Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

26247008First, the non-spoiler review: As with her other books I went into this blind-I knew I would read anything she writes and this was my most looked forward to book of the summer. I deliberately read nothing about it, so knew nothing to expect, which I love to do. I read this entire book in one day, which seems an unheard of extravagance, as well as a bit of a waste-why couldn’t I stretch it out and enjoy it longer? But it was a rainy Saturday and frankly, this book was hard for me to put down. If you read her other books, but particularly the previous one (something or other Lies) then you know Moriarty is very good at employing a technique of establishing right away something big has happened, but not quite coming out and telling you. She moved between “the day of the barbecue” to the present, 8 weeks after the barbecue. You see the terrible effects of whatever the incident was, but it takes a long time to find out. So, hard to put down because she builds up to it so effectively. As usual, I really enjoyed her writing, her ability to create that suspense, and her multi-dimensional very human characters and their points of view. Two people I know who’ve also read it (mom and Melissa) said they didn’t like it as much as her others. I can see that. If I was ranking all her books this wouldn’t be my favorite. However, I still loved it, couldn’t put it down, and thought it was great. I think that if you read her books not in publication order you wouldn’t necessarily give it that critique.

Now, I’m going to move on to some more detail which would/could spoil it if you haven’t read it, so move on if you like a blank slate when you read.

Having not read anything I didn’t know what the big event was going to be. I had a guess, which turned out to be correct, but I dismissed my initial thought because it didn’t seem quite right. There was so much sexual tension and discussion that it felt very Tom Perrotta. I kept thinking, do they all suddenly swing? Did someone do an inappropriate sexual act and a child saw? I was very tense about it being a sexually uncomfortable incident. In the end the sexual part was really not a big deal at all.  I was most fascinated by all the, well I wouldn’t call them side stories or subplots, but the parts not having to do with the incident: Erika’s horrible childhood, her mother’s hoarding and mental illness, Erika and Oliver’s adult life as a reflection of their awful childhoods and their compulsive neatness, Clementine’s professional music career, Sam’s awful job, Harry the elderly neighbor and his nasty behavior and death. And then best and most impressive of all–how it all tied together and some of the surprise revelations at the end. I found myself wondering often about Clementine and Erika’s relationship and if they ever had a good time together, knowing how each perceived the other.

Another fantastic story by Moriarty!

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

liesFive 5 Star books in a row! I’ve been on a streak of being caught up in amazing, wonderful books. That said, disclaimer-I was reading another book when Big Little Lies came in at the library for me and I just put that book right down and picked up this because I couldn’t wait to read it. And I ended up reading it in just two days. I wish I could have made it last longer, but honestly I was so caught up in the story and just had to finish it up and find out how things turned out.
I’m a big fan of Moriarty and have really loved all of her books, so when I heard she had a new one coming out I put it on hold instantly. And then…deliberately read nothing about it. (When I put it on hold it was actually not even titled in the catalog, but I did ultimately know the title, of course.) I skipped the review in Entertainment Weekly, avoided the blurb on Goodreads, and when I got the book didn’t read anything on the back or front, just opened it up and started reading.  There are not that many books I’ll do that with (because obviously most of the time knowing something about the book is how you choose it), but I love it when I can. It’s extremely rewarding to fall into a story no expectations of characters or plot and truly let the story unfold before you.  So if you can do that with this book, I encourage you to do so and just know it’s a good book. (In fact, same thing with We Were Liars-somehow I’d missed out on really knowing anything about the book and also didn’t even really look at the cover, and so some very basic elements of the story were a surprise to me, which I found wonderful.)

Now, if you would like to know a bit more, I will tell a little more, but not too much.  As usual I found Moriarty’s native setting of Australia exotic in and of itself.  The story focuses on a group of kindergarten parents in a charming seaside town, which I pictured just like the village in the British show Doc Martin. Jane, Celeste, and Madeline are all friends, though all quite different. Somehow they become aligned against some truly bitchy women who accuse Jane’s little boy of being a bully.  The story is told in different points of view and covers the course of this school year.  Each woman has her share of a secret life and woes and you absolutely root for them.

Now, what makes the book so, well suspenseful, is that it is also told with snippets of interviews with all the parents in the course of an investigation into someone’s death. But whose death? I truly did not know and as the story is told six months before the event, 4 months before, one week before, etc. you are getting closer and closer to the characters and getting very anxious that someone is going to die (but how?! )

I really thought this was wonderful and shocking, and for a book that could have been very sad, had a lot of extremely funny moments. I guess I’d say that I felt the same way about her previous books, as well, particularly The Last Anniversary and The Husband’s Secret.  A stellar story.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

husbandI read this a few weeks (yep, I’m behind again!) but I feel like I need to get this written up stat because I just opened the new Entertainment Weekly and see this made it to their must list. Which kind of makes me feel, bleah. I mean, good for Liane Moriarty for being super successful now, but I hate it when there is an author I like and stick with and then all of sudden everyone else is like “oh yeah, she’s so good” and liking her feels trendy. So, I’ve read all her books and really liked them, so when I got a prepub of this (and I could tell she was making it because she’s Australian and this book is coming out here at the same time and not a year or two later, as her others did) I decided to dive in and not even read the blurb or any descriptive information at all-just the title. I know most people probably don’t like to do that, but I do with an author I trust. I knew it would be a story that would be layered with different characters, that those characters’ voices would tell different sides of the same story and piece together to be a big overall picture. I knew that nothing would be tidily resolved, that no character would be 100% good or bad, and it would be a little messy, like real life.  And that is exactly what this story delivered. It was so engrossing, parts of it very sad and affecting, and I just loved it.  It gave me a lot to think about, and I enjoyed discussing it very much with my friend who also read it. So saying all of that, I’m not going to give any plot description at all in case you, too, are willing to take a chance and let a story play out on the pages with no preconceived ideas at all.Go ahead, take the chance! And take it quickly before she gets so trendy and popular that you have to wait through a big hold list at the library.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty

I have really enjoyed all of her books so far and was totally bummed a few months ago when I saw that this was out in Australia but not here. Fast forward and I happened to see that a friend on Goodreads was reading it and, raced to put it on hold, and got it a few days later (really library patrons? No big long hold list for this? She’s such a good writer she seems shamefully undiscovered. But maybe that’s just as well because I hate being part of a big popular thing. I digress.)

Although this story was thoroughly different than her other novels it had all the same things about it that I had so enjoyed in the previous works– a somewhat long story, very filled with events, an interesting pacing or setup where what you think would be the end of the book is happening only halfway through so you realize that the story has a lot more to offer, the viewpoints of more than one character, and real humans with flaws.  As has been happening lately, this was a book that I did not read the blurb or a review ahead of time and thus had no idea what the story would be about. And I like that! Coming in to the story without any knowledge or ideas of what it will be about made me feel like I was being pulled into a story and taken along on it with no idea what was around each turn. And, by the way,  as with her other books, I really wasn’t sure how this was going to end-happily, sadly, tragically, bizarrely-all those scenarios would have worked. (As opposed to, say, a Regency romance where I know, want, and expect a certain outcome.)

The story is told from two points of view–Ellen, who is a hypnotherapist and at the beginning of a new relationship, and Saskia, who is the ex-girlfriend stalker of Ellen’s new love interest.  You meet Ellen first, which makes you automatically sympathetic to her, but even though you begin by thinking Saskia is a crazy loon, the more you read her point of view the more you have an understanding of how she came to be the way she is.  She was not a black and white good/bad character, and I really liked that.  I thought the very real emotions experienced by everyone were totally believable and, in fact, I felt quite teary often for Saskia.

I also really liked the hypnotism angle of the novel.  Ellen’s practice is a big part of her life and there were many descriptions of the trances her clients were in.  I used self-hynopsis during the birth of my daughter (“hypnobirthing”) and do believe in the amazing power of the mind.  In fact, after reading this, I thought “hey! maybe I should go see a hynpotherapist for weight loss!” Of course, I’d really want my hypnotherapist to be Ellen, because she was a delightful character.  And her little glass room overlooking the sea was so clear in my mind that I desperately wished I could go there. (Although it’s Australian so I wasn’t really sure what type of seaside to imagine.)

Anyway, another 5 star review.  I’m putting Liane Moriarty on my list of very favorite authors.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

Wow, I loved this just as much as Three Wishes and What Alice Forgot.  I can’t wait to read her latest, which apparently has only come out in Australia so far.

The Last Anniversary has the same good writing style I so enjoyed in the other two books–a variety of characters with interesting traits (both flaws as well as positive attributes), some eccentric/quirky types, humor, and then an underlying serious thread which halfway through the book you say to yourself, “my goodness there’s no way any good can come of this and what seemed like just kind of darkly funny at the beginning is now very serious.”

The story here is so strange I’m not sure I can wrap it up in a few sentences, but here goes. A small island is home to just one extended family.  The matriarchs of the family, Connie and Rose, have brought prosperity to their family by turning a strange circumstance into a profitable business.  The strange thing? The discovery when they were teenagers of their neighbor’s baby left alone and the parents had vanished.  Their bodies were never found and the whole thing was very mysterious.  Connie and Rose raised baby Enigma as their own and capitalized on the public interest by hosting tours of Enigma’s house.  Now baby Enigma is a great-grandmother herself and Connie has died.  To the family’s astonishment she leaves her house to…Sophie, a former girlfriend of Enigma’s grandson.  Sophie, a charming character whose biological clock is ticking away madly, is thrust into the middle of this kooky family.  She is delighted with Connie’s gift and intrigued by a note Connie left her, suggesting that the perfect man is very nearby and she’ll find him soon.  Unfortunately Sophie finds herself attracted to Callum, the husband of lovely Grace and father to a new baby. Various storylines and family secrets  build to a head, all coming together on the anniversary night of the discovery of Baby Enigma.

I really liked this book so much-all the storylines, and especially the dark plot involving Grace and Callum. Highly recommend!

My Year in Reading

This year I simultaneously fell behind on this blog and started using GoodReads. I resolve to get caught up here this winter. Due to that I had a hard time this year counting exactly how many titles I read, but I believe it was 75–not bad!  That does not count all the audiobooks we listened to-this was the year we enjoyed listening to children’s stories in the car.  I loved the Beverly Clear books narrated by Stockard Channing and also by Neil Patrick Harris.  As for myself? Top reads were All Clear by Connie Willis, I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels, and The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall.

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

Well I enjoyed this just as much as What Alice Forgot! Isn’t it great when you find a new author you like? And even better when they are not really new so that you have many of their books to choose from. Let’s see…are there more than just these two titles?? Yup, looks like there’s another one.

Many of the qualities I like in What Alice Forgot showed up in this book two-varying points of view, the exotic Australian setting (likely not exotic to the Australian author, but I enjoyed it-a hot Christmas day!), very funny bits, but also very moving and emotional and sometimes sad bits.

The story focuses on three women-Cat, Lyn, and Gemma-who are triplets. They are all quite the characters, intensely involved in each other’s lives, and they have a wonderful mad family.  Each of them has a role in the family and a personality that they each feel obliged to stick with-Lyn is the super successful has-it-all working mother, Gemma is the free spirit without a career or permanent lodging, and Cat is married to Dan, desperate to have a baby.  Everything starts to fall to pieces for everyone when Dan cheats on Cat.

My favorite thing about this book was that scattered throughout were occasional one page pieces that were stories people we don’t know were telling to other people. And the stories were all anecdotes about the triplets (who are strangers to these narrators.) What I loved about these stories was that even if you are not part of a noisy triplet group with gorgeous tall legs (which of course would make an impression on someone), you never know what role you are playing in someone else’s life.  For all you know someone out there tells a story about the time they saw someone doing something and you are that someone! So, although the story is told basically from the triplets’ points of view, you also get these objective narrators giving a peek into how other people see them (and they cover all ages of them-from toddlers to adults.)

A really wonderful read.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

This is my new favorite book to recommend to people, and I’ll be passing along this prepub to many.  I anticipate it will be popular this summer, it’s being touted on the back cover (already?!) as the “smart woman’s beach read.” What exactly is that supposed to mean?

Anyway, the basic premise is that Alice is a 28 year old woman in Australia, married to Nick, whom she madly loves, and they are deliriously happy renovating their big old house and expecting their first baby. But then Alice regains consciousness.  She doesn’t recognize the people around her, is shocked that she in a gym (what’s a spin class??), and is very puzzled. Her sister meets her at the hospital (why is she fatter and looks unhappy??) and it turns out that it is 2008 and Alice is 38.  A bump on the head has made her forget the past 10 years of her life.  Turns out that Alice has three children now and is, shock!, getting a divorce from the beloved Nick. What the what?! Alice is completely shocked by all this, finds it hard to believe, and is overwhelmed by her life and her discoveries of how it has all turned out.
What is so great about this book is Alice’s perceptions of everyone without having the background of events and feelings that have led to situations or people being the way they are.  The obvious example is her husband, who she sees with the same joy and love in her heart that she felt 10 years ago.  She is seeing her family and the world with an almost childlike sense of wonder (and a few very funny bits are quick references to her puzzling over new-to-her vocabulary like “texts”, “Google”, and “spin class.”) Alice’s naivete in believing her relationships with friends and family are the same is at once a blessing and a curse.  In many ways she is getting a fresh start with people and her cluelessness makes it easy for her to say to people “why are we like this? what happened?”.  She also responds to things as 28 year old Alice would-with compassion, sweetness, and enthusiasm.  She senses from people’s reactions to this that perhaps 38 year old Alice is a person she wouldn’t like herself and wonders what on earth she turned into and how she got there.

Although there were many sad bits, and really I found the premise so deeply sad, this was not a sad book. It was thoughtful and emotional, with a fair amount of humor in it.  I truly was not certain how it would end until I finished reading the epilogue (Lord knows I love an epilogue.)

I’ve come away from this book feeling I’ve learned two things:

1. If I ever have amnesia to be perfectly clear with people exactly how much I don’t remember. I couldn’t believe how easily she was released from the hospital and left on her own (with children she doesn’t remember!!) without assistance.

2. To make sure I don’t turn into a future Alice!

And finally, another note on the actual structure of the book.  Although it is told primarily from Alice’s point of view, at times the story also unfolds via the use of the letters to a long dead fiancee, journal entries written by her sister Elisabeth, and the past memories Alice has up until her accident.  All these read together build a cohesive world.

A really wonderful story and absolutely by coincidence my mom handed me a book the other day she thought I might like and it turns out to be by the same author! I’ll be reading that very soon..

[Reread January 2020]