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.



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





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!


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!














Book Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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.


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



Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: Big Little Lies

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:

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
(expected US publication date: July 29, 2014)

Synopsis via Goodreads:

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . .

A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what?

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads: Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay. 

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

I loved Australian novelist Liane Moriarty’s previous novel, The Husband’s Secret (reviewed here in March of this year), and was so excited to see that she has a new book due out this summer. This author excels at capturing the secrets lurking in everyday lives. I can’t wait to read Big Little Lies!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

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


Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building 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!

Book Review: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Book Review: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret is one tricky book. It lulls you into thinking that it’s some sort of chick-lit look at married life and motherhood, with its opening chapter introducing a powerhouse of a woman, Cecilia Fitzpatrick, who is perfect at just about everything: She’s president of the PTA of her kids’ Sydney private school, a Tupperware saleswoman par excellence (her not-always-the-swiftest husband doesn’t realize that she actually out-earns him at this point), has her daily routine down to a science, bakes, cleans, and is always just 100% on time, appropriate, and slightly better than everyone else — but never enough so that you’d hate her for it.

Then there’s Tess O’Leary, whose Melbourne-based life is about to implode after her husband and her first cousin/best friend/business partner confide to her — in oh-so-supportive tones — that they’ve fallen in love, but they’re sure the three of them can make it all work out for the best.

And poor, sad Rachel Crowley, the school secretary, harbors secret hatreds and sorrows stemming back 28 years — back to the day that her teen-age daughter Janie was murdered by an unknown assailant in a crime that remains unsolved.

These three women’s lives intersect and collide with unexpected and life-changing results in The Husband’s Secret  — which I stopped thinking of as chick-lit and realized was just a terrifically well-written contemporary novel by the time I’d read 20 pages or so.

The ball really starts rolling when Cecilia stumbles across a letter from her husband, John-Paul, to be read after his death. The issue, though, is that John-Paul is still very much alive. Cecilia might have just left it alone, tucked away in the file with their wills, until she sees his extreme reaction to her mentioning that she found the letter. Knowing that he’s hiding something potentially explosive (is he gay? is he a child predator? does he have a mistress or second wife somewhere?), Cecilia rushes to open the letter… and what she reads is beyond anything she might have expected, a secret so shocking that their lives will never be the same. And then, of course, Cecilia must not only deal with new truths about the man she thought she knew, but must also decide what to do with this information — which impacts her family’s future, her daughters’ well-being, and the lives of others as well.

The secrets in this novel weigh heavily on the secret-keepers. Knowledge can be a burden, and the characters are in constant struggles to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. But what if what’s right for yourself might be completely wrong for your children? What if you share what you know, and even more lives are ruined? What good is the truth, if it doesn’t ease suffering but only leads to new and different suffering?

There are no easy answers. It seems simple, at first, to judge Cecilia and make assumptions about what she should do. I can’t say that I think she’s correct — but the author skillfully guides us through Cecilia’s thoughts and emotions, so we readers truly understand why her actions unfold as they do, whether we agree or disagree.

Tess’s story was a little less compelling for me, as it relates only tangentially to the other main storylines, and yet her dilemmas are real and potentially life-changing as well. Is it worse that her husband and cousin didn’t actually have an affair? They say they’re in love, but out of respect for Tess, haven’t allowed themselves to sleep together, and it’s the purity of it all that really drives Tess mad — if it had just been a sleazy little affair, perhaps it would be easier to get past. But what does it mean for Tess, all this silent longing and noble sacrifice, and can she reclaim her marriage, if not for herself, then for the sake of the family she and her husband have starting building with their son?

Throughout it all, the writing simply sparkles — and it’s the humor and wit of the writing, which shines through in a myriad of small but telling moments, that lulls you into thinking that this is a light, almost comedic domestic tale before the shocks, deep emotions, and tragic outcomes take over.

A few prime examples — one for each of the three main women:
(and for more, see this week’s Thursday Quotables post, where I share a few other favorite lines from this book):


Tess thought about how Will had once told her that he hated walking behind a woman late at night, in case she heard his footsteps and thought he was an ax murderer. “I always want to call out, ‘Its all right, I’m not an ax murderer!'” he said. “I’d run for my life if someone called that out to me,” Tess had told him. “See we can’t win,” said Will.


All these years there had been a Tupperware container of bad language sitting off to the side in her head, and now she’d opened it and all those crisp, crunchy words were lovely and fresh, ready to be used.


Lauren was the perfect daughter-in-law. Rachel was the perfect mother-in-law. All that perfection hiding all that dislike.

Reading The Husband’s Secret was one of those random odd reading experiences for me, where I went in with one set of expectations, only to realize I had it completely wrong. For whatever reason, I seemed to have remembered reading something about this book comparing it to Gone Girl, and never realized that I must have confused this with another book I’d picked up at about the same time. So, I started The Husband’s Secret expecting a dark, twisted novel full of psychological warfare and endless mindgames… and then, after reading about Tupperware, school projects, and Easter bonnets, started feeling like I was reading something suspiciously like “chick lit” — only to be startled as I went along by the depth of the characters, the seriousness and sadness underlying all the brisk, shiny writing, and the ultimate tragedy of the lives forever changed, for better or worse, by secrets kept and shared.

Australian author Liane Moriarty has crafted a real and honest look into the souls of three women with three very different lives. It’s impossible to read The Husband’s Secret without coming to care deeply about the characters. Agree or disagree with their decisions and actions, you’ll still wish these women well and feel both hope and sorrow for their experiences. I ended the book very satisfied with how the story wraps up, and yet wishing I could know more about the rest of these women’s lives. That, to me, is the sign of a successful novel: A plot that satisfies and engages throughout, wraps up without cliffhangers or loose ends, and leaves you wanting to stay in the characters’ company for just a bit longer.

I definitely recommend The Husband’s Secret… and look forward to reading more by this author.


The details:

Title: The Husband’s Secret
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Publication date: 2013
Length: 394 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased