A very special book about a bond of sisterhood and survival

One by Sarah Crossan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I sit and think about how to put into words my feelings about this book I am still somewhat stunned by it, having just read the final pages. I am trying to think about the last time a book left me feeling quite so emotional and quite so bereft now I have finished it. It’s hard to imagine that I only picked it up 24 hours ago and yet it has left such an indelible mark upon me that it may be one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The winner of The Carnegie Medal One by Sarah Crossan was somewhat of a revelation to me when I picked it up last night. I had picked it up in my local library having heard nothing about it and glancing at the blurb on the back had established it was a story of conjoined twins and their lives together. Finding it in the teen section I had expected a contemporary light-hearted read so you can imagine my initial surprise when I opened the pages to find that the book is written entirely in free verse. I have never read a book written in this style before and I initially wasn’t sure whether it would detract from my enjoyment of the story or if I’d struggle to immerse myself.

I found very quickly that this was not the case, yes the pages are generally very short, although it came in at 434 pages I literally flew through it, I read it in a day but I wasn’t sitting consistently reading so I reckon you could do it in just a few hours. The style of writing is engaging and draws you in, it isn’t rhyming prose but the way it is written is carefully structured to draw out the important parts of the story and to allow you to focus in on certain phrases and emotions making it a powerful and impactful read.

The story is that of Grace and Tippi, conjoined twins who are about to start high school for the first time. Told from Grace’s perspective we learn about their life together, the way that the world views them, the challenges they face and the most important thing of all – how they are two people with two different personalities and beliefs, not just one. Their story of beginning school for the first time and the way this makes them feel is heartfelt and this along with the story of the struggles their family face just to keep them cared for medically and the impact this has had upon each member is heartbreaking. It is the ongoing struggle the girls face to lead normal teenage lives that build the foundation of the book and their strength together that hits home.

The girls are clearly beginning to struggle medically and are scared to think about what this might mean for their future and this book takes us on that journey with them. All the time you root for these girls, you want them to be happy because as they say in the book being conjoined twins isn’t the worst thing in the world. Surely there are many worse things that could happen to a person than being joined to the person they love most in the whole world?

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, I know I’m going to bore everyone for the next year or so recommending this one as one of those very special books that will remain with me forever. I am so very glad I didn’t allow it’s format to sway me not to read it. I am so pleased that I took the time to delve into the world of Grace and that her story has been recognised by so many as worthy of recognition. Sarah Crossan has delivered a very clever, touching and inspiring book. I’d give it more stars than 5 if I could.

A great fun contemporary read about falling in love unexpectedly

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Dimple Met Rishi was one of the breakout Young Adult contemporary books of this summer. Everyone who is anyone has been reading and raving about this novel over the past few months. I felt it only proper to read it before the summer drew to a close.

This is a novel about family values and culture versus the need to break out and find yourself and your own voice. Dimple is about to go off to college to study her love of coding but her family are keen for her to make an arranged marriage and become a good wife who will be there to support her husband and family. Dimple is independent and strong-willed and while she loves her family she loves coding more and she is not ready to give up her dreams just yet. She is surprised when her parents agree to her attending a summer coding programme at San Francisco University and she heads off determined to give it her all and win the coveted prize at the end of the programme, hence showing everyone that she is as good as she thinks she is and has a bright future.

On her first day Dimple is thrown when a young man comes up to her and tells her he is her future husband. You see Rishi has already been told all about Dimple, he’s going to the summer programme at SFU for the sole purpose of meeting the girl his parents have told him he is going to marry at the agreement of all their parents. The only problem is that no one told Dimple!!

This story was really funny, from the time when Dimple meets Rishi we fall in love with Rishi immediately. He is in a really difficult position as he likes Dimple, a lot, and he has been told that she is aware of their marriage and so when he finds she has no idea he has to backtrack and pretend that it doesn’t matter to him and he enters that dreaded ‘friend zone’. He’s such an endearing character, he’s instantly likeable and you feel for him as he is trying to be the devoted Indian son, making a marriage and going off to study a subject he doesn’t necessarily love in order to provide for his family in the future.

The way in which Dimple and Rishi impact each other’s lives is lovely, from a misunderstanding they grow into friends and from friends into a relationship which will change their lives for the better. They are each other’s biggest cheer squad, they learn about what it means to see life through the other’s eyes. Dimple to learn that complying with her cultural values needn’t mean giving up her dreams and Rishi in living his own dreams doesn’t mean he cannot be a good son and make his family proud.

This was such a quick book to read, the chapters are all quite short and snappy and we flick from Dimple to Rishi’s perspective every page or so to ensure we are aware of both points of view throughout. It’s nice to see how they each view their blossoming relationship and how they help each other to grow throughout the narrative.

It’s a great contemporary summer read, funny and emotional and with great characters leading the story.

A new thriller author for me and a story of loss and starting over

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book seemed to be prominent on bookshelves over the last year, it’s presence always hovering and intriguing me as this author’s debut seemed to have gripped so many other readers I decided it was worth a try.

The opening of the book immediately takes us into the story as the opening chapter walks us through the hit and run that kills young 6-year-old Jacob whilst his mother walks him home from school. The driver fleeing the scene is shocking and the heart-wrenching grief of his mother means we are instantly engaged in the characters and the resolution of the crime which has left this innocent young boy dead.

From there we are led into alternating chapters between the police officers investigating the incident and trying to piece together what happened and that of Jenna, who,┬áhaving lost her son is fleeing her grief and running away to a small Welsh village to escape her past. It is clear the police are having no luck finding the perpetrator of the crime and we follow them over the course of a year as they seek to find new leads whilst the victim’s mother has fled her home seeking to forget the incident.

Many of the reviews I read of this book spoke of amazing twists in the tale approximately half way through and said it’s story ‘blew them away’, maybe I was reading a different book as from the outset I had pretty much gathered what this major ‘twist’ was going to be and also how this arc in the story was going to then be played out.

The character of Jenna is written really well and I can understand why people become so engaged in her story of grief and distress. As a character I really liked her and was invested in her seeing justice, I wanted her to be able to see the person who killed her child brought to justice. I liked the small Welsh village she escaped to and the people she met there and how they all closed ranks around her and helped her start again.

For me, I could only give this book 3 stars because whilst I enjoyed it there wasn’t the same sense of suspense I’d been led to believe the book would give me. It didn’t take me somewhere I wasn’t expecting to go. The clues were there in the chapters if you read closely enough you would guess where the story was headed and I wish the secrets had been guarded a little more closely so as to hit me more unexpectedly.

The other reason I only gave a 3-star review was the ending of the book and the revelation of the true story and reasons for the hit and run had one aspect that left me feeling the author had tried one twist too far. There was a link between victim and driver that didn’t need to be there, it didn’t make it feel real for me.

I’m trying very hard in this review not to give away anything more about the story of this book than is absolutely necessary because whilst there were aspects I didn’t enjoy there was much to like about the book and it is worth reading if you’ve enjoyed thrillers such as The Girl on The Train or Gone Girl.

Liane Moriarty’s book is a wonderful mystery about friendship

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

HBO are about to launch a brand new, star-studded miniseries later in February based on this book by Liane Moriarty. Starring such big Hollywood names as Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley it is clear that the budget for its adaptation to the small screen hasn’t been insignificant. For a show to attract such a myriad of stars as it has there must be something significantly strong in the book for it to have found such attention.

The last book I read by Moriarty was some years ago now and was The Husband’s Secret, I remember it as being an okay read but it didn’t blow me away and so this book has been on my e-reader pretty much since it’s release and it was only my incessant need not to let the series begin without my having read the content upon which it is based that pushed it to the top of my list.

Based in a small, highly affluent seaside suburb in Melbourne, Australia it follows the lives of three women. Madeline is a mother of 3, happily married to her second husband she is preparing for her youngest daughter beginning to start Kindergarten. Making the whole transition worse is the fact her ex-husband’s child with his new wife is going to be in the same class and there’s just nothing Madeline hates more than the hippy-dippy lifestyle of the woman was replaced with. Also, we have wealthy and beautiful Celeste, mother of twins and wife of a successful businessman is also preparing to send her boys to school however it’s clear that behind the veneer of Celeste’s perfect life is a secret that she keeps from everyone around her.

Finally, we have Jane, a young single mother who has just moved to the area and has to transition her little boy into the school along with mothers and children she doesn’t know. On the first day of school, Ziggy is accused of bullying another child and she finds herself ostracised by the other mums and judgements made about her parenting. Jane though hides a secret also about the father she has never told Ziggy about and it scares her that perhaps the things her little boy is accused of could be true.

From the very outset of the book, we are aware that there has been a murder committed at a trivia night held to raise funds for the school. The book is written through the moths and weeks leading up to the crime and each chapter has interspersed snippets from police interviews with different members of the school community after the crime. From these, we are given tantalising glimpses of what happens but never the full picture as each person has their own perceptions of the evening’s events based on whom they have aligned themselves with in the bullying furore.

The book really pulls you on through the chapters, the mixture of chapters being told from each different lead characters perspectives means we get to share each of their stories and their friendship from each angle. The characters are well written and maybe because I know who is going to be playing each role in the series I could really see them clearly in my mind and you can see the actresses chosen really bringing their role to the screen perfectly. The police interview snippets are a really clever writing tool because it lets us see that no two people ever view the same situation in the same way and that what we observe from afar is not always the truth behind people’s actions. We also learn that bullying and cliques and name calling are something that we don’t leave behind in the school playground, even as adults people use these to give themselves power and status and the parallels between the adult’s worlds and those of their children is profound.

I did manage to guess one of the big reveals at the end of the book from around half way however it didn’t spoil the ending as I couldn’t have foreseen the murder itself and the way in which it took place. The book really did keep you guessing about that right up until the moment itself as there were various ways it could have played out. The fallout from the crime was handled very well and brought together characters that we hadn’t anticipated would find affinity with one another and taught us that absolutely everyone has secrets they don’t wish to share in life and sometimes it’s the things we don’t share that are the most powerful things about us.

I am now literally on the edge of my seat waiting for the television adaptation, I have a feeling it’s going to be a huge hit for HBO and for people who have not read the book they will fall in love with it as there is glamour and friendship and enough backstabbing to bring the screen to life. I know that now I will be watching with a clear indicator of what the ending will be but I still cannot wait to relive Madeline, Celeste and Jane’s journeys on screen.

 

Perhaps the best thriller ending I’ve ever read

Between You and Me by Lisa Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lisa Hall is a new author who has released for her first novel, Between You and Me, a tale of domestic violence and the shattering impact it can have on relationships and the ripple effect of that to all family members. The thing about this book though is I would honestly advise you to steer clear of reading lots of review on it before you pick up the book because there is a really big plot twist at the end of the book and I honestly can say I didn’t see it coming and I’m glad I didn’t so I am going to write a very careful but hopefully helpful review without giving too much away.

Sal and Charlie seem from the outside to have a very happy marriage, they have a young daughter Maggie and Charlie is climbing the ladder at work as a lawyer aiming to make partner. Having met at university and married young the couple have fallen into the routine where Sal is happy to help Charlie climb the career ladder by staying home and caring for Maggie full time whilst putting the career they loved as a teacher on hold.

The thing about the marriage though is that Sal is terrified of Charlie, lives in fear of how Charlie will react to every little thing that happens in their marriage. There have been incidents since they met which have been escalating where Charlie controls everything Sal does and if Sal doesn’t do precisely as told will be rewarded with a slap, a punch, things being thrown or broken or things withheld. It is a volatile relationship and one in which Sal lives in fear. Charlie is living with the shadow of a traumatic childhood raised in a house where a violent stepfather ruled the house. This has led to a cycle that has now passed onto Charlie’s own marriage.

The book leads us through a period where Charlie is trying to close a major deal at work and stress is building, as a consequence events at home become magnified and Charlie becomes more difficult to live with than ever, taking it out on Sal and reacting in violence. Sal knows that it’s time to escape but doesn’t know where to start and is too scared to take help, even from friend and neighbour Laura who seems to know what’s going on.

The writing in this book was amazing. I honestly have to say that the way it was written was so very clever as to not give even the slightest indication of the twist that this book’s final few chapters. I normally am really sharp and can spot twists before they come but this time when it happened I was really stunned. I had to go back and read a few chapters before. I was flicking back thinking “How did I miss that?” and it really challenged me as a reader.

It is a book that will make you stop and question how the author was able to do what she does with the plot so effectively and what is it about us as readers that

readers that allows us to make that possible and for us to be so blindsided by it. I would honestly say it’s one of the books that has surprised me the most. I wish I’d read it a few days earlier when I answered a question about the most surprising plot twist in the 30 Day Reading Challenge as there are few books that have surprised me as much as this one did.

I would highly recommend this book, if you love a good thriller and you liked Into The Darkest Corner or Gone Girl then this would be great for you.

A touching story of teenage love against the odds

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Young adult fiction is one of my guilty pleasures, although I now beyond the age group where I could ever be considered a young adult I find this genre is currently burgeoning with brilliant authors with some strong stories to tell and I enjoy reading them, they are an escape from the adult world back to a more innocent time when you didn’t have to worry about what bills to pay and what everyone is having for dinner that evening. A time when anything was possible and you have your whole future in front of you.

Jennifer Niven has become very highly regarded in this genre after her last novel “All The Bright Things” received rave critical reviews, I haven’t read that book yet however and I decided to start with Holding Up The Universe. I was lucky enough to listen to this book via audiobook as well as reading parts and whilst I do not regularly listen to audiobooks as I sometimes find they interfere with my enjoyment of the story, this adaptation was exceptional and it is highly recommended if this method of enjoying the book appeals to you more.

This is a great story of Libby Strout and Jack Masselin, two teens who are preparing to return to school after the summer break. For Libby however it is a huge undertaking, she was one “America’s Fattest Teen” unable to leave her home and having had to be cut out of her bedroom by emergency services very publicly a few years before. She has spent the last years losing weight and addressing the demons which caused her to eat excessively after the death of her mother. Not having attended school for many years she is now ready to return and face the world and her peers, she is fierce and happy and with a dream to be a dancer she makes one of the most endearing heroines I’ve read for some time. Vulnerable and yet feisty and strong it is almost impossible not to fall in love with Libby.

Jack doesn’t face a world without difficulties either, popular and enigmatic he is the centre of the popular kids at school but Jack is hiding a strange and unusual secret, he suffers from prosopagnosia, a condition which means that he is unable to recognise faces. Even the faces of the people he holds dearest he is unable to recall, he has to learn people by other identifying features such as their hair or size or sticky out ears in the case of his younger brother. Nobody is aware of Jack’s secret and he tries disguising it each day, leading to awkward situations such as when he kisses his girlfriends cousin thinking it’s his girlfriend and suddenly everyone is outraged at him.

Jack and Libby’s worlds are about to collide, at the outset of the book we are told Jack is going to do a bad thing but we aren’t aware what that thing is going to be. It is, however, going to be the catalyst that throws them both together and once they meet it begins a chain of events that will change both of their lives forever.

I literally loved this story, Jack and Libby are both incredible characters. Jack is cocky on the outside but struggling to hide his illness on the inside and so he uses his bravado to get him through. Inside he is a good guy, he tries to run with the crowd but his conscience jars him and we know he a decent human being. Libby is outwardly strong and feisty but inside she’s still struggling with people bullying her for her size and shamed by the fact everyone knows about her having to be cut from her home years before. It’s a story about how difficult high school can be to manoeuvre, the judgements teens make on each other and how cruel their jibes can be. How even the simplest of things can make you stand out from the crowd and how if your crimes are as heinous as Libby’s and you dare to be physically different to the extreme people will go to any lengths to let you know you aren’t wanted.

I read this book at the same time as watching the TV series 13 Reasons Why and whilst this book doesn’t by any stretch cover bullying to the same extent the themes resonated through both and left me feeling that for all that we have become more aware of the impact bullying can have there still seems to be no end to the ability for people to be cruel in their judgement of others in the ability to make themselves feel more secure. As is said in 13 Reasons Why, of course the popular kids are cruel that’s how they got popular in the first place.

I loved spending time with Jack and Libby, they are beacons of hope in a world where people allow themselves to become boxed in by the standards of others. They lift each other up and make us want to root for them and that is a very special thing.

A beautiful story of loss that has been adapted for the big screen

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not one of these people who gets upset when books get turned into movies, for me it’s quite exciting to see stories I’ve loved brought to life off the page. Sometimes I’ve even discovered really good books on account of the fact I’ve seen trailers for movies that have then prompted me to go and find out more about the book itself.

I already knew a bit about The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman and had heard it highly recommended and it had been hiding on my e-reader with a promise that at some point I’d get around to reading it. Then I came across the trailer for the movie which is due to be released in October and I suddenly felt a burning urge to ensure I read it before I watch the adaptation to the big screen and I am very pleased I did and a little perplexed as to what took so long.

The Light Between Oceans is a story of a lighthouse keeper who moves to take over a new posting on a tiny island off the coast of Australia shortly after the end of the first World War. It is a remote island where the keeper can spend many months alone until the arrival of supplies by boat and they may not step foot ashore beside other people for years at a time. On one of his early trips back to the mainland he meets and falls in love with Isabel, the daughter of the local school headmaster and they begin corresponding and eventually marry and she moves with him back to his tiny island of Janus.

Their marriage is a happy one initially but is soon blighted by many miscarriages and stillbirths and it is shortly after the stillbirth of their son that a boat is washed up ashore on their tiny island containing the body of a stranger and his tiny baby daughter. Isabel is bereft from the loss of her own child and craving a child of her own and she persuades her husband that no one will know if they keep the tiny baby and say she is their own, after all the mother must also have drowned in the boat.

It’s a story where we feel the happiness of the family, there are only 3 of them on the island and they create their own little world together. They are happy and the little girl, whom they name Lucy, is loved beyond measure. They bring her home when they eventually get shore leave some 2 years later and introduce her to Isabel’s family and prepare for Lucy’s christening. It is then that they hear the story of a local woman whose husband and infant daughter were lost at sea approximately 2 years before and they realise that the mother they assumed to be dead is very much alive.

This is a book of complex emotions as a reader because you can feel Isabel’s pain, you can understand her choices and why under the weight of such intense grief and loss for her own baby she finds it easy to take the baby washed up ashore and use her as a way to fill that loss, choosing to persuade her husband to keep the baby. However as the book progresses we learn that whilst she has filled the gap left behind she has also developed a fierce protectiveness over her daughter that means that even when faced with another grieving mother seeking closure for her daughter lost at sea she cannot be truthful and admit what she has done. Instead she works tirelessly to justify her actions, to almost blackmail her husband into staying quiet with emotional threats.

One of the quotes that really stood out to me in the book to help understand Isabel’s feeling was the one that read “As a fourteen-year-old, Isabel had searched the dictionary. She knew that if a wife lost a husband, there was a whole new word to describe who she was: she was now a widow. A husband became a widower. But if a parent lost a child, there was no special label for their grief. They were still just a mother or a father, even if they no longer had a son or a daughter. That seemed odd.”

Tom is an entirely different character because he has no less love for the child but instead of feeling this as a signal to stay quiet about what they’ve done he finds his guilt presses him to want to reassure the mother that her child is safe. He is seeking redemption for his actions as a soldier during the war and as a way of righting his wrongs, he feels pressed to contact the other woman anonymously and let her know that her child is safe and loved.

The moral dilemma in this book is that we know that Tom is doing the right thing, the thing we like to think we would all do but we can understand the anger that Isabel feels at him for doing so, the increasing panic she feels that her child will be ripped from her. We want their child to remain theirs but we also know she doesn’t belong there. This is a wonderful book full of complex emotions and characters who are all essentially likeable and doing the things they feel are right and at the heart of the book is a child who is dearly loved by two families instead of just by one.

I have a feeling this will be a wonderful story on the big screen and that there will be many people who haven’t read the book who fall in love with the wonderful story. I cannot recommend it highly enough and will be desperate to see it as soon as I can to contrast it with it’s book version.

Jodi Picoult delivers an outstanding and thought provoking novel which touches our social conscience

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hadn’t read a Jodi Picoult novel in quite a while, I had loved the initial releases on which she made her name such as My Sister’s Keeper and Nineteen Minutes but I had become hardened to the moral dilemma format of her stories and had begun to find them samey, in fact, the last book I read was the ones that saw her writing with her daughter as they were a complete departure from the norm. Advertising for Small Great Things really captured my imagination though.

This is the story of Ruth, a 40 something Black Labour & Delivery nurse with more than 20 years experience in her job. A single parent working hard to raise her honour roll son to be able to fulfill his potential and gain entry to a good college. She is called in to assist in the post delivery checks for a couple on her ward and is shocked when during her examinations the father demands that she not touch his newborn and asks to speak to her supervisor. It quickly becomes apparent that the father, a white supremacist, has elected to have her removed from the child’s care because of the colour of her skin. Barred from touching the child she is angry and upset at the lack of support she received from her colleagues and disgusted by the beliefs of the father. She carries on with her job though until she finds herself, in an emergency, left alone with the child as he recovers from a circumcision. When the child stops breathing she is faced with a choice, does she assist the child and break the guideline she’s been given not to touch him or does she ignore the fact the child is in distress.

Picoult has picked a very difficult topic for this novel, it is one the author admits she has been longing to write for some time since she read a story about a black undercover police officer being shot in the back by his colleagues during an altercation despite having the designated marker highlighting him as police clearly showing. Race issues in the United States have been igniting more and more often recently as people question the way police officers treat people of African American heritage.

In this book, Picoult brings it to the fore in a story where Ruth is charged with the murder of the newborn she has been told she cannot touch because of her race when the father of the child deems her responsible for his death. From there we find ourselves seeing events through the eyes of all the different characters in turn. Ruth, who has always seen herself as part of the hospital team, a good mother and with a son with wonderful prospects suddenly finds herself on trial for nothing other than her race, she begins to question everything she’s stood for and the steps she’s taken to ensure she ‘fits in’. Turk, the father of the baby leads us through his journey into the world of white supremacy, his relationship with his wife Brittany who shares his beliefs and the violence that always bubbles just below his surface. Finally, we view events through the eyes of Kennedy, Ruth’s lawyer who is undertaking her first murder trial and has to tread a careful line of not making the courtroom case entirely about race as that is not how the system would view as appropriate.

It is a book that I found quite difficult to read because some of the chapters shine a light on a hard truth, that race equality is something that although we believe we have made progress with is still, and may always be an issue right across the world. One chapter highlighted it best for me when Kennedy visits a store and finds herself faced with hair products for black people and states that she has no idea how these work or that they ever existed because the only shampoo or hair commercials we ever see on TV are for white people. Similarly how when 80% of the celebrities in movies are white then that means that so often the movies on screen do not represent the world as black children know it. Whilst this is the case how can we ever claim that equality exists?

Having a break from the novels of Picoult perhaps allowed me to really reach into this one with such enjoyment. Really when you strip everything away the old tried and tested format she has become famous for was the basis for this story and that hadn’t changed so perhaps if I’d come to this directly from one of her other more recent books I wouldn’t have found it quite so fresh and engaging. It is brilliant then that I’ve had that break and it felt like catching up with a long lost friend as I slipped back into her writing style.

This book is one that will cause you to question yourself, your own approach to race and as Kennedy says in the book force us to admit that really we are all still a little racist as the system is built that way. It challenges the way you look at the subject, it forces you to look at the extreme beliefs of Turk and Brittany and question how this level of hatred can still exist. It also has the most wonderful ending, the most unexpected twist and this for me was such a wonderful gem of a way to end the book. I don’t want to say too much as it would ruin it for other readers but when the event happens you catch your breath and silently punch the air, you suddenly see the whole truth and it’s appropriate and a twist that will make it stand out from other books for me in months and years ahead.

Absolutely wonderful and very very highly recommended.

Will Lisa Hall’s second novel be as outstanding as the first

Tell Me No Lies by Lisa Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lisa Hall blew me away last year with her debut novel ‘Between Me and You’, it was quite simply one of those books that never leaves you because it made you question your preconceived judgements and caused you to stop and ask yourself how you could have missed that twist the whole way through the book. I literally couldn’t wait to read Tell Me No Lies and I had huge expectations of it because of my enjoyment of Lisa’s first novel.

This book begins with Steph and her husband Mark moving into their new home in London with their little boy Henry. We are aware that there are issues with their marriage and that the move constitutes a new start for them all. Steph is pregnant with their second child and it quickly becomes apparent that she was unwell with severe post-natal depression after the birth of Henry and is worried that the same problems may occur this time around. Mark is a television producer who works away from home for much of the time and so Steph finds herself settling into their new home and neighbourhood almost entirely alone and she soon begins receiving strange gifts left on the porch of their new home which begin to remind her of incidents in her past. She’s scared and unsettled and with no one to turn to.

Steph begins to make friends with Laurence, the attractive and enigmatic man across the street and also with Lila her next door neighbour. Both become Steph’s people to lean on when Mark isn’t at home and their friendships grow quickly and soon she is relying on them more and more. The strange things are still happening and now as well as gifts left on her doorstep she finds things going missing and a sensation that someone has been in her home. She confides in Lila more and more and begins to accept more and more help from the neighbour next door whilst she withdraws from Laurence after she finds her attraction to him growing. Steph finds herself becoming more and more paranoid, confused and suspicious of people. Event from her past are resurfacing and suddenly the psychiatrist she’s been seeing is making her feel crazy as he dismises her fears.

This book was a little of a slow starter but when I got into it I found the chapters slipping away as I became more and more pulled into the strange things that were happening to Steph and as I tried to find out who was responsible. I was fairly sure that all the coincidences could be easily explained and to be honest I do not think that Lisa Hall was trying to create a mystery where we couldn’t guess from fairly early on who was responsible. Instead the focus was on the increasing instability that was created in the psyche of Steph as the incidents became more severe and as people began to question her sanity and truthfulness.

Steph is a really likeable lead character, she is open and friendly, she’s trying her best to settle in a new place and is trying to raise her child almost single handedly. You want to root for her, you want people to take her seriously because you are seeing things from her perspective and so you know she’s being geniune and this isn’t just something in her head.

Where I struggled more was the character of her husband Mark who from my perspective wasn’t the most supportive spouse. He is revealed at the start of the book as having recently been adulterous in the marriage and so explains the reason for why the family have moved home and despite promising his wife a new start he’s soon off for work again to the far reaches of the world leaving his pregnant and fragile wife behind. He is literally missing for much of the book, leaving Steph to pick up all the slack and when she does confide in him about what’s happening he is suspicious of her and intead of supporting her refers her back to her therapist. He literally refuses to believe his wife and whilst there is no conrete proof that doesn’t mean that he didn’t drive me crazy. He should have surely when things reached the extremes at the end of the book have been questioning whether perhap all the very extreme things could be linked to more than just his wife’s potential psychosis.

My only other real gripe with the book was I literally finished the last chapter and turned the page expecting more and there was literally nothing…….I mean it was so unlikely a place to end I just couldn’t imagine there wasn’t another chapter or two. It had pulled me in so much that I wanted a resolution, I wanted more. I wanted justice and instead it leaves us screaming at the utter emptiness. I was worried, I am still thinking about the way that everything is left in the air. I couldn’t fathom how we could have come to the end with 2 people knowing exactly what was happening and yet still the other side won. This shouldn’t happen surely?

There was never going to be any following ‘Between You and Me’ for sheer shock and awe endings, that book was one of the few I’ve ever read which made that happen and maybe people who were wishing the author would achieve the same again had set their expectations unrealistically. I found this to be a very well written novel, it’s characters were indelibly human and therefore open to flaws and acts of deception and extreme dishonesty and cruelty. I also find it a little bit of a compliment that I got to the end and was still craving more, sometimes with novels you get to the end and are counting chapters because sometimes it’s all being dragged out just a little too long whereas here I could have easily read several more.

I would recommend this novel, however if you have read Between You And Me just prepare yourself that the format and ending is not as earth shattering.

Does Truly Madly Guilty live up to the wonderful Big Little Lies legacy?

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a mixed relationship with Liane Moriarty, I’ve read 4 of her books now (including this one) and I find that it’s a bit of a love/hate situation, to be honest. I had recently read Big Little Lies, in order to ensure that I’d read the book before I viewed the TV series, and I loved it. I had high hopes, therefore, going into Truly Madly Guilty and was keen for more of the same.

This book is centered around a family barbeque which is attended by 3 couples and their families and the event that takes place at that barbeque will change everyone’s lives forever. The book narrative is written from the perspective of events following the barbeque and also on the fateful day itself. We also are given perspectives from each of the different people who attended the barbeque that day and each of their recollections help to build up to the revelation of what went on that day.

Liane Moriarty books have become synonymous with this type of storytelling, they always have a mystery at their heart and focus on the relationships between the characters and how the events of the book have impacted their lives and Truly Madly Guilty falls into this format nicely. In the case of this book, we follow best friends Clementine and Erika and their husbands and the neighbours of Erika, who hosted the fateful barbeque that day.

This was where my main issue with this book arose and that is that none of the characters in this book had particularly redeeming qualities about them, aside from Erika’s husband Oliver who was a stand out good guy throughout and a thoroughly decent human being. Everyone else seemed to be thoroughly self-involved and harboured terrible communication issues. Erika, for example, is somewhat of a control freak. Having grown up the daughter of an extreme hoarder she has latched onto Clementine and her family as a safe haven from her manic home life. From childhood she has longed for stability and as a result, she is a somewhat inflexible and judgmental character.

Clementine, on the other hand, didn’t fare any better as a character from my perspective. A musician with 2 young children she is focused wholeheartedly upon an upcoming audition with a prestigious Sydney orchestra. She seems unhappy with her role as a mother and often hands over care for the children to her husband, Sam, whilst she focuses upon preparing for her big audition. Her parenting style is relaxed and she is instead driven by her art. She has been friends with Erika from childhood but we learn in the book that she has always felt Erika was forced upon her by her mother, who felt sorry for Erika, and therefore she feels resentful that she has missed out on other friendships she could have formed and instead had to spare the feelings of her poor friend with the crazy mother.

The mystery, or events at the barbeque, that form the central plot of this book are revealed approximately half way through the book although all of the clues and if, like me, you are good at second guessing it will probably not entirely shock you. I knew from probably 3 or 4 chapters before where it was going and therefore I felt a little let down that there wasn’t more to it. I also began to wonder that if we were only 50% of the way through then where on earth was the other 50% going to take us.

This meant that once I reached the big reveal I found the second half of the book a little slower. It became very much about the feeling and impact the events of the barbeque had upon each of the characters, the guilt that they all carried and how it began to eat up their lives and become something they couldn’t move past, hence the book’s title Truly Madly Guilty.

I liked this book but was disappointed after the amazing Big Little Lies, Moriarty had raised the bar with that novel and on this occasion, she failed to live up to that expectation. This wasn’t a bad book it just failed to evoke as much sympathy for its characters as it’s predecessor and nor did it make me want to spend any further time with them, such as was the case with Madeleine, Celeste and Jane from Big Little Lies.