Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

A secluded retreat for stressed-out people complete with the promise to change your life in just ten days, pricy and exclusive and just what the doctor ordered for our willing candidates?

I am a fan of Liane Moriarty, she is one of those authors that has a real eye for shining a light on everyday situations and letting her readers see how absurd they are. In Big Little Lies she took the school gates as her starting point, this time we move to the more exclusive setting of a retreat at health-and-wellness resort Tranquillum House which promises total transformation for those who sign up. This story is completely bonkers but very entertaining.

Tranquillum House is run by Masha, a women we met in the prologue having a heart-attack in her corporate office. Masha is a Russian who moved to Australia as a young woman and following her near-death experience she has become evangelical about saving others from themselves. All the bad things are banned, including any electronics and replaced with healthy smoothies, massages, mindful walking and light fasting.

The first guest we meet is romance author Frances who is not only menopausal but has just had her latest book rejected, readers are falling out of love with romance and she’s obsessing about a bad review. She herself had a thriller in her bag, one which over the days at Tranquillum House she finds less than thrilling… it seems that Liane Moriarty knows her audience!

She is joined by rich young things Ben and Jessica, who come complete with a Lamborghini for him and various surgical enhancements for him. They have signed up for couple counselling in a bid to save their marriage.

There is a family of three, parents Napoleon and Heather along with their twenty-one year old daughter Zoe who are all cloaked in sadness, the cause of which is revealed later in the book. An aging football star Tony, a health junkie Ben and a divorce lawyer Lars complete the guest list. They are all in, and then Masha reveals the start of her innovative treatment plan.

Believe me the thought of being on a retreat doesn’t really appeal to this reader under what I imagine are normal circumstances but this one takes an ominous tone right from the start when the guests are given their orders so perhaps a healthy wariness and lack of funds is a good thing!

This is really a character study, not only of the guests, but of the owner and her chief of staff, former paramedic, Yao. With the guests under the spotlight and in the prime location to reveal their hopes and fears there is so much room for the author’s trademark wry humour, the poking of fun of those earnest health-junkies is tempered by some life-stories that can’t help but tug at the heart-strings! This book should be approached with the aim of enjoying the ride. I said earlier, it’s bonkers, it is but a well-written bonkers book that yet had one foot in reality reflecting society as well as the differences between the generations and one that had me chuckling in delight at regular intervals. If you can’t afford a retreat to make changes in your life Nine Perfect Strangers will go some way to giving you the best medicine, laughter.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Penguin UK for allowing me to read a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers prior to publication on 4 October 2018. This unbiased review is my thank you to them, and the author for such an entertaining read.

First Published UK: 4 October 2018
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 451
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other books by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty (2016)
Little Lies (2014)
The Husband’s Secret (2013)
The Hypnotist’s Love Story (2011)
What Alice Forgot (2010)
The Last Anniversary (2006)
Three Wishes (2004)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I have loved in varying degrees the five other books I’ve read by this author with last year’s offering, Little Lies being one of my favourite reads of the year, so I was a little surprised that I didn’t instantly warm to this book but happily I soon became engrossed about this tale of middle-class life in Sydney Australia.

Truly Madly Guilty charts the life of three couples; quiet Erika and Oliver are neighbours to the more flamboyant Vid and Tiffany so when Vid in a party spirit invites them to a barbeque on a day Erika’s best, and childhood friend, Clementine and her husband Sam are visiting they feel they should accept. Part of what makes the opening to this book so slow is the use of Liane Moriaty’s favoured device, we all know something huge happened at the barbeque but what the event was is shrouded in mystery, a very heavily signposted mystery at that.

Having got over the frustration of wanting to know what on earth happened in Vid and Tiffany’s back garden I concentrated on the smaller secrets that are revealed. Sam and Clementine have an enviable lifestyle, especially now that Sam has a new job. Their two daughters Holly and Ruby are beautiful and healthy although come with the associated niggles that children bring with them. Clementine is a cellist and about to audition for her dream job. Erika and Oliver are the besotted god-parents to the two girls and have both come from more troubled backgrounds than their friends. But all is not as it seems, Erika and Clementine don’t have a simply breezy friendship, rather these childhood playmates have a complex relationship. Of course Tiffany and Vid are oblivious to this fact and are enjoying the barbeque with gusto.

So once more we have a novel with a psychological bent concentrated at least in part on female friendship. The author, as always has a sharp eye (and pen) which details the everyday events that reveal something far deeper than is initially expected. Sadly, I didn’t find the humour, which is, for me, part of the pull of this author’s books but you really can’t fault her on her observations. The characters, their squabbles, their passions and their secret fears are all absolutely spot on. I felt I knew them all, I felt their guilt (yes this isn’t a title with no relation to the book!) as well as the more mundane emotions such as ambivalence, the author accurately writing about not only those things that are opposite ends of the spectrum of emotion but those middling ones which adds a real edge of realism which helps bring these people to life. And you should also be prepared for a whole heap of issues to keep you enthralled including IVF, hoarding, alcoholism, lap-dancing to name a few! Liane Moriarty’s dialogue was as sharp as ever, the exchanges between Erika and Clementine particularly really lift the book to another level.

The event when it is revealed is a good one, with all the characters behaving and displaying the whole range of emotions imaginable. So whilst this may not be my favourite book by this author I was left satisfied at the end of the book, with it making far more of an impression on me than I suspected it would.

I’d like to thank the publishers Michael Joseph for allowing me to read an advance copy of this book. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.

Published UK: 28 July 2016
Publisher: Michael Joseph
No of Pages 480
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Other books by Liane Moriarty

Little Lies (2014)
The Husband’s Secret (2013)
The Hypnotist’s Love Story (2011)
What Alice Forgot (2010)
The Last Anniversary (2006)
Three Wishes (2004)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Skeletons – Jane Fallon

Contemporary fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

There is nothing I enjoy more than a book about secrets, especially those that are meant to stay a secret. Jen had grown up in a claustrophobic relationship with just her mother, so when she met Jason, his parents and his two sisters she falls in love with this lively family, perhaps as much as she did him.

Years later soon after the second of their two daughters, Emily leaves home for university Jen sees something across a street that she wishes she hadn’t. Jen has no-one to share what she has seen, her social life revolves round the Masterson family and she can’t reveal anything to any of them! Soon Jen withdraws from the family as the strain keeping the secret becomes overwhelming. The strain begins to pull at the seams of her marriage as she determines that the secret must stay under wraps, after all there is a family getaway and she must put a smile on her face and not give anything away…

Jane Fallon has got back to using clever observations to lift her writing and this time has chosen a subject we can all relate to. In fact there are a few secrets that are bubbling beneath the surface in this book which is ultimately about relationships. It is also about a couple coming to terms with their new role in life now that they are no longer in daily demand from their daughters, the bargains that are made within relationships, often unstated, that outsiders have no idea exists.

I enjoyed this book, I sympathised with Jen and although I wouldn’t have made the choices she did, I could understand why she made them. That is important to me because if I do need to believe characters in the books I read aren’t making randomly stupid decisions. Jason was a bit more of a shadowy figure until later in the book, a more or less identikit perfect husband and father who adores everyone, his wife, his sisters, parents and daughters with a laid-back geniality but in time we get to see a glimpse of what goes on beneath the surface.

Best of all I totally agreed with the ending, there were surprises along the way culminating in decisions being made that to my mind couldn’t have been different. Jane Fallon has won me back as a fan with this enjoyable novel.

I received a free copy of this book in return for my review from the publishers Penguin Books. Skeletons will be published today, 27 March 2014 so you can buy it now!

Previous books by Jane Fallon
Getting Rid of Matthew
Got You Back
Foursome
Ugly Sister

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

Well Jojo Moyes has done it again! By that I mean she has made me fall in love with the characters, made me laugh and made me cry. There I was on my sick bed giving into my emotions at a particularly sad part of the tale, when the doorbell rang. Not only had I been suffering with a high temperature meaning I was sweaty, my hair stuck unflatteringly to my head and in my most comfy pyjamas, I then had to answer the door to the DHL man. He looked seriously concerned probably because the red blotches from crying looked even more alarming against my deathly pale skin,  so I muttered ‘a virus’ signed on the magic machine and scooted upstairs, straight back to this book.

So what is it about? The One Plus One is very different to both The Girl You Left Behind and Me Before You; although the storyline keeps you reading in exactly the same way, the underlying plot is in many ways less defined. This isn’t about war-time or living life as a quadriplegic, there is no ‘big issue’ instead The One Plus One looks at the more mundane, but perhaps because of that, the more significant issue of hope.  At its root the story is that of Jess Thomas who is trying to improve the lives of two children, her daughter Tanzie and her step-son Nicky.

This book provides a social commentary on many issues covering the core subjects of low income families seemingly fruitless struggle to improve their lives and those of their children, blended families and the way that it isn’t uncommon to live in an unusual mix of relationships as well as the gap in perception between those better off members of society.  It also packs fractured family relationships, parental illness and bullying, so there is plenty to get your teeth into!

Jess Thomas is one gutsy character, optimistic against seemingly impossible odds, a single mother since Marty left two years previously. She has a cleaning company with her friend, a second job in a pub and a paperback book addiction (all bought from charity shops) and although she adores the children, like so many mothers is so busy working she doesn’t always have time to enjoy them.

Ed Nicholls is having women problems, he is also the director of an up and coming software company has two homes and several cars. When Jess meets him while cleaning his home the enmity between them soon becomes apparent but in a strange twist of fate they are forced to spend quite a lot of time together….

This is very much a character based story and the characters Ed, Jess, Nicky and Tanzie all take turns in narrating events.  This is one book where this device works well to give a rounded picture of each of their individual personalities.  Jess and her family are instantly likeable the depiction of children of that age an authentic one, Moyes hasn’t fallen into the trap of making the teenage Nicky in the mould of the popular cliché, yes he is sullen at times but with good reason, but he is far more like the teenagers who came through the door of my house than many I come across in books.

I don’t want to say anything else as I don’t want to spoil the story for all of you who are going to pick it up, but I can’t conclude this review without saying that this is one  author who has an unerring eye for detail.  She perfectly captures the quirks of human nature and has the ability to tell a cracking story, one that will have you laughing one moment and fighting back (or not bothering if you are poorly) the tears the next. I would thoroughly recommend this one.

I received a free copy of this book from Penguin Books UK in return for this review ahead of publication on 27 February 2014.

“I don’t understand how our family can basically do the right thing and yet always end up in the crap.”

Other books by Jojo Moyes:

Click on the links to see my reviews

The Girl You Left Behind

The Girl You Left Behind

A dual time-line tale set in France during the First World War and London in the present day.  Sophie and Liv’s lives are linked by a painting.

“Conned any other women out of their valuables lately ?” she says quietly, so quietly that only he will hear it.
“Nope. I’ve been too busy stealing handbags and seducing the vulnerable.”
Her head shoots up and his eyes lock on hers. He is, she sees with some shock, as furious as she is.”

Me Before You

Me Before You

Will Traynor is a quadriplegic whose life is changed when Lou Clark is employed to help him.  This grim sounding story-line is lightened to unrecognisable heights by Jojo Moyes’ expert writing which lightens the mood while sucking you and then Bam! you’re in a sad bit and sobbing….

“Do you know how hard it is to say nothing? When every atom of you strains to do the opposite? I had practiced not saying anything the whole way from the airport, and it was still nearly killing me.”