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

 

Categorically, some of the best books I’ve read (thus far)

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LDS (Mormon fiction):  Shannon’s Mirror, by Luisa M. Perkins

  • I think a girl/woman of any age can enjoy this book, LDS or not.  Thirteen years ago, a friend of mine mentioned this book; the title stuck in my head until I finally bought it a few years ago.  It is a very beautiful, but very sad story, about how the quest for perfectionism (which I, as a former LDS woman, struggled with) can lead to heartache and destruction.

Christian fiction:  Any books by Linda Hall

  • This is the kind of Christian fiction I like–where Christians are real people who question things.  Rich in character, and description, too, but in a way that paints a picture as you read rather than slowing the momentum of the story.

Harlequin romance:  Redeeming Claire, by Cynthia Rutledge

  • Good Harlequin romances are as hard to find as an adverb in a Stephen King novel (or so I’ve heard), but this one is a gem because again, Christians are portrayed as regular people, not holier-than-thou or square as Wally Cleaver.  And it’s actually funny!

Mainstream romance:  Small Town Girl, by LaVyrle Spencer

  • I’ve read this book several times, and will read it several more.  It’s about a country music star who goes back home to help her mother and ends up falling in love with the one boy, now a man, whom she taunted all through high school.  The fact that Poplar Bluff, Missouri, the little town I was born in, was mentioned, was a bonus.

Memoir:  In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer, by Irene Gut Opdyke

  • Though the subject matter isn’t unique, the voice was.

Biography:  Natasha:  The Biography of Natalie Wood, by Suzanne Finstad

  • I’ve been a fan of Natalie ever since I saw her as a little girl in “Miracle on 34th Street”, for she reminded me so much of myself when I was at that age.  She also personified physical beauty that did not come in blond hair and blue eyes (which I, and every other girl I knew, wanted growing up).  This book read like creative nonfiction.  I do think one would have to be at least a lukewarm fan to get pleasure from this book.

Chick lit:  Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella

  • Story and protagonist are hilarious (though I hope Becky learns her lesson by the end of the series).

Beach read:  The Sunday Wife, by Cassandra King

  • Though the author’s personal views are quite different from my own (and were presented in a very one-dimensional way), I enjoyed this because the friendship of two women was the focus, relegating the romance to the background.  Again, a bonus was that Pensacola, Florida (“The Buckle of the Bible Belt”/”The Redneck Riviera”), the town where I live, was mentioned.

Gothic horror:  Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews

  • I first read this book in high school and was hooked on V.C., till her ghostwriter became a hack.  I love this book because it’s just the kind of story I like to write.

Children’s book:  Many Moons, by James Thurber

  • I had read this book once, many years when I was in elementary school, and it stayed with me for almost 30 years, after I had my own daughter.  It epitomizes one of my favorite scriptures, “…and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

On writing:  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:  How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne, Dave King and George Booth

  • This book opened my eyes on how to break my stories up into scenes–how to show, rather than tell.

Best nonfiction/religious book (besides the Bible):  What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?:  The Positive Impact of Christianity in History, by Dr. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe

  • This was an enlightening book.  I’d never thought about how life might be different had Jesus not come yet.  Whether or not you’re a Christian, I think it makes for a thought-provoking read.

The shopping bulimic

I have a very bad habit of returning things I’ve bought (whether from a department store or Walgreens, or even the grocery store)–a condition which I’ve heard referred to as shopping bulimia.  I like that feel-good feeling I get from buying something, only for it to be replaced with uncertainty and then a strong desire to get my money back (if I’m not positive that I like it 100%).

I just ordered a mirror online from Kohl’s to go over my bedroom dresser, only to go into the store, see it and not like it quite as much, despite the clearance price.  I’d already found the perfect mirror at Lamps Plus (which is twice as much, and which I don’t have a charge account for), but I can wait till I save up the money (I’d rather save up for something nicer anyway).  What I save on coupons and free shipping using store credit cards, they get back in interest.

I just returned a couple of things to Walgreens (one item that didn’t work, one I didn’t need) to buy something else; I also returned a jar of sundried tomatoes to Publix that I haven’t gotten around to using in the weeks I’ve had them.

How I wish I could just become a shopping anorexic.  This is one of my struggles, because growing up, I often didn’t have nice things.  However, what I do to get my shopping fix without spending anything is to add items to my Kohl’s or amazon.com wish list, as I’m not tempted to purchase online like I am when I am in the store and can physically hold the item, thus forming an attachment to it.  No wonder one of my favorite series is the Shopaholic series, by Sophie Kinsella.  (However, I do think Becky Bloomwood needs to get some therapy in the end.  She needs help!)

My main character in a chick-lit novel is going to have this problem, among many other hang-ups.  I’ve never written a chick lit before, but my goal is to write in as many genres as I can, at least until I master one (meaning sell a ton of).  I still have no idea what qualifies as literary fiction, though I have a feeling if some egghead calls it such, it won’t sell well.