Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Having enjoyed a Moriarty book last week, I picked this one up at the library.  The style is similar - a bit of a mystery wrapped into a typical family/relationship drama.

In this case, the mystery, not surprisingly is what the husband's secret is.  Cecilia discovers a letter written by her husband to be read only in the event of his death.  She is general rule abiding but when he reacts rather oddly to her announcement that she has found it, she becomes more intent on opening it.  She begins to really imagine the worst when her youngest daughter, Polly, remarks that her father looks oddly at her oldest daughter, Isabel; and her middle daughter, Esther, says she caught her father crying in the shower.  About halfway through the book we find out what the husband's secret was - it was not what either Cecilia nor I was expecting.  Through the remainder of the book we see how the family and others in the community deal with the revelations in the letter.

The other key characters are Rachel, an elderly woman whose only daughter was strangled as a teenager and whose death remains an unresolved crime.   She has finally found some peace with the birth of her grandson, but when her son announces he is moving to the US with this grandson, all her loneliness and anger comes back.  Rachel is the secretary at the Catholic school where Cecilia is president of the parents' association and where her three daughters attend.  So their lives intersect.

The third group of people are Tess and her husband who has just announced he has fallen in love with her cousin and best friend.  As a result Tess returns to Sydney with her son and enrols him at the same school.  She also begins an elicit affair with a former  boyfriend who is the PE teacher there.  So her life also intersects with the others - though frankly this story is somewhat less central to the overriding story of the secret.

In all this is an easy read with mostly likeable characters.  We see the action from many different perspectives, male and female, young and old, etc.  And we see how one secret can impact a whole community of lives.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

This book has received a lot of hype this summer - and while I'm not sure it deserved it, the story did keep me entertained.

The whole novel takes place essentially over a few months in Brooklyn, NY, though there are both flash backs and a sort of epilogue that takes us out several years in the future (in the form of newspaper articles which was sort of interesting).

The main characters are Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe who were bandmates in college and have lived no more than several houses apart ever since.  Elizabeth and Andrew are married and have one teenaged son, Harry.  Zoe is now married to Jane and they have one teenaged daughter, Ruby, who is the object of Harry's affection.

Elizabeth is now a successful real estate agent, though she could have been a successful songwriter.  Andrew is the son of wealthy Upper East Siders who has contempt for his parents' wealth though he seems to live off of that and his wife's earnings as he drifts from one unsuccessful endeavour to another.  He is rather annoyingly naive as he gets sucked into investing with a former actor turned into the owner of a yoga/meditation/health food studio, only to be "saved" by his wife who enlists Harry and Ruby to spy on him.

Zoe and Jane own a successful restaurant - Zoe is the chef while Jane is in charge of everything else.  Zoe is rather dreamy and artsy while Jane is organized and efficient.  They are having marital difficulties in part due to Zoe's continuing co-dependant relationship with Elizabeth.

The relationship between Harry and Ruby is interesting.  Harry has always been the "good boy"; while Ruby has been involved with skateboarding high school dropouts and has not been able to get into college.  While Harry is clearly smitten, Ruby seems to like him but really be enjoying teaching him the "ways of the world".

The final main character in the book, Lydia, actually died several years before the action takes place.  She was the other band member in college who bought the rights to a song written by Elizabeth and makes it famous.  Part of the story revolves around a film being made about Lydia - the producers are seeking the rights to the song and to the three remaining band members' lives - Andrew is very reluctant as it will reveal long held secrets.

As summer wears on we see the relationships and the characters themselves evolve.  There is not a lot of action, but the people make the book worth reading.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Three Summer Reads

It's that time of year when I don't have the energy to read anything heavy.  So here are the last three books I read - don't expect great literature but they are an entertaining enough read for on the beach or by the pool.

Here's to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

Hilderbrand has come out with her annual Nantucket based book.  I certainly enjoyed this one more than last year's.  In this novel, Deacon Thorpe, a celebrity chef has passed away suddenly.  In accordance with his wishes, his lawyer and best friend gathers his two ex-wives, his current estranged wife and his three children (one from each wife) at his favourite place in the world - his rustic Nantucket cottage.

Though the three wives shared a love for Deacon, they could not have been more different.  Laurel is his high school sweetheart - they married at a young age when she became pregnant with his first son.  She is now a social worker who has never found love again after Deacon left her for his second wife. Belinda was a famous actress who made a play for Deacon and took him away from Laurel.  They shared a damaged past and together adopted a baby girl, Deacon's second child and the one who ended up being his successor in the restaurant business.  In a cliche move, Deacon left Belinda for their young nanny, a Southern debutante, many years his junior.  She bore him one daughter who is now just a child.

Deacon struggled with drugs and, unbeknownst to his wives or children, money problems.  So his lawyer must tell the women that not only are they left with nothing, but a one third share in the Nantucket cottage, but they will have to give up the cottage if the multiple mortgages cannot be paid. Belinda is the only wife with the money to do that - but she is unwilling to help the nanny who stole her husband and Deacon's first wife is unwilling to accept her help.

The women are not the only ones with problems - Deacon's son is suffering from a heroin addiction and his older daughter has just been dumped after carrying on with a married man.

The book deals with what happened when these characters join together in Nantucket to spread Deacon's ashes interspersed with flashbacks into his past with each of his wives.  Again, not great literature but a decent read with lots of interesting characters.

The Island House by Nancy Thayer

Thayer also comes out with about a book a year set in Nantucket - hers also deal with complicated families and their love and money troubles.  In this book Susanna Vickerey, a mother of four is celebrating her sixtieth birthday and her natural children as well as her "island children" gather to celebrate.  Each of the four children has brought at least one friend to the cottage since they were children and they have been "adopted" into the Vickerey family for the summers.  This summer, daughter Robin's friend Courtney is also headed to the island to explore whether she has a chance at a relationship with son James or should accept the marriage proposal received from her childhood friend in Kansas City.  She has kept her feelings for James a secret from everyone until now.

The oldest son Henry is dealing with the impact of bipolar disorder on both his medical career and his relationship with his long term girlfriend.  James seems to be in love with a family friend - a quirky artistic girl.  Courtney is carrying on a clandestine affair with a person who she thinks her family will disapprove of and Iris the youngest has just graduated from college, no longer has a lot in common with her wealthy New York "island sister" and is looking for some direction.

The story shows us what happens when all these characters gather on the island.  The relationship outcomes are fairly predictable but nonetheless entertaining.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This was my first book by the New York Times best-selling Australian author and I liked it enough to pick up another one.  While this is mainly another story of relationships, it is also a bit of a mystery.  The action opens with the scene of a primary school fundraising trivia night where, through the eyes of an elderly woman who lives near the school, we learn that a person has died, or perhaps been killed.  The narrative then jumps back in time by six months and we meet the main characters, all of whom become the potential victim and suspect.  Each chapter ends with snippets of police interviews with various attendees at the trivia night which we need to try to piece together what happened.

Madeline is a strong, outspoken woman married to her second husband, Ed.  Her first husband Nathan, and father of her oldest daughter, Abigail, has remarried a younger woman.  His second wife, Bonnie is a health conscious, socially responsible yogi who Abigail is enamoured with, much to Madeline's dismay.  To make matters worse, Nathan and Bonnie's daughter Skye will be in kindergarten with Madeline and Ed's youngest daughter, Chloe.

Madeline befriends the beautiful Celeste who seems to lead a charmed life with her husband Perry and twin sons.  But beneath the charm there is an abusive relationship.

Both women take the young single mother Jane under their wings.  Jane's son Ziggy is accused of bullying and Jane worries he may have inherited a violent streak from his biological father with whom Jane had a violent one night stand.

There are many other minor characters involved in tense situations around the school relating the the alleged bullying and other power issues.  Everyone of the main characters seems potentially able to snap and hurt another (with cause or at least perceived reason).  I can't say I actually guessed what happened though it seemed believable once I got there.  So it kept me intrigued trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together.