The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (Aug 2013)

husbandI’m not much on being secretive.  I pretty much have to work hard to keep my thoughts appropriately stuffed away.  But as I came to the end of Moriarty’s newest novel (after What Alice Forgot), I kept going back and forth on the question “to tell or not to tell?”.  I still don’t know the answer.  It’s not possible to blithely proclaim “always tell the truth”, unless you’re a total black and white person, in which case, you probably don’t like the moral complexities of good fiction.  In The Husband’s Secret, there are actually multiple characters who hold secrets.  Lives are protected, and destroyed, by these secrets.  The story revolves around 3 women and their families in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia.  Most of the story takes place in the present, while at times reverting back to the 80s.  It took a little effort at first to get the characters and families straight (though not like trying to sort through Game of Thrones families and locations and loyalties, so don’t worry), but soon enough, I was totally engrossed in each character’s life.  Moriarty’s ability to flesh out characters is extraordinary, her dialog impeccable.  This is a fabulous novel that won’t let you go until you’ve read the last page, and even then, it won’t be finished with you.  You’ll keep mulling over the quandaries days later: would I have told?  Would I have kept the secret?  Could I have lived with the consequences of either choice?


Morning Glory by Sarah Jio (Nov. 2013)

morningHaving grown up near Seattle, I knew the setting of this novel — the house boats on Lake Union.  It was a pleasure to read Morning Glory, by the native Seattlite, Jio, and to recognize many of the places mentioned.  I learned things I was less acquainted with, too, like the cultural strictures that even egalitarian Seattle women lived with in the late 50s, and the art scene.  The grief that the main character lives with is something I hope to never be more acquainted with.  Mostly, this was a pleasant, enjoyable, easy romantic suspense (but the mystery does not entail anything gory) that switches back and forth between the late 50s and the present, in the exact same location — the houseboats.  I pretty much gobbled up this book.  But I have to warn you:  one needs a tolerance for puzzle pieces fitting neatly together.  If you like your rough edges, you won’t like this book.  It’s not that everything ends up hunky dory.  There is real tragedy and unfairness, and real effort to survive and move on.  But the lives lived among the houseboats in this novel do end up intimately intertwined through the decades, in ways surprising and too perfect to be truly realistic.  It’s part of the fun of the story, how everything fits together.  But you have to be the “half-full” sort of reader to appreciate it; if you’re the “half-empty” sort, you might think “oh, pulease”, in spite of enjoying other aspects of the story and the writing.  Advance Reader’s Copy provided by BEA.

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray (May 2012)

Although this book got a good review, I wasn’t sure the premise — that a middle-aged woman goes invisible — wouldn’t try my patience.  When I’m required to suspend my disbelief, I often prefer to do it whole-heartedly, as is required when reading paranormal romances, for instance, or science fiction.  This book is more realistic fiction, except it’s not, because certain women disappear from view.  On the other hand . . . it’s true to life.  Is it not the case that, once we reach our fifties, people seem to notice us less?  In spite of misgivings, I was swept into the story within the first few pages, and my engagement did not falter.  The metaphor of invisibility and women did not, in fact, wear on me.  On the contrary, I was surprised to find that the author’s exploration of this cliche was fresh and insightful.  The writing is very good.  A fast, but thoughtful, read.

Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany (Feb., 2012)

Amy Hatvany has done it again: really succeeded in fleshing out a pathology without obfuscating the humanity and ultimate lovability of the person embodying the pathology. We walk away caring deeply about, and respecting, characters who could easily have earned our contempt. In her first book, “Best Kept Secret”, Hatvany brought us a mother who descends into alcoholism. In “Outside the Lines”, she brings us into the world of a daughter who struggles with her bipolar father. The struggle is heart-wrenching, yet hopeful in its own way. As in, a rather Buddhist acceptance of the way all human beings are flawed. Yes, that is it: Hatvany is a master of portraying humanity realistically, yet in a balance of flaw and quiet glory. Her writing is remarkable for how it brings us to the depths, and yet we can walk away content and at peace. This is not a narrow book that only those touched closely by bipolar would be interested in. It’s very much a book of broad appeal, in that the main character has a full life of growing up, finding a rewarding career, developing a strong ethical sense of her place in the world, falling in love . . . there is something for every reader to latch onto. Hatvany’s writing is fluid and easy on the mind, in spite of its often heavy subject matter. And you know what? I respect Hatvany for dealing with subjects that few people want to talk about. First it was women and alcohol, and now it’s mental illness: two subjects I’ll bet you and your friends have a hard time talking honestly about. The harm that silence does was brought into focus this month for me. Ironically, I was reading this book at exactly the same time that a colleague’s bipolar son committed suicide. Smart, beautiful, giving to his community, from a great family, loved, 19 years old. Dead. The day before he took his life, his family brought him to the hospital. His doctor literally sent him, clearly suicidal, to the curb outside because they didn’t have enough beds for males. When he went to a second hospital, his insurance denied coverage — something that had happened multiple times before. And now a beautiful young man is dead, and a family is struggling to survive the devastation. The more we talk and write about these difficult subjects, the less likely it will be that in our children’s futures such injustices will be tolerated or fly under the radar. It matters that my grieving colleague is now speaking to legislators about mental illness and health insurance. And it matters that Hatvany has written this special book. Pick it up and make it matter even more.

Roam by Alan Lazar (Nov. 2011) and The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Spencer Quinn (Sept. 2011)

Who doesn’t like dogs?  (Well, if you don’t, poop on you).  Both stories are a lot of fun, being told from the point of view of their canine protagonists.  Spencer Quinn’s book is the fourth in the series.  I’ve read them all, and they’re all good.  I usually don’t pick up mysteries (though I’ve read most of Evanovich’s and James W. Hall’s books), but Quinn’s narrator, Chet, has my heart, because he gives a dog’s eye view on the world, and his voice is very believable. The story of Roam‘s dog is told by a human narrator, which makes the telling less hilarious and more sad.  But it ends well.  And the sadness didn’t bring on the tears.  It just intimately reinforced what animal lovers know: life is often hard for our furry friends.  But also, when life is hard for us, the devotion and love of our pets makes it so much better than it would ever be without them.

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