Review of “Truly Madly Guilty” by Liane Moriarty

cover90282-mediumThanks to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and NetGalley for the ARC of this book.

I absolutely loved “Little Lies”, the first Liane Moriarty book which I read. I thought the gentle humour, astute observations of everyday life, and the ability to weave together several stories was genius. I had high hopes for this author. Sadly, I find myself more and more disappointed with each new book that I read by her. I think she may be suffering from the same problem I had with Jodi Picoult – the first book seems genius, the second book is still pretty good, by the fifth or sixth book you realise they’re all the same but with slightly different window-dressing and the mystique has fallen away.

I actually found this book actively infuriating. The story revolves around something bad which happened at a barbecue. However you don’t find out what happened until well over half-way through the book and the contrivances used to avoid revealing the event are so glaring and irritating. It’s obvious from early on that the event probably involves the death or serious injury of a small child. As the mother of a small child, I don’t find that a tantalising prospect, I just want to know that all the children are OK at the end.

The book outlines how the events at the barbecue have an ongoing effect on the lives of 3 couples and their families. Moriarty always does a good job of describing complicated personal relationships and creating well-rounded, realistically flawed characters. However I found all the characters in this book so flawed and unlikable that I couldn’t really pull for any of them.

While I usually admire Moriarty’s ability to weave together intricate plots and multiple characters’ stories, in this book I felt every loose end was tied up too neatly. It felt too contrived. For example, one of the character’s mothers is scared of rollercoasters because she once read a newspaper article about 8 people dying in a rollercoaster accident, later we find out that a very minor character’s wife and son died in that accident. This is a pointless reference, and doesn’t add anything to the overall story.

Such a shame, I really wanted to enjoy this book. If you’ve not read a Liane Moriarty book before I would recommend trying “Little Lies” (sometimes also called “Big Little Lies”) first rather than this one. Also, if you like audiobooks, Caroline Lee does a brilliant job of reading the audio versions of Moriarty’s books.

‘Animal’ by Sara Pascoe

animalA few weeks ago I saw comedian Sara Pascoe talking at the Hay Festival and I’ve just finished listening to her reading the audiobook of her book  ‘Animal’. It’s a really interesting look at the history of the female body and sexuality and how these have been influenced by culture and evolution.

It’s one of those books which I wish I could feed into my daughter’s brain by osmosis. Pascoe’s thoughts on consent, body image (particularly cosmetic surgery) and a female’s ownership of her own body are the sort of important ideas which should be disseminated to help spread equality among the genders and to aid young people in understanding their bodies and desires.

I can only hope that I am open and articulate enough to protect my daughter and help her to build a positive body image and have confidence in her ability use her body as she wishes and not be unduly influenced by patriarchy or the surfeit of sexualised images of women in the media.

It’s a really thought-provoking read, which made me reconsider things about which I had previously felt complacent or been ignorant. Pascoe also reveals very intimate details about her personal life, such as discussing self-harm, abortion, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which helps lend weight to her thoughts.

Top 10 Tuesday: Underrated on Goodreads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is: Top ten books I enjoyed that have under 2000 ratings on Goodreads. It’s hard to find books with that few ratings, but here’s my list:

  1. Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish (here’s my review)
  2. The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell
  3. July by Karen Roberts
  4. Leading the Cheers by Justin Cartwright
  5. The Flower Boy by Karen Roberts
  6. A Light-hearted Look at Murder by Mark Watson
  7. Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn
  8. The Knot by Mark Watson
  9. Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall
  10. This Other Eden by Ben Elton

Review of ‘Vinegar Girl’ by Anne Tyler

cover90226-medium.pngThanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for the ARC of this book.

‘Vinegar Girl’ is Anne Tyler’s modern retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. I was really excited to read this book as Anne Tyler is one of my favourite authors and ’10 Things I Hate About You’ (another retelling of the play) is one of my favourite films. It also has elements of the film ‘Greencard’ which I also love.

However, I found the book somewhat underwhelming. I think it’s probably because Tyler has a near impossible job. Shakespeare’s source material is so flawed from a modern feminist perspective that it would be wrong to fully reproduce a story where a woman is ‘tamed’ aka ‘abused into submission’ by her husband. Therefore, Tyler backs down from the harshest elements of the story and the result is a bit fluffy and more chick-lit than I would expect from Anne Tyler. The book doesn’t have the depth of character which Tyler usually masters.

It feels a bit light-weight. The story follows Kate (the shrew) who is asked by her father to marry his foreign lab assistant whose visa is running out. She’s not really that shrew-like as she goes along with this plan fairly easily and it all works out happily in the end. The book doesn’t really include much of the other storyline of the play where suitors vye for Kate’s sister’s attention, retaining only the dubious tutor. As a result it’s probably a little short on plot.

However, it is an easy, quick, inoffensive read which may be a good introduction to Shakespeare for younger readers who are not confident enough to tackle the source material directly.

Review of ‘Shadow of Night’ by Deborah Harkness

imageThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC copy of this book.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long now. I read the first in the trilogy ‘A Discovery of Witches’ in 2014 and loved it, but shortly after I finished it I found out I was pregnant and my ability to focus on long novels vanished, so I failed to start the next book which I had been so excited to read.

It’s taken me a long time to plow through this book, it is sooooo long and such a little amount happens. The previous book ends with [spoiler alert] the two main characters Diana and Matthew travelling back in time to the Sixteenth Century with two aims: 1. find a witch to help Diana learn how to do magic; and 2. find a copy of an old book. The book is 630 pages long and we do not meet the witch until half way through and the book is not discovered until the final quarter of the book and even then they do nothing with it.

I spent the whole book waiting for something dramatic to happen but really nothing does except for a couple of pages where Diana’s life is under threat from Matthew’s sister. Any exciting action, such as [spoiler alert] Matthew stealing the book from an emperor, happens off the page. The rest of the book is just the author enjoying being in a historical setting and having Diana meet lots of real life historical figures, most of whom I had never heard of. It’s pleasant enough to read but just isn’t compelling and the central relationship between Diana and Matthew, even though they embark on a sexual relationship for the first time, is just flaccid.

It’s such a shame because I loved the first book, but this one is just rambling and could easily be condensed into 50 pages which actually advance the story. The rest is just historical filler. I may be proved wrong when I read the next book, maybe there’s a load more relevant stuff happening which I didn’t pick up on but will come back into the story, but it didn’t feel like it.

The other issue I had was the time travel. Diana and Matthew spend 7 months in the past and we’re supposed to believe that they don’t irrevocably change the future so that the world is completely different when they go back to the future? They don’t seem at all careful not to change things. It’s impossible to believe that past Matthew will never run into someone they influenced while they were in the past who asks ‘what happened to your wife Diana?’ or ‘I thought your were supporting the witches now, why have you changed your mind?’ when he will have no idea what they are talking about. It just doesn’t make sense. I hope this is addressed better in the next book and not glossed over.

I’ve invested so much time in this series that I’m definitely going to read the next book. I hope I’ll enjoy it better as it’ll be set in the present and hopefully will have more plot tension as it has to conclude the story.

 

 

Review of ‘Nobody Told Me’ by Hollie McNish

Nobody Told MeIt’s impossible to express how much I love this book! Every new parent should read this book. Hollie is able to put into words every emotion I have felt since my daughter was born 15 months ago but which I am not eloquent enough to articulate myself.

I wonder if my brain chemistry has fundamentally changed since becoming a mum because I would never have dreamed of reading a book combining memoir and poetry before she was born but this was now the perfect book for me and I can’t remember enjoying a book this much in years.

In fact, everyone should read this book, especially new and expectant mothers (and their partners if they wish to be able to understand and empathise with what it’s like for the woman!).

Thanks so much to Hollie McNish for writing this book and helping support mothers of all ages to process the overwhelming emotions which come with becoming a parent for the first time.

Peter Swanson

This year I’ve read Peter Swanson’s two books ‘A Kind Worth Killing’ and ‘The Girl with a Clock for a Heart’. They are fantastically enjoyable reads; twisty thrillers that help satisfy my cravings for a Harlan Coben style book while I’m waiting for his next book.

‘The Kind Worth Killing’ was a particularly satisfying read. It is told in three parts and there is a mind-blowing twist at the end of the first part which I totally did not see coming and which takes the book in a completely different direction to that which I was expecting. It’s very rare to read a book which surprises me that much and it was so refreshing.

I’ll definitely look out for books from this author again in the future. Although I hope he is able to branch out from the cold sociopath female femme fatale villains which feature at the heart of both of these books.

Review of ‘Written in Fire’ by Marcus Sakey

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas and Mercer for the ARC of this book.

‘Written in Fire’ is the third part of Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance trilogy. I’d listened to the previous two books as audiobooks as they are available free through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. I read the final part as an ebook and didn’t really enjoy it as much. I think this sort of thriller writing is better suited to being listened to in the background than having to give your full attention to it. It took me three months to plow through this book; I kept finding my attention drifting whenever I tried to pick it up. That said I did want to get to the end and find out how it finished.

The Brilliance trilogy is set in a world similar to Heroes or the X men where some people have evolved to have special powers. However, their powers are less glitzy then other examples of this genre. ‘Brilliants’,  as they are known, can do things like read peoples’ intentions, move without being noticed, weigh up the probability of occurrences or plan strategically really well. There’s no flying or time travel or anything really far-fetched. Due to the fact that their powers are quite subtle or ephemeral it makes it quite hard to imagine how the powers work and how useful they would be.

In the final part Nick Cooper, the hero of the trilogy, barely uses his power, which is reading intentions, to the extent that you can almost forget he is different. I thought Sakey dropped the ball a bit in terms of his characterisation in this final book.
The trilogy covers the tensions caused by Brilliants co-existing with normal people, which results in a bit of a civil war in this book. This premise can never really be resolved because even if you stop the war there are still going to be two groups of people and tensions will arise. Therefore, even though the trilogy ends, the story can’t really conclude and does end on a fairly predictable cliffhanger. I didn’t find the conclusion all that convincing, Sakey raised the stakes really high and then seemed to solve the problems he’s created too easily.

I also didn’t like the lead character’s dual love interests with his ex wife Natalie and new love Shannon. The fact that he didn’t just pick one woman and stick to her made his character more wishy washy and the tension that this scenario could have built was never paid off. Both women are supposed to be strong and admirable but they seemed perfectly happy to be strung along by a man openly sleeping with two women. It didn’t ring true.

I’m glad I finally made it to the end of this book and this trilogy but I can’t say I really enjoyed the experience of reading the final book. It probably would have been better as an audiobook or as a film or TV programme.

Review of ‘Fool Me Once’ by Harlan Coben

cover83910-mediumThanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the ARC of this book.

I love Harlan Coben, he’s one of my favourite authors. His books are so fast-paced and easy to read. ‘Fool Me Once’ is not one of my favourites.

The main character, Maya Stern, is a disgraced soldier with PTSD whose husband and sister have been murdered. Due to this heavy subject matter, I felt the book lacked Coben’s usual lightness of touch and witty dialogue, which often make his books fun to read.

The book starts with Maya seeing her supposedly dead husband playing with her daughter on a recording from her nanny cam. This leads her to investigate her husband and sister’s deaths. The theme of dead people returning from the grave is one Coben uses often in his books and it will be very familiar to his fans. It always sets up an intriguing premise for a book; however, in this book it felt like a missed opportunity. It was a pleasant tease to draw you into the book but the rest of the plot did not live up to the promise of the beginning and I thought the plot completely fell apart during the final climax. I was hoping for a much cleverer and more exciting conclusion to the book.

While I appreciate a strong female lead, Maya is not a very likable character. Her parenting skills are abysmal. For example, her choice of next of kin for her daughter is an alcoholic.The book is told in third person, so she’s not exactly an unreliable narrator, but Coben chooses to omit a crucial part of her story in order to create a big reveal for the finale, so you feel a bit duped because the book would be completely different if we possessed all the facts that we should about Maya at the beginning of the book.

As always with Coben, this is an easy, fun read but it does not live up to the standard of some of his best work. If you’ve never read one of his books try ‘Tell No One’ first, it is a near perfect thriller.

Review of ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

It was Mother’s Day in the UK yesterday. My Mother’s Day treat was to spend the whole day pretending I’m not the mother of a one year old and to snuggle down and read a whole book in one sitting which I haven’t managed to do since I was in the hospital waiting for my daughter to be born.

In honour of this momentous occasion, I picked a book by the same author, Rainbow Rowell, as Ireland in the hospital. Last year it was ‘Attachments’, this time it was ‘Fangirl’. From experience of her writing. I knew it would an easy, light, enjoyable read that I’d be able to get into and through quickly. I also wanted to read it because one of the characters is called Wren, which is my daughter’s name, although it turned out that that character was a bit of a cow.

‘Fangirl’ is the story of twins Cath and Wren, who start university together. They’ve always been close but Wren wants to strike out on her own, leaving the more introverted twin Cath feeling nervous and scared about finding her place at university on her own. Cath is obsessed by a Harry Potter style series for which she writes fan fiction. Gradually she makes friends, falls in love and discovers that real life can be as rewarding as her fantasy world.

I enjoyed this book, particularly the beginning. I’m very introverted so I found Cath very relatable. However, I felt like the story lost a bit of momentum once Wren got a love interest; Levi was a bit too good to be true and I wasn’t really convinced by their relationship. He is so much more mature than Cath, and she is still such a child I found their relationship a bit creepy even though he is always the perfect gentleman. Also, I was disappointed that the character of Nick wasn’t explored more, I found him more interesting than Cath home life drama with her parents.

It’s a sweet book, but not quite as emotionally punchy and gripping as ‘Eleanor and Park’ which is definitely Rowell’s best book so far. I also didn’t really enjoy reading the sections of fan fiction and excerpts from the fantasy series which Cath is obsessed by. They felt a bit like padding and not all that well written. It’s interesting that Rowell’s latest book ‘Carry On’ is set in that world, I’m going to read it but I find it hard to imagine it working very well based on the bits of the story interspersed through this book.