Tag Archives: Australia

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

When my book club was looking for some lighter fare to read I suggested Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty since I have enjoyed her other novels, and then when the regular study leader could not attend, I volunteered to facilitate. Since I was leading the book discussion, I took a more indepth approach to this novel, both reading the book and listening to the audiotape expertly narrated by Christine Lee. (Yes, some might argue the subject of this particular title isn’t actually in the “fluffy” category, but please note that we had been reading a series of books dealing with subjects such as the Holocaust, the War in Sarajevo, plus the Shakespearean Tragedy MacBeth.)

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the overall reaction was mixed which was also reflected in the numerous reviews I found on Goodreads. Perhaps I can’t change anyone’s mind as to the worthiness of this title, but I can attempt to give everyone an appreciation of Moriarty’s skill in developing the plot.

I presented this as a circular story where the reader is fed bits of information alternating between the past, present, and future in order to develop a complete understanding of the fateful incident at the barbecue. Even better was the suggestion of one of the book club members who called it a mosaic, or a puzzle which we put together as the story progresses, not seeing the entire picture until the very end. Either way, it took a lot of skill to pull it off, with every segment having an underlying meaning as it connected to the whole.

There are two components to the book, a “big” reveal and a series of smaller reveals. Many readers felt the build up to the incident at the barbecue which was not divulged until 60% through the book, was anticlimactic, as if disappointed that the event wasn’t even more tragic. However, it’s those small secrets which truly make this an excellent read. Moriarty’s real genius is the way she develops her characters. As their foibles are disclosed, we get to know them intimately so they become alive in our minds, especially since each of the characters gets to “speak” making the reader aware of their personal thoughts and motivations.

Like in real life, the relationships are complicated. Erica and Clementine’s close friendship involves mixed feelings of resentment and jealousy, but also an intimacy only found between people who have grown up together since childhood. While the marriage between Erica and Oliver is one between two soulmates, Clementine and Sam’s witty banter indicates a love in spite of their frequent spats, often involving their two young children Holly and Ruby. Add in some flashy, gregarious neighbors along with a grumpy old man who finds fault with life itself, plus some “interesting” parent(s), and you have 410 pages or 13 hours of reading pleasure.

Guilt is the theme, as each of the “cast” members has to deal with both the repercussions from the barbecue as well as the angst found in everyday life, while the resolutions from that fateful day changes the dynamics of the couples, leaning towards a promise of healthier future relationships.

With the successful mini series based on Moriarty’s book Big Little Lies being optioned for a second season, keep your eyes on the look out for Truly Madly Guilty to hit the big or small screen as well, especially since Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman have purchased the film rights. One wonders if they will once again change the setting from Australia to California.

Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Calamity! Yes, it’s one calamity after another in the small seaside resort area in Pirriwee, Australia when Madeline sprains her ankle on her way to kindergarten orientation with her precocious daughter Chloe. New resident Jane with her son Ziggy assists the injured woman as they both drop their children off to meet the prospective teacher. Madeline and Jane end up on the beach at the Blues Blue coffee shop where Celeste, the mother of twins, joins them to help the injured party celebrate her birthday. The gift of champagne and flutes are perfect, despite the early hour, because Madeline is now f-o-r-t-y. The party atmosphere continues as they go to pick up their darlings until little Amabelle accuses Ziggy of choking her. Despite the tot’s denial, the parents end up sorting themselves into team Renata (Amabelle’s mum) vs Team Madeline. Amidst the conflict and resulting bedlam, the families deal with the normal chaos of raising children. While behind the scenes each couple has secrets which are slowly revealed, it is the flamboyant, gutsy Madeline who meets life head on, guiding her friends through their individual crisis. She even tries to be “civil” to her ex husband and new wife who also have a daughter attending the same kindergarten program, (although on PMS days, her behavior might not be “quite polite” towards those who have slighted her or her friends).

As the story progresses, bad behaviors escalate until the climax on Trivia Night, a costumed fundraising competition, where an altercation and death occurs. The event is alluded to via short vignettes placed at the beginning or end of a chapter, with various participants giving their take on exactly what happened through the questioning by Investigating Officer Quinlan. The reader is left trying to sort fact from fiction and figure out exactly who the victim might be.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is an amusing, witty romp dealing with societal pressures, spousal abuse, infidelity, love and loss, bullying, blended families, teen angst, working mothers, and fragile egos. Who knew a story about a class of kindergarteners could be so much fun!

Five stars for a “can’t stop reading” book. (For a real treat listen to the CD expertly read by Caroline Lee who makes each character your personal friend or enemy). We will have to wait and see if the upcoming version on HBO retains the flavor of the original novel when the locale is moved from Australia to California.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country is the second book I’ve read by Bill Bryson, the first being A Walk in the Woods. Recently A Walk in the Woods was made into a motion picture starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. One review I read complained that there was really no plot and that nothing much happened. I laughed. Yes, this observation is true, yet the reviewer just didnt get the point of Bryson’s tale. His books are basically travelogues told with an amazing sense of humor and a talent for word play which captivates the reader. Honestly, I had no interest in walking the Appalachian Trail, yet Bryson had a way of keeping my attention despite my reticence about the topic.

It’s the same with the book In a Sunburned Country which describes Bryson’s travels through Australia. Americans tend to have a vague knowledge about this country/continent and might even be able to name a few cities and states, but besides a restaurant called The Outback, a vague recollection of the words to Waltzing Matilda, a fading memory of a movie character called Crocodile Dundee, and a reminder of the tragic death by stingray of The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin (while watching his daughter, Bindi, compete on Dancing With the Stars), Australia is simply a continent on the other side of the world where summer is winter and vice versa. Yes, we did watch the summer Olympics in Sydney (and we do recognize the famous Opera House) and we have heard of the Great Barrier Reef, and we know they have aborigines living in the wilderness, but do we really need to know much else?

Actually, there are a lot of neat facts about Australia which Bryson, in his witty way, is ready to impart to the reader as he describes his travels exploring the “high” points of this country. We go from Sydney to Canberra to Melbourne to Adelaide to Alice Springs to Perth and numerous points in-between meeting all sorts of interesting characters and vicariously viewing the sights within this largely unsettled nation. Bryson, as part of his adventure, reads as many books about Australia that he can find reflected by a listing of over 60 resources. He then shares some of the highlights, especially as they relate to the landmarks he visits.

The takeaway is that Australia is “packed with unappreciated wonders”, some known and many others yet to be discovered whether wildlife or foliage. Australia has a wealth of minerals, numerous one of a kind creatures including the well-known marsupials, and a dearth of plant life either unique to this continent, or varieties which are extinct throughout the rest of the world. With a limited population, there are wide areas, especially in the Outback, which have remained unexplored. This means that there is plant life and maybe even animals which have never been identified, as well as other valuable resources. It’s also probably the most dangerous place on the planet from deadly riptides to poisonous fish to hidden crocodiles to venomous snakes to cute animals with razor sharp claws which the Australians all seem to take in stride, including the death of their own Prime Minister, Howard Holt, who disappeared while swimming (back in 1967) and was presumed drowned.

Australia is an empty country with an average of 6 people per square mile versus a world average of 117 (with the US average of 76) keeping in mind the 2000 publication date of this book. Since most Australians are clustered along the coast with 86% living in urban areas, it is easy to understand why the majority of the unforgiving land has been unexplored. Bryson takes us along to numerous sights, many often lacking eager crowds of tourists, pointing out interesting facts such as the encroachment of transplanted plants (the blackberry bush and prickly pears) and animals (camels, rabbits, foxes, and even the common cat) which have threatened the existence of indigenous species. This includes the aborigines who while living in poverty with limited access to education and health care have a life expectancy as low as age forty seven.

So, if you are low on funds and don’t want to literally travel to the ends of the earth (or even farther depending upon your starting point), then pick up a copy of this book for a vicarious visit to this exotic land. All of the sightseeing without the inherent danger and a few yucks along the way. Four stars.

Convergence (Zodiac, #1) by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, Art by Andie Tong

If you are a twelve year old boy, do I have a treat for you! The Zodiac Legacy is a new “comic” book series featuring an evil doer who wishes to control the creatures of the Zodiac so he can take over the world.

In Convergence (Zodiac #1) by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, the villain is power-hungry, billionaire Maxwell, who uses his authority and the talent of geek, Carlos, to incorporate six of the twelve Zodiac signs into his body, not counting his own sign of The Dragon. Due to an interruption in the process, the remaining energy of the Zodiac is accidentally released where it unwittingly enters the hosts of unsuspecting people throughout the world. Through his organization, The Vanguard, Maxwell sends his minions to capture the “lucky” individuals who have become unwilling recipients of the five remaining signs. Jasmine, who shares The Dragon sign with Maxwell, thwarts his attempts by recruiting the “newbies” and bringing them to a training center in Greenland. Jasmine needs help in order to stop Maxwell from implementing his evil plans, partially in revenge of her parents’ murder. Maxwell, on the other hand, is determined to syphon off all of Jasmine’s Dragon power to make himself the most powerful being in the Zodiac.

Jasmine’s team include neophyte trainees:

Steven Lee — a Chinese American teen on a class trip to China who inadvertently witnesses Maxwell’s insanity and somehow receives the power of The Tiger at the same moment his Grandfather dies.

Roxanne – a French Rock star who channels her powers of The Rooster through her music.

Liam – an Irish pub fighter who relishes the added strength from the Zodiac as The Ram.

Duane – an electronics whizz who can use his power of The Pig to control electrical output.

Kim – a young girl from a broken down town in the Midwest who can teleport with her powers as The Rabbit.

The experienced Vanguard team includes Josie – The Horse, Malik – The Ox, Vincent – The Monkey, Nicky – The Dog, and the Black Ops Team of Celine – The Snake and Thiago – The Rat.

This book is fast paced and action packed, transitioning from one battle to the next as Vanguard goes on the offensive to herd in Jasmine and her followers. I haven’t seen all the graphics as the book I have is an ARC, but the pictures, drawn by Andie Tong, are phenomenal. I wouldn’t call this a graphic novel in the true sense, although it does have numerous illustrations, usually at the beginning or the end of a chapter (hopefully the final version will have even more). There is definitely more story than art work. In fact, it is a rather long book (about 500 pages), the first of a Trilogy. Just don’t question the plot too much, as the young zodiac recipients all seem to have few ties, beyond sentimental ones, to their former homes. This feature is a fortunate one, since their lives will be taking a different path where destiny will decide their fate, “the destiny determined by the Zodiac”.

Please note that comic icon Stan Lee has been a part of the writing process of Convergence, and the Zodiac series is published by Disney, indicating to me that we will be seeing a digital version of the story on film or television. Even though 93-year-old Stan Lee has created numerous Super Heroes over the years, this is his first time actually writing a book. The plot is designed to show movement, although almost half the book consists of background which has a tendency to drag. However, once the action starts, it doesn’t let up and there are several surprises in the last few chapters which will make a perfect segway into the next book in the series. The characters reflect various races and nationalities, with fourteen-year-old Steven Lee, the hero, being biracial. This book is perfect for feeding the fantasies of middle schoolers and those adults who have never outgrown the Super Hero Genre.

For me, this book is not a part of my normal reading choices, although I am glad that Netgalley and Disney allowed me to download a copy in exchange for an honest review. It seemed a little long for a YA book, even though the style was simplistic. However, there is a lot of potential for a Saturday morning cartoon adventure. Three and a half stars (mainly for the basic premise and the art work).

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

When my book club chose The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion for their next selection, I knew it must be popular since there was a long list at the Public Library of potential readers. I found it expedient to purchase an eBook to download onto my Kindel instead.

It was one of the best purchases I’ve made this year (and I’m an avid Kindel reader). I was immediately engaged with Don Tillman who, approaching forty, had never gotten beyond a first date. Perhaps it was because of Don’s numerous idiosyncrasies that women didn’t understand his brilliance. Yet Don doesn’t have much time in his overly-scheduled, down-to-the-minute day. He laments to his only two friends, Gene and his wife Claudia, that he will never find anyone. Instead of giving up, Don comes up with a booklet of questions to weed out those first only dates. Gene helps him whittle the list down into a more reasonable questionnaire and offers to administer the results, sending only perfect candidates Don’s way. Gene advises Don to take perspective wives out to dinner and then see what happens.

Enter Rosie Jarman. Before she can open her mouth, Don invites her to dinner. And then the fun begins. Rosie is nothing like the list; she is perpetually late, a vegetarian, drinks alcohol (an item Don eventually removes from the questionnaire), smokes, and, in effect, is the exact opposite of the qualities Don is looking for in a wife. What was Gene thinking sending Rosie his way? In fact, Rosie, wants to see Don, not as a prospective dating partner, but as a scientist who can help her discover the identity of her biological father. Don, a brilliant geneticist, is somehow willing to help Rosie with “The Father Project” even though she is a reject in the dating department.

Rosie, whose mother was killed in a car accident when she was ten, lives with her stepfather. She knows her father is one of a room full of future doctors who attended medical school with her mom. Together, one by one, the two “sleuths” obtain the DNA by any means necessary from prospective dads so that Don can test them in his lab. This repeatedly throws the duo together in a series of unusual situations, where they develop a relationship in spite of Rosie’s “flaws” and Don’s “rigid” life style.

This is an unusual romance novel with laugh out loud situations that are guaranteed to delight the reader. If you have a sense of humor and especially a sense of the absurd, you will adore this book. The characters come alive with the dexterity of Simsion’s facile writing style. Also of interest is the secondary storyline of the relationship between Gene, Claudia, and their two children.

A must read – 5+ stars. My favorite novel of 2014. And if this book intrigues you, then immediately purchase the sequel, The Rosie Effect. Plus there’s a movie in the works. Life doesn’t get better than this. Hurrah!

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

While reading The Rosie Project, I was continually delighted by the trials of Don as he pursued the ideal woman to marry. The only downside of the story was that it came to an end. I knew without a doubt that this was the best book I had read since Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. You can imagine my pleasure to discover that there was an upcoming sequel, The Rosie Effect. Since I was eager to see what Graeme Simsion had in store for Don and Rosie, I was thrilled when Netgalley allowed me preview this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Although sequels often leave the reader less than impressed, that is not the case with The Rosie Effect, a continuation in a story which is as captivating as the original. The reader is pulled into the inevitable conflicts which seem to surround Don, rooting for him when his unique perspective on life complicates normally calm activities. It is difficult to keep from laughing out loud at some of the antics which ensue. The author draws a vivid picture and each of the characters comes to life. It is as if Don, Rosie, Dave, Sonia, Gene, Claudia, George, even Lydia, are old friends and we can’t get enough of them.

Don and Rosie have relocated to Columbia University in NYC while Rosie gets her MD/PHD. Don has extended his friends list and is content with his married life. Then all hell breaks lose when Rosie let’s Don know that “we’re pregnant”. Problems ensue when Don attempts to discern The Baby Project. In order to keep Rosie calm, Don reaches out to his friends as the plot escalates with one crisis evolving into another. Somehow Don is able to turn the tables and assist his friends with their problems even though the solution of saving his own marriage continues to elude him, since the more Don tries to fix things, the more Rosie considers his efforts fruitless. It will take a miracle to resolve their issues, and as the situation turns from bad to worse the reader becomes even more vested in the results. Somehow, Simsion is able to tie the plot up in a bow putting things to rights, but leaving a few loose ends. I feel a flutter of excitement at the idea of another sequel.

It doesn’t get better than this. I predict a run away best seller. If I could give this book more than five stars, I would. The side story of the split up between Gene and Claudia with Gene moving to NYC and rooming with Rosie and Don, adds just the right amount of spice to the plot. Of course, we can’t forget Dave who is also having problems dealing with his pregnant wife, Sophia. New friend, George, an aging rockstar, adds to the mix of drinking buddies for Boys Night Out. How their lives intertwine brings delight to the reader, even when the outcome looks bleak.

A must read.