name Evan Parker whose story idea is a sure winner. Some time later, Jacob finds out that Evan died leaving behind no close relatives (to his knowledge). Jacob takes a risk and writes Evan’s story, and in doing so, attains all the success and notoriety he expected from such a great plot.

All would be great until Jake starts getting threatening messages from someone who knows that Jake stole the story. Jake worries that the fame he’s achieved will be destroyed. He decides to do his own investigating to figure out who is sending the messages, and if he/she can be stopped. Through this, Jake has his new wife by his side (although she is seemingly unaware of the threats). Excerpts of Jake’s bestseller, Crib, are woven throughout the book, essentially providing important clues to Jake’s enemy. The author brings both plots to a shocking conclusion almost simultaneously.

This book will resonate with anyone who has had glimmers of writing a novel, as well as anyone who loves suspense.

Greek Tragedy

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides is a psychological mystery. Mariana is struggling through the loss of her husband after his disappearance a year ago, when her adopted niece Zoe calls for help. Zoe’s college friend was brutally murdered. Mariana is a group therapist, and she has a particularly challenging patient whose obsessive and attention seeking behaviors have been unsettling to Mariana and to his treatment group. It seems like a good time to get away for a bit.

Mariana travels to Cambridge to support Zoe, and in doing so, she becomes involved in the investigation. Her top suspect is the adored and handsome young Greek professor who is followed by a group of beautiful, wealthy students dubbed the Maidens. The Maidens are the professor’s alibi, but the evidence against him is stacking up. Especially when two more girls are killed.

Throughout he story we read snippets of the killer’s letters which show his abusive background and psychological instability. Readers must decide if the letters are written by the professor, Mariana’s patient, or someone else. Mariana stays with the investigation until finally confronting the actual killer in a surprising twist.