Tag Archives: husbands and wives

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (Amy Einhorn Books; 416 pages; $25.95)

husband secretIt’s every widow’s worst nightmare.  You are going through your deceased husband’s desk to find an envelope, addressed to you, with the foreboding words: “To be opened only in the event of my death.”  But imagine if you were still a wife– not yet a widow, with a husband very much alive–a devoted mother, and a fixture of the community.  Imagine if your life was just about perfect.  This is exactly what happens to Cecilia Fitzpatrick, the main character in Liane Moriarty’s engaging and, above all, human fifth novel aptly titled The Husband’s Secret.

What would you do?  Do you open it?  Do you risk everything?  Do you really, truly want to know the possible deep, dark secrets held within?  And once you know—what then?  Once the secret is out, it can never be taken back.  Can’t you just see the story in the “Can This Marriage Be Saved” section of one of your mom’s old Ladies’ Home Journal Magazines?

Cecilia has already discovered the letter when Moriarty opens her narrative.  It’s not until page 144 that Cecilia finally opens the missive to read the secrets held within.  I think she showed incredible restraint.  Moriarty tends to ramble as she shows us Cecilia’s inner struggles—to open the letter or not to open the letter.  The author’s tactic is purposeful and full of meaning.  Cecilia’s once orderly and careful world changes rapidly, literally within seconds.  She has gone from the woman who had everything together to a directionless, unsettled person.  After all she has been through, who wouldn’t be all jumbled?

Moriarty superbly compares Cecilia’s opening the letter to Pandora opening the jar from which “all those dreadful ills would go whooshing out to plague mankind forevermore.” Willpower loses out to natural curiosity in most instances.  In this way, The Husband’s Secret is very real and relatable.  We’re all human, and Moriarty puts both a human and humane spin on this tale.

So many different scenarios spun through my head as I wondered exactly what the husband’s secret would be.  I admit I have a very active imagination.  Okay, here we go.  He’s got to be a terrorist, and he decides he will only confess after his death.  Or this: He’s planning on assassinating the president.  I mean—come on, he does have three names after all—classic future president killer.  Or yet: He has to be in the witness protection program.  He’s hiding from the Mafia.  Or still: He is leading a double life, with another wife and family.  For me, the latter seemed to be the most common scenario, and I cheered when none of the above came to fruition.  Moriarty manages to keep her premise fresh and different, and she succeeds in engaging the reader and keeping her guessing.

The Husband’s Secret a pure joy to read.  Moriarty creates an honest rendering of a marriage, of a life, and of a family.  So many moriartyemotions permeate these pages, and Moriarty captures each and every one of them perfectly.  We’re all imperfect and heavily flawed.  We’re all human.  We just cannot resist letters or even jars, despite what they might contain.  And that’s all part of the fun of life.  The Husband’s Secret will surely be a hit with book clubs as the story will resonate with women of all ages.  I suspect many women will take the discussion from the book club back home to the bedroom.

 The Husband’s Secret is the September Book Club Selection of She Reads.

For other reviews of the novel, fun giveaways, discussions, and more, visit She Reads!

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Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel (Harper Collins; 320 pages; $25.99).

Description:

sea creaturesWhen Georgia returns to her hometown of Miami, her toddler son and husband in tow, she is hoping for a fresh start. They have left Illinois trailing scandal and disappointment in their wake: Graham’s sleep disorder has cost him his tenure at Northwestern; Georgia’s college advising business has gone belly up; and three-year old Frankie is no longer speaking. Miami feels emptier without Georgia’s mother, who died five years earlier, but her father and stepmother offer a warm welcome-as well as a slip for the dilapidated houseboat Georgia and Graham have chosen to call home. And a position studying extreme weather patterns at a prestigious marine research facility offers Graham a professional second chance.

When Georgia takes a job as an errand runner for an artist who lives alone in the middle of Biscayne Bay, she’s surprised to find her life changes dramatically. Time spent with the intense hermit at his isolated home might help Frankie gain the courage to speak, it seems. And it might help Georgia reconcile the woman she was with the woman she has become.

But when Graham leaves to work on a ship in Hurricane Alley and the truth behind Frankie’s mutism is uncovered, the family’s challenges return, more complicated than before. Late that summer, as a hurricane bears down on South Florida, Georgia must face the fact that her choices have put her only child in grave danger.

My Thoughts

Graham, Georgia, and their son Frankie moved to South Florida to escape their many troubles in Susanna Daniel’s new novel Sea Creatures, but their problems had a way of tagging along.  Georgia, Daniel’s main character and sole narrator, was a protagonist I not only liked but with whom I sympathized and empathized.  I put myself in her place and understood the great weight she carried on her thin shoulders.  I absolutely hated Graham, Georgia’s husband, who suffered from parasomnia, a condition in which he experienced erratic sleep patterns.  He sometimes sleepwalked.  “Sleep was the yardstick by which all other fears were measured, and everything else dwarfed.  It’s the stuff of horror films, sleep terror, but the sleep goblins of film are imaginary.  Graham’s problems were real, and all the more alarming for their unpredictability.”

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Despite having parasomnia, Graham scoffed at his son Frankie’s selective mutism.  This, I must confess, was the ultimate of his transgressions for me.  Graham seemed to want Frankie to be “normal,” when Graham himself had medical problems.

Daniel expertly underscored how parenthood can change a marriage.  Georgia just could not understand her husband’s mindset, “Sometimes I thought that in becoming a parent, I’d morphed into an entirely different person, while he’d remained exactly the same person he’d always been.”  As Daniel’s tale progressed, husband and wife only withdrew farther and farther away from each other.

Georgia and Frankie, though, grew even closer.  Frankie stole my heart time and again in this novel.  “Just as he’d started to speak words, he’d stopped…[The doctors] quizzed me about my marriage and about Graham and his parasomnia, which led me to understand that children in difficult homes sometimes go mute….”  Frankie finally found his voice thanks to Charlie the hermit.

I loved the transformation in which Charlie’s character underwent.  Like Frankie, he discovered a part of himself that had been closed off for years.  Sea Creatures came to dazzling and vivid life whenever Georgia and Frankie visited Charlie in Stiltsville.  Those passages just hummed with energy.

683af41910938771f187ff55921f44d6I could not help but hope that Georgia and Charlie would develop a lasting romance.  Of course, I also hoped she would give Graham the boot.   Everything comes to a shuddering climax as Hurricane Andrew approaches South Florida, lending a threatening, uncertain atmosphere to the story: “The course of a life will shift—really shift—many times over the years.  But rarely will there be a shift that you can feel gathering in the distance like a storm, rarely will you notice the pressure drop before the skies open.”  Indeed, the hurricane heralded a new chapter for Daniel’s characters.  For them, everything changed.  Just as residents of South Florida cleaned up after the storm, the people in Daniel’s novel must pick up the pieces of their tattered and torn lives.

Thus, Daniel adeptly weaved together various conflicts throughout her narrative, cleverly moving from man against man to man against himself to man against nature.  The plot of Sea Creatures expertly revolved around these struggles.

All in all, Daniel’s second book was an absorbing, lyrical journey.  Sea Creatures left me spellbound, sleepless, speechless, and completely oblivious to the rest of the world.

He said, “Some people go to sea, and they drown.”

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Spotlight on The Violet Hour by Katherine Hill

Releasing July 16 from Scribner

the violet hourA pitch-perfect, emotionally riveting debut novel about the fracturing of a marriage and a family – from an award-winning young writer with superb storytelling instincts.  Life hasn’t always been perfect for Abe and Cassandra Green, but an afternoon on the San Francisco Bay might be as good as it gets. Abe is a rheumatologist, piloting his coveted new boat. Cassandra is a sculptor, finally gaining modest attention for her art. Their beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, is heading to Harvard in the fall. Somehow, they’ve made things work. But then, out of nowhere, they plunge into a terrible fight. Cassandra has been unfaithful. In a fit of fury, Abe throws himself off the boat.  A love story that begins with the end of a marriage, The Violet Hourfollows a modern family through past and present, from the funeral home in the Washington suburbs where Cassandra and her siblings grow up to the San Francisco public health clinic where Abe and Cassandra first meet. As the Greens navigate the passage of time—the expectations of youth, the concessions of middle age, the headiness of desire, the bitterness of loss—they must come to terms with the fragility of their intimacy, the strange legacies they inherit from their parents, and the kind of people they want to be. Exquisitely written, The Violet Hour is the deeply moving story of a family suddenly ripped apart, but then just possibly reborn.

Bookmagnet Says: Told from multiple and very distinctive viewpoints, The Violet Hour knocked me over with its intimate portrayal of a family’s past and present.  Hill knows how to keep readers turning pages.  Utterly beguiling.

O, The Oprah Magazine loved it, too.  They chose it as one of “Ten Titles To Pick Up Now” in the August issue:

A bittersweet tale of breakup and forgiveness, this debut novel begins at the end of a marriage and journeys back through time to explore why the relationship frayed.

I will be reviewing The Violet Hour next week, so stay tuned!

 

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Book Review: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio (Plume; 320 pages; $15).

                Blackberry Winter, the new novel from Sarah Jio, author of The Violets of March and The Bungalow, is the October She Reads Book Club Selection.  You can discuss the book, comment on reviews, meet Jio, and find out how she came up with the premise of the story by going to the She Reads web site.  There are some yummy giveaways you don’t want to miss either!

Click here for discussion and giveaways!

Jio is a novelist who knows how to pull at her readers’ heartstrings.  She draws you into a story, and, suddenly, you forget everything else around you.  The rest of the world falls away; you are immersed in Jio’s world.  That is how it was for me when I read her two previous novels.  Jio is back, and she has not lost her gift.  In fact, Blackberry Winter is now my favorite of her works.  Blackberry Winter is a mystery/love story with appealing characters, a strong plot, and a setting Jio knows well: Seattle, her home.

In Blackberry Winter, Jio focuses her narrative lens on two women, born decades apart, who have experienced deep loss and heartache.  Vera Ray trudges home to her three-year-old beloved son, Daniel, early one May morning in 1933.  Vera is struggling to make ends meet in the midst of the Great Depression.  Fresh from her shift at Seattle’s Olympic Hotel, she steps out the door to a late-season snowstorm, or “blackberry winter” as it was once referred to.  To her horror, Daniel is nowhere to be found.  More horrible still: no one seems to want to help her find her son.

Fast-forward to present-day Seattle and to Claire Aldridge, a reporter for the Seattle Herald.  Her boss assigns Claire to cover their own blackberry winter.  Like Vera, Claire is struggling.  She recently suffered a terrible accident and endured the death of her baby.  Her marriage is falling apart.  She is unhappy to be given such a fluff piece and searches for an angle.  When she discovers Daniel’s disappearance, Claire is intrigued; she has her story.

In alternating chapters Jio tells the story chiefly from the first-person perspectives of Vera and Claire.  The “I” definitely made the novel more intimate.  I do not think Blackberry Winter would have had as much of an effect on me if Jio had told the story in the third person.

Initially, I was no fan of Vera’s.  I detested her inaction.  She is a woman who does not act; rather, she waits for other people, namely men, to act.  I wanted to shake her.  The more Jio delved into Vera’s character, though, the more I came to understand her.  Vera lived in the 1930s, during a time of economic crisis much worse than our own.  As a single mother, she had to work; she had no other choice.  Yet, many scorned her for working.  Upper-class women looked at her with contempt.  But they didn’t have to walk in Vera’s shoes, riddled with holes.  Vera’s story is truly a tragic tale and reminded me of the 2008 movie The Changeling, based on actual events.  In 1928 Los Angeles, a woman was reunited with her son who had been missing.  When she adamantly told the authorities that the boy was not her son, they vilified her and deemed her an unfit mother.

Claire, for me, was the star of this story.  I loved her spunk and her drive.  She really is Jio’s most likeable, relatable character.

Jio brings her dual time narratives together in the end for a very satisfying conclusion.  What she writes is unexpected, yet always plausible.  Once you start reading, you will want to finish this in one sitting.  The story is engaging; the characters are compelling; the setting is timely.  Jio’s themes of maternal love, loss, jealousy, redemption, hope, and healing will resonate with readers.

Blackberry Winter is a well-timed, beautifully told story from one of the masters of the dual time narrative.  I highly recommend it for fans of Sarah McCoy, Lucinda Riley, Kate Morton, Jenna Blum, and Tatiana de Rosnay.

 

 

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Book Review: Perfect is Overrated by Karen Bergreen

Perfect is Overrated by Karen Bergreen (St. Martin’s Griffin; 308 pages; $14.99).

                Most authors do not know how to use humor in their storytelling.  Their attempts at comedy fall flat or come out all wrong.  Karen Bergreen, though, is not like those writers.

Bergreen is a stand-up comic who has appeared on Court TV, Comedy Central, Oxygen, and on Law & Order.  That is just her “second” career.  She is a former attorney who also clerked for a federal judge.  Bergreen is smack-dab in the midst of undertaking yet another vocation: author.  Her latest laugh-out-loud murder mystery is called Perfect is Overrated; she previously wrote Following Polly.    

                In Perfect is Overrated, Bergreen’s comedic timing is impeccably spot-on.  After the mother of one of her daughter’s preschool classmates is murdered, Kate Alger remembers meeting her for the first time.  The mothers and their daughters were sitting in a waiting area of the preschool’s admissions office.  Beverly offered her daughter, Bitsy, some hummus.  Molly, Kate’s daughter, thought the woman would offer her some, too.  “She’s not sick, is she?” Beverly asked, anxiously.  “Bitsy doesn’t like germs.”  Beverly made it clear to little Molly that the food was for Bitsy and she could not have any.  Kate instead offered Molly old saltine crackers from her purse.  Beverly was horrified, “Ooh, you do salt?”  Beverly then turned to Bitsy: “Bitsy, sweetie.  Mommy is going to help Bitsy out of her stroller.  And then Bitsy can give Mommy a kiss.  Mommy loves Bitsy.”  And then Bitsy threw up on Beverly.  “Molly took the second saltine out of its plastic wrap and handed it to the little girl.”  See what I mean?  Bergreen knows instinctively where to position humor in her storytelling.

But Perfect is Overrated is not all punch-lines and laughter.  Kate once had the perfect life.  She was an assistant district attorney who loved her job and was married to Paul, a gorgeous cop.  The couple was overjoyed to be expecting their first child.  Molly’s premature arrival and her touch-and-go first weeks of life irrevocably changed all that.  Kate developed postpartum depression, and nothing, not even Molly, could pull her from the black depths of despair.  Paul knew how to deal with perps but he had no clue how to handle an emotional and despondent wife.  They divorced.  He moved into an apartment right above his ex and their daughter.

Kate finally finds a cure for her postpartum blues when someone begins murdering the wealthy, snobby, seemingly perfect moms in Molly’s class.  Paul and Kate’s old boss are on the case.  Kate is hungry for information and launches her own investigation, which includes breaking into Paul’s computer and doing some snooping in her old boss’ office.  Kate gets more than she ever bargained for, though, when she discovers she could be next.

Because Bergreen knows the law, the plot to Perfect is Overrated is true to life.  She knows the ins and outs of police procedure and how to build a case against a perpetrator.  Because she also knows comedy, the story is funny, too.  Case in point:  when the killer is finally in police custody, the accused describes one of the murders.  “She answered the door in a stupid Chanel suit, which, I’m sorry, is so over.  Coco is dead, lady.  Buy de la Renta.”  I think I can honestly say that I have never read a funnier mystery.

Bergreen’s two careers, law and comedy, come together in this novel.  It’s a good marriage, one that I hope is long-lasting. May she never stray.

 

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Book Review: Little Sinners, And Other Stories by Karen Brown

Little Sinners, And Other Stories by Karen Brown (University of Nebraska Press; 208 pages; $17.95).

 

            Author Karen Brown has won several awards for her fiction writing.  Reading her new tightly-knit, intimate collection of short stories entitled Little Sinners, And Other Stories, it is easy to understand why.  Brown’s first collection, Pins and Needles, won the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction.  Her stories have appeared in The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 and The Best American Short Stories 2008Little Sinners recently received the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction.  When you read Brown’s work, you know you are in the hands of a skillful craftsman in her prime.  Little Sinners is seductive and captivating as it explores the complicated and complex world of domesticity.

 

Although Brown features male characters, most of her principal personalities are women.  Brown’s world is a woman’s world, one in which females defy stereotypes and carve out places and roles of their own.  Unexpected consequences ensue, and the women must always pick up the pieces in the aftermath.  All of Brown’s stories are very true to life because, as women, we know that is often the case.

 

Her vignettes are slices of domestic life, written with passion and, above all, realism. Some tales are erotic; some are suspenseful; all are compelling.  Among the strongest stories in the collection are the title story “Little Sinners,” “Swimming,” “Stillborn,” “The Philter,” and “An Heiress Walks into a Bar.”

 

An adult woman remembers a horrible trick she and her best childhood friend played on a little girl in “Little Sinners.”  “We weren’t bad girls,” the narrator insists.  “We were feral, unequivocally vicious, like girls raised by the mountain lions that occasionally slunk out of the wilderness….”  The girls never expected what happened next, and the woman still carries a great amount of guilt many years later.

 

In “Swimming,” a married woman and her lover swim the pools of her neighbors in the dark of night.  When they are seen, they become the talk of the neighborhood.  The woman, though, is in for a big surprise when she catches her daughter and a boy in the family pool.

 

“Stillborn” is my favorite of Brown’s short stories and also her best.  Diana, who is six-months pregnant, and her husband move into a cottage on the Long Island Sound.  He has cheated on his wife but promises it won’t happen again.  Diana seeks solace in the garden.  She digs in the dirt only to discover small bones buried there.  “Femur, fibula, humerus, clavicle.  Tiny bones, delicate and dirt-stained,” Brown writes.  Diana “stopped digging, the bones uncovered.”  She thinks, “I’ve dug too deep.”  The bones are of a baby.  Diana assumes the child was stillborn; the parents, she guesses, buried the dead infant in their yard as was the custom in earlier days.  However, when Brown shifts perspective from Diana to her neighbor, Mrs. Merrick, we see a different, and darker, side of the story.  This is truly where Brown shines as she shows domestic relationships, like plants in a garden, can have blights.

 

The most disturbing and chilling of all the stories in Little Sinners is “The Philter.”   Kit, a troubled housewife, meets Sarah in a grocery store.  Sarah’s mother has disappeared; the teen confides in Kit and practically drags her to her home for dinner.  When Sarah shows Kit how she spies on her own house, the duo see way more than they bargained for.  There is a voyeuristic quality and an illicitness to this piece.  Brown focuses on silences, what is unspoken, and on body language.  I was just as uncomfortable as Kit seemed to be.  It becomes clear that there is more to the disappearance of Sarah’s mother.

 

In another favorite story of mine, “An Heiress Walks into a Bar,” Esme is diagnosed with the same kind of cancer that killed her mother.  She grapples with her own mortality and the absence of her father, who disappeared years before.  When she was twelve, “her father put on his pale blue pinstripe suit, custom-made for a previous trip to the Bahamas, and left, never to be heard from again.”

 

Brown’s emotional stories cut to the quick.  They wound; they scar.  The stories in Little Sinners are intelligent, dark, deep, and murky, much like a woman’s soul.  Brown has a keen sense of what works.  At only 194 pages, Little Sinners is short, but its issues are weighty.  I dare you to read Little Sinners and come away empty.

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Book Review: The Light between Oceans

The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (Scribner; 384 pages; $25).

 

There are times when I lose myself in a novel.  I am certain this has happened to you, too.  I disappear into the rhythms and cadence of a good story.  The characters I meet become like friends or family members.  The settings of these tales are places I have physically never been, yet I could tell you everything about them.  These are the stories that stay with me, novels I read and reread over and over again.

The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, a native Australian, is just such a novel.  Stedman now lives in London, and her debut proves she is an author to watch.  Clear your calendar, because you will not want to do anything else once you begin reading The Light between Oceans.

Stedman sets her story primarily on the formidable isolated island of Janus Rock, off the western coast of Australia.  A lighthouse station, built in 1889, sits on the island like a sentinel.  Like the god the island is named for, Janus Rock “looks in the direction of two different oceans, down to the South Pole and up to the Equator.”  The god Janus has two faces, “back to back.”  The island also has two faces: beautiful one minute and ugly the next.

For a lightkeeper, life on Janus Rock can be a nightmare.  Stedman illustrates the utter isolation he can feel, especially when alone on the island.  Often, the only visitors are the supply boat.  It is a lonely existence.  So much so that Trimble Docherty, the light keeper, went crazy and had to be replaced.  Enter Tom Sherbourne and, later, his wife, Isabel.  Tom takes over the light.  The job is difficult–difficult enough to make or break people and make or break marriages.

One day, a small boat washes ashore on Janus Rock.  Inside is a dead man and a living baby.  Isabel believes the child is a “gift from God.”  She urges her husband not to signal the authorities, or at least not yet.  Give it a day or two, she begs.

The appearance of the baby is a prayer answered for Isabel.  In heartbreaking and affecting passages, Stedman describes Isabel’s two miscarriages and one stillbirth.  I was overcome to see Isabel wash the body of her dead child.  She is a broken woman, longing for a child.  Suddenly, one appears out of nowhere.  Isabel wants to raise the baby as hers and Tom’s.  The mother, Isabel thinks, must have drowned before the boat landed on the island.  She wants this baby girl more than anything else in the whole world.  Stedman writes, “In a place far beyond awareness, the flood of chemicals which until so recently had been preparing her body for motherhood, conspired to engineer her feelings, guide her muscles.”  Isabel’s instincts “rushed back to life.”  This fact is not lost on her husband.

Tom is Stedman’s strongest character, even more so than Isabel.  A former World War I soldier, Tom is serious and steadfast.  “The idea of honor,” for Tom, “was a kind of antidote to some of the things he’d lived through.”  A meticulous record keeper, Tom records everything in his logbook.  It is part of his job.  “A lightkeeper accounts for things,” Stedman gently reminds us.  “Every article in the light station is listed, stored, maintained, inspected.  No item escapes official scrutiny.”  He is not one to take liberties with the logbook.  Tom, in fact, “relishes the language” [of the logbook].  “When he thinks back to the chaos, the years of manipulating facts, or the impossibility of knowing, let alone describing, what the bloody hell was going on while explosions shattered the ground all around him, he enjoys the luxury of stating a simple truth.”  Tom is not a man to break rules.

Isabel throws Tom’s honor in his face.  “But what are those rules for?  They’re to save lives!”  When Tom says he just cannot lie about the dead man and the baby washing ashore, Isabel explodes: “How can you be so hard-hearted?  All you care about is your rules and your ships and your bloody light.”  Tom finally acquiesces, in part because he feels responsible for the miscarriages and stillbirth.  He is the reason they are on the rock, after all.  He does not mention the dead man and baby in the log; instead, he buries the body of the man and pushes the boat back out to sea.

Isabel and Tom raise the baby as their own.  Tom, though, carries around such guilt.  One day, it is abundantly clear, he will no longer be able to live with what he has done.  One day, it will be too much for him to bear.  One day, the secret will come out.

The Light between Oceans moves at a fast clip.  Although Stedman’s two main characters are Tom and Isabel, she also introduces other characters into the story.  Her ability to get us into their heads is masterful and even unexpected, especially when it comes to the struggles of a grieving mother.

Honestly, I felt like I was complicit in Tom and Isabel’s crime.  I fervently hoped they would keep the baby.  I urged Tom to lie.  I felt as if I were aiding and abetting criminals.  I rationalized with Tom; I sympathized with Isabel.  But then I felt the guilt, just like Tom.  Stedman drags the reader into this moving story and does not let go.

I miss Janus Rock.  I miss Tom and Isabel.  If you get caught up in Stedman’s debut, you will miss them too.  Stedman seduces the reader into helping cover up a crime.  The Light between Oceans mesmerizes the reader.  It truly does.  What is right and what is wrong?  Is everything black and white?  Or do grey areas really exist?  In a web of lies, can the truth ever come out?  The Light between Oceans is like a siren’s song–beautiful and impossible to resist.

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