Book Review: The Husband’s Secret

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Is it possible to enjoy a book even if you don’t like (or relate to) any of the (main) characters?

Yes, for such was the case with The Husband’s Secret.

Because the plot was compelling (e.g. The DaVinci Code), I couldn’t put it down.  Compelling characters, however, give a book “re-readability,” so this story was a one-time read.

One of the most frustrating things about this book was the hook; it hooked, but it took a helluva long time for Cecilia to get around to opening that letter.  But, this nasty little trick kept me reading when I should’ve been sleeping. Another reviewer pointed out that this letter over which there’s all this brouhaha, we don’t even get to read in its entirety.

This book would’ve been improved if all that business about the Berlin Wall had been scrapped.  I didn’t need a boring history lesson that had little to do with the book. I get it: If a kid has a hobby, like collecting rocks, mention a few interesting factoids to “make it real,” but don’t include a lengthy geology lesson.  

Now I’m going to say something about women authors, many of whom are guilty of this:  They portray a fat woman (never a fat man) as never being able to attract a man; even the heavy ones (authors) do this.  Truth: A lot of fatties have sexual relationships and even get married (and not even always to other fatties).

On Rachel:  She was a total jerk to her daughter-in-law (who seemed like a decent person); rather, Rachel lavished all her love on her grandson but didn’t bother trying to love his mother; all the love she gave her grandson, she withheld from her son.  She wasn’t just a mom who made mistakes; she was a bad mother.

When we go back to Janie’s (Rachel’s daughter’s) time in 1984, and she mentions she wishes she could text or email, it’s so false, as there was no way this teenage girl was thinking about how she wished she could do something that didn’t exist yet, unless her character was the type to dream stuff like this up.

On Cecelia:  Extremely self-absorbed.  Her husband’s (John-Paul’s) self-flagellation was obnoxious.  I could not bear either one of them. She was a terrible person, too.

On Tess:  The least interesting of the three protagonists but the least whacked.  

The premise of her story didn’t seem real but rather, a random plot device thrown in, and her revelation about something she’s been suffering but never had a name for wasn’t that earth-quaking.  

I do think her description of her relationship with her “best friend”–with whom she snickered at the other players of life on the sidelines–was a great one, but it went beyond that:  Even if I didn’t feel my friend was a threat (in this case, because she was fat), I still wouldn’t want another woman living in my home with me and my husband.

That’s just weird.  Wouldn’t you want privacy?

I didn’t like Tess’s husband (what a ninny!), but she should have told him what transpired after she left; he started it but did she ever finish it.  Talk about taking advantage of a bad situation!

My biggest beef was that the storyline with Tess and Connor just didn’t tie in that strongly with the other ones.  (I think Moriarty was just trying to follow the “rule of three.”) It was also the weakest and the least interesting of the three stories.

I found it hard to swallow that when Rachel finds out who the murderer is, she was okay with letting him/her go–even though she JUST tried offing the wrong person?!  I guess she felt she’d already gotten her vengeance sans the justice.

This book lacked all the charm and humor of Big Little Lies (I’m already sucked into the TV-series) and characters I could care about.  There may have been a few stereotypes in Lies, but at least they were grounded in reality.  The only characters I liked in this book were the minor ones, but maybe I just didn’t get to know them well enough (except for Connor, who was just an all-around nice guy).  

I thought the epilogue was interesting, though I do wish the truth about Janie had been revealed to the characters and not just the readers.  The alternate histories were rather fun–made me think a little bit about all that can happen when you zig rather than zag–even though I’m not sure they were necessary.

Though Secret was an interesting read, I prefer Moriarty’s light touch to her maudlin one.

Book Review: Big Little Lies

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This has been my favorite Liane Moriarty book thus far, though it is peppered with what another reviewer referred to as a “Greek chorus”–little asides where minor characters or characters we never get to meet have lines like in a stage play, talking about a death (without mentioning whose) that occurred at a school-sponsored Audrey and Elvis-themed Trivia Night.

The “chorus” was simply the author’s way of hooking us from the beginning.  I’ve learned to distinguish when I should try to remember a name and when to drop it (pardon the pun).

Plot, for me, has always come secondary to characters; this book had incredible characterization.  In Big Little Lies, people aren’t just that way they are, but they have reasons for being the way they are and for doing the things they do.  You also learn about them as you would in real life–a little bit at a time.

I found myself wishing I could live where the Blue Blues coffee shop was (I wanted Tom’s coffee and Jane’s muffins), where I could tap away at my laptop next to a view of the beach while my daughter was in school (and my hubby was at work).  None of the three main mothers in this book had to work full-time jobs (the one that came close could work remotely)–so, in this way, Big Little Lies was pure escapism (or fantasy) for me.

Overall, Big Little Lies was about well-educated white women (who could support themselves if they had to) and their little and not-so-little problems.  The lack of diversity was a problem for some, but I’m glad the author chose realism over political correctness. Not every place is like New York City, and there is nothing wrong with that.  We don’t have to all be the same, any more than we all have to be different. What’s more, just because the women were all “color-coordinated” didn’t mean they were all the same; I work with 10 other white women, and we are all vastly different individuals.

The only problem I had with this book was that g-d was used a few times.  That is always a sour note.

As for the characters:   The White’s marital relationship was so deftly done, so not cliche of every Lifetime movie I’ve ever seen, that I knew the author must have done her homework.  When I skimmed the back of the book, I saw that she had read up on the subject. I think having Celeste White’s full speech might have been nice (being a fan of monologues and the Toastmasters organization), but the fade-out effect worked, too.

Some reviewers thought this book was shallow, but only Madeline came across that way and that was because that was her character.  However, I found her loyalty to her friends a rare and admirable trait. A book doesn’t have to be all “mean streets of New York” like a Law and Order episode with lots of gray walls and black dresses to be about a serious subject.  Life is absurd in the best of ways and the worst of ways, and Moriarty captured all that.

That said, Bonnie did come across as a cliche, being very “socially conscious,” a vegetarian, and someone who doesn’t watch television.  (Not even PBS.) However, stereotypes are hard to avoid completely because so many of them fit someone we know in the real world, just like when Madeline was describing one of the career moms who was always coming from or going to a board meeting.  I am guessing that the author is a whimsical woman in real life–not the buttoned-down, corporate type.

Being a mother herself, she presented a very realistic view of motherhood and even those who choose to go into the teaching profession.  (That was a rather comical moment.)

I will say that these are the most involved parents I’ve ever read about.  Maybe it’s a small town thing, an Australian thing, or an ethnically homogenous community thing, or all of the above.  It was like Peyton Place, except Australian and modern.

As for the plot, there were a few surprises, and the twist at the end was a “whoa” moment.

I loved that this book was just as focused on female friendships and motherhood as it was on marriage and romance.

Not every character gets a lot of “screen time,” but they all added something to the story.

I didn’t even know there was a TV-series until I read some of the reviews, so I will give it a try.

The book did raise a few questions:  If someone is kind in so many ways, but cruel in so many others, which is the real person?  Is it the bad, or both? Can the good even be real in the presence of the bad, or does the bad cancel it out?

And does doing unsavory things, if it’s for the greater good, ever make it okay?  Is it okay to sacrifice oneself to sin in order to save others from being sinned against?

And is it always worth it to go through something terrible if such was the only way to get something wonderful–something that couldn’t have been gotten any other way?  When is it just not worth it?

I can’t wait to read another Moriarty book because unlike a lot of the other “chick lit” out there, these are all different (I like a style writer rather than a formula writer) with characters you’d love to know in a place you’d love to visit (and maybe even live).

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19486412-big-little-lies

 

Book Review: The Last Anniversary

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The Last Anniversary had it all, and I loved it all.

This is the fourth Moriarity book I’ve read, and my favorite by far thus far (and it wasn’t just because the protagonist, Sophie Honeywell, reminded me of an even more scatterbrained version of myself and a modern-day Mary Richards).

I liked that Sophie’s manhunt to have a baby before forty was more in the background than the foreground, so this was definitely not a formulaic chick lit romance.  Sophie’s love life being in the air was actually okay with me, as I think she is still trying to figure herself out. However, I did think one of her final prospects was quite weird.

I have to say, though, that when I arrived on page 13, where the story reverts back to 1932, I had my doubts; I don’t mind switching points-of-view (that seems to be the thing now), I just mind switching time periods, as one time (almost always the one set in the contemporary) is almost always more interesting than the other.  I like characters I can relate to, as well as time periods I am familiar with (or enjoy being in, which is the present time). Even though this small portion of the book was shown rather than told, I preferred the secondhand account of this time from one of the characters (a story within a story, if you will).

The “fake news” angle was intriguing; if a reporter’s first story is based on a lie (unbeknownst to him/her), does that make their career a lie?  And is a mystery, once solved, still intriguing? Is a solved crossword puzzle still fun? This is why conspiracy theories about JFK and Marilyn Monroe still exist.  Imagine what a boring world it would be if we knew everything about everything. Intellectual curiosity and the process of discovery are the herbs and spices of life.

The only thing that didn’t ring true was one of names:  Enigma. That moniker just never fit her character (she was more of a Hazel or Flossie), though I understand why she was named that–it was all to add to “the mystery” (which was really quite something in how it was pulled off).

I also struggled here and there differentiating between Rose and Enigma–their voices seemed so similar–like they were around the same age (when there were about fifteen or so years separating them).  I guess by the time you hit seventy, you sound the same as if you were eighty-five.

The coolest thing about The Last Anniversary is that something that was referenced early on (I won’t say what because then it won’t be as much fun) was referenced again in an unexpected way.  This, for me, was like finding an old photograph I’d forgotten all about but suddenly remembered upon seeing it again.

The description of the alleged crime scene and the anniversary’s festivities were so richly detailed, I felt like I was right there.  

Moriarty’s characters are multi-layered and real.  The residents of this island were like one giant, dysfunctional family.  I didn’t fall in love with them all (nor are we supposed to), but I found myself wishing I was amongst them on Scribbly Gum Island.  I even looked the island up to see if it was real.

I wish it was.

A few notes:  I thought Grace’s resolution was wrapped up too neatly, but maybe motherhood does happen that way in real life for some women (even without extra help).  However, I thought using Grace’s storybook character as a reflection for how she was feeling added a little something to the story.

The book is fairly lighthearted throughout, but one of the funniest scenes is when Veronika is trying to tell everyone her big news and nobody cares.

As for Margie, female authors really need to stop using the cliche of the self-loathing fat woman.  I doubt most fat women are happy with their bodies, but it seems like anytime a female character is fat, their weight is the biggest (pardon the pun) definer of them.  Then, when they lose weight, they magically start “coming into their own.” And it’s always about how much better they look (usually in a bikini), not how much better they feel.

In the case of The Last Anniversary, there were just enough characters and points-of-view without there being too many.  This is the first of Moriarty’s books (that I’ve read) in which I felt bereft after finishing it, for I was left not wanting the story to end.  

Writing prompt: The symbols of your life

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I wish I could take credit for this idea, but my Contemporary Literature professor last semester asked us to examine our life as a literary text–to search for symbols.

My name is Sarah Lea, which is symbolic of my love for baking, as well as a nod to my playful nature (when it comes to writing, anyway).  And though I’m not generally a fan of Urban Dictionary, I rather love the definition they attributed to my name:  https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Sarah-Lea

As for the things I carry, well, that always includes a tube of Revlon’s “Love is On” lipstick (symbolizing my love for anything red or retro), a pair of tweezers, and a flosser.  (There will never be a hair on my chinny-chin-chin.

In the pocket of my red purse (which my husband helped me win at a “Dirty Santa” party), I keep a USB drive, which represents my love for compact, but tangible things (verses saving everything to a mysterious “cloud”). It’s why I read physical books and not e-books. It’s why I write articles for the print version of The Corsair and not for the web (unless they ask me to or shove a story I wrote for the print edition online because they “ran out of room”).

For me, there is something more permanent and prestigious about print. It cannot be edited once it’s been printed (like an online article) and it looks so much better in a scrapbook.

A brand-new suitcase, now several years old, reveals that I never have enough money to travel, but that I hope to someday. The fact that it exists at all is optimistic, which I attribute to my Pollyannish nature. For now, the case is a storage space for my out-of-season (or “when I am skinny again”) clothes, which forecasts that a trip to Iceland or Australia (or Skinnyville) won’t be happening any time soon.

So analyze (or psychoanalyze) the symbols that make up the text that is your life.  You just might learn something new about yourself.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #397: Land of (Blank)

If a New York minute is thirty seconds, then a Southern minute is ninety.
–from “Poplar Bluff: A Memoir”

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The Land of Dixie

Selling their messages on street corners are
Bible-bashers, cardboard-carrying hobos,
and dancing people wearing sandwich signs,
while cars plastered with Bible quotes
or slapped with a COEXIST bumper sticker,
coexist on the streets,
passing the temples of capitalism,
the cross-bearing churches that
capitalize on the guilty man’s soul,
seeking deep, silver-lined pockets.

The rapture’s coming soon for some
in this land of Deep South Protestantism,
where hearts are blest,
where everyone’s either saved or going to hell,
or just plain don’t know what the hell’s going on.

Pensacola Beach is the jewel,
set in fool’s gold turning green,
with its sand like ground pearls,
water vacillating between
emeralds and sapphires,
and homes the color of Jordan almonds.
The flip-flap-flopping of their footwear is their answer
to Australia’s slip-slap-slopping,
beating a rapid tattoo on the boardwalk.

Such paradise is everyone’s playground,
home to the earthly blest,
where few transplants are rejected,
their organs pumping the lifeblood
into the economy,
for which the tourists are both
donors and recipients.

I look around at my side of town,
at the heat waves shimmering off the asphalt,
the mud-filled potholes,
the never-ending road work;
I still see conflict and war,
deconstruction alongside reconstruction—
a rebirth of conservative nationalism.

I am home.

Note: Slip-slap-slop is a real thing: http://www.sunsmart.com.au/tools/videos/past-tv-campaigns/slip-slop-slap-original-sunsmart-campaign.html

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 397

For more on Pensacola:

https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/19/daily-prompt-west-end-girls-2/
https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/10/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-9-theme-work/
https://sarahleastories.com/2016/11/23/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-23-theme-when-blank/