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review 2015-03-12 00:00
The Perfect Mother: A Novel
The Perfect Mother: A Novel - Nina Darnton Received this book through the GoodReads First Reads giveaway program

"She thought again of Emma, alone and scared in jail, and felt the already familiar ache. Being a mother is like being held hostage, she thought, with no prospect of release - even when your children are grown, probably even when they have children of their own."

The Lewis family wake up in the middle of the night to a phone call that will likely alter the course of their future. All they could ever hope to appreciate about their lives and the realization of the "All-American" family will prove to be a failed attempt at parenthood in middle-class suburbia. With all intents and purposes, they were living the dream, on the path to success with 2.7 children and a home with a white picket fence. Sure there were some hiccups along the way with possible affairs and minor run-ins with the law, but what family doesn't go through that kind of stuff. Living in Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love), stay-at-home mom aficionado Jennifer Lewis lives with her husband and corporate lawyer Mark, made complete with her most prized possessions: her eight-year-old son Eric, her sixteen-year-old daughter Lily, and her twenty-year-old daughter and social activist in training Emma. Since putting her acting career on hold, Jennifer has made it a point to raise her children in the most stimulating of environments possible. Between countless extra-curricular activities, tutors, personal freedom, unconditional love, and unwavering affection Jennifer maintains a constant presence in all of her children's lives, (unlike their father).

"Jennifer sank down on the bed and looked helplessly at Mark. Usually, she would take comfort in his presence, gain strength from their dual purpose, from his arm around her. But now? She felt alienated, criticized, hurt, but mostly alone. Sitting next to her on the bed, he did put his arm around her shoulders, his habitual gesture in times of trouble, but he did it absentmindedly, dutifully, and she sensed the difference."

The family's eldest daughter Emma is in Spain participating in a program instituted by Princeton university that sends students overseas to study for a year. After eight months, everything was going great, there had been limited conversation and correspondence, but by all accounts there were no issues with Emma until that fateful night. In a drunken, drug-fueled haze Emma calls her mother to tell her that she was being held in jail. Emma has been accused of murdering a local young man who happens to have a reputation for being non-aggressive and who comes from a family with a good standing in the community. Jennifer gets on the first flight to Seville while Mark organizes the family situation at home. When Jennifer touches down and gets the lay of the land, she realizes really early in the process that what she thought she knew about her daughter had dramatically changed. The daughter that left Philadelphia eight months ago is not the one she has heard about from investigators and townspeople, read about in the local tabloids, and saw with her own eyes in prison. Over the course of eight months, what could have happened to turn a lively, resolute, passionate, and open-minded young woman into a listless, resentful, lying, and hotheaded stranger?

"One day she needs me, another she wants to be completely independent, another time she wants to show off how much she's learned and how sophisticated she's become, and yet another, she wants to tell me how spoiled and privileged and unworthy I am. She goes from hot to cold to hot again. Sometimes I feel like she's been invaded, like in that film, The Exorcist, but not by the devil - by Paco, and the ideas he's filled her head with."

First thing that came to my mind when reading this story was how similar it was to the Amanda Knox story. Like Emma, Amanda was raised in an upper middle-class family streamlined to a life of success. A young and beautiful woman, Amanda had the world at her fingertips before she decided to leave the nest and study abroad in Italy. Her parents had their reservations due to her naivete about the real world and her sheltered upbringing. In their minds this was too big of step to make at this vital point in her life, but like most parents they granted their blessing even if the bad outweighed the good. In both cases the murders happened during a public holiday, Amanda is accused of murdering a woman in a jealous rage while Emma is accused of being an accomplice to murder even in self-defense, they are both strangers in a strange land with variances and complexities of the national legal system, and are misconstrued due to contrived and overzealous media and the propaganda machine. The two personal stories are very similar, but the differences lie in the details. The problem I had was that I couldn't shake the knowledge I had of the Knox case to better submit myself to this story. I felt somewhat cheated. If you have no prior knowledge this book will probably be more enjoyable than it was for me.

The interesting element of the book is that it is told through the eyes of the mother. Jennifer is blinded by her defenses, so much so that she can't fathom to comprehend the truth that her own flesh and blood could do such a horrendous act. She no longer has the feeling that she can diligently evaluate her children with an honest eye. The shame Jennifer feels for her children's failures is equal to the credit she gives herself for their successes. Her children have not been held responsible for anything in their lives; it's all been excuse, after excuse, after excuse. This book is emotionally suspenseful showcasing how a seemingly controlled upbringing with the most honest of intentions can unearth the dark side of parenthood. Secondarily this book deals with the complexities between national media, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, and how families can be changed forever with one phone call.

"She leaned back again and looked out the window at the crowded streets, all the people moving about, living their lives, hurrying to meet someone or going home alone to empty apartments, happy or sad or angry or afraid. They were all coping with their own private crisis or celebrating their own triumphs. And though she didn't know them and could barely understand their language, she felt a kinship with them somehow, a sense that they were all part of the same human drama and that though the case might be different, her current unhappiness was something they could understand."

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review 2015-03-05 00:00
The Perfect Mother: A Novel
The Perfect Mother: A Novel - Nina Darnton ** I received this in a Goodreads “First Reads” giveaway **

Jennifer Lewis is so certain that everything in her life is perfect she is not even worried when the phone rings in the middle of the night. Regrettably for the Lewis family, the axiom holds true, and the phone call is very bad news. Their daughter Emma, studying abroad in Spain for a year, is being detained as a “person of interest” in the brutal murder of another student which took place in her apartment.

Coming home from a local celebration Emma was unlocking her door when a fellow student threatened her with a knife, pushed her into her apartment and attempted to rape her. Her screams attracted the attention of a good samaritan who fought the rapist and killed him in self-defense. The good samaritan is now, unfortunately, nowhere to be found.

As any mother would, Jennifer rushes to be at her daughter’s side and vows to do everything in her power to exonerate her daughter. When Jennifer arrives in Spain she is shocked at the change in her daughter finding her sullen, withdrawn and for some reason angry with her mother. Jennifer always considered herself the “perfect mother” – always there for her children – she gave up her promising career to stay home and be a mother. She is proud of the fact that she had always been able to solve any of her children’s problems, whether something as simple as Emma’s unhappiness at being in a different class than her best friend or something more serious such as the time Emma was caught cheating on an exam or shoplifting a dress. But can she solve this problem? Particularly when it seems that Emma doesn’t want her help.

Jennifer and her husband Mark hire a top criminal defense attorney to navigate the Spanish legal system and a private investigator to find the mystery man who holds the key to their daughter’s release. Jennifer starts her own investigation by talking to Emma’s friends at school soon not being able to prevent her own doubts from rising to the surface as one story unravels only to be replaced by another.

When I read the description of this book in the Goodreads Giveaway section it struck me as bearing a strong resemblance to the Amanda Knox case very much in the news over the past years. I couldn’t help but think to myself “yeah, another quick fictionalized version of the story to cash in on its notoriety and controversy”. I have followed the Knox case with interest (more avid than some and less avidly than others) and have read other books (not so loosely) based on it, usually with disappointing results. If the book description is meant as a device to get this book into people’s hands … kudos to the marketing team … it works! After all, it did influence me to take a chance on receiving the book by entering the contest. Yes, it involves a young, slightly naïve yet adventurous American student studying overseas. Yes, there is a murder of a fellow student of which she is accused. Yes, there are other small similarities used as jumping off points for “The Perfect Mother” but that is where the comparison ends. After reading the book, my opinion is that if it is a marketing ploy it does the book a great disservice. This book is strong enough to stand on its own two feet. It takes off in a completely different direction. It explores whether sometimes, as parents and particularly mothers, we do too much for our children. Are we doing more harm than good when we intervene in certain situations? It looks at how extreme circumstances affect not only the people directly involved but family and friends as well. Can a marriage already troubled survive the stress of an untenable situation? All that AND it’s a page-turner with a surprise jab at the end! I think this book would lead to some lively book club discussions. Good job Ms. Darnton.

So, giving The Perfect Mother all the positive raving why only the 4 star rating? Well, I don’t often say this, but I wish the book had been a little bit longer. I was very intrigued by some of the characters, one example being Roberto Ortiz, the private detective hired by the Lewis family. The non-resolution of his subplot left me a little disappointed and wondering. But maybe that’s a tale for another time?
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review 2015-02-06 14:11
The Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton
The Perfect Mother: A Novel - Nina Darnton

The Perfect Mother: A Novel - Nina Darnton 


The Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton is essentially a reworking of Defending Jacob with an Amanda Know twist. While Jennifer's daughter, Emma, is studying abroad in Spain, she is accused of a violent crime. As details of the crime emerge, Jennifer struggles with the realization that she may not know her daughter as well as she once thought.

It's a quick and enjoyable read, and would likely stimulate some interesting book club discussion, but overall I found the characters a bit shallow and felt the work as a whole was simply average. When it comes down to it, Defending Jacob did it first and did it better.

Disclaimer: This book has been provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2014-11-18 00:00
The Perfect Mother: A Novel
The Perfect Mother: A Novel - Nina Darnton What would you do if your daughter were half a world away and accused of murder? Could you be the perfect mother, supportive and believing, even when things don't add up? Read my review of this mystery/character study novel, here. https://tcl-bookreviews.com/2014/11/18/a-mother-and-a-mystery/
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review 2014-11-11 02:00
The Perfect Mother
The Perfect Mother: A Novel - Nina Darnton

By Nina Darnton
ISBN: 0142196738
Publisher: Penguin/Plume
Publication Date: 11/25/2014
Format: Other
My Rating: 3 Stars


A special thank you to PENGUIN GROUP Plume and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


The Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton, a dark novel primarily, based in Spain, inspired by the Amanda Knox case— a fictional psychological suspense of one mother’s daughter who is led down a dangerous path of despair.


Twenty year old Emma, a Princeton student is now studying abroad (or so she says) and her parents are financing her education and living expenses. Parents Jennifer, and Mark, a corporate attorney reside in Connecticut and Emma is their oldest child with two younger children, Lily, sixteen and Eric, age eight. They receive a frantic call in the middle of the night from Emma stating she is in jail in Spain and to come immediately.


Jennifer flies to her side, while her husband Mark makes all the necessary arrangements for a criminal attorney in Spain. When the mother arrives, everything is bazaar and weird, from her daughter’s behavior to the events leading up to the murder of a young male student from a wealthy family.


Emma’s story involves an attempted rape, and some mysterious guy who supposedly heard her cries for help and came in to save the day and killed the guy with a kitchen knife; however, the guy is nowhere to be found.


As time goes on, there is an older boyfriend Paco (a drug dealer and a so called activist), which is now missing. Emma’s lies and deceit, continue to catch up with her, as evidence points toward her boyfriend and herself.


In the meantime, Emma has lied about school and where she is living. Jennifer hires a local PI and they bond and offer support to one another. Jennifer continues to believe in her daughter’s innocence, even through her lies and evidence.


First, I had high hopes for the novel, as seemed to be a good set up and was hard to put down. And nothing happens, to increase the suspense or intensity. None of the characters were developed, flat and emotionless. The story was not realistic, no depth, and no emotion, or sympathy to pull you into the tragedy, no likable characters, and execution questionable.


If there had been a detailed back story for example, from Emma’s point, readers may have been able to learn how she was pulled into the web with Paco and the plan. Emma was a total brat, and did not appreciate her parents help, and continued to talk out of “both sides” of her mouth; her mom just sits back and listens. 


However, you will continue reading to learn the fate, but unfortunately it never builds. The parents and all the characters were like robots going through the motions. Roberto, the FBI character, actually went nowhere in the story except to provide a tidbit of information at the end of the novel in a letter to Jennifer. (If I happened to be a parent of this crazy girl, would not have allowed her to be around her younger siblings, fearing for their lives).


While the author spent a great deal of time with research of Spain, wished she would have spent more time developing the characters. I will have to agree with some of the other reviewers on this one.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1090886987
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