Tag Archives: Friendship

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.

The Art Forger by B A Shapiro

Claire Roth is beautiful, talented, and cursed. Even when she tries to do the right thing, it somehow turns out all wrong. Take Isaac Cullion, all she wanted to do was nudge him out of his funk and help him get his painting done in time for the art opening and look how that turned out? Now here’s Aiden Markell, offering her the chance of a lifetime. All she has to do is paint a duplicate of Edgar Degas’ After the Bath. Who better than Claire, a certified Repro painter specializing in his works? Yet this time her reproduction is more than just a copy, it’s a forgery of a painting which was stolen during the 1990 heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Or is it? Despite the thrill of having an original Degas in her studio apartment, something isn’t quite right. Nagging doubts cloud Claire’s mind, notwithstanding the mind blowing sex with her new lover or the promise of her own art show at his gallery. Since there’s no one she can comfortably confide in, Claire starts doing her own investigation to uncover some truths which have been kept a secret for over a hundred years.

Barbara A Shapiro once again uses her knowledge of the Art World plus the mystique of Boston to bring us a novel of art and intrigue in The Art Forger. Developing a fascination with Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1983 which was reinforced after the infamous unresolved heist at the famous Boston museum, Shapiro waited until she found a way to combine past historical events with fictional characters to create a cohesive tale of love and betrayal. Weaving truth and fiction, she fabricates a series of letters written by Gardner to her “niece” describing her titilating encounters with the famed Degas in her attempts to buy one of his paintings for the museum she is determined to build. He agrees, but there are stipulations which might not be acceptable to her high brow society peers, despite her already outrageous behaviors. Although there is no written record of these meetings and no true correspondence to relate, the author still frames a plausible background to her modern day tale.

While Shapiro’s descriptions of the history and techniques of various art forgeries over the years is interesting, at times the details of this and other artistic techniques are perhaps a bit too technical for the average reader. In addition I would have liked a bit more depth of character for Claire and her associates to go along with the richly developed Boston setting. Besides the old time letters and narrative about Claire’s current life, there are also flashbacks from three years prior to the start of this story involving her relationship with Isaac, explaining her pariah status. I liked how the reader is given clues utilizing the three scenarios to help decipher the outcome, although for me, at least, there were no surprises, just reasonable expectations. In the end, Claire was a bit too self righteous and not entirely innocent, plus she made a lousy girlfriend – still from notoriety comes fame (see the Kardasians).

The Art Forger has been on my to read list since last year when I read Shapiro’s book The Muralist and it didn’t disappoint with a plot richly layered just like the paintings Claire designed. Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Elves (Volume 1) – Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte, Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi

A few years ago Elves was published in France (Elfes) and now it’s making its appearance here in the United States. Volume 1 contains two separate stories, Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte about the Blue Elves who live by the sea and Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi dealing with the Sylvan or Forest Elves. There are three other subsets of Elves to be published in a future edition.

The trouble with this series is that it takes awhile to grasp the cast of characters. While the graphics are spectacular and help the reader interpret the story, there is still a lot of confusion. Part of the problem in the first story is that these are three plot lines which eventually intersect, however, the story flits from one to another in a jarring fashion, taking a moment or two to figure out which part of the plot is front and center. While in the second story there is also a bunch of back and forths which make it difficult at times to figure out who’s who or what’s what. Too many gaps in the story only adds to the confusion, requiring an explanation which is nowhere to be found. It’s as if there was a prequel we all missed. Some backstory please before you throw us into the mix. Eventually we get the drift, but only after a frustrating start.

In both stories there’s a lot of backstabbing and double crossing along with a few deceptions which change the outcome of the saga, although there are some honorable characters who leave us with hope for an eventual resolution. The various evil creatures such as the ork mercenaries are horrifying, but as least they are easily identifiable as the enemy. It’s when the “good guys” turn out to have a hidden agenda and double cross their so called friends that the stories reflect a dark theme.

Full of blood, violence, and death, not everything turns out with a happily ever after ending. It’s just not that kind of book. With a better narrative and smoother transitions, this would be a superior series. The colorful, intricate art work illustrating the two stories could easily be developed into an adult animation (there’s nudity along with the violence) for the small or large screen. Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Insight Comics for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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.

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian is a teen romance with a twist. Their school is being dismantled during the last months before summer vacation and the entire town is steadily evacuating in anticipation of the purposeful flooding and destruction of Aberdeen to make way for new construction (all for the “good” of the folk).

Keelie has her best friend, Morgan, and her best friend’s other best friend, Elise, and then, at the Spring Formal, she actually attracts the attention of childhood crush Jesse. Keelie uses humor to deflect her true feelings, making others laugh at her often inappropriate actions to boost her own ego. Jesse, the cute boy who everyone adores, also has a warped sense of the bizarre, so they are able to feed off one another and develop some sort of relationship with a few kisses here and there and a lot of pranks. Of course, their entire life is basically ending, in essence the cessation of their known universe, so abnormality seems to rule the day. If your parent(s) were packing and your home was about to expire – dancing in formal attire outdoors in a downpour, belly flopping down a slip and slide, wearing a snorkel and flippers to graduation, or attending secret prom – all seem like perfectly normal ways to pass the time.

Of course, not everything is fun and games. Keelie’s dad accuses the Governor of taking advantage of the excessive rainfall and resulting flooding conditions to annihilate the whole town for his own personal economic plans. Many others side with him, refusing to sign the buyout deals. Everything gets complicated for adults and children as their world is turned upside down.

Even Keelie’s relationships are affected by all the goings on, and she discovers herself alone, trying to deal with an uncertain future. While on the surface, Keelie gets what she deserves, the girl is not all bad, she just doesn’t always make the right choices and overcompensates to cover her insecurities. In the end she learns her lessons, hopefully not too late to mend all the broken fences.

An interesting concept (even though I just finished Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen which also deals with a small town being flooded against the will of the residents). I enjoyed the emotional rush of young love although I thought the entire plot started to drag about two thirds through the book. I liked both the beginning and the ending and didn’t mind the dysfunctional main characters. Teens are often unpredictable, acting out to gain attention, unintentionally hurting themselves socially and thus emotionally. Adults can behave in ways contrary to their own well being, as well. Yet once the reader gets the point it is time to begin wrapping things up.

Still, well worth reading. Three and a half stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Love Blind by Christa Desir and Jolene Perry

Shit happens, but it’s how ones deal with it that matters. Take Kyle and Hailey. Kyle is excessively shy, literally unable to express himself aloud (although he’s great at putting his thoughts down in his journal). He’s also carrying around a shitload of guilt for situations which aren’t really his fault. Then there’s Hailey who has the eyes of a geriatric patient, one who is gradually becoming more and more blind. Hailey’s created a list of things she’s scared to do, a bucket list of sorts with actions to be completed while she can still somewhat see. Her one main joy is her acoustical guitar and the ability to make music. This is where the two teens lives collide in the book Love Blind by Christa Desir and Jolene Perry. Kyle works the soundboard at the school’s radio station and Hailey, with her two best friends/back up singers, shows up to strut her stuff and promote their band. Hailey is amused and intrigued by Kyle’s mumbles and one word responses and goads him into an awkward semi-friendship which grows into something more over time. Yet even though they like each other, Kyle feels unworthy and Hailey thinks she’s hurting more than helping, so a potential hook up between the two morphs into an “on again, off again” relationship even though everyone thinks they are a good influence on one another. The miscommunications dominate the scenario and this book becomes a story of “what ifs” and “should have beens”. Hailey is head strong and forges ahead, often making questionable choices, while Kyle’s in-decisions and lack of confidence holds him back from living up to his full potential. Yet over the three plus year period this story takes place, there is a continuing hope towards some sort of positive resolution.

A relatable topic dealing with the process of overcoming life’s obstacles which crop up from time to time – some self inflicted, others due to the callousness of others, and the rest just part of the tragedy of day to day living. The authors, Desir and Perry, take turns with alternate chapters, writing the story from the viewpoint of each of the two main characters. An easy read with a lot to say on current topics including high school angst, teen sexuality, lesbian relationships, bullying, and drug abuse. That the conclusion, although abrupt, doesn’t wrap everything up with a nice, neat bow is a big plus. Four stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon Pulse for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey

An unusual coming of age story where eleven year old Lewis Dearborn is forced to develop an inner strength in order to deal with seven very lively and very dead ghostly pirates. These seven mates are the legacy from his great grandfather who grew too old to assist them with their mission of retaking the ship on display at the local maritime museum and sailing to Libertalia, a utopia for pirates. Once great grandpa dies, the family inherits the old ramshackle Shornoway, and Lewis takes over the tower room overlooking the sea which houses the seven trespassing ghosts. Now it’s up to Lewis to find a way to deal with this motley bunch. Yet Lewis has troubles of his own. His shyness makes him the target of the class bully. He is also embarrassed by his parents and scared to speak up in class. By remaining mute, he becomes a further magnet for ridicule by his classmates. When new girl, Anna, shows up in class, Lewis expects her to receive the same treatment, but surprisingly, she is accepted despite her odd behaviors. Unlike the others, Anna reaches out to Lewis who finally has someone with whom he can share his secrets, bizarre as they may be. With the help of the pirates as well as his new found friendship, Lewis discovers an inner courage and a sense of adventure hidden behind his fear of life.

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey stretches the realms of reality, especially in the book’s conclusion, but since this is a ghost tale, all scientific principles are suspended. The reader roots for Lewis and laughs at the misadventures of his pirate friends. The old historic house from the mid 1800’s along the East Coast is a perfect setting for a “spirited” tale. Middle schoolers will love this adventure, perfect for those hard to please tween boys. 4 stars.

And a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.