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The Perfect Mother: A Novel by Nina Darnton

The Perfect Mother: A Novel

by Nina Darnton

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** 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 When Jennifer arrives in Spain she is shocked at the change in her daughter finding her sullen, withdrawn and for some reason angry with her mother.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?
( )
  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
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 goes 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.
( )
  JudithDCollins | Nov 27, 2014 |
I received a free copy of The Perfect Mother from the publisher through Netgalley. And I am glad I did. The story is loosely based on the Amanda Knox story, told from the point of view of a mother who's daughter is accused of murder while studying in Spain. It's a very quick and easy read, but I nust admit that I had a hard time putting it down and the story has stayed with me. Darnton does a good job of conveying the tension between the mother's sense of loyalty to her daughter and the reality of her daughter's behaviour and attitude. There are no answers, but Darnton opens the intractable issue of just how responsible parents may be for their kids actions and whether a parent's duty is to be supportive no matter the circumstances. And Darnton makes these questions that much more tricky with a wickedly clever ending. ( )
  Eesil | Nov 25, 2014 |
I received access to this galley for free through the First to Read program.

The title is the first thing that attracted me to the title. I knew nothing of the plot. Then, when I read the premise, I immediately thought of Amanda Knox, an American woman who was convicted, along with Raffaele Sollecito, of the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher in Italy. The case garnered international media attention and spawned numerous movies, documentaries, articles, and books. I am still uncertain if justice prevailed.

Jennifer Lewis, a stay-at-home mother of three, receives a panicked late-night call from her oldest daughter. Emma, a junior at Princeton, currently studying abroad in Spain. She is very upset and tells her that she has been arrested after another student is brutally murdered. As is her way, Jennifer rushes to her side to clear up ,what she is certain, a terrible mistake.

Jennifer is proud of her role as "the perfect mother." She left her acting career to devote her life to her children. By all accounts, she has done a great job. She relates well with her children. Her children are happy and successful, her husband, a busy corporate lawyer, doesn't question her child-rearing philosophy, and she is a favorite of her children and their friends. But this incident with Emma causes her to doubt herself and feel guilt for the first time.

From the first few pages, I was hooked. The writing style is readable, not wordy. The language is simple, not flowery. The descriptions are vivid, not overdone. Early on, the main characters, Emma, and her parents, Jennifer and Mark, are introduced. This enabled me to get a sense of their appearance, personality, and family dynamic. Darnton even manages to educate while she entertains. Scattered throughout are relevant cultural, political, legal, and historical tidbits that flow with the plot rather than distract from it.

Although the plot pretty much focuses on the investigation and publicity of the crime, there was a sub-plot involving the family of Roberto, the private investigator. But, rather than being misleading, it added to the mystery. Could its inclusion be relevant in some way?

Inevitably, in such a case, there will be a significant impact on the family's relationships with one another. New issues will crop up and old grievances, previously buried, will be dug up. Darnton effectively and realistically depicts this.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and compelling throughout. The title itself is spot-on and brings up arguable points about parenting. To what degree was Jennifer responsible when it came to Emma's attitudes, personality, and behavior? Out of curiosity, I had skimmed reviews of the book(without spoilers) and was greatly looking forward to the "twist" and "surprise ending" others had mentioned. But, ultimately, I was somewhat disappointed and found the ending to be anticlimactic. ( )
  kulmona | Nov 11, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142196738, Paperback)

When an American exchange student is accused of murder, her mother will stop at nothing to save her

A midnight phone call shatters Jennifer Lewis’s carefully orchestrated life. Her daughter, Emma, who’s studying abroad in Spain, has been arrested after the brutal murder of nanother student. Jennifer rushes to her side, certain the arrest is a terrible mistake and determined to do whatever is necessary to bring Emma home. But as she begins to investigate the crime, she starts to wonder whether she ever really knew her daughter. The police charge Emma, and the press leaps on the story, exaggerating every sordid detail. One by one, Emma’s defense team, her father, and finally even Jennifer begin to have doubts.
A novel of harrowing emotional suspense, The Perfect Mother probes the dark side of parenthood and the complicated bond between mothers and daughters.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:36 -0400)

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