Nine Perfect Strangers

Rating: ⭐
Author: Liane Moriarty
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pub date: Nov. 2019 (read Jan. 2019)

Nine Perfect Strangers was totally different than what I was expecting. For some reason I thought this was going to be a murder mystery (spoiler, it’s not), not really sure why, so the plot ended up taking me totally by surprise, but in a good way.

Nine Perfect Strangers centers around Tranquillum House, a spa/resort where people come for all sorts of reasons, but primarily to make some kind of change, whether it’s with their body, personal habits, or even to save their relationship. The resort was founded by russian immigrant, Masha, who had a near death experience when she suffered a heart attack from overwork and neglecting her health, and found a new outlook on life that centered around personal health and wellbeing. Nine people have assembled at Tranquillum for a 10 day retreat.

Tranquillum House is known for having slightly revolutionary practices; no electronics are permitted at the spa and there are mandatory fasts, juice cleanses, and periods of silence throughout the 10 day retreat. However, many people swear that Tranquillum House gave them a whole new outlook on life, so most of the guests are willing to give it a try for 10 days. This group of guests includes a washed up romance novelist and footballer, a tired mom, a divorce lawyer, a couple trying to save their marriage, and a family trying to heal after the death of their son/brother. They are mostly optimistic about the retreat; however, what these strangers don’t know is that Tranquillum House has decided to try a new protocol for this retreat and that they will be physically and emotionally tested over the course of their ten day visit.

I’ve read two other books by Liane Moriarty: Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, and I must say, she is really good at tackling tough subjects with humour. Her characters are all pretty humourous in this book in how ridiculous they are. They all grapple with some pretty serious issues, yet still provide a lot of comic relief. I’m still not quite sure what to make of the plot. It was a really different concept and it was actually quite shocking where Moriarty took the plot in the seond half of the book.

What I liked most about the book though was the theme, which centered around the idea of change. All of the guests decide to attend the retreat because they are seeking some kind of change in their lives, and the resort itself was founded because of the change that Masha underwent after her near death experience. Masha experienced a huge change in her life and really wants to help others to change their lives for the better. However, what she begins to realize is that it’s easy to help people change over a 10 day period, but that it is immensely difficult for her guests to make permanent changes once they return to their old lives. It raises the question of whether people really can change.

It really is a roller coaster ride because some of Tranquillum House’s practices seem really out there and it’s easy to dismiss them as “hippy-dippy nonsense”. But the further you read, you start to question yourself because it’s hard to deny that the practices actually do seem to work. However, when the plot takes a drastic turn around the half way point, you see the characters starting to revert back to their original tendencies, which again begs the question of whether change is truly possible. I liked the book because even though the resort seems to be a bit of a farce and I think a lot of the people would only be temporarily changed by the experience, it’s hard to deny by the end of the novel that the guests have been changed by their time at Tranquillum, just in ways you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

I don’t want to say any more because I don’t want to ruin the plot and I think it is actually best to go into this book blind if possible. It is quite different from the other work I’ve read by Moriarty, but it did make me think and reflect and I think it is an interesting commentary on the human ability to change, so I did quite like it. It also does a great job at developing each of the nine characters and I was really impressed with how each them grew throughout the novel and I enjoyed getting each of their back stories. I read this for my January book club, so I’m really interested to hear what the rest of my book club thought because I can see how some people might not like this book.

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November Summary

November has been the BEST reading month! Last month I sent a new PB for most pages read in a month, but it didn’t last long because I beat it again this month. I always read a lot of books in November because I get really into the Goodreads Choice Awards and always try and read as many of the nominees as I can (I decided to make this my November monthly challenge). This month I read a whopping 17 books, granted 6 of them were graphic novels and short stories, but it was still a new personal record for most books read in one month. Here’s what I read:

Books read: 17
Pages read: 5,221
Main genres: Graphic Novels, Fantasy, Fiction
Favourite book: So many good books! So hard to choose, but probably Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

So, like I said, a lot of the books I read this month were nominees in the Goodreads Choice Awards. I read a lot of books, so I won’t spend too long on each one. To start things off I read two books by V.E. Schwab, Vicious (⭐⭐⭐⭐) and it’s sequel, Vengeful (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the Sci-fi genre. Vicious was published 5 years ago, but it’s only just geting a sequel, so I decided to read them back to back and really liked them. I don’t think the second book was quite as good as the first, but they’re fast-paced novels that examine morality and the things that drive good people to do bad things.

I also read a few non-fiction books, which is a genre I don’t normally read. I decided to read Phoebe Robinson’s new book, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the humour category, and absolutely loved it! I read Phoebe’s debut novel in 2016, which was pretty good, but I think she really upped her game in this book and I would totally recommend the audiobook. I also received a free copy of Abbi Jacobson’s new book, I Might Regret This (⭐⭐⭐), from Hachette, which I was thrilled to read, but ended up not loving quite as much as I’d hoped. Through I’m still a huge fan of Abbi and Broad City. Hatchette also sent me an early copy of Wundersmith (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐), the sequel to Jessica Townsend’s debut novel, Nevermoor. I read Nevermoor a few months ago and was pretty much obsessed with it, so I immediately jumped right into the sequel and was delighted that it was just as wonderful as the first book! It’s a middle grade fantasy series full of whimsy that gives me huge Harry Potter vibes. A solid 5 stars – this series is incredible and I would recommend to everyone!

I read a few very short books, Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini (⭐⭐⭐), which is a short illustrated picture book that he wrote for charity (which I didn’t review), and For Every One by Jason Reynolds (⭐⭐.5), which was nominated in the Poetry category. Both books were nice, but honestly, I thought they were both a little too short to pack that much of a punch.

For graphic novels, I read the latest volume of Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (⭐⭐⭐⭐). I absolutely love this graphic novel series, but the latest volume pretty much killed me, and it appears Vaughan and Staples may be going on a bit of a hiatus over the next little while, so that kills me even more. I also devoured the first 3 volumes of a new graphic novel series called Fence, by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad (⭐⭐⭐⭐). Only the first volume is published at this time, but there are 12 issues available and I liked the first volume so much I actually had to seek out the individual issues instead of waiting for the next two volumes. It’s a series about a high school boys fencing team, which sounds kind of boring, but it actually excellent!

In addition to Phoebe Robinson’s new audiobook, I also listened to Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix (⭐⭐), which is the second and final book in Julie C. Dao’s dualogy. I really liked the first book, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, which I also read as an audiobook, but the second book was a huge disappointment. The narration changed characters and I found this one pretty boring compared to the delightful nastiness that was the first book. The first one was a retelling of the evil queen in snow white, where as this was one a more traditional snow white retelling, although they were both sent it an asian inspired fantasy world, which I liked. Speaking of asian- inspired fantasy worlds, I read R.F. Kuang’s debut novel, The Poppy War (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the fantasy category. It is a heavy book, but wow! Kuang’s story is rich is depth, setting and history. It examines the Sino-Japanese war and the atrocities people commit against one another in war and how we justify them. A heavy hitter, but very well written and plotted.

My book club’s November pick was You by Caroline Kepnes (⭐⭐⭐.5). I’ve been trying to get to this one for a while and with the TV series being released on Netflix in December, it was good timing. You is a mystery/thriller novel told from the point of view of a stalker and boy, is it creepy. I didn’t like it quite as much as I hoped, but it is still very well written and quite different than most other books out there. I finally finished reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith (⭐⭐⭐.5), which I started reading way back in July (shocking I know). I had put it aside around the 300 page mark, but I finally picked it up and read the last 150 pages. I quite liked this book, but it is not very compelling, and for that reason it was hard to pick up, despite liking the story.

Finally, two of my favourite books of the month, along with Wundersmith, were The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) and Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐). The Simple Wild was nominated in the romance genre and I was instantly motivated to read it when I found out it was about Alaska (I have a bit of an obsession with Alaska since reading The Great Alone earlier this year). It had a bit of a slow start and the main character was a little vapid at times, but I ended up loving this book! The main character was 26, which is refreshing since most of the books I read feature teenagers or families. I’m starting to really appreciate family dramas, and this one was a mix of family drama and romance that really worked for me.

Our Homesick Songs was my last read of the month and it was also a family drama, but this time historical, that completely captivated me. It’s about the disappearance of cod in Newfoundland in the early 1990’s and the impact it had on rural communities. It’s a simple story about a family living in a remote fishing town, but it is so beautiful written and evokes a strong feeling of homesickness and loneliness. Newfoundland is where I was born and raised, so it had particular meaning for me and I was incredibly impressed by Emma Hooper’s prose. I devoured this book and it is definitely going to be one of my top picks of the year.

So there you have it, all 17 of the books I read this month. There were some really great books. The fact that I rated three of them 5 stars is very rare since I sometimes go months without rating anything 5 stars. I feel like I’ve finally escaped the book slump that I was in over the summer and I’m feeling very inspired by all the great books I’ve been reading!

I’d love to know, what books did you read and love this month?

You

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Caroline Kepnes
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub date: Sep. 2014 (read Nov. 2018)

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it is definitely unlike anything I’ve read before and I thought the author did a great job on blurring the lines of morality and exposing our human ability for empathy.

I was really intrigued about this book because I heard it was written in 2nd person and it’s not a POV that we often see. It didn’t have quite the same shock value I was anticipating because I was already expecting this to be creepy and it reminded me a little of JK Rowling’s, Career of Evil, which is partially told from the point of view of a serial killer. It also reminded me of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Both protagonists are obsessive and violent and have a very flawed way of looking at the world. But even though both of these books are told from the point of view of the villain, You definitely had a unique narrative style that I think was very effective in this story.

You tells the story of Joe Goldberg, a book seller who meets a woman named Beck in his shop and falls hard and fast for her. His whole world centers around Beck; he hacks her email and manipulates her and those around her in order to insert himself into her life. Joe’s voice is jarring and crude, but felt authentic. I’m curious what kind of research Kepnes did for this book because Joe definitely suffers from mental illness and I would like to know how she got into his mindset. Even though it’s crude, I say his voice is authentic because some of the things he says definitely mirrors some of the offensive things men say on the internet and in toxic tinder threads.

Joe eludes to another woman he’s been obsessed with in the past and it becomes obvious that he is extremely troubled and has stalked and hurt people before. He doesn’t have personal social media accounts, but he has learned how to manipulate other people’s accounts to discover disturbing amounts of information about them. Kepnes explores so many themes in this book, one of which being the way social media has transformed our lives and the inherent dangers of it.

Personally, I didn’t find the social media stalking that creepy, but I think that is probably a byproduct of having read this in 2018 as opposed to 2014 when it was originally published. Social media has really blurred the lines and changed what hasn’t always been considered appropriate social behaviour. It’s so easy now to cyber-stalk people that I think many of us don’t even really think twice about it. We’ve become accustomed to having instant access to information, and while most of us aren’t trying to figure out where people live so we can stalk them, I think the average person does a lot more creeping on others than say 10 years ago.

Social media has also normalized some pretty asshole-like behaviours. People feel bolder voicing their thoughts and opinions on the internet than they do in person and repeatedly seeing hurtful and violent opinions voiced on the internet emboldens other people to say more hurtful and violent things in turn. Internet trolls have made it the norm to harrass and bully people (disproportionately women) who threaten their way of life or thought. Suddenly it’s okay to send death threats to female gamers who call for better depictions of women in video games, or say hateful things about immigrants and refugees just trying to escape their unfortunate circumstances. Joe has come to believe that he is entitled to a relationship like those he has seen depicted in books and movies and that there is no consequence too high to achieve that relationship.

But I think the main theme Kepnes explores is our human nature to want to root for someone. It becomes increasingly clear to the reader that Joe is sick, and yet Kepnes somehow makes you care about him. It makes you wonder what that says about you as a person and how you can have anxiety about a stalker potentially getting caught! Part of you wants Joe to get caught with what he’s doing, you know it’s eventually inevitable, yet at the same time you’re like, ‘OMG Joe, how could you let it slip you know her favourite movie is Pitch Perfect, she’ll guess you’re cyber stalking her!’, ‘Don’t go into her apartment, what if you get caught!’, ‘Be careful around Peach’s beach house, they might see you!’ You simultaneously want him to get caught for the betterment of everyone involved, but at the same you worry for him….the crazy stalker.

The other thing I liked about this book is that Kepnes made her other characters incredibly flawed. I think this probably helped in our ability to empathize with Joe, but the fact that Beck, Peach, and Benji are all self-obsessed, toxic people too messes with your head even more. It would be easier to condemn Joe if they were all perfectly lovely people, but they are all extremely flawed to the point that you start understanding why Joe hates them all. They’re all pretty annoying and you find yourself wishing them out of the picture as well because they are foils to Joe and Beck’s happiness, but at the same time, you know none of their actions are justification for what Joe does to them. I thought Peach was an especially great character because she’s also super obsessed with Beck and is super dislikable, but she still stays firmly on the ethical side of the line. In the same way, Beck is also a very unlikable character, which makes it easier to empathize with Joe, which makes you think you’re going crazy to actually empathize with the stalker!

I can’t pinpoint exactly why I didn’t love this. I think it’s a pretty solid 3.5 stars, but I sometimes struggle with disturbing plots like this and I think that prevented me from loving it. I appreciate these kind of books because they make me think, but they also creep me out so much, especially when they mess with your mind.

I fully anticipated how this book would end, although I did really hope I would be wrong. Overall, I am impressed with the book, but I have no desire to see this series any further. I didn’t realize it had a second book until I was almost done this book (I thought Hidden Bodies was a completely unrelated novel), but I don’t think I can see this story through any farther. As sad as it was, I liked the ending of this book and I think You works well as a standalone.

I have my book club discussion of this book tomorrow and I suspect it is going to have mixed reviews, so I’m excited to see what the rest of my club thinks of this one!

Lethal White

Rating:
Author: Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub date: Sep. 2018 (read Oct. 2018)
Series: Cormoran Strike Book #4

Wow, I feel like I have been waiting for this book FOREVER… pretty much because I have been. I know Rowling’s busy making movies and writing plays, but I love her writing so much, I always crave more books from her (not screenplays – totally doesn’t not count in my opinion).

Okay, so I obviously loved this because I love everything Rowling writes and I’m obsessed with both Robin and Strike, but I do have one compliant about this novel. It’s nothing unexpected, but I’m kind of tired of Rowling’s style of mystery reveal. I do think she is genius at writing mystery. Harry Potter has some of the best mystery elements and I love the way Rowling can carry a story arc (and mystery plot) through several novels. Prisoner of Azkaban is the favourite book of so many Harry Potter fans and most of what it made it so beloved for me is Sirius’ storyline. Rowling does a wonderful job misleading us to his notoriety throughout the entire book, only to completely blow everyone’s minds with like 3 chapters of plots twists at the end.

I adore this structure in Prisoner of Azkaban and I liked it at the start of the Strike novels, but I find she relies heavily on this structure in all of her mysteries, with the exception maybe of Career of Evil, which I found very refreshing in that she only had 4 (I think?) suspects for the serial killer. Lethal White reminded me a little bit of The Silkworm in that I knew I was never going to guess the mystery. There’s such a large cast of characters and their relationships are so intertwined that I knew there was going to be a huge convoluted reveal at the end that I was never going to guess (same as The Silkworm). Because I knew this, I put little effort in trying to even guess at the mystery, which takes a bit of the fun out of it. I was never going to be able to guess this one and I was just a little tired of the format of the multi-chapter reveal at the end of the book. I wish Rowling would give us a little more to go on. She always indicates when Strike has a revelation, but she almost never reveals it, leaving us in suspense until the very last minute. I would rather experience the discoveries with Strike in real time. It still leaves room for last minute reveals of motivation, but I’d prefer to get bits and pieces of the puzzle throughout rather that as a huge info dump at the end of the novel. It doesn’t work that well in a 650 page novel because that’s a lot of mystery to try and keep your reader engaged in without ever throwing us a bone.

So that’s my beef with this novel and Rowling’s writing style in general, but let’s talk about what I like about this book, because there was a lot that I liked too. Disclaimer, there are minor spoilers ahead about some of the characters, but nothing about the mystery element.

First of all, I adore Robin and Strike, as individuals and as partners. In previous novels, Strike has been the one slowly falling apart, pushing himself too hard, failing to take care of himself, making desperate decisions and poor romantic choices. He still pushes himself too hard and is as emotionally unavailable as ever, but I feel like he finally got some of his shit together. He acknowledges that he’s a bit of an asshole and that he treats his body like shit – he even takes a case for monetary reasons instead of moral ones, but he ultimately is still looking for the good in people and to set things right by exposing the truth. He also acknowledges some of his repressed feelings for Robin and I liked that he really looked out for her and her best interests.

In contrast, Robin is the one falling apart in this book and it’s about damn time. I like Strike, but Robin is definitely my favourite character. I love her passion and compassion. She’s intelligent and clever and I really felt this came across in this book. Strike gives her much more challenging assignments and I liked watching her pursue her own means of investigation. The conflict with Matthew finally comes to a head and good riddance, it’s about time. I love Robin’s anger in this book. Women are always taught to be amenable and nice no matter what the circumstances, but I loved watching Robin finally say enough is enough and finally get mad. Robin and Strike’s character development is really what makes this such as a great series. In my opinion, the mystery is only half of what matters, creating complex, flawed, but likeable characters is what makes a book great.

While I do have my complaints on the mystery structure, I love the amount of thought that Rowling puts into her plotlines. There are no throwaway comments. Every detail matters and you never know what minor comment may turn out to be a plot point of huge significance. Every character has a role to play and Rowling does a great job a crafting a complex cast of characters. This was a bit on the long side for a mystery novel, but I was pretty much on the edge of my seat for the entire second half of the book. I love that there’s just as much character drama as mystery. My only regret is that I read this way too fast and who knows how long it’s going to take for Rowling to give us another book. At least no cliffhanger this time!

September Summary

I was on vacation for 2 weeks in September, so I’m pretty satisfied with what I read this month. My monthly challenge was to start re-reading the Throne of Glass series in anticipation of the series finale coming out at the end of October. My monthly summary is:

Books read: 8
Pages read: 3,312
Main genres: Fantasy
Favourite book: Wuthering Heights
Favourite Re-read: Crown of Midnight

Like I said, I started off the month with the first 3 books in the Throne of Glass series: Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire. I’ve been dying to re-read this series for a while now, but I made myself wait until closer to the release of the last book so that it would all be fresh in my mind. Throne of Glass was one of my first major fantasy series, so I was curious if I’d like it as much the second time around, and I absolutely did! I’d forgotten just how epic Crown of Midnight was and I even upped my rating of Heir of Fire from 3 stars to 4 stars the second time around. I enjoyed it a lot more this time.

I read two audiobooks this month as well. I bought a copy of Wuthering Heights on Audible on impulse when they had it on sale for $5. I listened to Emma earlier this year and was keen to try out another classic. What I was not expecting was how much I absolutely adored Wuthering Heights! I know it’s a polarizing book and I know a lot of people who hate it. I kind of anticipated I wouldn’t like it as I don’t love a lot of classics, but I was so very wrong. I won’t go into detail what I loved about it though as I wrote a very detailed review about my thoughts.

The second audiobook was Neverworld Wake, a young adult/sci-fi/mystery thriller novel about a group of teenagers forced to live the same day over and over again. It had an interesting enough plot, but I didn’t love it because I thought it could have been better executed.

I also read two ARC’s this month, although I was a bit late reading the first one as it’s already been published. I read The Lost Queen, which is the first book in a new historical trilogy about 6th century Scotland, and Girls of Paper and Fire, a new YA fantasy book that I’d been hearing lots of good things about. The Lost Queen fell into the trap I’ve been having with a lot of my books lately in that I liked it at the end (appreciated the story), but found it kind of boring to read. In contrast, Girls of Paper and Fire was wonderful and kept me on the edge of my seat with the most wonderful queer relationship at the center of the story.

Finally, I read a short graphic novel/web series that’s set in Vancouver called Always Raining Here. This one was a quick read to boost my numbers, but I keep seeing it at my local bookstore and was intrigued about it. It’s about two gay high school students and the pressures of succeeding in high school and the struggles of being a gay teenager. I had mixed feelings because I liked parts of the story, but found other parts extremely problematic.

Anyways, I read some pretty large books this month, several were over 500 pages, so I’m quite happy with what I read and thrilled to be heading into October and November, which are easily my favourite reading months!