The Husband’s Secret

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty; 2013

FINALLY! I feel like I was so behind on The Husband’s Secret buzz. I’ll be honest, I never had much of an interest in reading this book because I figured it was a book about an affair. Without giving too much away, the husband’s secret ends up being a lot more complicated than an extra-marital affair.

As is always the case with each Liane Moriarty book I’ve read, The Husband’s Secret is super entertaining. I took it to read on the plane for my work travels, and I raced through it. Out of the three Liane Moriarty books I’ve read (Big Little Lies, The Hypnotist’s Love Story), this one was probably the most laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The story follows three women: Cecilia, mom and tupperware saleswoman extraordinaire; shy entrepreneur Tess, who discovers her husband has fallen in love with her cousin; Rachel, whose daughter died many years before, and whose life now centers around her grandson. At the beginning of the book Cecilia finds a letter in the attic that her husband wrote, with directions that Cecilia should read the letter after his death. The only problem is that Cecilia finds the letter when her husband is still very much healthy and alive. When Cecilia’s husband’s secret is released, the lives of the three women intersect in unexpected ways.

Moriarty’s writing is snappy and witty, and she’s definitely gifted with dialogue. The story is gripping, keeps you reading, and asks some big moral questions.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I have to admit that I didn’t LOVE the ending. Parts of the end were predictable (although other parts were definitely a twist), and it was honestly just sort of too sad for me. The only thing I struggle with with Moriarty’s books is that they start off entertaining and funny, but then they take a dark, dramatic turn towards the end that I’m not always prepared for, since I was having such a good time beforehand. It almost feels like I’ve been tricked. Which is not to say that I don’t really, really like and enjoy her books, it’s just thatI ever feel completely prepared. Anyways – overall, this book was excellent and a recommended read.

-M

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Circling the Sun

I, too, recently joined Book of the Month Club. My first choice was Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. Circling the Sun is historical fiction about Beryl Markham, the first person to fly from Europe to North America. Not only that, but Beryl was the first woman to get her trainer’s license for horses, and she was only 19! While certainly an amazing role model for young women, Beryl was constantly annoying in McLain’s retelling.

I found very little depth in McLain’s Beryl. She seemed equally driven and confused by her mother’s abandonment. At a young age, Beryl and her family moved to Kenya. At five, Beryl’s mother and younger brother left to return to England, leaving Beryl to be raised by her father. Stereotypically, her father has a hard time raising Beryl, and the local Kipsigis Tribe end up being her true guardians throughout her childhood.

This unusual upbringing was cited by Beryl numerous times throughout the book for her wild side, and her refusal to obey class norms (she divorced twice and engaged in numerous affairs, as well as obviously having careers in man-dominated areas), but otherwise, her motivations and aspirations are surprisingly hidden from the reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the book, following her childhood and journey to become the youngest and first female trainer with her license to train horses. After that, however, I quickly lost interest.

At one point, McLain even hints at an affair with a young Prince Harry. These annoyingly vague details about Beryl’s sex life did not interest me at all, and I found myself wanting to skim these sections to get back to her adventures with horses or airplanes.

Perhaps the most exciting discovery that came from me reading this novel is that Beryl Markham was a writer and wrote her own memoir, West with the Sun. After reading West with the Sun, Hemingway himself said he was ashamed to be considered a writer as compared to Markham. I have West with the Sun on my “to read” list, and plan on getting to it this winter. I hope it’s more about horses and less about airplanes…

Siracusa

Siracusa by Delia Ephron; 2016

I recently joined Book of the Month Club, and Siracusa was my first selection. No regrets. Siracusa is largely the tense portrait of two marriages coming undone during a vacation abroad.

Lizzie is a magazine writer in New York City; her husband Michael, a playwright and novelist. Finn owns a restaurant in Portland, Maine, where he lives with his wife, Taylor, and their ten-year-old daughter Snow. Years before the two couples travel together for a vacation in Italy, Lizzie and Finn had had a brief romance.

IMG_4790The couples – plus Snow – travel first to Rome where things start to get weird. Lizzie senses a growing distance between herself and Michael, and flirtatious Finn is thinking about starting an affair with a lobsterwoman back in Portland. Taylor meanwhile acts as a mouthpiece for her nearly silent daughter, who is on the verge of a bizarre erotic awakening. Their trip concludes in Siracusa, an ancient coastal town in Sicily, where the deceit and the tension come to head in a disastrous turn. Plus, there’s something weird about Snow.

I really enjoyed Siracusa. It was fun and felt like an indulgent read. The characters aren’t likable, which makes it even more fun.  Each character interrupts and reinterprets the others’ narratives with differing perspectives, heightening the tension and obscuring any truths.

My main disappointment was the amount of ambiguity at the novel’s conclusion. There is a taut build-up, but Ephron so expertly obscures the reality of the ending that it’s impossible to sort out the truth from the lies. That’s the point I guess – and it was obviously well done – but it made me difficult to sort out my final feelings for the book. Regardless, definitely an enjoyable, worthwhile read. Certainly a conversation starter.

-M

My Brilliant Friend

I loved this novel. Probably because the main storyline was rather corny and simple. The big takeaway from the first novel in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Series is that each generation of children has the ability to improve on their parent’s mistakes and pitfalls.

Growing up in an impoverished area of Naples, Italy, Raffaella (Lila) Cerullo and Elena Greco are constantly surrounded by ill-tempered violence. Their fathers beat their mothers, their brothers beat their friends, and the women even beat the other women. The children learn these violent behaviors from their elders, and thus pass it along to their children.

This pattern of violence is stopped when Lila gets engaged and decides to prevent her fiancée from defending her honor when an ex-boyfriend tries to ruin her virginal reputation. Lila explains to Elena that Lila and her fiancé, Stefano, had decided “by mutual consent to rise a step above the Solaras, above the logic of the neighborhood.” (272).

I have read numerous translations throughout the years, but this one felt so unique to me because while it grappled with big picture, obscure feelings, these feelings were able to come across even through different cultural boundaries and languages.

If I understand the series correctly, the next three books will take us through older life phases of Lila and Elena. My Brilliant Friend begins with the two girls meeting (around age four) and growing up together, leaving us at the age of sixteen, at Lila’s wedding. I cannot wait to start on the second novel.

Perhaps my favorite part was towards the end of the novel when you realize who the title is referring to. I concluded, since the novel was told from Elena’s point of view, that My Brilliant Friend was Lila, who was always supposed to be the smartest child in their class and even their entire school. As they grow up, however, Lila loses her interest in school and eventually drops out, while Elena continues on and becomes the smartest child in her class. When Lila then calls Elena her “brilliant friend” it was a very pivotal moment for the reader as well as for Elena.

As a young girl, self-identity is a hard concept to grasp, and normally in these years self-identity is lost in the quest for knowledge, popularity, whatever. Elena’s lack of self-identity is obvious when Lila calls her “her brilliant friend”, which is what Elena always thought of Lila as. Elena constantly thought herself intellectually inferior to Lila, and to have Lila call her brilliant was an important moment in Elena’s life.

This problem with self-identity is also evident in perhaps the most difficult passages to understand in the novel, related to Lila’s experiences with “dissolving margins.” Elena explains twice to the reader how Lila experiences this issue with borders. These passages are particularly difficult to understand, but I have a feeling this issue of Lila’s will play a bigger role in later books.

-A

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton was all I was hoping for. Hamilton has created a modern compendium of the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths that have formed the keystones of modern mythology.

Now that I’ve read this, I want to reread two of my recent reads, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and American Gods. Both draw heavily from the ancient myths, and I wonder if I would be able to get more out of both reads now.

Mythology goes chapter-by-chapter through the classic myth stories, including Hercules, Theseus, Persephone and the like. Hamilton takes her cues from differing accounts of the stories and combines them into one coherent chapter. I loved my ability to distinguish between the ancient writers (Ovid) and Hamilton’s witty comments.

I always wanted to take a Mythology class in College, and never got to because it was only offered when I was abroad. L. This partially made up for that missed opportunity, since many of my friends said they had to read this in a high school mythology class.

Would highly recommend for anyone interested in any type of mythology!

-A

The One and Only

I am going to keep this brief because M has already written a spectacular review, which you can find here, and because I don’t want to devolve into a full-blown rant against this book and the author.

The main feeling I have around this book, written by Emily Giffin, is that afterwards, I felt ashamed to be a football-loving woman. I cannot even tell if Emily is also a football loving woman, or if she hates all women who love football. Either way, it is not a good look.

Also, may I just say that if you are going to write a book that revolves around football, please do not get your facts wrong. For example, Emily claims that the Cowboys had a “great winning game” against the Steelers in Heinz Field last season. A) yeah right, and B) these two teams play each other once every four years, so that’s highly improbable.

My final mini-rant will be against the violence against women represented in this book. The coach of an amazing college football team looks the other way when his star quarterback’s girlfriend comes to him complaining of rape and abuse. This is bad enough. Keep in mind that (spoiler alert) the main character ends up with this coach, so he is supposed to be a good guy. Now tack on to this the fact that the coach looked the other way because, AND I QUOTE, “he didn’t believe the girl because she had a reputation.”

Done. Sickened and done. Will never read another Emily Giffin book. Unless someone tells me it is more ridiculous than this one, then my curiosity might get the better of me.

-A

Nighttime is My Time

Oh Mary Higgins. Nighttime is My Time was the fifth Mary Higgins Clark book I read, and the worst by far.

Nighttime is My Time follows Jean Sheridan, a college professor and best selling author, as she returns to her hometown for her high school’s twenty reunion. Jean is one of the honorees at the reunion, but her excitement is short lived. Jean soon realizes that all of the women she sat with at lunchtime in high school have died in mysterious circumstances since their graduation. Only Jean and her friend Laura remain.

Jean is also threatened by someone sending her faxes about her daughter that she gave up for adoption shortly after her high school graduation. She soon realized that the deaths of the women she used to be friends with and the faxes may be connected, and that the person responsible is most likely at the reunion with her.

The pace of this mystery was all off. MHC introduced us to at least 15 characters in the first 50 pages and by the time the killer was revealed in the end, I couldn’t even remember who he was supposed to be. This book just felt dated to me. It was published in 2004, but felt like it had been written in the 80’s.

The villain was too ridiculous to be scary, so I didn’t even get freaked out by the book. MHC’s favorite scheme was to write a paragraph written from the perspective of the villain, and then to cut to a scene of one of the male reunion goers and describe something about him that made you think he was the villain. This was frustrating, as I want a mystery where I have a chance of revealing who the killer is before we actually figure it out.

I guess I’ll just have to read one more MHC to end on a good note with my slight obsession.

-A