Photographer and mom-of-three Ariel Baxter consistently falls short of her own expectations. She is a mediocre housekeeper, she forgets important appointments, and she serves cold cereal for breakfast. She’s a normal mom trying to balance it all — and desperately wishing she could do better.

But when she moves into her dream neighborhood — a master-planned community typical of upscale suburbia in North Carolina — her new next-door neighbor, Justine Miller, offers hope that everything can change. With her immaculate home, matched-set daughters, and home-cooked meals, Justine embodies the flawlessness to which Ariel aspires. She quickly takes Ariel under her wing, offering organizational tips and coaching her through early-morning fitness walks. She even dispenses social advice. Ariel is only too grateful for the help. “Perfection was finally within my grasp, and Justine was helping me find it,” Ariel says.

However, all is not as it appears. Demons lurk under the smooth veneer of Justine’s success — financial troubles, regret for her life choices, and pain because of a lost love. When the veneer finally shatters, Justine makes a decision that derails her life — and forces Ariel to reconsider their friendship, her own values and ethics, and her faith.

In this vibrant, fast-paced read, Whalen takes a look at the fallout of the perfectionism to which many of today’s ultra-accomplished moms aspire. Some women may make it look easy, but ease, like perfection itself, is often just an illusion.

David C. Cook, Publisher. 2011. 320 pages, paperback, $14.99.

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