Winter Mini-Reviews 1: Liane Moriarty Binge Read

I am trying to wrap up my 2014 reviews by posting some mini-reviews for things I neglected to review in full.  This is the Liane Moriarty Binge Read Edition.

I had been hearing a lot about Liane Moriarty’s books since The Husband’s Secret started getting billed as a Gone Girl readalike last year.  So when her 2014 release started getting tons of buzz, too, I decided to give her book a try.  I have seriously enjoyed every last one of them and Moriarty has become an author for me to watch.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This book starts out with someone dying at an elementary school fundraiser.  Then it flashbacks and follows three slightly different suburban kindergarten moms in the lead-up to this tragic event.  Madeline is the experienced mom; the kindergartener is her youngest child.  She’s on marriage number two and her teenage daughter from her first marriage is giving her some trouble.  Celeste is beautiful, rich, and married to a charming man and is a full-time mom to her twin boys.  Jane is single mom to her kindergarten son and does freelance work to support her family.  Despite their different backgrounds, the moms become friends.  But alongside these domestic concerns and bonds of friendship are some darker, more serious concerns all of which culminate in the death at the fundraiser.  Part mystery, part chick lit.

What I liked: the pacing, the characters, the easy balance between serious and funny, and all the little mysteries to solve along the way
What I felt meh about: the ending felt a bit drawn-out and anticlimactic to me
All in all: I loved this book so much that I bought my mom a copy.  And picked up two more Liane Moriarty books.  One of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty

Ellen is a hypnotherapist who has just begun a relationship with Patrick.  Patrick is a widower with a son.  He also comes with a stalker, his ex-girlfriend, Saskia.  Ellen is initially fascinated by Saskia and intensely curious about what would drive a woman to the insane lengths Saskia goes to in stalking Patrick.  We also get Saskia’s point of view, here, watching as her obsession takes over her life and as she repeatedly inserts herself into Patrick and Ellen’s lives and relationship.  This is the story of love beginning and love ending and of a relationship crowded with people from the past.

What I liked: hearing both Saskia and Ellen’s points of views, seeing the character development for both Saskia and Ellen, the thoughts about love ending and beginning, the very crowded relationship that was Ellen and Patrick’s (both his  deceased wife and his stalker are in the background all the time)
What I was meh on: it’s a somewhat slow and quiet story
All in all: It was definitely intriguing and this one has stuck with me more than I expected it to.  Something about Ellen and Saskia just really got under my skin.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Cecilia finds a sealed letter from her husband, intended for her to read only after he dies.  She cannot overcome her curiosity and reads the letter only to discover her husband’s horrible secret which has the potential to destroy their lives and ripples through the community, as well.

What I liked: the multiple points of view (also includes the views of two other women in the community), her child characters are very real and funny, Moriarty’s understanding of marriage and motherhood, the examination of grief and guilt and moral ambiguities and the millions of what ifs and unanswered questions in life
What I was meh on: the title and blurb are a bit misleading as the husband’s secret was a very small portion of the plot, it was not as hard-hitting as Big Little Lies, and while I liked it, it was probably my least favorite of the three Moriarty books I’ve read
All in all: I’m definitely going to work my way through all of Moriarty’s books.  This was a good, but didn’t resonate with me like The Hypnotist’s Love Story or wow me like Big Little Lies.  Recommended, but I think I’d push Big Little Lies first.

 

 

One Plus One- Jojo Moyes

I absolutely loved Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You and have been eager to read more of her work, but a lot of her previous novels seem to be more historical romance and I’m much more partial to contemporary romance, so when I saw One Plus One was coming out I was thrilled.  It took me forever to finally read it, but I enjoyed it much like I expected to.

Jess is a single mom of two, struggling to make ends meet and working all the time to do so.  Her daughter, Tanzie, is a math genius who is offered a spot at a prestigious private school and a 90% scholarship.  Problem is, Jess can’t afford the remaining 10%.  But Tanzie’s math teacher has an idea.  Tanzie can enter a math competition in Scotland where, if she wins, the cash prize could help cover the remaining expenses of private school.  On a lark, Jess and her kids set out in their hooptie Rolls Royce, only to end up on the side of the road a few miles outside of town.

Ed is a successful software entrepreneur who is being investigated for insider trading.  He’s been holed up in his summer home and has run into Jess a time or two in her capacity as housekeeper and bartender.  When he sees her stranded on the side of the road, he pulls over.  And he wants to do something to help, something to take his mind off the selfish stupidity in the rest of his life.  So he offers to drive Jess and her kids and their smelly old dog to the math competition.

Over the course of the road trip, Jess and Ed break down the barriers between them, namely the huge class difference between them.  And an attraction develops.  But both their lives are in complete disarray, making it hard for them to build a relationship together.

This book had a lot in common with Me Before You.  Both feature a young working class woman who doesn’t see any way out of her present situation, but with a bright outlook on life and a slightly older wealthy man with big problems who really benefits from seeing how the other half lives and getting a healthy dose of optimism.  But this one is more of a romance.  And Me Before You dealt with a much heavier subject matter.  Unfortunately, the similarities between the two books made it impossible not to measure them against one another.  And while One Plus One was just as addicting and just as full of interesting and real characters, because its subject matter wasn’t as heavy or life-or-death it felt a little fluffy in comparison.  I know Moyes can do something heavier and deeper and more impactful, so it was slightly disappointing to not get that here.

All that said, I enjoyed this story and would recommend it to chick lit fans.  Moyes constructs some really endearing characters who are facing real struggles, but who persevere nonetheless.  But if you’ve read Me Before You, come at this with different expectations, as it does not carry the same emotional weight.

That Time I Binge Read Allison Winn Scotch

Ok, this week I’m combining two short reviews because I read two books by the same author back-to-back and well, I can’t help but make comparisons.  So.  Let’s get down to it.

 

Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch

Jillian lives the perfect suburban mommy life, on the surface anyways.  She is a stay-at-home mom for her 18 month old daughter, Katie, her husband, Henry, travels a lot for his lucrative career, but Jillian feels unsatisfied, bored, and incomplete.  She and Henry aren’t clicking like they used to.  So when she hears her ex-boyfriend, Jackson, is getting married, she starts to wonder “what if.”  What if she had actually made things work in her old life with Jackson?  Would she be left feeling so unsatisfied with her life?  Imagine her surprise when she wakes up in her old life, given a chance to rewrite her past.

Jillian’s do-over, though, doesn’t go quite as she expected.  She misses Katie.  She realizes the job she thought she loved wasn’t all it was cut out to be.  She realizes Jackson is the unmotivated mama’s boy she forgot he was.  Jill realizes the dissatisfaction she keeps feeling might have something to do with her own issues.  Can she fix herself and get back to the Katie-Henry life she actually misses?

What I liked: I loved the thought experiment in the premise– what if we got a do over on life?  I loved Scotch’s writing on mommyhood.  It really hit home for me.  I liked seeing Jill’s journey of self-discovery.
What I felt meh about: I was not a huge fan of Jill, to be honest.  Girl had a lot of issues she needed to work out.  Also, this resolution to the book was a bit unsatisfying.  I really wanted to SEE Jill turn things around, not just jump back to the future where things are different and she is suddenly happy.  I especially missed a resolution between Jill and her mom (who left when she was a child).
All in all: I liked Scotch’s writing a lot and this book struck a chord with me.  In fact, I liked it enough to try another of her books immediately.

 

The Theory of Opposites by Allison Winn Scotch

Willa is the daughter of a self-help writer, whose very famous book posits that everything is predetermined and fated and happens for a reason.  She kinda buys into this theory and as a result has put forth very little effort in any area of her life.  Then Willa loses her job.  And her husband decides they should separate for a while.  And her parents split up.  And her brother gets arrested for being part of a pyramid scheme.  While everything is going wrong around her, Willa and her friend decide to conduct a little experiment.  Willa should do the opposite of her father’s advice.  She should do the opposite of her instincts and make things happen for herself.

What I liked: Again, I enjoyed that this is a bit of a thought experiment.  I was interested enough to finish it.
What I was meh on: Willa is awful.  She has no oomph of her own and just sort of coasts through life.  Her self-improvement mission was a bit convoluted and I didn’t really buy it.  There is just so much that happens in this book that it’s almost a bit confusing, actually.  The ending involved an oops pregnancy and I really hate that cliche.
All in all: I wanted to like this more than I did.  Quite a disappointment after how much I liked Time of My Life.

 

Landline- Rainbow Rowell

Georgie and her husband, Neal, have hit a point in their marriage where things are tense.  Always tense.  They love each other, but work and life and two kids have taken their toll.  Georgie announces days before they are supposed to leave to visit family in Omaha that she needs to stay home for Christmas to work.  Neal leaves as planned with the kids, leaving Georgie behind.  He stops picking up her calls.  At her wit’s end, Georgie stumbles upon a way to connect with Neal, but Neal from the past.  Her magic phone calls 20 years in the past to the first year of their relationship.  Reconnecting with past Neal reminds Georgie of how they fell in love in the first place, before everything made its way in between them.  Perhaps this will give her a second chance to fix things before it is too late.

What I love about Rainbow Rowell’s books is that they somehow always feel like they were written just for me.  I don’t really have a life like any of her characters, but there is something about their lives and relationships that resonates with me.  While I’m not sure I could really understand Georgie’s workaholism (no one will ever accuse me of being a workaholic), I did understand the tension in her marriage.  I think anyone who has had a long term partner knows that there are times when you are closer to one another and times when you feel quite distant from one another.  Those distant times are tough and scary and leave you feeling quite vulnerable.  Georgie and Neal have hit one of those rough patches.  I sort of wish we could all get a magic phone for those times, a chance to remember what made the good times good and to remember when love was new and exciting.  The magic phone was an interesting narrative convention, too, as it allowed Rowell to tell a falling in love story at the same time she told a being in love and falling back in love story.

My biggest complaint with this book was the ending left something to be desired.  Georgie decides it is her turn to make the big romantic gesture in the relationship.  So she does and all is forgiven without so much as a conversation between Georgie and Neal.  While sometimes it just takes a small thing to put a relationship back on track, I did not believe Georgie and Neal could be fixed as easily as they were.  I would have liked to see an airing of grievances and rededication to one another, but that didn’t really happen.

All in all, this was another enjoyable Rainbow Rowell book and I will continue to read everything she publishes.  I love her writing and her characters and can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.  This is probably her weakest book so far (this or Fangirl), but it was definitely worth the read.  There aren’t too many books I can think of about being in love, so this was a welcome addition to the chick lit/romance (I guess that is what it is) genres.

All Fall Down- Jennifer Weiner

Allison Weiss is a work-at-home mom to a very needy young daughter.  Her marriage is on life support and her father’s Alzheimer’s is becoming worse and worse.  Allison has a little secret, though.  She pops painkillers to get through her days.  And as her life gets crazier, so does her pill problem.  Soon Allison is unable to keep her perfect image intact and her husband ships her to rehab.  Allison doesn’t feel she belongs in rehab, among girls who have sold their bodies and souls for heroin.  Surely pills aren’t that bad.  Allison’s experience is humbling, though, as she hits her rock bottom and makes her way into recovery.

I have been a fan of Jennifer Weiner for a long time, and while my tastes have developed a bit since I first read Good in Bed in 2003, I still pick up Weiner’s books whenever I see a new one.  I know I will be entertained.  I did enjoy All Fall Down, though it was one of Weiner’s more serious books.  Allison’s descent into full-blown addiction was hard to watch and a bit frustrating, but rings true in terms of other addiction stories I have heard.  Her trip to rehab was a little cartoonish at times, but it is there that Allison realizes some hard truths about herself and her addiction.  Allison’s recovery also seemed to follow along with recovery stories I’ve heard.  And I guess that was my major complaint– this felt like a plot line from an AA meeting or brochure or something, cliched in every way except it happened to an white upper-middle class working mom.  Which is not even that original a story these days.  I enjoyed it while reading it, but it wasn’t really anything special.  A solid 3 stars from me.

It Felt Like A Kiss- Sarra Manning

Ellie Cohen has got her act together.  She’s successful in her work at an art gallery, has a very close relationship with her mother and grandparents, and has strong friendships with her roommates.  But Ellie is terrible at choosing men, always ending up with “lame duck” boyfriends who aren’t near as put together as she is (as in they are often alcoholics or unemployed or both).  One such lame duck, Richey, is kicked to the curb after he humiliates her at Glastonbury by going on a cocaine binge (again) and generally being awful.  Richey takes his revenge on Ellie by selling the story of her father to the tabloids.  You see, Ellie’s father is the incredibly famous (and married) rock star, Billy Kay.  Suddenly, Ellie is being followed around by cameras and reporters and unflattering pictures of her in bikinis are on the front pages of all the gossip rags.  Billy Kay’s lawyer, David Gold, is assigned to manage the Ellie crisis and things get even more complicated for Ellie.

She and David have met before, at Glastonbury, where their chemistry and attraction to one another is instant, but interrupted by crazy Richey.  David doesn’t trust Ellie to not leak her story to the press and Ellie is desperate for a little privacy, so David decides to offer his flat as a hiding place for Ellie.  Being in close quarters with one another is difficult, as they cannot deny their mutual attraction, but neither one trusts the other’s motives.  Ellie and David are both perfect on the surface, but emotionally damaged and have to get past their prejudices about one another and their emotional hang-ups to get together.

I adored Sarra Manning’s Unsticky and this gave me much the same feelings as Unsticky did.  These characters are flawed and emotionally scarred.  Ellie tries to get everyone to like her and suffers some uncertainty about herself because of her absent father.  David compartmentalizes his feelings and is pretty closed-off, mostly to cover any sense of immorality and wrong-doing he might feel as a result of his career as a cut-throat entertainment lawyer.  Their chemistry with one another is intense and goes against their best interests, but fighting it doesn’t work for long.

Although I have mostly been talking about the romantic plotline, there is a lot more to this story than just romance.  Ellie is faced with intense public scrutiny of all areas of her life and is surprisingly strong in the face of a really crappy situation.  She learns that she cannot control how other people perceive her; she may be made out to be a “tart” by the tabs, but she is able to win over David’s parents or the audience of a talk show by being herself.  So what if not everyone loves her or believes her to be perfect?  In addition to the character development, we get short flashbacks to Ellie’s mother, Ari’s, affair with Billy Kay.  These probably weren’t necessary to the story, but I thought they were interesting and they definitely cleared up any questions about Billy’s role in Ellie’s life (she is so0000o better off without him).  Ellie’s family relationships were also really nicely portrayed.  She may have the worst father in the world, but her life is filled with people who genuinely love her and that was nice to see.

I had two big complaints with this book.  First, there is a completely out-of-place don’t-worry-about-the-condom-I’m-on-the-pill conversation, which definitely dampened a decent sex scene.  It felt out of character and unnecessary and I’ll leave it at that.  We all know that is a stupid romance genre convention that needs to die.

My second complaint is the ending didn’t really work for me.  Ellie tells David he has to change for her to accept him.  He can’t continue to compartmentalize and he can’t continue to work on her father’s behalf while in a relationship with her.  Ellie is right to make these demands and stand up for herself.  Their relationship would not work with David still representing Billy Kay’s interests.  But David is described as being very career-oriented and very concerned about climbing the ladder in his law firm.  For him to give up his career without a back-up plan to be with Ellie seemed far-fetched and character-breaking.  It was the most convenient route to a Happily Ever After, but that made it seem like even more of a cop out.  One thing I really liked about Unsticky was that the characters are a better version of themselves when they are together, but they do not suddenly become perfect people because of one another.  Vaughan, who appears in It Felt Like A Kiss as Ellie’s boss, still remains prickly and moody and demanding and unreasonable a lot of the time.  There really needed to be a solution to the David-Ellie problem that allowed David to stay David.  I don’t know what that is, but in absence of a better solution, the two needed to not end up together.  I know, I’m rooting for the couple in a romance to not get together.  I don’t think the ending was a total deal-breaker for me, but it kept this book from hitting the 5-star territory it was headed towards before the last 15% or so.

In any case, this was still a good book with a lot of depth and difficult, complex characters.  I am really liking what I have seen in terms of British chick lit lately (see also You Had Me At Hello); a lot of heroines growing as people and finding love along the way and a lot less of the angsting and silliness that chick lit is known for.  There may be brand name clothes in these books, but the characters don’t max their credit cards out for them and if they do, it has real repercussions.  If you haven’t given some of the recent British chick lit a try, this is not a bad one to start with.  I think it has more likeable characters and less moral gray area than Unsticky, but still maintains the emotional depth and character development that I liked so much from Sarra Manning’s other hit.

You Had Me at Hello- Mhairi McFarlane

Rachel breaks up with her fiance, Rhys, and soon after finds out that an old university friend, Ben, has moved back to Manchester.  Rachel and Ben run into each other (literally) and although Ben is now married, the two attempt to rekindle their friendship.  Rachel quickly realizes she wants more than just friendship from Ben, but knows that interfering with his marriage is not an option.  So she just tries to ignore her feelings and move on.  In the process, Rachel makes a real mess of the rest of her life by getting involved with a friend of Ben’s wife and by mucking up a career-making interview.

While the plot and subplots of this cute chick lit were pretty predictable (but really, it’s not like you read romance or chick lit expecting anything other than a Happily Ever After), I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit.   The characters, especially Rachel, were really enjoyable.  Rachel is funny and caring and I liked how she tried to take control of her life in this book.  She seems to have made a lot of her past decisions based on what was easy, letting life happen to her.  Breaking up with Rhys, though, seems to give Rachel the motivation she needs to make some hard decisions.  She goes out on dates with people who aren’t her type.  She tries to make some headway in her career as a newspaper reporter at the criminal courts conducting a big interview and by taking on the role of a mentor.  Sometimes it blows up in her face, but she has finally realized that it is worth the try, even if things don’t end up the way she had planned, even if it means starting from square one.  Again.

The story of Rachel and Ben’s university days unfolds through a series of flashbacks and it is a cute best friends fall in love sort of story.  The timing never quite lines up for the two to move past a platonic relationship, though, and miscommunications pile on to make a real mess of the situation.  At a dinner party, Rachel says something about timing being key in relationships and it seems as if that is particularly true in this story.  Rachel and Ben are doomed to fight timing issues, one or the other always being in another relationship, until the very last chapter of the book.

I think my biggest complaint about this book was that it felt a little on the long side for what it was.  Other than that, this was a fun chick lit with good character development, a sense of humor, and a cute romance.  I definitely recommend this to fans of chick lit– this felt smarter, funnier, and fresher than the last few I’ve read in that category.

TGIF: Comfort Reads

image courtesy of greads.com

TGIF at GReads is a fun feature for answering a book-blogging question posed by Ginger.

This week the question is: Comfort Reads: Which books do you go to for comfort & familiarity?  Is there a type of book you seek out when you’re needing that extra bit of comfort in your life?

Reading in and of itself is a comforting activity for me.  There is really nothing better than curling up with a good book and escaping into another world.  I often end up reading in the bathtub when I need to unwind and it almost doesn’t matter what I am reading.  So to broadly answer this question: fiction!  To more narrowly answer it, I suppose when I am looking specifically for something to perk me up I turn to romance and chick lit.  Usually something like Jennifer Weiner or Nora Roberts or the Jessica Darling series.  I turn to these sorts of books because they make me laugh and cry and because they promise a happily ever after.  Usually they keep me glued to the pages and distract me from whatever it is I need distraction from.  Also, the stories tend to be a little formulaic, but that is sort of reassuring, too.  Most of all they are hopeful sorts of stories and that is a certain mood-improver for me!

Do you like to read for comfort?  What do you like to read when you need a little pick-me-up?