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: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

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This is one of those books that is made all the more poignant by unrelated events overtaking the creator. Like Sam de Brito’s book No Tattoos Before You’re Thirty and Adrienne Shelly’s movie Waitress, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark takes on career-defining importance with Michelle McNamara’s untimely and unexpected death. The book was finished by her lead researcher, Paul Haynes, and Billy Jensen, a friend who was also an acclaimed journalist, and is bookended by an introduction from crime author Gillian Flynn and an afterword by Michelle’s husband, actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, and they have done justice to all her hard work.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a rash of home invasions, burglaries, rapes and murders took place across California. There was nothing specifically linking them, although there were similarities in the MOs, but jurisdictional issues and a wide geographic spread both played roles in how long it took to realise they were all being committed by the same person. A few of the detectives had suspicions but nothing came of it. Continue reading

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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This book should have been called Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Boring. It took me a long time to get into it but I persisted, thinking there must be a whopping great twist coming at the end. There isn’t. I turned the last page, thinking there must be another chapter. There wasn’t. I can honestly say this is the first book I’ve ever read where I felt cheated out of a proper ending. 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: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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A longer title for this book could have been “13 Reasons Why My Life Sucks and It’s Completely Your Fault and Not My Fault At All Even Though I Do Nothing to Help Myself”. I don’t doubt that the reasons for suicide are intensely personal and rarely understood by anyone other than the person committing the act but when you’re writing a book about it, the reason needs to be better than a literary equivalent of “wah, wah, wah”.

Yes, I clearly did not enjoy this book but I understand why it made great source material for a TV show and I also understand that the TV show fixed a lot of the problems. Thank God. 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: Conned by Matthew Klein

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In 2013, I was perusing a book store and came across No Way Back by Matthew Klein. I didn’t even read the blurb because I was hooked simply by reading the front cover. “They know everything. They control everyone. Even you.” I couldn’t resist. And even better, I read the book and loved it. Ever since, I’ve had the rest of his books on my Goodreads “Want to Read” list. So when I came across Conned (also known as Con Ed in some places) in a second-hand book store, I snapped it up.

Conned was Klein’s second book, published in 2007, so it’s nearly 15 years old now. The implausibly named Kip Largo (likely just so Klein can set up Key Largo jokes) has been out of prison for a year after serving a five-year sentence for what was essentially a pyramid scheme. He lives in a dump, works at a dry cleaner and hasn’t seen his now adult son Toby for a while. When Toby shows up and says he’s in trouble, Kip takes him at his word – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – but he doesn’t have any money and there’s nothing Kip can do about it. He’s trying to put his con days behind him and go straight. Continue reading