Brand new review: The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley

By Ekta R. Garg

May 26, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: May 25, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A young woman becomes a widow, and all of the town’s inhabitants go along with her delusion that her husband is still alive. When a journalist comes to the island searching for a story, he discovers one he never saw coming. Author Colleen Oakley offers warmth, romance, genuine affection, and kind characters in her newest novel The Invisible Husband of Frick Island.

The lifelong residents of Frick Island divide people into two groups: From Here, meaning those who belong to the island, and Come Here, those who migrated to it. While the residents treat everyone with politeness, the Come Heres have often felt a small difference. All of them except Piper Parrish, that is.

Piper and her scientist mother came to Frick Island when Piper was in the sixth grade. In the beginning, the other kids in school singled her out as a Come Here. When Tom stood up for her, though, people stopped bothering her. Through the years, her sunny disposition won them over to the point that they forgot—or forgave—her Come Here status and adopted her as a From Here. Tom did more than that, however; he fell head over heels in love with Piper, and she returned his love with eagerness.

It didn’t surprise anyone that they got married young. Piper loves Frick Island, and Tom’s family has always been in the crab business. Tom took it up like his relatives, but he also feels a little restless. Piper keeps him steady, and he challenges her in the best of ways. As corny as it sounds, they’re meant for one another.

When Tom’s crab boat capsizes during bad weather, then, everyone in town understands Piper’s longing to grieve. When she starts talking to Tom as if he’s still there—telling everyone she needs to help Tom with his tie for church, say, or that she’s going out to the beach to meet his boat when it comes in the way she did before the accident—no one has the heart to correct her. In fact, they go one step further.

Anders Caldwell moved to Maryland from Atlanta hoping for a break in his journalism career. The proximity to New York and his pluck were all he needed for big things to happen. Except Anders is stuck covering the dumb stories no one wants, like a Cake Walk on Frick Island, which he’s never heard of and where he really doesn’t want to go. The only way to get to the Island is by ferry, and Anders hates being on the water.

His editor doesn’t give him a choice, though, and Anders makes his way to the island expecting to see a bunch of cakes and gawking tourists. What he finds is an entire town of people pretending to see a dead man. They actually call out to Tom as if he’ll respond, leaving Anders incredibly confused at first.

The more questions Anders asks, the more an idea burns inside of him: what if he starts a podcast about the town and this bizarre situation? What harm could it do anyway? The town doesn’t even have a cell phone tower, and internet speeds are actually crawls. Maybe this will be the feature story that will catapult him toward success.

As Anders comes back every weekend to interview Frick Island residents and spend time with Piper, he finds out just how far the From Heres will go to protect their own. He also discovers something more valuable than his next big career move.

Author Colleen Oakley handles her situations and characters with a practiced hand. While in theory it might seem a tad precious that Piper gets married so young, within the context of the story world it makes complete sense. Piper’s grief and her longing for Tom will endear her to readers. Both ring true and loud for anyone who has lost a loved one.

Oakley’s plot stays well within the realm of its genre but doesn’t come off as saccharine. Moments meant to be solemn maintain their dignity. Those meant for a laugh will make readers chuckle. With the exception of the dialogue that comes off as unrealistic at times, the book leads its target audience through the entire range of emotions with precision. I recommend readers Bookmark The Invisible Husband of Frick Island.

Brand new review: I Thought You Said This Would Work by Ann Garvin

May 5, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: May 1, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

Two women go on a road trip together at the request of their mutual best friend. Despite not speaking for years, the women force themselves to work together for their friend’s sake. Along the way, they run into D-list celebrities, meet new pets, and old memories. Author Ann Garvin returns with her best work yet in the touching, well-rounded novel I Thought You Said This Would Work.

Samantha Arias would do anything for her friend, Katie. Absolutely anything. The two have survived life challenges together—the death of Sam’s husband; Katie’s infertility and divorce. Sam stood by Katie through her first cancer diagnosis and treatment; Katie made sure Sam remembered to eat when she was newly widowed and a new mother all at the same time.

The one problem the two haven’t cracked is what happened with their other best friend, Holly. Well, former best friend, for Sam at least. Inseparable in college, the three balanced one another like a tripod. When graduation came and went, though, so did Holly. Sam knows Holly was mad at her about something, but she has no idea what.

Katie has stayed in touch with both friends independently, and she’s tried broaching the topic with Holly. In typical Holly fashion, she cut off Katie’s attempts. Sam agonizes over the loss of her friend, but she can’t do much about it.

Until now. Katie’s cancer is back, and she needs everything good in her life from the first time she fought the disease. That includes her dog, Peanut, a Great Pyrenees that her ex-husband, Tom, took to California when they divorced. After Sam, Peanut was Katie’s closest companion. It might seem silly to non-pet people like Holly, but Katie can’t get through this latest round of cancer without Peanut.

Sam volunteers to bring Peanut home, but Peanut’s size and his diabetes make it impossible to fly him back. The only option is to drive. In fact, back when Katie and Tom were together, they’d bought a camper to drive Peanut around. It would be ideal if someone could bring back the camper with Peanut in it.

Holly points out that Sam won’t be able to make the trip. Sam suffers from a sleep disorder that forces her to nap at the most inconvenient times; there’s no way, Holly says, that Sam will survive a trip from California back to their native Wisconsin—about 2000 miles—all by herself while also managing Peanut’s condition.

Holly may be right, but for Sam not helping Katie isn’t an option. When Katie begs her to take Holly with her—Holly’s driving Katie and her hospital healthcare team nuts—Sam knows there’s no other way to do this. Because it’s for Katie, she agrees.

On the way to California, Sam meets minor celebrity Summer. Before anyone knows how, Summer invites herself along for the road trip. Between an unexpected detour to Utah, Summer insisting that Sam get her aura checked out, and Holly’s outright hostility toward Sam, the entire trip seems doomed. Yet along the way, Sam discovers things about herself that were hidden below the surface. She also figures out that getting back to a good place with Holly means getting back to a good place with herself first.

Author Ann Garvin’s strengths in writing are obvious from the opening pages of the book. Sam’s compassion and deep love for Katie are at odds with her confusion about what happened with Holly. Garvin doesn’t shy away from conflicted feelings. Sam wants Holly back in her life, but she also feels like Holly should have trusted their friendship enough to tell her.

Garvin makes what could be characterized as an off-the-wall premise feel organic. Early on, Summer becomes the mouthpiece for Sam’s hidden feelings. Readers will cheer her on, even as they urge Sam to find her own voice.

If the book can be faulted anywhere, it’s in Holly’s willfulness to stay blind to Sam’s friendship. While time and physical distance make it easy to hold onto grudges, Holly continues to do so when she, Sam, and Summer are together. At some point, members of the target audience might feel like telling Holly to grow up already. Sam clearly wants to work things out. Holly comes across as a high school “mean girl” stuck in an adult’s body. Her change in character, then, isn’t quite as turnkey as the rest of the novel.

Overall, the book is funny and sweet without being saccharine. Fans of road trip books and stories about friendships will definitely enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark I Thought You Said This Would Work.

Newest review: My Kind of People by Lisa Duffy

May 13, 2020

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: May 12, 2020

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A child must deal with the loss of her parents and the uneasy guardianship of a family friend on her island home. Neighbors and friends become an integral part of her life as they band together—or not—in an effort to take care of her, all while finding new ways to navigate relationships. Author Lisa Duffy entertains readers and offers them a well-executed twist in her mostly likeable novel My Kind of People.

On Ichabod Island off the New York coast, ten-year-old Sky is relearning what family means. Her birth parents left her at the Ichabod fire station when she was a baby, so she was adopted by island natives Brian and Ann. Two months ago, Brian and Ann died in a horrible car crash. In their will, they’d named their best friend, Leo, as Sky’s guardian.

While Leo is, admittedly, relieved to be back home on the island, he’s still trying to process the reality that his friends are gone. The situation becomes more complicated by his husband, Xavier, who is a New Yorker through and through. Xavier has little time and even less patience for slow island life. He wants Leo to find a new home for Sky so he and Leo can return to the city.

It isn’t quite that simple for Leo, though. One of the things he and Xavier had agreed on when getting married was that they didn’t want kids, but he can’t abandon Sky or dishonor Brian and Ann’s last wishes. Having Sky’s fourth-grade teacher, Maggie, just across the street and former contractor, Joe, next door makes him feel a little less alone. He just wishes Xavier could see that even though their circumstances have changed, this could still be a good thing.

Maggie is grateful for the distraction of helping with Sky. Lately she’s felt increasingly disconnected from her husband, Pete. Warning signs of infidelity keep popping up, and Maggie keeps ignoring them. After all, Pete’s the chief of police on Ichabod. It’s a given that he comes in contact with a lot of people.

If there’s one person who won’t let Maggie forget that the signs are there, it’s Agnes, Maggie’s best friend and the neighborhood busybody. Agnes has no trouble passing judgment on everyone and everything. She doesn’t approve of Pete’s behavior and tells Maggie point blank that Pete isn’t worth it anymore.

Maggie doesn’t appreciate the meddling, and when Agnes invites Sky’s estranged grandmother to town, without anyone’s consent or knowledge, Maggie feels like her friend has gone too far. As relationships change and new ones pop up, the residents of Ichabod Island will learn more about themselves and one another than they’ve known in a long time. Through it all, Sky tries to remind herself that the people in her life mean well, even if they don’t always know how to express it.

Author Lisa Duffy builds quite the list of characters to varying degrees of success. Sky, Leo, and Maggie get the most attention and the most development. The other characters, at times, seem to be filling a role.

Agnes’s interference can be distracting. At times it’s hard to understand how Maggie maintained their friendship for so long. Pete’s erratic behavior will raise a red flag for readers, if not Maggie, in the first few encounters with him. Duffy handles Maggie’s portion with grace and realism, though. Maggie agonizes over the decision to believe him or not when he claims his innocence, but once she makes a decision she sticks with it all the way to the end.

Sky definitely comes out the winner in this cast. Sweet and smart, she’s easy to root for. Leo, too, will charm readers from the outset, so much so that they might wonder what attracted him to Xavier in the first place. Xavier’s exasperation with the situation is justifiable, but the length of time he spends complaining about seems less an adult response and more a teenager throwing a tantrum.

Some characters do an about-face in the novel, which might seem a little forced, but the book redeems itself with the reveal Duffy plants. It may just take a while to get there. I recommend readers Borrow My Kind of People.