Take A Peek Book Review: Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

“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:

(via Goodreads)

Let me tell you about our brother.
The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay.
Everything happened to him.
We were all of us changed through him.

The Dunbar boys bring each other up in a house run by their own rules. A family of ramshackle tragedy – their mother is dead, their father has fled – they love and fight, and learn to reckon with the adult world.

It is Clay, the quiet one, who will build a bridge; for his family, for his past, for his sins. He builds a bridge to transcend humanness. To survive.

A miracle and nothing less.

Markus Zusak makes his long-awaited return with a profoundly heartfelt and inventive novel about a family held together by stories, and a young life caught in the current: a boy in search of greatness, as a cure for a painful past.

My Thoughts:

Have you ever devoured a book in two days, not because you loved it, but because you wanted to be done? Yeah. That. Me. This book.

Bridge of Clay is long, and involved, and made me absolutely batty. At heart, it’s the story of a family of five boys — their odd, endearing home, their unbreakable bonds as brothers, the tragedies that befall their family, and the loss of their parents. There are elements that are powerful, sad, and moving… and it’s all buried beneath writing that is just too artful and precious by far. Some may find it poetic. For me, the writing felt like slogging through mud to get to the essence of the story, and it was neither satisfying nor enriching.

What a shame. I loved The Book Thief (didn’t everybody?), and was so excited to read the author’s first new book after more than a decade. Look, maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the wrong reader for this book. I like my stories straight-forward and clear — maybe I just lack an appreciation for something that feels more like a painting in words. The timeline is backwards and forwards, there are items and words that become practically holy but without explanation until the very end, and the author presupposes some knowledge of things like horse-racing which honestly, I knew nothing about and could barely follow.

I did enjoy some portions about the Dunbar brothers, reading about their strange wildness and the way they survived together as a unit, despite the truly lousy events that seemed to plague them. Some of the brothers’ antics are almost comical, except for the thread of sorrow that runs through it all, always casting a shadow.

Clearly, I’m conflicted about this book. It packs in a lot of emotion, and there are moments of great power — yet the plot itself, so disjointed and out of order, as well as the unusual, twisty writing style, kept me from actual enjoyment while reading.

I’d love to hear from anyone who read and loved this book. Stepping away, I might be able to be convinced that there’s something more, something valuable here… but I just couldn’t find it myself.

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The details:

Title: Bridge of Clay
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 9, 2018
Length: 537 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library

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Shelf Control #135: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Thursday Quotables: Rush Oh!

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Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

Rush Oh

Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett
(published 2016)

I reviewed this wonderful book last week (check out my review here). It’s about a whaling community in Australia in 1908, and if that sounds a bit odd or dry — well, I promise you won’t think so once you start reading it! Here’s a lovely little moment that captures the tone of the narrator’s voice:

He was smiling at me and his eyes were shining in the darkness, and at that point, I’m afraid that something within me seemed to seize up in a kind of panic. Any girlish gaiety that I had been blessed with at birth had stiffened and stuck from lack of use, and although I was only nineteen years of age, I felt unable to rise to the obvious demands of the occasion.

“I’m sorry. I’m no good at this. I can’t do it,” I said, lurching abruptly to my feet.

Swiftly he reached up and pulled me back down again.

“Do what?”

“This light-hearted banter between the sexes that you are obviously hoping for.”

“Of course you can do it! You’ve been doing it extremely well up to this moment.”

“That is kind of you to say, but I am only too aware of my shortcomings…”

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Shelf Control #37: The Hypnotist’s Love Story

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Redesign_9780425260937_HypnotistsLo_cover.inddTitle: The Hypnotist’s Love Story
Author: Liane Moriarty
Published: 2011
Length: 480 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Ellen O’Farrell is a professional hypnotherapist who works out of the eccentric beachfront home she inherited from her grandparents. It’s a nice life, except for her tumultuous relationship history. She’s stoic about it, but at this point, Ellen wouldn’t mind a lasting one. When she meets Patrick, she’s optimistic. He’s attractive, single, employed, and best of all, he seems to like her back. Then comes that dreaded moment: He thinks they should have a talk.

Braced for the worst, Ellen is pleasantly surprised. It turns out that Patrick’s ex-girlfriend is stalking him. Ellen thinks, Actually, that’s kind of interesting. She’s dating someone worth stalking. She’s intrigued by the woman’s motives. In fact, she’d even love to meet her.

Ellen doesn’t know it, but she already has.

How I got it:

I bought it!

When I got it:

A couple of years ago, after reading The Husband’s Secret.

Why I want to read it:

After reading two amazing books by Liane Moriarty, The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, I decided I should investigate some of her earlier books as well. While I’ve had The Hypnotist’s Love Story on my shelf for a while, I just haven’t gotten around to it. Meanwhile, the author’s newest book comes out this summer, and I can’t wait!

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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 below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!


For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

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Take A Peek Book Review: Rush Oh!

“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.

Rush Oh

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

An impassioned, charming, and hilarious debut novel about a young woman’s coming-of-age, during one of the harshest whaling seasons in the history of New South Wales.

1908: It’s the year that proves to be life-changing for our teenage narrator, Mary Davidson, tasked with providing support to her father’s boisterous whaling crews while caring for five brothers and sisters in the wake of their mother’s death. But when the handsome John Beck — a former Methodist preacher turned novice whaler with a mysterious past — arrives at the Davidson’s door pleading to join her father’s crews, suddenly Mary’s world is upended.

As her family struggles to survive the scarcity of whales and the vagaries of weather, and as she navigates sibling rivalries and an all-consuming first love for the newcomer John, nineteen-year-old Mary will soon discover a darker side to these men who hunt the seas, and the truth of her place among them.

Swinging from Mary’s own hopes and disappointments to the challenges that have beset her family’s whaling operation, RUSH OH! is an enchanting blend of fact and fiction that’s as much the story of its gutsy narrator’s coming-of-age as it is the celebration of an extraordinary episode in history.

 

My Thoughts:

If you’d asked me a few weeks ago whether I’d be interested in reading a book about whaling in Australia in the early 1900s, well… let’s just say the odds wouldn’t be in favor of a yes.

So I’m completely delighted to report that Rush Oh! is an awesome, funny, moving, and highly enjoyable read!

The historical elements are amazing, even more so after reading the author’s notes and discovering that the Davidsons were a real family, and that the snippets of breathless newspaper coverage about the whaling crews and their captain are all taken from the actual newspaper accounts of the time.

At times, Rush Oh! has an almost Austen-esque feel to it. Narrator Mary has a somewhat distorted view of her own talents and attractions, so her telling of the story is full of her own little oddities and self-flatteries. At the same time, she bears witness to her father’s fearless leadership and nobility — which comes through even in the most brutal moments of a whale hunt.

The whale hunts themselves are sometimes harrowing and sometimes humorous. The whaling crews of Twofold Bay are assisted by a pod of Killers (orcas), who corral the humpbacks and other whales that wander into the bay, acting with viciousness as well as playfulness, almost like water-dwelling sheepdogs. The Killers are looked on fondly by the townsfolk, each known by name and personality, and seem to have almost celebrity status. What’s really amazing is that these Killers really were a part of the history of Eden in New South Wales, just as described and with the names used in the novel — Tom, the leader, and his cohorts including Hooky, Humpy, and more.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But trust me — Rush Oh! is a pure delight to read. Mary’s narration is so funny and quirky, the story of the whaling crew is completely engaging, and the local customs and gossip really are straight out of a comedy of manners. I gobbled up this book in one day, but I think I’ll need to come back to it and savor it again more slowly.

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The details:

Title: Rush Oh!
Author: Shirley Barrett
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: March 22, 2016
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Fantasy/contemporary/adult
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: The Beast’s Garden

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

My most wished-for book this week is:

Beast's Garden

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth
(Published in Australia on August 3, 2015 – US publication date ???)

Synopsis via Goodreads:

A retelling of The Beauty and The Beast set in Nazi Germany

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.

Ever since reading a review of this book on the Book’d Out blog, I’ve been dying to track down a copy. So far, I haven’t been able to find out when this book will be published in the US, but I really hope it’s soon!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays? Come join me for my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables! You can find out more here — come share the book love!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I host a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

New Release Spotlight & Giveaway: Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith

Introducing… an exciting new release from Sourcebooks Landmark!

 

Whiskey & Charlie

Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith
Release date: April 7, 2015

Synopsis:

First They Were Family. Then They Were Strangers. Now They Are Lost.

Whiskey and Charlie might have come from the same family, but they’d tell you two completely different stories about growing up. Whiskey is everything Charlie is not — bold, daring, carefree — and Charlie blames his twin brother for always stealing the limelight, always getting everything, always pushing Charlie back.

When they were just boys, the secret language they whispered back and forth over their crackly walkie-talkies connected them, in a way. The two-way alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta) became their code, their lifeline. But as the brothers grew up, they grew apart. By the time the twins reach adulthood, they are barely even speaking to each other.

When Charlie hears that Whiskey has been in a terrible accident and has slipped into a coma, Charlie can’t make sense of it. Who is he without Whiskey? As days and weeks slip by and the chances of Whiskey recovering grow ever more slim, Charlie is forced to consider that he may never get to say all the things he wants to say.

A compelling and unforgettable novel about rivalry and redemption, WHISKEY AND CHARLIE is perfect for anyone whose family has ever been less than picture-perfect.

 About the author:

Annabel SmithAnnabel Smith has been a writer-in-residence at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre and the Fellowship of Australian Writers. In 2012 she was selected as one of five inaugural recipients of the Creative Australia Fellowship for Emerging Artists. She lives in Perth, Australia, with her husband and son.

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Sounds great, doesn’t it? Want your very own copy?

Enter to win! Click here: a Rafflecopter giveaway to submit your entries. Good luck!

Take A Peek Book Review: In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

“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.

In Falling Snow

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Iris Crane’s tranquil life is shattered when a letter summons memories from her bittersweet past: her first love, her best friend, and the tragedy that changed everything. Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love.

My Thoughts:

In Falling Snow was my book club’s pick for March, and chances are it would never have crossed my radar otherwise. Written by an Australian author, In Falling Snow creates a fictional portrait of life at Royaumont, a real-life field hospital run by a completely female staff during World War I. I found the historical elements of this book the most compelling, witnessing the amazing bravery of the women doctors, nurses, orderlies, and drivers who refused to be pushed aside or belittled, who didn’t accept that women weren’t skilled or tough enough to perform surgery and treat wounded soldiers. The fact that this hospital really existed as described is so inspiring, and I was thrilled to read the author’s afterword with citations of her non-fiction sources.

The fictional characters and the structure of the novel are only middling successful, in my opinion. The storyline shifts between Iris as an old woman and her granddaughter Grace, an Australian obstetrician, and Iris’s memories of her war-time experiences at Royaumont. We’re meant to focus on Iris’s friendship with a fellow hospital staffer named Violet; Iris abruptly cut ties with all of her friends from that time immediately after the war, and it’s around Violet that her thoughts circle, but I didn’t feel the chapters on life at the hospital ever really convinced me that their friendship was so exceptionally special.

Iris is tormented by guilt over her younger brother Tom, and learning his fate and what it meant for Iris is one of the more compelling parts of the story. Early on, I was much more interested in Grace and her family, but her story comes and goes throughout the book and loses steam somehow, even though all the pieces come together by the end.

Overall, I’d say this historical novel is quite interesting in parts, but lacks momentum until about the last third of the book, making big pieces of it feel like a slog. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there’s an odd detachment in long sections of the book. The events of Iris’s experience are described, but I couldn’t get any sense of feeling from them. On the positive side, the elements of the war experiences taken from the historical record are fascinating and horrifying, especially reading about the senseless deaths and terrible experiences of the young men who suffered so horribly in the trenches and battlefields. By the end, the revelation of the secrets that Iris carries throughout her life is a good one, and helps make sense of certain pieces of the novel that seemed random or disconnected.

In Falling Snow takes a bit of patience in parts, but ultimately, I’m glad to have read it. I recommend In Falling Snow for anyone interested in women’s roles in medicine and in reading about World War I- era history.

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The details:

Title: In Falling Snow
Author: Mary-Rose MacColl
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: 2012
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

Fields & Fantasies presents… Hello From the Gillespies

Welcome to the November pick for the Fields & Fantasies book club! Each month or so, in collaboration with my wonderful co-host Diana of Strahbary’s Fields, we’ll pick one book to read and discuss. Today, we’re looking at Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney:

gillespiesSynopsis (Goodreads):

For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth….

The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.

Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when a bump on the head leaves Angela with temporary amnesia, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways….

My two cents:

In this slice-of-life family drama, we meet a seemingly perfect family — and then get to see what they’re really like. When Angela sits down to write her annual Christmas letter, she’s stuck and completely flustered at the idea of producing yet another glib, sugar-coated interpretation of her family’s current events. Instead, she starts a stream-of-consciousness rant, covering everything from her adult daughters’ career troubles, affairs, and debts, to her 10-year-old son’s weirdness, to the wall of coldness that’s come between her and her husband Nick.

Angela never intends to send the letter — but in the midst of a family crisis, Nick thinks he’s helping Angela out by hitting “send” on her Christmas email. And thus begins a touching and funny tale that explores the power of communication and family love.

This domestic drama was a huge change of pace for me, after reading a lot of horror and thrillers recently — but in truth, I loved it.

First of all, you can’t tell from the synopsis, but Hello takes place on a sheep station in the Australian outback. So, 10 bonus points for excellent setting! The landscape is described beautifully, and the isolation of the station is a big factor in how much the family has fallen apart.

The book takes some turns that I did not expect, with the crazy Christmas letter being dealt with much sooner than I would have thought. I was surprised by how honest Angela and her children ended up being with one another, and I loved the relationships between the daughters, who come with their own sets of problems and idiosyncrasies.

It’s much tougher for Angela and Nick to figure out their issues — and after a freak accident leaves Angela with a strange case of amnesia in which she believes her fantasy life to be real, her family’s nurturing and support help her find her way back to herself and to the life she and Nick truly want.

The characters here are all quirky and memorable, and I enjoyed the glimpses of the various Gillespie kids, their messed-up lives, and their great personalities. (Son Ig is my favorite, hands-down — funny, rambunctious, and with an endearingly oddball sense of creativity and imagination.) Angela and Nick have a bedrock of true love at the heart of their marriage, so it was quite moving to see the pain they each suffered along the way toward healing the rift between them.

As I said earlier, the Australian setting absolutely enhances the overall story and made it that much more enjoyable. And who hasn’t gotten tired of the annual Christmas letters, where every child is brilliant, every spouse is a success, every house is sparkling and lovely? Hello shows the fall-out from a massive dose of truth-telling. It’s fun, light reading, but with a real sense of heart as well.

This would be a great choice for someone looking for a holiday read that’s a bit different, but that still leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy when you’ve finished.

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The details:

Title: Hello From the Gillespies
Author: Monica McInerney
Publisher: Penguin Group/NAL Trade
Publication date: November 4, 2014
Length: 624 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy via NetGalley

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Diana is sitting this month out, but check back next month when we’ll be back with full interactivity!

Next for Fields & Fantasies:

hyperboleOur December book will be Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.

 

 

Book Review: Big Little Lies

Big Little LiesIn Liane Moriarty’s newest bestseller, the Australian mommies at the heart of the story have a boatload of secrets and lies, and the schoolyard is practically on fire with hostility, passive-aggressive snarkiness, and not very grown-up-like behavior.

While we’re introduced pretty quickly to a large cast of characters, we mainly follow a group of three women who become best friends:

  • Madeline, happily married to her second husband and mother of two young ‘uns… but still plagued by resentment as she and her ex-husband wrangle time-sharing of their teen-aged daughter and deal with the fact that they’ll each have a little girl in kindergarten this year — in the same class.
  • Celeste, stunningly beautiful and fabulously wealthy, with a perfect husband and twin boys — but hiding a devastating secret from even her closest friends.
  • Jane, young single mom whose son Ziggy is accusing of bullying during kindergarten orientation. But did he do it? And what happened in Jane’s past that makes her so insecure about herself… and makes her wonder whether the accusations against her sweet Ziggy could be true?

We know from the very first chapter that something goes terribly wrong at a school fundraiser, and through quotes from assorted school parents sprinkled throughout the book, we see the the power of gossip and the way events gets distorted through the lens of personal bias and predisposition. Oh, and there’s a dead body and a police investigation, and a whole slew of unreliable witnesses.

Big Little Lies is a roller coaster ride of a book, full of twists and turns, ups and downs. The plot is fast-paced and engrossing, and the characters are just so damn good!

I’ll be honest: I almost closed this book and walked away within the first couple of chapters. Having read (and loved) The Husband’s Secret, I was getting a “been there, done that” feeling at the beginning of Big Little Lies. Another drama centered on the schoolyard? Yawn.

But something told me to keep reading, and wow, what a pay-off. The author is masterful at portraying people who feel real, but with that added oomph that makes them leap off the page. We all know people like Madeline and her ex, or like the “Blonde Bobs”, the ultra-involved moms who rule the school and look down their noses at all the less-perfect mothers — the ones who never quite manage to have the right snacks or finish their kids’ school projects on time.

While there’s real pain and drama here, the humor quotient is also quite high. I couldn’t help but cringe when reading certain characters’ lines, realizing that some of these same ridiculous-sounding statements have come out of my own mouth from time to time. All of the embarrassingly petty thoughts of parents under stress can be found here, and they’re hilarious… and also — almost — uncomfortably true to life. Yup, Madeline’s rants about her ex-husband felt a little too close for comfort to me… to the extent that my own daughter laughed hysterically when I read them to her, clearly pointing a finger back at me and some of my more ridiculous statements about my daughter’s dad.

The underlying story, beneath the surface of snarky humor and quippy one-liners, is sad and powerful. The through-story is about domestic violence and abuse, and it’s conveyed with heartbreaking sympathy and realism. When told from the victim’s point of view, it’s possible to understand why she stays for as long as she does, why she feels trapped, and how no solution or escape plan feels possible to her. Likewise, the deep shame that another character feels over an event from her past may objectively be illogical, but told from her own point of view, we can easily see how her current doubts and worries relate back to this terrible incident and can understand why she feels as she does.

Liane Moriarty does an excellent job of telling a compelling story that gets the balance of entertainment and empathy just right. It’s a sad, sad story in many ways, and yet the writing is so crisp and full of humor that I found myself laughing throughout as well.

I highly recommend Big Little Lies. It’s both a fast and absorbing read and a deep look at friendship, marriage, pain, and healing. I’m really looking forward to reading more by this outstanding Australian novelist.

For a look at another book by Liane Moriarty, see my review of The Husband’s Secret.

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The details:

Title: Big Little Lies
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Length: 480 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Library