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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The School for Good Mothers: A Novel by Jessamine Chan (@jessaminechan) (@HutchHeinemann) Not an easy read, but one that will make you think about families and social control #TheSchoolforGoodMothers #NetGalley

Hi all:

I am not a mother, but recently I have read two books that shine a pretty special light on motherhood. You might remember my review for Chouette, and this one, although totally different, I think will also stay with me for a long time. And it has a fantastic title as well.

The School for Good Mothers: A Novel by Jessamine Chan

An Instant New York Times Bestseller

A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.

 https://www.amazon.com/School-Good-Mothers-Novel-ebook/dp/B093JHS53T/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/School-Good-Mothers-Handmaids-century-ebook/dp/B09FGD85XB/

https://www.amazon.es/School-Good-Mothers-Novel-English-ebook/dp/B093JHS53T/

Author Jessamine Chan

About the author:

Jessamine Chan’s short stories have appeared in Tin House and Epoch. A former reviews editor at Publishers Weekly, she holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Brown University. Her work has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Wurlitzer Foundation, Jentel, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, the Anderson Center, VCCA, and Ragdale. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.

https://www.amazon.com/Jessamine-Chan/e/B092BKD9NX/

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone, Hutchinson Heinemann for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I heard a lot of comments about this novel, was intrigued by its subject, and I can honestly say this is a book that won’t leave anybody indifferent.

The author is well-known for her short stories, but this is her first novel, and as she explains in the author’s acknowledgments at the end of the book, she had been working on it for many years before it saw the light. It seems that it started as a short story, but at the recommendation of a writing mentor at a workshop, Chan felt encouraged to develop the concept. Readers who are interested in the writing process will enjoy reading the author’s note, as it gives a good sense of what inspired her, which writers influenced her, includes a bibliography for those interested in her sources, and it also gives an account of how many people play a part in the final product, from the author and her family to the institutions providing support of all kinds.

The description of the novel gives a reasonable overview of the plot, although I am not sure everybody who has read it would agree on the way the book is characterized in the last paragraph.

We have all heard stories of neglectful parents, and/or parents doing things that seem unthinkable, like kidnapping their children, harming them, or even killing them. I have often thought that in this day and age when one can hardly do anything without having “training” and holding “a certificate” (at least in most Western societies), it is amazing that one of the most difficult things to do, raising a child, requires no qualification and there is no supervision or education provided to ensure that young people of a certain age know, at least, the very basics. As if the author had read my mind, in this book, the authorities create a School for parents (yes, for the bad mothers of the title, but there is also an equivalent school for bad fathers, although with fewer students and much more lenient), and “dystopic” doesn’t quite make it justice. The action takes place in a world that sounds exactly like ours and in the present (or at least not in a particularly distant future) in the USA, and that increases its impact, because it is not that difficult to imagine something like this happening (although perhaps some of the details are a bit fanciful and stretch credibility slightly, but only slightly).

Frida, the main protagonist, does something that is definitely bad (I am not a mother, so I cannot speak with any inside knowledge, but I think it is understandable although I cannot imagine anybody would condone it), although not, by far, the worst thing we hear about in the novel, and she is not the most sympathetic of characters. And that is, perhaps, what makes it a particularly effective but tough book to read. Because it is very easy to feel sorry for a character who is tender-hearted, kind, and nice, and feel outraged for the way s/he is treated, but here, we not only meet Frida (whose story is narrated in the third person but from her limited point of view), but also some of her peers, and none of them are people most of us would want as friends in normal circumstances, especially once we learn about what landed them at the school. But Frida gets to care for them and we do as well, and we also feel their frustration, their pain, and their desperation. Those of you who are parents, imagine if everything you did when you were with your children (and even when you were not with them) was recorded: every word, every move, every gesture, every look… and all that evidence was judged in comparison to some perfect standard impossible to achieve (and most of the time, impossible to explain by the teachers and impossible to understand by the students).

Apart from motherhood (parenthood), issues such as identity, legacy, family expectations (grandparents, relatives…), cultural differences, prejudice, desire, temptation, mental illness, privacy, mono-parental households, single mothers, the difficult (almost impossible at times) balance between profession and personal life/ work and family life, and big questions like who gets to decide what is the best for a child, and how far can laws and society go to regulate certain aspects of our lives… This is a book of big ideas, and I am sure book clubs would find plenty to discuss here, although I suspect some readers will not feel comfortable reading it and might abandon it before the end.

I enjoyed the writing style, even though I am not a fan of the use of present tense (we follow Frida’s story, chronologically, for over a year, and this is narrated in the present, although there are memories and thoughts about the past or a possible future that also make an appearance), but it suited the tempo of the story, which follows the seasons and the school programme, and it progresses at a slow pace. (I am not sure “page-turner” is a good definition, at least not if it makes us think of non-stop action and a quick pace). One of the strong points of the novel is the way it describes the thoughts of the main protagonist, her doubts, her guilt, her second-guessing herself and others, and also the way it explores her feelings, her efforts to control herself, to be seen to be doing the right thing, however hard it might be (and still failing sometimes). Although the story is poignant and very hard, there are some lighter and witty (even bitchy) comments and moments that make us smile. Yes, I’m not ashamed to confess I cheered when Harriet, Frida’s daughter, bit the horrible social worker, and although I don’t think any fragment can do justice to the novel (and if you want to get a better idea of how well the book would fit your reading taste, I recommend checking a sample of it), I thought I’d share a few brief quotes:

Here, Frida is talking about Susanna, her husband’s new girlfriend:

The girl is on a mission to nice her to death. A war of attrition.

 Perhaps, instead of being monitored, a bad mother should be thrown into a ravine.

 Harriet is wearing a gray blouse and brown leggings, like a child of the apocalypse.

 What little she knows about the lives of saints comes back to her now and she thinks, this year, she might become holy.

 “A mother is a shark,” Ms. Russo says. “You’re always moving. Always learning. Always trying to better yourself.” (You’ve probably guessed that’s one of the members of staff at the school).

 The ending… I am not sure I’d say I liked it, but I think it fits the novel perfectly, and I cannot imagine any other ending that would work better. Readers seem very divided by it, and some felt it ruined the novel for them, while others loved it. It is open to interpretation, but I like to imagine that it shows Frida has learned a lot about herself and about being a mother in the school, but not perhaps the kind of lessons they had hoped to teach her.

 In sum, I enjoyed (although it is not the right descriptor, you know what I mean) this novel, and I am sure I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. I don’t think this is the kind of book to recommend to a young mother, or to somebody struggling with motherhood or thinking about it, but anybody interested in the subject of government control, education, parenthood, and keen on dystopic narrations should check it out. And I will be keeping an eye on the author’s career. I’d love to know what she writes next.

Thanks to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for this book, thanks to all of you for your continued support, and remember to keep on reading, smiling, and safe (as safe as we can all be these days, at least). 

 Check what the publishers did in London to celebrate the publication of the book:

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog APPLES NEVER FALL by Liane Moriarty (@MichaelJBooks) (@PenguinUKBoos) Family relationships, secrets, mysteries, and a lot of tennis #Booklaunch

Hi, all:

I bring you a novel that is officially launched today, 14th of September, by an author who has become even more popular and well-known recently thanks to the adaptations to the TV of her novels. I’ve read a few of her novels, and I can’t say I’m not surprised. And here comes her latest one.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty 

#1 New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty is back with a novel that looks at marriage, sibling rivalry, and the lies we tell others and ourselves. Apples Never Fall is the work of a writer at the top of her game.

The Delaney family love one another dearlyit’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaney family is a communal foundation. Stan and Joy are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killer on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are they so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups. Well, that depends on how you define success. No one in the family can really tell you what Troy does, but based on his fancy car and expensive apartment, he seems to do it very well, even if he blew up his perfect marriage. Logan is happy with his routine as a community college professor, but his family finds it easier to communicate with his lovely girlfriend than him. Amy, the eldest, can’t seem to hold down a job or even a lease, but leave it to Brooke, the baby of the family, to be the rock-steady one who is married with a new solo physiotherapy practice . . . which will take off any day now.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door. She says she chose their house because it looked the friendliest. And since Savannah is bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend, the Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, everyone will wonder what exactly went on in that household after Savannah entered their lives that night. Because now Joy is missing, no one knows where Savannah is, and the Delaneys are reexamining their parents’ marriage and their shared family history with fresh, frightened eyes.

https://www.amazon.com/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.es/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

Author Liane Moriarty
Author Liane Moriarty

About the author:

Liane Moriarty is the Australian author of eight internationally best-selling novels: Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Nine Perfect Strangers and the number one New York Times bestsellers: The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty. Her books have been translated into over forty languages and sold more than 20 million copies.

Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty both debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list – the first time this was ever achieved by an Australian author. Big Little Lies was adapted into a multiple award-winning HBO series with a star-studded cast including Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Hulu is adapting Nine Perfect Strangers into a limited series starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy for release in 2021.

Her new novel, Apples Never Fall, will be released in September 2021.

Liane lives in Sydney, Australia, together with her husband, son and daughter. You can find out more at www.lianemoriarty.com and www.facebook.com/LianeMoriartyAuthor

https://www.amazon.com/Liane-Moriarty/e/B00459IA54/

My review:

I received a NetGalley ARC copy of this novel from Penguin Michael Joseph UK, which I freely chose to review.

This is the fourth of Liane Moriarty’s novels I read, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one. She has become well-known, justifiably so, through her writing, and more recently thanks to the TV adaptations of a couple of her novels (Nine Perfect Strangers is available already, and although I’ve only watched a bit of it so far, it doesn’t look bad at all).

If I had to characterise her writing, based on the books I’ve read so far, I’d say she excels at creating lively and totally credible ensembles of characters (sometimes small communities, sometimes neighbours, sometimes complete strangers thrown into a common setting, or, as is the case here, a family and their close contacts), dropping —bomb-like— a mystery in their midst, and observing what happens. The mystery side of the story has the added benefit of getting readers hooked into the story at the beginning, when we don’t know much about the characters yet, because as things progress, and although the author is good at keeping her hand hidden (red herrings, twists and turns, and deceptive appearances are skilfully employed), we get more and more involved with the characters and learn things that sometimes end up being much more interesting than the original mystery. That, of course, depends on the reader’s taste, and I’m a sucker for psychologically complex characters and for books centred on the connections and relationships between individuals going through difficult circumstances. Those types of books that don’t seem too heavy on plot, but they are like ducks on a pond: there is a lot going on under the surface, invisible to the naked eye. One has to be prepared to get wet and go diving.

The description above is quite comprehensive, and as I want to avoid spoilers, I won’t go into a detailed account of what happens. Joy Delaney, a woman in her sixties, a tennis player and a coach, and mother of four children, disappears on Valentine’s Day, after having an argument with her husband, without telling him anything and only sending an unintelligible text to her sons and daughters, which mentions going off-grid. We soon learn that a few months earlier they had a house guest staying with them, a young woman called Savannah, and the novel alternates the two timelines, both chronological: one following on from Joy’s disappearance, and the other going back in time to show readers what happened to all the members of the Delaney family after Savannah came into their lives. The story is narrated in the third person, but from different characters’ points of view, mostly the members of the family (well, not so much Stan, at least not in the beginning), but also from others who don’t play a major part, like friends of the family, neighbours, and also the two police officers investigating the disappearance. This provides us with a choral view of events, and we get very different pictures and perspectives of the family and their relationships as if we were watching them through a kaleidoscope.

This is a long book (and quite a few reviewers have commented that they felt it could have been edited much more tightly, but I enjoyed the pace and the amount of detail, so I won’t complain), which I would describe as a domestic drama/mystery, and there are lots of issues explored: how our perspectives, goals, and priorities change with time and age; changes in the role of women and their own perceptions of themselves in recent generations; who gets to define success and how much of an impact our upbringing has on our sense of self; domestic violence; anxiety; migraines; sibling-rivalry; the world of professional sports, tennis in particular; long-term relationships and marriages; empty-nest syndrome and the toll of retirement… Even COVID-19 makes an appearance. Personally, I was a bit skeptical of the inclusion of the coronavirus in the novel, but although I don’t think it was necessary, I feel it adds a little something to the story, so it’s fine with me.

The six members of the Delaney family provide readers with plenty of room for thought. I was much more intrigued by the parents than I was by their children (although I developed a bit of a soft spot for Amy and quite liked Logan, oh, and some of their partners as well), especially because of their relationship, which we get to learn plenty about. They had not only been successfully (?) married for over fifty years and had four children, but they still played tennis together (doubles) and won and had run a successful business together too. What a challenge! Unsurprisingly, we discover there are some cracks and secrets between them, lies (some they tell each other and some they tell themselves), some skeletons hiding in cupboards, and quite a few things still left unsaid. Although Joy is the centre of attention, for evident reasons, and she is quite a character, I grew fond of Stan as well, and the author does a great job of making us understand why the characters are who they are and do what they do, even when they do pretty unforgivable and appalling things. Savannah is also fascinating, though extreme, and although I am not sure I’d say I identified with any of the characters, I was hooked from the beginning by their interaction and had to keep reading to find out what glued them together and who they really were and would end up becoming.

I have mentioned that the story is told in two timelines, which eventually converge, and it is narrated in the third person from a variety of points of view. The changes in the timeline are clearly marked. As I have read an ARC copy of the book, I am not sure if the formatting of the final version of the novel will be very different from the version I read, so I can’t say if the different points of view will be evident to the naked eye. In any case, I had no problem working out whose perspective I was reading, so I don’t think readers need to worry unduly about that, although I advise them to keep their eyes open and not get distracted. Everything is there for a good reason, even if it might not appear important at the time.

The author’s writing is deceptively simple: she does not overdo her descriptions or use complex words but knows how to insert small details and motifs that create a vivid and compelling picture of the characters, their environment, and their personalities. Even the dog has her own mind. Moriarty knows how to drop hints and sow doubts in our minds, is an expert in leading us down the wrong path, and she takes her time building up the characters, the background, and maintaining the suspense. The reveals are well-timed, and although this is not a page-turner in the usual sense, dedicating plenty of time to exploring the characters’ motivations and going on detours to learn more about the past, the action flows well, and everything fits in beautifully at the end. Even though it does not lack a sense of humour, I found it, in general, more understated when it came to light content and funny scenes than some of her other novels, with many more quietly amusing moments than those that make one guffaw.

I enjoyed the ending and its several twists, although more than one big ending, this is a book that takes its time to tie all the loose threads, so although there are aspects of the novel (more to do with what will happen next than with the actual mystery) left to the reader’s imagination, I particularly recommend it to those who feel frustrated when any aspects of the story aren’t fully explained.

In sum, this is a good example of what Moriarty’s stories are like, full of psychologically well-drawn characters, an intriguing mystery, and a novel for readers who don’t mind taking time to learn about the relationships and interactions within a family or a community, particularly when there are plenty of secrets and lies to uncover. And those who love tennis will appreciate it even more.

Thanks to Michael Joseph/ Penguin Random House UK and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it or know anybody who might, feel free to like, share, comment, and always keep smiling and stay safe!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Voices of the Second World War: A Child’s Perspective by Sheila A Renshaw (@penswordbooks). A must read for children and adults.

Hi all:

I bring you another book by Pen & Sword, one that I know will interest many of you.

Voices of the Second World War: A Child's Perspective by Sheila A Renshaw
Voices of the Second World War: A Child’s Perspective by Sheila A Renshaw

Voices of the Second World War: A Child’s Perspective by Sheila A Renshaw

Voices of the Second World War: A Child’s Perspective is a collection of firsthand accounts from people who experienced the Second World War from all over Europe: stretching from Russia to the Channel Islands, and Norway to Malta.

While some children appear to have been hardly aware of the war, for those who lived through bombing, occupation, deprivation, starvation and fear, the memories remain with them even today.

The accounts have been relayed according to their perspective at the time and the contributors were happy to share their experiences and memories, keen in the knowledge that they were being documented as personal chroniclers of one of the twentieth century’s most catastrophic events.

https://www.amazon.com/Voices-Second-World-War-Perspective-ebook/dp/B076PHT2GM/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Voices-Second-World-War-Perspective-ebook/dp/B076PHT2GM/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Voices-of-the-Second-World-War-Paperback/p/14172

About the author:

Sheila Renshaw grew up in an RAF family and the joined the WRAF after leaving school, later receiving a commission and marrying an RAF pilot. She travelled extensively with the services and brought up a family of two daughters.

She was inspired to write this book having talked to a neighbour who lived in the U.S.S.R. during the Second World War and who had never told her story to anyone before as she didn’t feel anyone would be interested. Amazed at what she’d heard, Sheila began to wonder how many other stories were out there waiting to be told…

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review. (Note that it is also available in ebook format).

I have talked before about the importance of remembering the past, especially the experiences of individuals who never make it into official history books. The movement to record the memories of the everyday lives of anonymous people, including mass archives, has helped bring history closer to everybody and has also helped us understand what the war was like for the general population.

This book goes a step further and collects the memories of people who were children during WWII, in many European countries (and also one in Egypt), in a variety of circumstances: some from countries that were invaded (the Netherlands, Poland, Norway, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia…), neutral countries (like Sweden), there are also several accounts from the Isle of Man, the Isle of Wight, and the Channel Islands (the only part of the British Isles occupied during the war), quite a few from the UK, and also from Germany and Italy. There are some common threads and themes throughout the different chapters, most of them dedicated to only one child’s memories, although there are some chapters which collect several shorter accounts. In occupied countries there are horrific accounts of the cruelty of the invading army, particularly reprisals against anything perceived as resistance or disobedience, and, after the allied victory, the repercussions for those who were seen as having collaborated with the invading forces (especially women who became “friendly” with German soldiers), some truly harrowing accounts of survivors of incredible hardship (Sara’s account of her and her sister’s survival in Auschwitz is heart-breaking, especially because they lost all of their immediate family; Nadia, from Ukraine, experienced plenty of hardship but she recounts how it could have been even worse, if not for the kindness of some of the people she met along the way)…  There are plenty of stories of children being evacuated (mostly in the UK), and also of the families who received those evacuees. Inventive mothers creating delicious recipes out of little food, schools that kept going no matter what, rationing books, joining the war effort by collecting newspapers, scrap metal, glass…, growing vegetables, going to the shelter, experiencing bombings first-hand, memories of the Barrage balloons, the sounds of the anti-air-raid guns, the all clear… In Germany and in many of the occupied countries, children remember the worry of not knowing what might happen, the need to be careful as you never knew who might overhear what you said, who was a friend or an enemy, and the terrible consequences if the wrong word reached the wrong ear. German children also mention the shock and utter disbelief when they and their families learned what had been happening in the concentration camps, although the older children were aware that Jews and dissidents were arrested or disappeared with little explanation. One of the children pointedly says that nobody admitted knowing anything about it, but it is clear from the experiences of some of the children in occupied countries that, at least to them, it was not such a big surprise.

There are also light moments, accounts of friendly German and Italian soldiers (especially at the beginning of the war), a German surgeon who saved the life of the father of one of the narrators (who was 2 y.o. at the time), children fascinated by the planes, looking for souvenirs among the debris, joining groups like the Cubs or the Brownies, meeting new people and experiencing a different kind of life in the countryside, the victory parties… I particularly enjoyed the account by Anne, from York, that reads at times like Huckleberry Finn (she saw life as an adventure, no matter what, and I hope she still does). I was moved by first-hand accounts of the Coventry bombings, and happy to read about what had happened to all those children and where they were now.

The book also includes photographs. These are not photographs of the children whose stories we are told, but they are black and white photos of the era, mostly of children, relate directly to some of the stories we read about, and help us recreate the atmosphere of the time as we read the book.

As the author explains in the introduction, which sets up the scene and provides a brief but useful background to the stories, during the war, the main consideration was the physical wellbeing of the children rather than the emotional impact some of the decisions the adults took on their behalf (like evacuating them) could have. Now, in hindsight, it is easy to see what an influence these events had on the lives of all those children. And, as a society, we should never forget what the long-term consequences of a war are on all those involved.

I recommend this book to everybody. Although some of the accounts are tough to read, I think books such as this one should be read to (and by) children, with their parents supervision if they are very young, as a way to help them connect to history, and by adults, because we must remember what happened (and what is still happening in many places) and work hard to avoid it in the future.

Thanks very much to Rosie and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Children in the Second World War: Memories from the Home Front by Amanda Herbert-Davies (@penswordbooks) For those interested in history from the point of view of the people in the street and a reminder of why this should not happen to any children.

Hi all:

For some reason this week we have more non-fiction books than fictional ones, but they are all wonderful and truly different, so here comes a historical one that I found irresistible.

Children in the Second World War by Amanda Herbert-Davies
Children in the Second World War by Amanda Herbert-Davies

Children in the Second World War: Memories from the Home Front by Amanda Herbert-Davies

It was not just the upheaval caused by evacuation and the blitzes that changed a generation’s childhood, it was how war pervaded every aspect of life. From dodging bombs by bicycle and patrolling the parish with the vicar’s WW1 pistol, to post air raid naps in school and being carried out of the rubble as the family’s sole survivor, children experienced life in the war zone that was Britain.

This reality, the reality of a life spent growing up during the Second World War, is best told through the eyes of the children who experienced it firsthand.

Children In the Second World War unites the memories of over two hundred child veterans to tell the tragic and the remarkable stories of life, and of youth, during the war. Each veteran gives a unique insight into a childhood which was unlike any that came before or after. This book poignantly illustrates the presence of death and perseverance in the lives of children through this tumultuous period, each account enlightens and touches the reader; shedding light on what it was really like on the Home front during the Second World War.

https://www.amazon.com/Children-Second-World-War-Memories-ebook/dp/B06XJ5LWQT/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Children-Second-World-War-Memories-ebook/dp/B06XJ5LWQT/

 

Paperback:

https://www.amazon.com/Children-Second-World-War-Memories/dp/1473893569/

Author Amanda Herbert-Davies

About the author:

Amanda Herbert-Davies has an honours degree in Conservation and Restoration of Historic Art. After living in France and having children, she returned to England where she became involved with the Second World War Experience Centre in Yorkshire. Working with the archival collection of the Home Front, she became fascinated by the recollections of children who grew up under wartime conditions in Britain.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Amanda-Herbert-Davies/e/B06WGPHZ25/

My review:

Thanks to Pen & Sword Books for offering me a copy of this book that I freely choose to review.

This book is the product of the author’s work in the archival collection of the Home Front at that Second World War Experience Centre in Yorkshire. It is easy to imagine what fascinating material the collection must contain, and how difficult it must be to choose some witness testimonies over others, but this collection offers a unique point of view, that of boys and girls who lived through the war in Britain. As the author explains, over 200 personal accounts have been used in its creation and they offer as many different points of view as children there were.

The book is divided into several chapters by themes. Although some are chronological (like the beginning, the end and the one about the bombing), some are more general and cover the whole period.

The Beginning talks about the initial thoughts about the war and how life changed (many of the things were surprising to me although I’m sure many people will have heard stories about it. For instance, I knew about the blackouts, but it never occurred to me that the names of train stops would be removed and travelling at night with nothing to help you orient yourself in a city [no lit shop windows, names…] was not only difficult but also dangerous [light coloured cars were forbidden and pedestrians couldn’t be easily seen either]. The chapter ‘Air-Raid Shelters’ shows the steps the government took (steel shelters, Andersons, Morrisons…) and also what individuals themselves did (hide in the cupboard under the stairs, which saved quite a few people, simply ignore the alarms, dig underground trenches [especially soldiers who’d been in WWI], fortify a room, go to the underground in London) to try and keep safe. The pictures that accompany the paperback are an eye-opener to anybody who didn’t live through it. The chapter on evacuation is one of the most heart-wrenching, with a whole range of experiences, from the kids who left the city to face prejudice in rural areas, to those who found a second family and were made feel like royalty. In ‘invasion’ there is discussion of the plans families made in case of invasion (some determined to die rather than be taken prisoner) and also their home-spun anti-spy activities. ‘Shortages’ will probably be familiar to those with relatives who lived through the war, and it is a tribute in particular to mothers’ imagination and inventive when trying to make up for the things that were missing (I loved the mock banana sandwiches made by boiling and mashing up parsnip and mixing up some banana essence). ‘Schools’ emphasises the difficult experiences of those children who missed schooling or had to try and learn in classrooms with neither roofs nor materials, with children of all ages mixed together and hardly any teachers. ‘Entertainment’ shows that children can see opportunities to have fun anywhere. While some children were terrified, many others felt inspired and made use of shrapnel, diffused bombs, ruins of buildings, to role play or to design games and bombs. ‘War Effort’ shares the work older children (some as young as 12) did to help, including running messages, working for the post office bringing the dreaded bad news, girls helping in hospitals, and how many of them moved on to join the armed forces when they grew up. ‘The Bombing of Britain’ will bring memories to many and it covers not only London but many of the other cities, and phenomena such as the families who would leave the cities every night and go back in the morning. The resolution and the population and the way people took everything in their stride come across clear in these accounts. People who survived would dust themselves off and carry on. ‘The End’, talks about the celebrations for those who could celebrate and the sad moments of those who couldn’t.

The book has very funny moments, and sad and hard to read ones too, some inspiring and some not so much. The author is very good at remaining invisible, choosing passages that illustrate different angles of the same theme and letting speak for themselves, without interfering, and the approach increases the power of the accounts. I marked passages and quotes as I went along, but I ended up with so many it was very difficult to choose. But here are a few, to give you a flavour of the book:

Here, talking about taking refuge in cellars:

There was an element of risk sheltering in that cellar with an open fire considering they were ‘within six feet of an operating gas main and visible pipes’, but the general thinking in Charles’s cellar was that it was better to ‘be bombed in comfort’. (17)

Talking about the bombings and the state of disrepair of the houses:

Pamela had her house windows broken, then repaired and covered in sticky tape, and then had the lot of them blown out again. Her mother, being practical, merely commented, ‘Oh well, I will not have to clean them.’

And talking about the VE Day celebrations:

To Irene’s astonishment, one of the elderly church ladies ‘of staid and sober habits’ turned up resplendent in an eye-catching red dress and was later seen leading the conga up the street. (171) It seems the conga was pretty popular.

I am not a big reader of conventional military history (battles, strategy or detailed fight scenes) but I’m always intrigued by what happens back home during any wars and how the world carries on in some fashion for the rest of population while the fighting goes on elsewhere (at least in conventional wars). The memories of those children and their accounts of their experiences at the time might be tinged with nostalgia in some cases, but in others, it reflects the long-term effects of experiences lived so long ago and that have not been forgotten. It is impossible to read this book and not think about those children who, still today, live in a constant state of war and danger, and how disruptive this will be to their lives if they reach adulthood.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the home front angle of the war (World War II in Britain in particular, but any wars), in stories about children’s subject to extreme situations, and anybody who enjoys history as told not by politicians and big names, but by the people in the street. A great and important book that should be required reading for school-age children.

Thanks to Pen & Sword Books, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK, and of course, to share reviews for all the books you read.

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview GOOD ME BAD ME by Ali Land (@byAliLand) A not so innocent girl in a twisted world. Not heavy on explicit violence but a true psychological chiller.

Hi all:

Today I bring you… surprise, surprise, a thriller. This one has made it quite big, especially in the UK. I couldn’t find it in Kindle version in the US, but I suspect it’s a matter of time only…

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

ONE OF THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY, CONTROVERSIAL AND EXPLOSIVE DEBUTS OF 2017, Good Me Bad Me is for fans of quality psychological suspense and reading group fiction.

‘The new Girl on The Train, which was the new Gone Girl. You get the picture. This psycho-thriller by Ali Land is set to be massive’ Cosmopolitan

‘Incredible, very special’ Radio 4’s Open Book

‘NEW NAME .
NEW FAMILY.
SHINY.
NEW.
ME.’

Annie’s mother is a serial killer.

The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.

But out of sight is not out of mind.

As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name – Milly.

A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.

But Milly’s mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.

Good me, bad me.

She is, after all, her mother’s daughter…

Translated into over 20 languages, Good Me Bad Me is a tour de force. In its narrator, Milly Barnes, we have a voice to be reckoned with, and in its author, Ali Land, an extraordinary new talent.

A novel of complex motivations that will test readers’ capacity for empathy, Good Me Bad Me is already a strong contender for debut of the year’ The Irish Times

‘Gripping, unsettling and unforgettable’ Heat

‘Frightening and enthralling’ Grazia

‘Unsettling. Holds our attention from the opening page. There is so much to praise here’ Guardian

‘Spellbinding. Will have you on the edge of your seat. Sure to be a big talking point this year’ Daily Express

‘A creepy, compulsive thriller I read in one breathless gulp. Good Me Bad Me reveals its shocking secrets slowly while reeling in the reader with all the intricate skill of a spider spinning a web. One not to be missed’ Red

‘Original and compelling – what a sensational debut!’ Clare Mackintosh, number one bestselling author of I See You and I Let You Go

‘An astoundingly compelling thriller. Beyond tense. You hardly breathe. Best read in ages’ Matt Haig

‘Intelligent and disturbing, Good Me Bad Me had me hooked from the first page’ Debbie Howells, author of Richard & Judy book club bestseller The Bones of You

Editorial reviews

The new Girl on The Train, which was the new Gone Girl. You get the picture. This psycho-thriller by Ali Land is set to be massive (Cosmopolitan)

A gripping tale about a teenage girl waiting to give evidence at her serial-killer mother’s trial. Unsettling and unforgettable (Heat)

Incredible, very special (Radio 4’s Open Book)

Uncomfortable, shocking, and totally compelling, put this to the top of your to-read pile (Sun)

Unsettling. Holds our attention from the opening page. There is so much to praise here (Guardian)

Had me on the edge of my seat from the first page (Women & Home)

Could not be more unputdownable if it was slathered with superglue (Sunday Express)

Frightening, enthralling, utterly compelling. Everyone’s scrabbling for the new Girl on the Train to get their thriller fix. And 2017’s ‘one’ looks set to be Good Me Bad Me. A gripper. You’ll be hooked (Grazia)

A dark, intensely compelling debut. Terrifying (Daily Mail)

Good Me Bad Me is the story of a girl who hands her serial killer mother over to the police. With a new life and new, welcoming family, she prepares for the coming trial. But this is a battle of wills, of nature versus nurture – of good against bad . . . (from the publisher’s description)

This superbly dark, twister chiller is as gripping as they come (Heat)

An astoundingly compelling thriller. Beyond tense. You hardly breathe. Best read in ages (Matt Haig)

Intelligent and disturbing, Good Me Bad Me had me hooked from the first page (Debbie Howells, author of Richard & Judy book club bestseller The Bones of You)

Milly’s voice is gripping and shocking. This is a book you will want to discuss with everyone you know (Claire Douglas, author of The Sisters and Local Girl Missing)

I absolutely loved it and read it in less than a day. A proper page turner and brilliantly written (Edith Bowman)

A triumph of tension. I doubt I’ll ever sleep again (Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of R&J bestseller The Last Act of Love)

Good Me Bad Me is a novel that explodes off the page, with beautifully drawn characters and carefully executed pace. Heart rending, engrossing and ultimately terrifying, you’ll be thinking about it a long time after you’ve turned the final page (Rowan Coleman, author of R&J bestseller The Memory Book)

Unbelievably good, utterly gripping (Jill Mansell)

This book is a work of twisted genius. It is going to be HUGE. Watch out for Ali Land (Bryony Gordon)

Listen to the early praise for Ali Land’s Good Me Bad Me because it’s all true. It’s dark, utterly gripping, brilliant (David Headley, Goldsboro Books)

I read this book in one compulsive gulp over two days and absolutely loved it. It’s raw, superbly controlled and it chills to the bone (Richard Skinner)

You know from the first page you’re in confident hands. A genuinely disturbing debut that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Good Me Bad Me is going to be huge – and it deserves to be (Catherine Ryan Howard)

Good Me Bad Me is utterly compelling. Ali Land writes with such clarity, and such imagination, you will fall into her world on the very first page and find yourself unable to leave. An extraordinary and breath-taking debut (Joanna Cannon, author of Sunday Times bestseller The Trouble with Goats and Sheep)

The best crime debut I’ve read in ages. Creepy, edgy and addictively twisted. I loved it (Sarah Hilary)

Ali Land’s Good Me Bad Me is an intensely compelling exploration of nature versus nurture wrapped up in a page-turning psychological thriller. Darkly disturbing and beautifully written. What more could any reader want? (Sarah Pinborough)

Good Me Bad Me is an astonishing debut – technically sophisticated and emotionally heart wrenching. So many things are done well – the status jungle of girls school, the psychological dissonance of a dysfunctional family, the internal machinery of damaged children. I thought it was wonderful (Helen Callaghan, bestselling author of Dear Amy)

One word: Wow. What a brilliant book – believable, shocking, thought-provoking and utterly compelling. The writing, as well as being so pacey, is beautiful. This feels such a current and original book (T R Richmond)

Good Me Bad Me is a compelling page-turner. Chilling and dark, it grips you and won’t let go (Rebecca Done)

Ten pages into Good Me Bad Me, I became an Ali Land fan. Her beautiful, intimate voice immediately tugged me into the heart and mind of a serial killer’s daughter and then wouldn’t let go. Is there hope for this teenager’s new life outside of her mother’s horror? Original, intense, and utterly compelling, Good Me Bad Me is not just a terrific thriller but a psychological dive into a young girl’s soul. It takes subtlety and perfect balance to maintain a dark tale like this, and Land never once stutters or makes you look away (Julia Heaberlin, author of Sunday Times bestseller Black-Eyed Susans)

The new Girl on The Train, which was the new Gone Girl… You get the picture. This psycho-thriller by Ali Land is set to be massive (Cosmopolitan)

2017’s most hotly anticipated psychological thriller (Stylist)

A creepy, compulsive thriller I read in one breathless gulp… Good Me Bad Me reveals its shocking secrets slowly while reeling in the reader with all the intricate skill of a spider spinning a web. One not to be missed (Red Magazine)

Dark, claustrophobic and thought-provoking. You’ll read this outstanding debut while holding your breath! (Prima Magazine)

An incredible narrative voice . . . Very special and different (Radio 4’s Open Book)

Terrifyingly good. The terror of Liz Nugent mixed with the teen angst of Louise O’Neill (The Irish Examiner)

Frightening and enthralling

(Grazia)

A novel of complex motivations that will test readers’ capacity for empathy, Good Me Bad Me is already a strong contender for debut of the year (The Irish Times)

Gripping from the first page (Elle UK)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Me-Bad-Sunday-Bestseller-ebook/dp/B01HOCLK14/

Paperback in the US:

https://www.amazon.com/Good-Me-Bad-Ali-Land/dp/0718182936/

About the author:

Author Ali Land
Author Ali Land

After graduating from university with a degree in Mental Health, Ali Land spent a decade working as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health nurse in hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia. Ali is now a full-time writer and lives in North London. Good Me Bad Me has been translated into over twenty languages.

There isn’t much in the author’s page on Amazon, but there’s a mine of information, interviews, etc. at her author’s page in Penguin:

https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/ali-land/124408/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin for offering me a free ARC of this novel that I voluntarily chose to review.

This novel has Annie, a sixteen years old girl, as narrator and she tells us, in the first person, what happens when she reports her mother to the police. Her mother is a serial killer. Worse than that, she’s killed 9 children (allegedly). Whilst they are waiting for the trial, she is placed with a foster family and given a new identity (she becomes Milly). Her new family has its problems too. Mike, the father, is a psychologist and seems the most together in the family although he doesn’t realise he might be biting more than he can chew. Saskia, the mother, has problems in her relationship with her daughter and drinks and takes too many pills. Phoebe is a queen bee and not very nice at all. The dog is OK, though. Milly tries to fit in with the new family while getting ready for the trial. It is not easy.

I’m always intrigued by how writers use their narrators and here Milly (Annie) is pretty unreliable. She is very good at keeping under wraps some of the information and only revealing or suggesting other. She talks to her mother, whose voice she seems to have internalised (giving a clear indication of the effect such toxic people would have in the lives of those around them) and has a running conversation with her, convinced that her mother is still playing games with her. Milly insists on giving evidence because in some way that will give her closure (perhaps). She second-guesses not only her mother but all around her; a habit we guess must have grown from trying to survive in an extremely hostile environment.

Milly’s new life has difficulties, as Phoebe, who doesn’t know her circumstances, is jealous of the attention her father gives her and is quite bitchy. She bullies her and gets her friends to do the same at school. Milly manages to make a friend but her relationship with Morgan, a girl from a neighbouring estate, has very worrying traits and is not the healthiest.

The story is well written and paced, revealing information at a slow pace and keeping us intrigued. The subject matter is very hard, but the worst of the violence is psychological and there are few details given although we get to imagine terrible things. There is an air of threat and impending doom hanging over the novel that the author achieves by cleverly hiding some information and foreshadowing other events that not always take place.

The writer, who had worked nursing young people in mental health settings, creates a good plot and it’s difficult not to let our mind wonder and wander, worrying about what might come next.

I’ve read some of the comments about the novel and although most are positive, some of the negative ones deserve some discussion. Some people query the voice of the narrator, whom they feel is very articulate and adult-sounding for a sixteen-year-old. She is very articulate. She is also a girl who’s survived to incredible life events and who’s evidently very intelligent and even gifted (if we’re to judge by the comments of her art teacher) and she’s very good at self-censoring and manipulating others (and perhaps herself and us too). It is not easy to sympathise with her at an emotional level, although rationally it is impossible not to empathise and it might also depend on the reader (and our feelings change as we read on). There are comments about how Milly seems to behave too rationally and how somebody subjected to the abuse and trauma she has suffered would be much more affected. There is no fast and hard rule on that matter and one can’t help but wonder about Milly’s own personality. As she notes, she’s her mother’s daughter. Some of the reviewers felt that the rest of the characters are one-dimensional and have no depth but we need to remember the book is narrated from Milly’s point of view and she’s very self-centered and sees other characters only in the light of their interaction with her, not as individuals with other interests and full lives (her relationship with the art tutor is illustrative of that, although the school doesn’t do a very good job there either).

There are some points that are perhaps given too much emphasis (they are going to perform Lord of the Flies at the school, very aptly and that is subject of much discussion, therefore calling attention once more to children and violence), and we are given data that ends up becoming a red herring or doesn’t go anywhere (Milly discovers information about some of the characters that makes us wonder what’s going to happen next and… nothing does). Personally, I think all of it helps create a picture of the central character as a contradictory individual, who is trying to not be like her mother but at the same time can’t help but want her mother’s approval, and who perhaps has realised that being bad has its pluses too, as long as you don’t get caught.

The ending won’t disappoint, although I think many of us might have suspected what was going to happen but not perhaps how the author builds up to it, and as I said, we might have thought there was more to come.

In summary a disquieting and chilling book, that’s not heavy on explicit violence but explores the darker recesses of the mind of somebody affected by an extremely dysfunctional childhood. A word of warning, although there’s very little explicit violence, I know some readers prefer not to read thrillers where children are the victims and suffer abuse and that’s the case here.

Thanks to NetGalley, Penguin and the author for her book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview ALL I EVER WANTED by Lucy Dillon (@lucy_dillon) A feel-good story with its heart in the right place.

Hi all:

As promised, I’m going down my list of reviews. As it’s in alphabetic order, it’s luck of the draw what comes up, genre-wise, but you won’t have to wait long for the next one.

All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon

All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon I recommend it to anybody who loves a gentle story about families, with no scandals, major shocks, histrionics or extremes

FROM THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF A HUNDRED PIECES OF ME AND ONE SMALL ACT OF KINDNESS COMES A HEARTWARMING, BITTERSWEET AND UPLIFTING STORY OF MISSED CHANCES AND UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITIES.

‘Lucy Dillon’s books make the world a better place’ Heat

‘Bittersweet, lovely and ultimately redemptive; the kind of book that makes you want to live your own life better’ Jojo Moyes

‘So satisfying and clever and deeply moving’ Sophie Kinsella

Caitlin’s life is a mess. Her marriage to a man everyone else thinks is perfect has collapsed, along with her self-esteem, and breaking free seems the only option.

Nancy, her four-year-old daughter, used to talk all the time; in the car, at nursery, to her brother Joel. Then her parents split up. Her daddy moves out. And Nancy stops speaking.

Nancy’s Auntie Eva, recently widowed and feeling alone, apart from the companionship of two bewildered pugs, is facing a future without her husband or the dreams she gave up for him.

But when Eva agrees to host her niece and nephew once a fortnight, Caitlin and Eva are made to face the different truths about their marriages – and about what they both really want . . .

Links:

 

 

About the author: 

Author Lucy Dillon
Author Lucy Dillon

Lucy Dillon grew up in Cumbria and read English at Cambridge, then read a lot of magazines as a press assistant in London, then read other people’s manuscripts as a junior fiction editor. She now lives in a village outside Hereford with two basset hounds, an old red Range Rover, and too many books.

ONE SMALL ACT OF KINDNESS is Lucy’s sixth novel. The people are made up, but the basset hound, unfortunately, isn’t.

Lucy won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Contemporary Romantic Novel prize in 2015 for A HUNDRED PIECES OF ME, and the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2010 for LOST DOGS AND LONELY HEARTS.

You can follow her on Twitter @lucy_dillon or find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/LucyDillonBooks.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review.

This novel tells the story of a family, as unique as all families, and it starts seemingly at a point of crisis. What is supposed to be a fun trip to London for the kids, just ahead of Christmas, somehow marks the beginning of the end for of Caitlin and Patrick’s marriage. In the aftermath of the separation between them, Patrick’s sister, Eva, who was widowed a couple of years ago, ends up becoming roped into the situation and making interesting discoveries about herself.

The story is told in the third person, mostly from the alternating points of view of Caitlin and Eva, although there are a couple of fragments from the point of view of little Nancy. This is a book dominated by the female perspective, although it is not chick-lit. Each character is very distinctive and the reader gets to share in their point of view, although the alternating voices help to give more perspective to the story and to create a fuller understanding and a richer picture. Whilst at times we might identify completely with the characters and share their thoughts and feelings, they are not presented as perfect or always right. In fact, it is easy to feel annoyed and frustrated at times with some of the decisions they take, and we start questioning our alliances. But, as is the case with real human beings, nobody is perfect, and in this case, the story helps us understand their circumstances, why they behave as they do. By the end, we conclude that they all love each other, sometimes even if they are not aware of it, but they needed to work through their difficulties communicating and to get rid of the secrets they kept from each other.

The novel offers us two very different female protagonists, Caitlin, reckless, impulsive, disorganised, with a big heart, a fierce mother who’d do anything to protect her cubs, but less than perfect, and aware of her weak points, and Eva, a far more rational, business-like and determined woman. Both of them thought they’d found the perfect husband but they discover things aren’t quite as they think. As mentioned, we might feel closer to one or the other, but they both come through the pages as real people. We share their fears, hopes, puzzlement, even if at times we might not agree with what they do. The two children, Joel and Nancy are beautifully depicted, with their very different temperaments, and they also function well as stand-ins for children in similar situations, trying their hardest to cope and make sense of what’s going on around them. In a way, Nancy and her predicament, when she stops talking, is an embodiment of the difficulties between the adults, who are also keeping secrets and are unable to communicate effectively their feelings, even if they are still talking. The men in the story, although only seen through the perspective of the women, are neither knights in shining armour (no matter how hard they try), nor villains, but good people trying their best to be worthy of their partners and their families. And if you love pets, the two pugs, Bumble and Bee will melt your hearts, with their individual personalities, their ways of communicating and providing a safe haven to humans, and their winning ways.

This is a touching novel that makes us think about families (standard and alternative), about the impact of expectations and childhood experiences on our adult behaviour, and about the risks of trying to impose impossible standards on others. We need to remain true to ourselves to be the best for our families. The author invites us to become members of this extended family and we feel a bit orphaned at the end. I recommend it to anybody who loves a gentle story about families, with no scandals, major shocks, histrionics or extremes. A feel-good story with its heart in the right place.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publishers and to the author for this wonderful novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember, like, share, comment and CLICK! More tomorrow!

 

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Book reviews

#Bookreview TRULY, MADLY, GUILTY by Liane Moriarty (@Flatironbooks) What does it take to shatter a life? #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

As I’ve been telling you, I have quite a few reviews due and accumulated, and today I’m sharing a review for a book coming from Australia by a well-known writer, although this is the first book by Liane Moriarty I’ve read.

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Entertainment Weekly’s “Best Beach Bet”

USA Today Hot Books for Summer Selection

Miami Herald Summer Reads Pick

The new novel from Liane Moriarty, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies, and What Alice Forgot, about how sometimes we don’t appreciate how extraordinary our ordinary lives are until it’s too late. 

“What a wonderful writer―smart, wise, funny.” ―Anne Lamott

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Here, my review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK- Michael Joseph for providing me with a free copy of the novel in exchange for an unbiased review.

I confess to having checked some of the reviews of the book and noticed that many of the comments compared this novel to some of this Australian writer’s previous work, particularly The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies. This is the first of Moriarty’s novels I read and therefore I don’t know if this might be a disappointing read for those who have read the others.

The novel is clearly set from the beginning around something that happened at a barbeque (this being Australia, I guess it’s to be expected). The chapters alternate between the aftermath of the said barbeque (weeks later) and events that happened at the time, although we’re not told exactly what that was until half way through. It is evident that it was an event that affected everybody involved, but the author cleverly (although perhaps annoyingly for some readers) circles around the details and the circumstances of what happened without quite revealing it (and no, I won’t either).

The story is narrated in the third person from the various characters’ points of view, mostly those who were present at the barbeque (that includes Dakota, the young daughter of the couple who had invited the rest to their house), but also some that we only later realise were either involved in the incident or know something about it others don’t. I know some readers don’t like too many changes in viewpoint, although in this case the characters and their voices are sufficiently distinct to avoid confusion.

The three couples present at the incident are very different from each other. Erika and Oliver are a perfectly matched couple. Both grew up with difficult parents and survived disrupted childhoods, although not unscathed. They are organised and methodical and they do everything by the book (or so it seems). Clementine and Sam are the ‘opposites attract’ kind of couple. She is a musician, a cellist, and he doesn’t even like classical music. She is the artist and he is more down to earth. They have two daughters and they are impulsive, free for all and relaxed (although perhaps not as much as they seem). Camilla and Erika are childhood friends, although their friendship was instigated by Camilla’s mother, who became Erika’s heroine and role model, perfect motherhood personified.  Camilla feels guilty for resenting Erika’s interference in her childhood because she’s aware of her family circumstances. But she still feels put upon. Erika’s feelings towards her friend are also complicated, mixing envy, disdain and some true affection.

The third couple, Vid and Tiffany, are Erika and Oliver’s neighbours, very rich, very loud, and seemingly perfect for each other. They enjoy life to the full and don’t mind bending the rules for fun or to get their own way. Although on the surface they seem harmless and good fun, they represent temptation and we later discover they might be darker than they appear. They don’t know the others very well but even they are affected by what happens.

The novel shows how a seemingly unimportant oversight can have an impact on many people’s lives, putting an end to innocence and burdening all with guilt, and how we all keep secrets, sometimes even from ourselves. The guilt we carry, justified or not, can put a terrible strain on relationships and lives and can affect people’s mental health.  The story builds up slowly and perhaps because of the emphasis on the event (that is not easy to guess and is kept under wraps for very long) it might result somewhat anticlimactic once it is revealed. For me, it works like a puzzle where the pieces are being fitted together slowly, with an insistence on fitting first the outskirts of the picture rather than the centre of it. How much of the detail is necessary is debatable, and it also depends on how much you care for the characters, that are interesting but perhaps not that easy to identify with. There were flashes of humour, but very few and I understand from comments that the author’s previous books were funnier.

I enjoyed the ending that I found unexpectedly positive, although it is not earth-shattering. Some of the couples learn from the event and move on, but not all, although we get to understand the microcosms and all the characters much better by the end of the novel as they have grown more rounded and human . Although I don’t think this is a novel for everybody and it is not a page-turner, I hope to get to check the author’s previous work and I appreciate the quality of her writing, which is descriptive and precious.

Link:

https://www.amazon.com/Truly-Madly-Guilty-Liane-Moriarty/dp/1250069793/

Thanks to Net Galley, to Penguin UK and to the author for her novel, thanks to all of you for reading and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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