Book Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

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I think Liane Moriarty is a wonderful writer but I also think I started with her best books (Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret), which left me with perhaps unreasonably high expectations for all her other work. While her writing continues to be of the highest quality, I am finding the plots of her latest books to be far less poignant and much more improbable.

As the title may suggest, Nine Perfect Strangers is told from the points of view of nine people who attend a very expensive ten-day health retreat at a historic house with lush grounds in country New South Wales as well as the three wellness consultants in charge of the program. Frances is a romance writer whose career is faltering. Ben and Jessica are struggling after winning a life-changing amount of money in the lottery. Napoleon and Heather, along with their daughter Zoe, are stuck in a cycle of grieving after the death of their son Zach three years ago. Lars is a divorce lawyer who takes pointless revenge on his long-gone father by getting huge settlements for his female clients. Carmel is doubting her self-worth and identity after her husband dumped her for a younger woman. Tony is a former high-profile sportsman who has been described by his ex-wife as an “amateur human being”. Masha is the program director, Yao is a former paramedic who saved Masha’s life ten years ago and Delilah is Masha’s former PA from when Masha was a corporate high flyer. They each get to narrate chapters so it’s a lot of people and viewpoints to keep track of. Continue reading

Book Review: Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

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Mateship with Birds won the inaugural Stella Prize in 2013. Yet another beautifully written award-winning book with no plot and uninteresting characters – which seems to be the definition of literature in Australia in the 21st century. So I hereby swear I will never read another book that has won an Australian writing prize.

Okay, I probably won’t stick to that because I live in hope. And there were parts of the book I really liked, specifically the long-form poetry about the lives of the kookaburra family who live in a tree on Harry’s farm. But the rest of it was not enjoyable. Continue reading

Book Review: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

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I started reading And Fire Came Down as soon as I finished the first Caleb Zelic book, Resurrection Bay. Not because I enjoyed Resurrection Bay that much, just because I already had it and thought I might as well. This is the book that Resurrection Bay should have been. And Fire Came Down isn’t perfect but it’s one of those rare cases where the sequel is better than the original. Continue reading

Book Review: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

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Caleb Zelic is a private investigator and he’s been profoundly deaf since he was a child as a result of illness so he remembers what it was like to be able to hear. He wears hearing aids but they don’t give him perfect hearing and he relies more on lip reading. It’s an imperfect science so he misses a lot. He’s fluent in sign language but hardly anyone else in his life is. It sounds like it would be a problem for a private investigator. It is. He misses a lot. But as his ex-wife points out to him, he seems determined to “pass” for someone who isn’t deaf.

The story opens with Caleb in shock and cradling the body of his dead childhood friend, Gary, who was also a police officer. He’s called the emergency services and requested an ambulance – at least, he thinks he has because he couldn’t tell if anyone was actually on the other end of the line. The paramedics come and confirm Gary is long dead from a cut throat. The police want to know why Caleb was the one who found him. Because he received a text message from Gary saying, “Scott after me. Come my house. Urgent. Don’t talk anyone.” And so begins the mystery we spend the entire book trying to solve: who is Scott and why did he want Gary dead? Continue reading

Book Review: This House of Grief by Helen Garner

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Most Victorians – likely most Australians – would remember this case from the news. A car containing a father and his three boys veered off a highway and ended up in a dam on Fathers’ Day. Only the father escaped; the three boys drowned. Did he do it on purpose or was it a tragic accident as a result of a medical episode? Continue reading

Book Review: The One Who Got Away by Caroline Overington

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Oh, Caroline, no! I read this purely on the basis of all the terrific Caroline Overington books I’ve read in the past but it feels like an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Liane Moriarty’s suburban style of drama and it just fails completely.

Molly Franklin gets a call from her stepfather asking her to come to his house urgently. When she gets there, the police tell her that her older stepsister, Loren, is missing – presumably lost overboard – from the cruise ship she and her husband, David, were having their second honeymoon on. Immediately, both Molly and her father think that David is responsible and insist he be investigated for murder. But there’s some jurisdiction issues because the Netherlands-registered vessel was in international waters and docked in Mexico as soon as the crew realised Loren was missing. And there’s little physical evidence to suggest David did kill her. Continue reading

Book Review: Hangman by Jack Heath

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About 15 years ago, I saw Jack Heath at a writers’ festival when he was primarily known as a children’s and young adult writer. He was young himself, a bit of a prodigy. I can’t remember the context but he was talking about reading a book while on an airplane and it contained a description of a woman grinding her heel into a man’s crotch. The scene was so vivid – in his head at least – that he passed out at 30,000 feet. Boy, he must have come a long way since then because as the main character in Hangman, Timothy Blake is the new Dexter Morgan (only worse).

The most important thing to note about Hangman is that while Jack Heath has written umpteen books for children, THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM. If books were given ratings, this one would be 18+. Continue reading

Book Review: Blackbirch – The Beginning by KM Allan

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I follow this author’s blog and I love the confidence she conveys on her website. Blackbirch, her debut novel, doesn’t have quite the same poise but you can see where she was trying to go and hopefully she will get there as the series continues.

I was given an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) in exchange for an honest review of this book. I read the ARC. It was okay. I wrote a review saying that. I offered the author the option of not posting it. She didn’t accept, which I thought was very gracious, but asked me to hold off on posting it until after the official release of the book. And then I watched as she posted tweet after tweet about all the changes she was making in the lead up to the release date. If it was changing that much, I didn’t think it was fair to post the review I’d written. So when the book came out, I bought a copy and read it again. I’m glad I did. It’s not an entirely different book and it’s not perfect, but it was enough of an improvement to make me want to rewrite my original unposted review. Continue reading

Book Review: First Person by Richard Flanagan

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I keep getting sucked into reading these books of Australian “literature”. Yes, okay, it’s my own doing and I do it in the hopes that one writer will redeem the rest of his or her colleagues. I’m still waiting for redemption.

Kif Kehlmann is an aspiring writer from Tasmania. Married with a young daughter and twins on the way, he’s plugging away at his first novel but he’s lucky to write a few hundred words a day and that’s mostly because he’s not very good and knows it, even if he refuses to admit it. To pay the bills, he works odd jobs for the local council and as a labourer. It’s the early 90s and mortgage rates are skyrocketing; he doesn’t know how he’s going to make the required repayments, especially once he gets fired from his council gig.

Then late one night, he gets a call from an old friend. Ray works as a bodyguard and general dogsbody for Siegfried Heidl, a conman who’s been arrested for a $700 million bank fraud. The money has disappeared, never to be repaid, and Heidl has six weeks before he’s going to jail. He wants to write his memoirs in the meantime and he needs a ghost writer. Continue reading

Book Review: Company by Max Barry

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Max Barry is the king of satire and this is another in a long string of his books that deserves high praise. But the problem with satire these days is the world is so ridiculous that satire now resembles the horrible reality. So anyone who has ever had a job will read the first half of this book and recognise the hell that is being an employee. Continue reading