Book Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? In Liane Moriarty’s latest page-turner, nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

Combining all of the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.

Guys, I hate to say it. This book is kind of a mess.

An entertaining mess, most of the time… but a mess all the same.

For way too much of my read, I couldn’t figure out what this book wanted to be. Is it a thriller? Is it a character study? Are we meant to be worried about these people? Amused by them? Even now that I’ve finished, I can’t quite put my finger on what the point of it all was.

The plot here revolves around nine people who, for their own reasons, choose to spend ten days at a health resort that promises personal transformation as an outcome. Some seek weight loss, others rest and healthy eating, others peace and isolation. Over the course of the novel, we get to know more about these nine people as individuals — their challenges, their current situations, and their frustrations. The nine include Frances, the romance writer whose career is in trouble; Tony, a former athlete; Lars, a divorce attorney; Ben and Jessica, a newly rich young couple whose marriage is in trouble; Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe, a couple and their young adult daughter dealing with grief; and Carmel, a divorced mother of four with some serious body-image issues. The character development is somewhat uneven — while we spend a lot of time with Frances, not all are given time to become anything more than a bare-bones type, rather than a fully-drawn person.

The crux of the drama here is Masha, the enigmatic, charismatic owner of Tranquillum, who takes a fanatical interest in ensuring her guests’ transformations, and is determined to introduce her new breakthrough protocol, no matter what.

Masha is the most problematic part of Nine Perfect Strangers. Her actions are bizarre and ominous, and she comes across as almost a cartoon mad scientist/evil genius. Early on, we learn that most of the guests haven’t really done their homework before committing to this non-refundable, highly expensive health retreat, and the information online isn’t particularly helpful — the TripAdvisor reviews seem to be either 1-star or 5-stars, so love it or hate it, I guess. Here’s where I kept getting a thriller vibe — it’s implied from the start that something dark is happening behind the scenes, that Masha’s motives aren’t pure, that the people here will be manipulated or endangered in some way. But at the same time, we spend an awful lot of time learning about everyone’s personal problems and seeing how they hope to change their lives, so it’s never quite clear whether these people are benefiting from their experiences or if they should run screaming into the night.

Masha’s methods take a turn for the crazy, and there’s a huge issue around consent. Trying to be vague here, but once it’s clear what’s going on, the book becomes more and more difficult to read, because these people are in danger from a madwoman and it all goes on for way too long, with some really weird developments along the way. And then it all gets wrapped up neatly in a bow at the end, and the closing chapters focus on the transformations these people all went through… so it’s not really a thriller after all, even though there was a ton of crazy shit going down?

So yeah, a mess. Not to say it’s not readable — I was caught up in the story and tore through it pretty quickly. But still — the characters never felt like much more than cookie-cutter types, the plot veers into territory that makes it unbelievable, and the book as a whole seems to be having an identity crisis.

I’ve enjoyed other books by Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret), but Nine Perfect Strangers just isn’t a win for me.

Save

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Nine Perfect Strangers
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: November 6, 2018
Length: 453 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

Save

Save

Save

Save

Shelf Control #135: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

Title: Truly Madly Guilty
Author: Liane Moriarty
Published: 2016
Length: 415 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via 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.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy right when the book was released.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read two books by this author already (Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret), and thought both were terrific. And now that she has a new book coming out in November (Nine Perfect Strangers), I should probably make the effort to catch up on her backlist books that are sitting on my shelf.

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

The small suburb of Pleasant Court lives up to its name. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and children play in the street.

Isabelle Heatherington doesn’t fit into this picture of family paradise. Husbandless and childless, she soon catches the attention of three Pleasant Court mothers.

But Ange, Fran and Essie have their own secrets to hide. Like the reason behind Ange’s compulsion to control every aspect of her life. Or why Fran won’t let her sweet, gentle husband near her new baby. Or why, three years ago, Essie took her daughter to the park – and returned home without her.

As their obsession with their new neighbour grows, the secrets of these three women begin to spread – and they’ll soon find out that when you look at something too closely, you see things you never wanted to see.

 

My Thoughts:

The Family Next Door is a quick read about a neighborhood teeming with secrets. The three women at the center of the story, Essie, Fran, and Ange, are all wives and mothers, and each has her own set of problems and worries that she keeps hidden away behind a facade of domestic bliss. It’s Isabelle’s arrival in the neighborhood that kicks off the cascade of revelations, as secrets come out and lives are upended.

The book is fast-paced, and while some of the secrets may be simpler to guess, the big reveal at the end is shocking and very unexpected. I enjoyed the characters, although overall the tone of the book was a bit too Desperate Housewives for my taste.

For readers who enjoy dramas about marriage, family, lies, and life-long secrets, this will make a great choice for summer beach reading.

Interested in this author? Check out my review of other books by Sally Hepworth:
The Things We Keep
The Mother’s Promise

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Family Next Door
Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: March 6, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Silver Bay

Silver BaySilver Bay is an older work by bestselling author Jojo Moyes, originally published in 2007 and re-released in the US in fall of 2014. And while Silver Bay is perhaps not quite as tear-inducing as Me Before You, it certainly fits in with the author’s talent for portraying unusual relationships full of tragedy and redemption.

Silver Bay is a sleepy little coastal town in Australia, known for its harbor full of marine life, its ramshackle old hotels, and its whale-watching expeditions. Liza and her daughter Hannah live in Liza’s aunt Kathleen’s inn, which has been in her family for over 70 years. Liza keeps to herself, takes tourists out on her boat, and socializes each evening on the front porch of the inn with the other “whale chasers”.

But then Englishman Mike Dormer shows up on a secret mission, exploring Silver Bay as a possible development site for a luxury resort. Mike’s job is to secure the location and smooth out any local resistance to the plan so that his wheeler-dealer boss can pin down the venture capitalists’ money and make boatloads of money himself. Mike doesn’t count on the connection he starts to feel for the small town, the local folks, and most especially, for Liza herself.

But Liza has her own secrets too, and she’s not looking for love or anything like it. What’s more, when the truth about Mike’s mission comes to light, Liza, Kathleen, and all of the Silver Bay people feel betrayed by Mike… but his own beliefs have been shaken as well. Ultimately, it’s up to Mike to reverse the damage done and try to save not just the town, but the friendships that have come to matter so much to him.

I found the beginning of Silver Bay a bit slow. The book has multiple narrators, and after a brief introduction told by Kathleen, we spend the first long chapter of the book looking through the eyes of 10-year-old Hannah. This did not feel like a wise choice to me; it’s a book for adults, and the child viewpoint was by necessity somewhat weak and narrow. Once Mike is introduced, the story opens up in scope, and as I got a bit further into it, I was hooked.

The storyline itself isn’t particularly unique. I feel like I’ve seen the basic footprint of the story in other books or movies: Small town, outside big business coming to ruin things, quirky locals banding together to fight the good fight, etc. The love story too proceeds along mostly predictable lines. Of course, Mike falls in love with Liza. Of course, her secret, tragic past keeps her from being able to open up. Of course, Mike’s business dealings threaten all of the relationships he’s built.

All that being said, there’s a lot going for Silver Bay as well. There are some truly delightful supporting characters, especially tough old Aunt Kathleen and her would-be beau Nino, fellow whale-chasers Greg, Yoshi, and Lance, and even Liza’s daughter Hannah, who ultimately takes a big hand in helping to save the town.

What would a Jojo Moyes book be without a tragedy? Yes, the secret from Liza’s past that eventually comes to light is awful and terribly sad… and yes, I did get a bit teary in the final third of the book. The author does a masterful job of giving just enough hints along the way to let us know that the secret is a doozy, and once revealed, it’s impossible not to feel for Liza and her sad story.

Again, I saw the ending coming from about a mile away, but that’s okay. Having a pretty good idea of how it would all work out didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. It’s a quick read, and after the first several chapters, it’s a book that will pull you in and make you care.

This isn’t my favorite Jojo Moyes book, but it’s a good choice for fans who’ve read all of her more recent novels and want more.

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of other books by Jojo Moyes:
The Girl You Left Behind
One Plus One
The Ship of Brides
Me Before You
The Last Letter From Your Lover

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Silver Bay
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: Originally published in UK in 2007
Length: 338 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

Flashback Friday: A Town Like Alice

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

(first published 1950)

From Goodreads:

Nevil Shute’s most beloved novel, a tale of love and war, follows its enterprising heroine from the Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback.

Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman living in Malaya, is captured by the invading Japanese and forced on a brutal seven-month death march with dozens of other women and children. A few years after the war, Jean is back in England, the nightmare behind her. However, an unexpected inheritance inspires her to return to Malaya to give something back to the villagers who saved her life. But it turns out that they have a gift for her as well: the news that the young Australian soldier, Joe Harmon, who had risked his life to help the women, had miraculously survived. Jean’s search for Joe leads her to a desolate Australian outpost called Willstown, where she finds a challenge that will draw on all the resourcefulness and spirit that carried her through her war-time ordeals.

It’s hard to neatly sum up A Town Like Alice. Part of it is a moving, horrifying account of a death march during World War II, in which civilians women and children suffered and died. Great courage and sacrifice move the story forward, and this segment of the book concludes with terrible events and a tragic outcome. From there, the narrative moves into the story of a woman rebuilding her life, determined to make a difference, and not fitting the mold of a complacent, wealthy Englishwoman. The remainder of the book is filled with adventure, and is part frontier drama and part romance. That’s a lot to fit into a not particularly long book (the mass market paperback version is under 300 pages), but gifted author Nevil Shute pulls it off.

A Town Like Alice takes place in gorgeous, rough, wild settings include Malayan jungles and the Australian Outback. The characters are heroic and steely, and Jean herself is a delight. Nevil Shute’s writing conveys the terror of war and the triumph of human spirit. This is just a lovely, lovely book, and although it’s been many years since I read it, I remember certain parts of it quite vividly, and always list it among my favorites.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that way back when there was a TV mini-series of A Town Like Alice, with a very photogenic cast:

I have no idea if the TV series itself would be worth watching today or if it would feel tremendously dated, but I’m willing to bet that the book holds up quite nicely. If you’ve read it, let me know what you think!

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!

Flashback Friday: Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCullough

It’s time, once again, for Flashback Friday…

Flashback Friday is a chance to dig deep in the darkest nooks of our bookshelves and pull out the good stuff from way back. As a reader, a blogger, and a consumer, I tend to focus on new, new, new… but what about the old favorites, the hidden gems? On Flashback Fridays, I want to hit the pause button for a moment and concentrate on older books that are deserving of attention.

If you’d like to join in, here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Morgan

Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCullough

(published 2000)

My go-to book by Colleen McCullough would probably be The Thorn Books. I read The Thorn Birds many, many years ago, but it still remains a point of reference for me in many ways. Who can forget Father Ralph and Meggie? (Insert big, romantic sigh right here…) Still, a more recent book by Colleen McCullough had quite an impact on me, and that book is Morgan’s Run.

From Amazon:

It was one of the greatest human experiments ever undertaken: to populate an unknown continent with the criminals of English society. For Richard Morgan, twelve months as a prisoner on the high seas would be just the beginning in a soul-trying test to survive in a hostile new land where, against all odds, he would find a new love and a new life. From the dank cells of England’s prisons to the unforgiving frontier of the eighteenth-century outback, Morgan’s Run is the epic tale of one man whose strength and character helped settle a country and define its future.

Morgan’s Run is a terrifically detailed historical novel, telling the tale of the prisoner transports from England to the Australian penal colonies through the experiences of a remarkable individual. Lead character Richard Morgan is an honorable man, falsely accused and convicted, who suffers unimaginable horrors during the sea voyage and the struggle to survive in a harsh, undeveloped land. I learned a great deal about the experiences of the transported convicts and the early days of English settlement down under, but what really made this an engrossing tale for me was the more personal story of Richard and his challenges, sufferings, and survival.

For those who enjoy historical fiction, I heartily recommend Morgan’s Run. And of course, if you’ve never read The Thorn Birds, read that one too!

So, what’s your favorite blast from the past? Leave a tip for your fellow booklovers, and share the wealth. It’s time to dust off our old favorites and get them back into circulation! 

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join in the Flashback Friday bloghop, post about a book you love on your blog, and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!



Wishlist Wednesday

And now, for this week’s Wishlist Wednesday…

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Please consider adding the blog hop button to your blog somewhere, so others can find it easily and join in too! Help spread the word! The code will be at the bottom of the post under the linky.
  • Pick a book from your wishlist that you are dying to get to put on your shelves.
  • Do a post telling your readers about the book and why it’s on your wishlist.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to pen to paper (http://vogue-pentopaper.blogspot.com) somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

From Amazon:

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

Why do I want to read this?

I’ve been waiting for The Light Between Oceans to become available at my local library for months now, and I’m finally getting closer! The reviews and synopses of this book make it sound so sad and chilling, and I really can’t wait to give it a try. Plus, I do have a fondness for Australian fiction. All in all, based on friends’ input and word of mouth, I’d say this book sounds like it’ll be right up my alley. Now, if only I could get my hands on a copy…

Have you read it? What did you think?

Quick note to Wishlist Wednesday bloggers: Come on back to Bookshelf Fantasies for Flashback Friday! Join me in celebrating the older gems hidden away on our bookshelves. See the introductory post for more details, and come back this Friday to add your flashback favorites!