Sunday, 28 August 2016

Book Review: TRULY MADLY GUILTY by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty

Title: Truly Madly Guilty
Author: Liane Moriarty
Read: August 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

My thoughts:

Liane Moriarty has done it again! With an insight into the hearts and minds of ordinary Australians that would put any psychologist to shame, she has given us a new cast of wonderful real-to-life characters whose lives are thrown into turmoil from the events occurring at an ordinary Sunday afternoon backyard barbeque in a suburban Sydney neighbourhood. I love the way Moriarty slowly unveils her characters like peeling layers of onions, until they become so familiar that I was sure I would recognise them if I bumped into them in the street. Brought even more to life by the wonderful narrative powers of Caroline Lee, after 18-hours of listening pleasure these people were more familiar to me than some friends I have known for years. I was almost in mourning when the book ended. There were so many potential fascinating sideline stories – like the early days of Erica’s and Clementine’s friendship and Erica’s life with her hoarder mother (which would make a great book). Every character stayed true to themselves as the story progressed, which is not an easy feat, as the book is very much character rather than action driven, and I never felt (in all 18 hours of listening) that any of the people acted in a way which would be out of character for them.

In her usual style, Moriarty delivers as many laughs as she does heartbreak, and my daily commute was enlivened by the emotional roller-coaster ride she serves up so effortlessly. To say I loved it would be an understatement. It consumed me! It is only a top book which makes me sit in my dark driveway in the middle of the night after a 10-hour work shift and an hour’s commute, to listen “just a few more minutes” because I just have to know what happens next. Moriarty has mastered the art of describing  the mundane elements of daily life in way that fleshes out the story and the characters without ever making it boring. Personally, this element of recognising myself and the people in my life in various characters and their actions has always been Moriarty’s “secret weapon” for me, the thing that makes me come back for more because I am so addicted to her storytelling. I read that Hollywood is planning to turn two of her books into movies, and am in two minds over this – the characters are so alive in my mind that no Hollywood actors/actresses could ever do them justice and capture the full essence of their personalities.

I do not want to go too much into the elements of the story for fear of giving something away, other than that I was glad I could not cheat with the audiobook to take a sneaky peek at “what really happened at that fateful barbeque”. It was worth the patience and getting the full background stories , and suddenly the emotional fallout all made sense. I felt that the way one and the same event affected each person so fundamentally different was well explored. I loved each individual character for their “warts and all”, and for once did not feel that having many different POVs was distracting. There wasn’t a single character’s POV I found boring or tempted to skip over (usually there is always at least one less interesting one), as each was intriguing with their wildly different personalities and interpersonal relationships. As much as the story describes everyday events, it also raises a few ethical questions we may be faced with in our life. The complexity of Erica’s and Clementine’s friendship raised some interesting questions and prompted some reflection on my part into the roles different people play in my life and how these dynamics affect us.

All in all, I can sum it up in one word: brilliant! This is the reason Moriarty is firmly on my favourite authors list and I am eagerly awaiting her next book. A fully deserved 5 stars from me!

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Book Review: SAVING SOPHIE by Sam Carrington

Saving Sophie

 Saving Sophie
Author: Sam Carrington
Publisher: HarperCollins, Maze
Read: August 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

A teenage girl is missing. Is your daughter involved, or is she next?

Your daughter is in danger. But can you trust her?

When Karen Finch’s seventeen-year-old daughter Sophie arrives home after a night out, drunk and accompanied by police officers, no one is smiling the morning after. But Sophie remembers nothing about how she got into such a state.

Twelve hours later, Sophie’s friend Amy has still not returned home. Then the body of a young woman is found.

Karen is sure that Sophie knows more than she is letting on. But Karen has her own demons to fight. She struggles to go beyond her own door without a panic attack.

As she becomes convinced that Sophie is not only involved but also in danger, Karen must confront her own anxieties to stop whoever killed one young girl moving on to another – Sophie.

A taut psychological thriller, perfect for fans of The Girl on the Train and I Let You Go.

My thoughts:

How would you feel if the police turned up on your doorstep one night, bringing  your severely intoxicated 17-year-old daughter home, who you thought was safe in the company of a group of friends? Or the next day, when the body of your daughter’s best friend is found, and your own child has no memory of how the friends got separated or what happened that night. A parent’s worst nightmare – was your child in any way involved, or worse still, is she in danger?

It seems to have become a trend these days to populate psychological suspense novels with a bunch of unlikeable characters, perhaps in an effort o make them more interesting or perhaps to follow in the footsteps of successful novels like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (both of which I really liked, by then way). However, I find that usually only very skilled writers can pull this off successfully. It is an art mastered by few to know how to let just the right amount of humanity shine through the sheer awfulness of the character, or to exploit those very flaws to make the person appear more interesting or rounded. To put it bluntly – unlikeable characters rarely work for me as a reader. So this is perhaps the reason why Saving Sophie did not tick the boxes for me. Whilst I had empathy for Karen, who suffers from agoraphobia after a horrific attack, all in all I thought her to be whiny, self-indulgent and irrational in her decision making, and I could not warm to her despite trying to excuse those character traits as going hand in hand with her mental illness. As for Sophie and the other self-centred, rude and unlikeable teenagers, I spent most of the time torn between an impulse to smack them, wrench the phones out of their sweaty little palms and tell them to “grow up!” Mike, Karen’s husband, is sarcastic and a bit of a cold fish, so no real feelings for him either. And the police detectives, who could have shed some light on a different angle of the story and given the reader at least one person to champion, were too under-developed to be of real interest. About a third into the novel I had a feeling that none of the characters would really grow on me, and to be honest I didn’t care if the psycho responsible for Erin’s murder wiped out the lot of them. Sorry!

Having a rather logic-driven mindset, I am also sadly lacking in any Olympic-grade talent to suspend disbelief, and therefore generally don’t like reading novels where ¾ of the action could have been prevented if the key characters had acted in a reasonable manner. By reasonable I don’t necessarily mean “doing the right thing”, but acting in a way consistent with the personality traits they are endowed with. I would hope that any average citizen Jane Doe mother, whose daughter’s best friend has just been murdered would surely call the police as soon as she fears for her child’s safety or has any theory as to who could be responsible for the crime. Especially if she had been attacked herself in the past and still lived with the consequences of that event. In my personal opinion she would have to have a pretty strong reason not to do so, unless she is a complete idiot. I would think that in the real world this same mother would be making a nuisance of herself, calling the police daily to check on any developments and test her theories, and insist that everything possible is being done to keep her daughter safe.  Given the circumstances of Sophie’s involvement that night, I would certainly not let my own child out of my sight for a while and put measures in place to ensure her safety – the child is only 17, for crying out loud! I would also hope that any average citizen teenage girl, whose best friend has just been murdered and who receives creepy photos and messages on her phone, would also be scared out of her wits and pretty keen to let a parent or the police know – or at least act scared instead of just like any stereotypical obnoxious teen going about her daily business. The only thing I could think was: “Are these people for real?” Sadly for me the answer was no.

All in all, whilst I really liked the premise of the book and pounced on the opportunity to receive a preview copy from Netgalley, Saving Sophie sadly was not my cup of tea. Seeing that many readers really enjoyed it, I guess I am one of the minority, but one quite happy to stick with novels where I can like and relate to at least one of the characters. Call me old-fashioned.

1.5 stars from me for enjoyment, rounded up to 2 for the general premise of the story, which I thought had potential.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Book Review: WATCHING EDIE by Camilla Way

Watching Edie

 Watching Edie
Author: Camilla Way
Publisher: Harper Collins
Read: August 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Beautiful, creative, a little wild… Edie was the kind of girl who immediately caused a stir when she walked into your life. And she had dreams back then—but it didn’t take long for her to learn that things don’t always turn out the way you want them to.

Now, at thirty-three, Edie is working as a waitress, pregnant and alone. And when she becomes overwhelmed by the needs of her new baby and sinks into a bleak despair, she thinks that there’s no one to turn to…

But someone’s been watching Edie, waiting for the chance to prove once again what a perfect friend she can be. It’s no coincidence that Heather shows up on Edie’s doorstep, just when Edie needs her the most. So much has passed between them—so much envy, longing, and betrayal. And Edie’s about to learn a new lesson: those who have hurt us deeply—or who we have hurt—never let us go, not entirely…

My thoughts:

At thirty-three, Edie realises that her life has not turned out how she had dreamed it would. Living on her own in a dingy little apartment that has little going for it except a lovely view over the city, she counts down the days to the birth of her baby. In fact, being pregnant is the only good thing in Edie’s life, even though the father is a married man who doesn’t even know about the child. But being a new single mother is more difficult than Edie has expected, and she finds herself totally overcome by fatigue and post-natal depression, worried she won’t be able to care for her baby daughter any more. Estranged from her family there is no one to turn to, until one day Heather turns up on her doorstep. Heather, who used to be her best friend in high school, until a traumatic event ripped them apart, making Edie never want to see her again. Tired, lonely and depressed, Edie invites Heather to move into her home. Soon Heather is firmly entrenched in her life, running the household and looking after the baby. But is Heather really to be trusted? Or will the events of the past repeat themselves?

Watching Edie is the story of a dysfunctional friendship between two women, and it was interesting to see how the author slowly let the story unfold through both friends’ eyes – with Edie recounting the present and Heather telling the story of their past. Not knowing what the event in their past actually was, but realising it was something bad enough to destroy a friendship and two families, the reader will fear for Edie as Heather moves into Edie’s flat and slowly takes control of her life.

To be honest, I didn’t like either woman very much. I know that unlikeable characters are all the rage these days, but often this only manages to spoil the reading experience, as there is no one to connect with emotionally or care for. Whilst Edie initially seemed like someone to connect with, she never really acquired any depth as a main protagonist. This made it difficult to understand her somewhat strange decisions at times, and diluted some of the sense of mystery and suspense as things start going wrong in her life. Heather, on the other hand, is portrayed as a social misfit and somewhat unlikeable character from the start, which made her interesting and a bit creepy but also not someone you could easily bond with. I especially disliked Connor, who was the stereotypical bad-boy and never even pretended otherwise or tried to hide his true character – a bit of subtlety may have worked better here and add an aspect of psychological suspense.

What I did like was the constant undercurrent of danger and menace underlying the story.  In my opinion this could have been exploited a bit more, especially in some of the domestic scenes involving Edie, Heather and the baby as well as later in the book, as Edie starts to mistrust Heather’s intentions. It was this escalating sense of danger which kept me interested and reading on. The strange dynamic of the women’s friendship is well portrayed and rings true, leading the reader to expect the worst from their sudden reunion. I also liked that the author tried to add something different and unexpected to the story and overturn preformed misconceptions with the twist at the end – however, the events were too obviously added to shock and repel and again subtlety may have worked better for me here.

All in all an enjoyable and quick read, but one I felt did not quite live up to its full potential.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Book Review: ONLY DAUGHTER by Anna Snoekstra

Only Daughter

 Only Daughter
Author: Anna Snoekstra
Publisher: Harlequin Australia, MIRA
Read: August 2016
Expected publication: 20 September 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared.

She'd been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast-food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen—blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, a feeling of being watched—though Bec remained oblivious of what was to come.

Eleven years later she is replaced.

A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec.

Soon the imposter is living Bec's life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends' names. Playing with her twin brothers.

But Bec's welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem. As the imposter dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter—and soon realizes that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger. 

My thoughts:

I thought that the premise of Only Daughter was brilliant and chilling and appealed to me straight away. A young homeless woman, about to be arrested for shoplifting food, pretends to be Rebecca Winter, who went missing 11 years ago from her family home, to escape police custody. Soon she is living comfortably in Rebecca’s house, her homecoming celebrated by Bec’s family and friends who all seem to believe her lie. But little does she know that the people who were after Rebecca all those years ago are now on the hunt for her ...

Whilst the story had so much potential, unfortunately its execution did not work well for me, mainly due to the character of the unnamed woman pretending to be Bec, who remained a rather wooden and unlikeable character throughout the story. There were many moments of having to suspend disbelief over the ways she avoids the detective investigating her case, to a point of several eye-rolls on my part. If it was that easy to take on someone’s identity, I am sure more people would do it! I would have given up on the book completely if the real teenage Bec had not come into the story at this point to tell the events leading up to her disappearance, and I liked her character so much more. Suddenly the story sprang to life, and its real mystery unfolded. From that moment on, there was a steady building of tension as the young Rebecca realises that something is very wrong in her house, and strange things start happening to her. The author does well to create a dark chilling atmosphere and real sense of danger at this point, which got my attention and finally hooked me. Whilst I saw the ending coming, there was still an element of shock simply due to the nature of the crime and the identity of the perpetrator. However, I felt that the ending did not fully satisfy my need for explanation and tying up all the loose ends, which was again lost potential.

All in all: a brilliant concept, but the characters and plot needed fleshing out a bit more, and I would have loved to delve into the psyche of the more disturbed minds appearing in the story (of which there were many). Which could have made Only Daughter an original as well as unforgettable read.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Book Review: EXPOSURE by Helen Dunmore


Author: Helen Dunmore
Publisher: Random House UK, Cornerstone
Read: July 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets.

When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested.

His wife, Lily, suspects that his imprisonment is part of a cover-up, and that more powerful men than Simon will do anything to prevent their own downfall.

She knows that she too is in danger, and must fight to protect her children. But what she does not realise is that Simon has hidden vital truths about his past, and may be found guilty of another crime that carries with it an even greater penalty. 

My thoughts:

What would have happened if I hadn’t answered the phone? This question will plague Simon, whose happy life as husband to his beautiful wife Lily and father to their three young children is about to unravel because of one phonecall from an old friend, who asks him an impossible  favour. A favour which Simon cannot refuse, because there is history between him and Giles, a past Lily does not know about and which might well destroy his reputation and marriage if it ever came to light. A threat which will compel him to plead guilty to a charge of espionage, even though he is innocent. At the height of the Cold War, such accusations are serious, and soon Lily finds herself on her own with her children, having to rely on her own resilience to keep her family together ....

Exposure is a very character driven novel, and I especially loved the voice of Lily, who proves how resourceful women can be in times of crises. Barely having escaped Nazi Germany with her Jewish mother as a child, Lily has known threats to her own life and that of her family before, and it has made her strong, even if some think her cold. Most of all, she loves her family, and will do anything in her power to keep them safe. Despite being female and held in little regard by the men of her time, Lily is not easily cowed, even when pitted against dark powers who think they can control and manipulate her into obeying orders. As the story progresses, Lily slowly grows into her own, getting stronger and more determined to bring her husband home, despite the toll it takes on herself and her children.

Of all the characters, Simon was probably the weakest link, shaped by a childhood growing up in the shadow of overbearing parents and bullying brothers. Constantly criticized and cowed, it is easily understandable why he gravitates towards the confident and flamboyant Giles, who will later betray him. And yet Giles is a fascinating character study in itself, his life slowly unravelling after the accident which was the catalyst for the event following. Despite his failings, I could not loathe the man, even when he was prepared to sacrifice his old friend so readily.

Dunmore has done an excellent job in portraying her characters and the era they live in, and I enjoyed the story, right up to its dramatic finale.  

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.