The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's SecretI chose this book for my most recent in-person book club meeting, on the strength of a recommendation from one of my regulars that went something like this: “ERMERGERD THE HUSBAND’S SECRET CAN WE READ IT CAN WE READ IT CAN WE READ IT IT IS SOOOOOOOOOOO GOOD.”

I was like, I seem to recall that other people have liked this book as well, so, sure, why not.

And, well, it was pretty darn amazeballs.

I am a sucker for many things in books, and this combines some of the best: multiple narrators whose stories intertwine, an Important Thing that is nothing but hints for a long time and then pays off big, and the country of Australia.

The Important Thing in this book is a letter. A woman called Cecilia finds this letter tucked away in her attic, with a note that it should be opened only after the death of her husband. Cecilia’s husband is still alive, and she’s not much for rule-breaking, but she is SO CURIOUS about what the letter could possibly be and spends many of her chapters obsessing over it. Eventually the letter is opened, and the result is pretty much the worst thing ever, and the rest of Cecilia’s chapters are pretty much disaster control.

Meanwhile, a woman called Tess finds out that her husband and her cousin/bff/practically-twin-sister are totes in love, which is not good for many reasons including that they all run a business together. Tess just cannot even and packs up her stuff and her kid and runs off to her mother’s house to figure out what the heck Step Two is. But then a hottie from her past shows up, and maybe there’s a Step One Point Five to be dealt with first?

Also meanwhile, a woman called Rachel finds out that her only child is running off to America with his wife and kid, leaving her all alone with nothing to distract her from memories of another child she once had, who was murdered as a teenager. In the midst of distracting herself from that terrible news, she finds a tape that she thinks may finally put away her daughter’s murderer, who Rachel believes is a certain person I previously described as a hottie.


So, yeah. It’s awesome. I love the way Moriarty writes — she’s great at little details like using what’s on TV to mark certain scenes as happening at the same time as others and at the big details like managing to tie this whole story together with the Berlin Wall. Her dialogue is also great, with all of the characters having their own distinct voices, which is surprisingly hard to do. The psychological aspects are fascinating, the little mini love story is weirdly cute, and when I picked up the book to double-check how to spell Cecilia I started reading it over again from the beginning. But then I stopped, because my TBR pile is no joke.

The only things I didn’t absolutely love were the climax of the plot, which I found rather too on the nose, and the epilogue, which ties together all the loose ends and explains from the outside how certain storylines play out. With a book like this I was expecting far more ambiguity, but actually I think that the clear ending works for the overarching themes of the book.

I will definitely be reading more books from Liane Moriarty in the future, and so should you!

Recommendation: For fans of Jodi Picoult, tugged heartstrings, and lines like, “‘He was thirty,’ said Esther. “So I guess he’d lived a pretty good life already.'”

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, by Melissa Keil

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon GirlI read Keil’s first book several months ago, and it was super cute adorable brain candy. When I was done, I went to read her second book, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, but it wasn’t out in the US yet! Noooooo! But luckily, it’s here now, and I grabbed it up as soon as I could.

Cinnamon Girl sounded like it was going to be even more up my alley than Outer Space, since it had a nerdy comics-loving protagonist in addition to its lovely Melbourne setting. Our girl, Alba, is just after graduating high school and is planning on putting off thinking about the future for as long as she can, or until the end of the summer when everyone’s off to university, I guess. But her plans for an uneventful summer are ruined when a weird internet prophet names her sleepy town as the place that’s going to survive when the world ends in a few short weeks.

This sounds great! I’m super in! But, unfortunately, the story takes a really really strange tack on the love triangle story that I just couldn’t make myself enjoy. Alba’s got a cute boy bff who is ONLY her bff, but when a former classmate turned super hot TV star shows up in town to partake in the end-of-the-world festivities, things get super weird between her and the hot guy and also her and the bff. Throughout the whole book it seems like Alba knows what she wants, and what she wants is not to have a relationship with either of these guys, or anyone, really, but then at the end, surprise! A relationship is totally in the cards. If there had been any indication of this, it would have been okay, but it seriously came out of nowhere. Laaaame.

Also lame was the fact that “comics-loving protagonist” turned out to be “name-dropping comics-artist-obsessed protagonist”, with seemingly every sentence out of Alba’s mouth containing a reference to a comics artist or their run on a series or something else crazy specific. When I got the reference (Kelly Sue!) it was awesome, but when I didn’t it just felt awkward. It is entirely possible that I am too old and uncool for this book. That would be unfortunate.

On the plus side, I really did enjoy the whole end of the world plot line and the general existential angst of the post-high-school summer, and I did like Alba quite a bit as a character until her sudden but inevitable betrayal of my expectations. So maybe if you’re prepared for the romance bit it’ll play about better for you?

Recommendation: For serious lover of comics, regular lovers of teen angst stories and Australia.

Girl Defective, by Simmone Howell

Girl DefectiveI came upon this book as a “readers also enjoyed” for the cute Life in Outer Space, but I think the only thing connecting these two books is that they’re both set in Australia, so… cool! I like Australia. You can cuddle koalas there (well, only in Queensland).

This book is not about cuddling koalas. Sadly. This book is about a teenager called Sky, doing teenager-y things and thinking teenager-y thoughts and trying to survive teenager-hood as best she can while things are going crazy around her. Her mother’s gone off to be a rock star in Japan, her father’s physically present with her in St. Kilda but is drunk all the time so maybe less emotionally present, and her younger brother has decided to deal with all this by donning a pig snout mask and playing detective. Yay?

Meanwhile, Sky’s BFF is acting weirder than usual and a mysterious new guy comes to town and is quickly hired into Sky’s dad’s record store. Also there’s a brick through the store window and a dead girl and a rising music god who may have slept with half of Melbourne, at least.

There’s not really a plot, exactly, outside of Sky’s brother sort of working on solving the brick-through-the-window mystery and Sky sort of working on solving the existential mystery of the dead girl. But surprisingly, I really got into this story that is essentially just a couple weeks in the life of regular, boring teenager.

I liked seeing the world through Sky’s eyes and that she saw her family and friends as fully dysfunctional human beings. I liked that she had the opportunity to make dumb decisions and smart ones and reap the consequences of both.

There was some weirdness throughout the novel, though, that just didn’t resonate with me, and I’m not sure exactly what it was. Perhaps the strange focus on the dead girl mystery that doesn’t really go anywhere, or the pains taken to make all of the plot threads come together in the end for no apparent reason, or the way questions come up and never quite get answered. None of these are bad, exactly, and probably they’re at least partly intentional, but it just didn’t work for me.

On the plus side, Australia!

Recommendation: For fans of Australia and thinky teenagers and very thin plots.

Rating: 7/10

Life in Outer Space, by Melissa Keil

Life in Outer SpaceI’ve been in the mood lately for a cute, quirky, romance book like Attachments, but I cannot for the life of me find anything remotely like it. Attachments is basically an adorable YA romance except starring adults, and this is somehow not a thing and I need someone to get on that, because I will give you all my dollars. Well, my library’s dollars. But dollars nonetheless!

Anyway, Goodreads offered me Life in Outer Space as a “Readers Also Enjoyed” to Attachments and I was like, nerd boy, Warcraft, Australia, you can stop there I’ve already started reading this book. It’s not the same — it’s an actual YA novel with teens and stuff and it doesn’t tug the same unrequited-love heartstrings — but it’s pretty darn good.

Our protagonist, Sam, is a teenage boy who more or less has high school figured out. He’s got his friends, he’s got his enemies, he’s got a place to eat lunch that isn’t the lunchroom where his enemies eat, and he’s pretty sure he can coast on this for the next couple years. But then, of course, new girl Camilla comes in and completely upends Sam’s life. She’s super popular right from the start, and therefore an enemy, but she plays Warcraft and likes spending time with Sam and his friends, so she’s… a friend? This is clearly way too complicated. Even worse, the rest of Sam’s life refuses to stay the course, leaving him with friends and family drama that was absolutely not part of his schedule for the year. Luckily Camilla’s there for him, all the time, whenever he needs her. She’s a great friend, but totally just a friend. Totally.

I am surprised that I hadn’t heard about this book earlier, because it is so completely in the John Green oeuvre that is super duper popular these days. Sam and his friends are nerd kids who use big words and wax moderately philosophical on a regular basis, Sam’s love interest is an enigmatic new girl prone to grand gestures and with problems of her own, and the various parents of the book are around and dramaful themselves but don’t get much in the way of the story. It is also comprised of several wildly improbable elements held together with just enough realism that you think, yeah, I totally want my bff/quasi-love interest to orchestrate for me a weird scavenger hunt from another continent. This is a thing that will happen.

It’s a ridiculous book, and I found myself so often being like, no, stop it, this is seriously ridiculous, what are you doing, but it was still super fun and decently cute, love-story-wise, though that part doesn’t happen until way late in the novel. And I loved the author’s sentences, even the crazy ones, so I will definitely be on the lookout for the US version of her second book, which seems like it should be even cuter and nerdier than this one. Score!

Recommendation: For John Green fans, nerds, people pining for Australia.

Rating: 8/10

Weekend Shorts: Wicked, Divine, and Unwritten

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1: “The Faust Act”, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
The Wicked and the Divine, Vol. 1I had heard vague good things about this book around the internets, but not enough to really get me interested. But then I was at the comic shop getting other things and I asked the guy at the counter what he thought about it and he was like, “It’s fantastic, you should buy it immediately.” He was not wrong.

The conceit of this story is that various gods incarnate themselves into the bodies of more or less ordinary twenty-somethings for two years every 90 years, because sure, why not? In their 2014 bodies, the gods are literal rock stars, performing and giving interviews and being totally open and honest about their godly status, but of course no one really believes them. Except maybe for Laura, a groupie who ends up in the right place at the right time to see Luci (slash Lucifer) snap her fingers and explode a couple of dudes’ heads. When Luci is arrested and the other gods more or less abandon her, Laura does everything she can to help out.

This is a fantastic book, starting with the super pretty artwork that I just need to have all over my walls, like, immediately. Look at these covers, people! So gorgeous. And then also it’s neat to see gods from all the different religions (some of whom could be from several religions all by themselves) hanging out doing their god thing, and then even better there’s an intrepid girl reporter on the case who is probably going to be majorly pissed when she finds out these gods are for reals. I’m super in love.

The Unwritten, Issues 45 and 46: “The Corpse Harvest Reiteration”
The Unwritten #45It has been an absurdly long time since I delved into the world of The Unwritten, and I was more than a little worried that I might have forgotten everything. Luckily I found myself at the start of a little two-issue run wherein 1) the action focused mostly not on the overarching plot and 2) our favorite vampire spent a page explaining the important stuff. Thanks, Richie!

The Unwritten #46So in this set of issues, Richie is feeling bad for himself and Didge is doing her police thing, and then the two of them join forces when a little kid loses first his babysitters and then his dad in freak deaths that have brain damage as the common link between them. Turns out the kid is writing stories that come true, and although he’s not explicitly writing anyone into these stories the people he’s basing them on end up in big trouble. It seems that the story world, once thought a bit dead, may be only mostly dead.

I am super excited to get back into this series, which is good because I have a pile of issues and trades lying around for it!

What fantastic short stuff are you reading this weekend?

Razorhurst, by Justine Larbalestier

RazorhurstI read my first Justine Larbalestier book, Liar, a million years ago and meant to read more of them, but then she didn’t write anything that seemed nearly as exciting for a while. Then I heard Larbalestier was writing a historical fiction novel, and I was like, uggggh, come on, but THEN I heard she was writing a historical fiction novel set in Sydney and involving ghosts and I was like, oh, yeah, count me in.

And that is this book! Our hero, Kelpie, is an orphan of indeterminate age who lives in a super shady Sydney suburb that is part of a larger neighborhood called Razorhurst. Razorhurst is, as the nickname might suggest, full of razor-wielding gangs and, necessarily, a lot of ghosts. Kelpie can see those ghosts. Most of them are pretty awful, but some of them have helped her survive on the streets without getting picked up by child services, so when one of the more in-the-middle ghosts points her in the direction of food, she crosses her fingers and goes to find it. Instead she finds Dymphna Campbell, “best girl” to the head of one of two competing gangs; Jimmy Palmer, the super annoying ghost of Dymphna’s dead boyfriend; and a whoooole world of trouble.

I mean, if that doesn’t intrigue you, I cannot help you become more interested in this book. There’s running and jumping and also talking in measured tones and avoiding the gaze of ghosts. There’s a little bit of romance, but not much, and there is a lot of overthinking next moves and then just going for it and hoping for the best.

I really liked the way Larbalestier handled the ghost business. On an individual ghost level, there’s Kelpie having to juggle listening to Jimmy’s advice and then figuring out how to give it without looking highly suspicious, or, alternately, how to ignore the advice completely without sending Jimmy into a tantrum. But even more interesting is how the ghosts aren’t all of one mold — some haunt people, some haunt places, some just kind of exist, some are quiet, some are loud, some are obnoxious — and how Larbalestier puts some thought into where a bunch of ghosts might hang out in 1930s Sydney. So there are ghosts, sure, but they don’t seem terribly out of place in an otherwise historically accurate (I presume) novel.

The humans, on the other hand… I just didn’t click with them that well. I didn’t quite understand how they were all interacting with each other or what emotions they were supposed to be feeling about things or what emotions I might be supposed to be feeling about things that happened to the humans. There were a few times where I could tell that I was supposed to be surprised or upset or something but it just wasn’t going to happen.

But, on the plus side, I am kind of obsessed with Australia, and was actually in Sydney for a few days last year, and so it was neat and also kind of super creepy to realize that I was not very far at all from some very ghost-filled places. I’m kind of disappointed now that we spent most of our time on the opposite side of Sydney from Surry Hills/Darlinghurst. If only this book had come out a few months sooner, I could have had some very interesting vacation photos!

Recommendation: For people who saw gangs and ghosts and 1930s Sydney and were like, tell me more.

Rating: 8/10

The Accident, by Kate Hendrick

The AccidentThis was a very odd little book. I downloaded it as an advance copy because whatever the publisher said sounded interesting, but by the time I got around to reading it I had completely forgotten what the book was supposed to be about. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but here I was just reeeeeally confused.

See, there are three stories going on at once, with almost no indication of the switch in narrator except that the names are different and each of these sections is preceded by “before”, “after”, or “later”, which are not the most descriptive words, really. In “before”, we’re following the story of Eliat, a foster kid who parties hard and just barely gets away with it; in “after” we’ve got Will, a kid with some serious self-confidence issues that proooobably stem from his dad disappearing and his mother all but; and in “later” we’ve got Sarah, a girl repeating her senior year at a new high school and trying really hard to move on after the titular accident.

Also, this book is super Australian, which is awesome because a) I was just in Australia and I miss it!, and b) we need more books that retain their crazypants original slang. It is less awesome because outside of knowing what Macca’s is (McDonald’s, which in Australia totally serves macarons what), I do not know these Australian slang terms and even my Kindle could only help me with half of them. It may be due to this need for an Aussie teen translator that I found myself a quarter of the way in and wondering, wait, are these stories supposed to connect to each other?

After double-checking with Goodreads that they were, in fact, connected, I soldiered on, but I still didn’t really get where the stories were going. Hendrick lets out details at a trickle, though she also lets them out right where they make sense in the story so fine, be that way, and it probably wasn’t until halfway through the book that I figured out how two of the stories were connected, and maybe three-quarters of the way through before I fit the other one in. Some of these connections seem kind of obvious in hindsight, though, so it’s entirely possible you will figure out the end of this book long before I did.

Once I did see where everything was going, I found the book vastly more interesting. Each of the teen narrators has issues that are not completely unlike the issues I went through in high school (not Eliat’s drug use, because nerd child, but definitely Will’s lack of confidence, because same), and the book really delves into how each of them, along with their parents and siblings and friends, deal with hardship and tragedy in different ways. I think the absolute best part of this book is that it takes the before/after dichotomy that I’ve seen before and adds that later — because there is a later, different from and probably better than the after, and I think that’s a really important thing to remember.

So, a slow start, but in the end a pretty decent book. And you will learn all the Australian slang. Bonus points for slang!

Recommendation: For… fans?… of teen tragedy books and those who secretly want to move to Australia. (Maybe not so secretly anymore).

Rating: 7/10

In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned CountryBill Bryson is one of those authors whose work I really should already have read, but I’ve never managed to set aside the time to devour his backlist.  A few years ago I used a couple of plane flights to read his hefty A Short History of Nearly Everything, which is not short but is indeed about nearly everything, and I was like, yes, more please!  And then… nothing.  So when my husband and I finally took our honeymoon (renamed our honeymoonaversary as we took the trip for our 5-year wedding anniversary [omg we’re old]) to Australia, I said to myself, hey, I’m pretty sure Bill Bryson’s got a book for that!

It’s almost fifteen years old at this point, and some of the trips he talks about happened even earlier than that, but it’s still a pretty good read for anyone making their way to the antipodes. I ended up reading it in pieces over several flights to, from, and within the country, so I had a chance both to see how my opinion and Bryson’s compared after visiting a city and to get a tantalizing sneak preview of a future stop.

In a Sunburned Country was definitely a more fun read than the seven million travel guides I had pored over in planning our trip, but I would probably not follow along in Bryson’s steps walking miles and miles to see not very much or driving to the middle of nowhere to see tiny, barely used museums or spending what is apparently a large amount of time getting drunk in pubs. Looooots of drinkin’ goin’ on. Although, if I had a job that paid me to travel to Australia on a regular basis, I might be convinced about those museums.

What I found really useful in the book was Bryson’s take on Australian history. I knew the very basics — prison colony, gold rush, rugby — and Bryson covers a lot of that, but he also takes care to point out the most peculiar aspects of the history and culture, and that’s always way more fun to know about. There was much giggling and making the husband pause his in-flight entertainment so that I could say, “Hey, did you know, there was a sailor who sailed straight between Australia and Indonesia and managed never to see Australia at all?” or “Hey, did you know, Australia could totally have been a Francophone country except the French got there a couple days too late?” or “Hey, did you know, there’s like a zillion spiders in Australia and they all want to EAT YOU ALIVE?”

Scott did not appreciate some of these facts.

Bryson also notes some less-exciting things, like the fact that the Aborigines have had rather a rough go of it since the Europeans came and ruined everything; in a depressing bit of serendipity I read about the fact that Aboriginal children were more or less kidnapped from their homes just days before Scott and I found ourselves wandering an exhibit about the places these kids were kidnapped to, including a video wall showing the apology made by the government in 2008, which is two years after the first time I visited Australia and also just six years ago.

But all that gloom and doom is tempered with stories like Bryson’s attempt at boogie boarding off the coast of Sydney with some friends and very nearly getting killed by a jellyfish, a story made so much better by the fact that one “friend” wrote an account of the event that, let’s say, somewhat differs from Bryson’s, and Bryson saw fit to include said account in this book.

A plus plus, fantastic, would read again, but will probably attempt to read a different Bryson sometime in the next four years. At this rate, I’ll have them all read probably before I’m dead?

Recommendation: For travelers to Oz and those who appreciate dry humor and tiny museums.

Rating: 8/10

Lexicon, by Max Barry

LexiconI first heard about this book on one of the many delightful episodes of the Book Riot podcast, and as soon as I heard the description I knew it was the book for me. People using words to control people and take over the world? SOLD.

It turns out that that’s not exactly what’s going on, but like many fantastic novels what exactly is going on is way too complicated to describe in one advert. Luckily I have all the space in the world! …Okay, okay, I’ll keep it (relatively) short.

So when the book opens, there’s this guy in the middle of having something horrible happen to him involving his eye. Thanks, book, that’s just exactly where I want to start things. Aughhhhh. This passes quickly, though, as the people doing the something horrible ascertain that this poor guy, Wil, is probably the guy they’re looking for and maybe they should get him out of this airport bathroom, and this airport in general, before some other people do some other unspecified horrible things to all of them. This does not work very well, and there is death and carnage everywhere, but Wil and his strange captor make it out to fight another day. Great first chapter!

The second chapter introduces us to a girl called Emily, making her money hustling people in three-card monte. A guy somehow gets Emily to screw up her hustle, leaving her miffed and her boss dude or whoever pissed, so when she sees this guy again she tries to get some answers out of him. He offers her the chance to make either a few thousand or lots of thousands of dollars if she just passes a little test, which involves answering some questions that seem mighty familiar from that first chapter.

As you might guess, she passes, and as you also might guess, these two characters’ stories trade off through the rest of the book and turn out to be, of course, part of one larger story. Wil’s story takes place in the present time of the story, with all the fighting and the running and the death and destruction, while Emily’s starts earlier and explains about the questions and the words and the general state of Emily that ends up leading to all the things that are happening to Wil.

The words conceit is fantastic — you find out that those strange questions are part of a personality test that helps especially persuasive people find the right words to convince you to do anything they want you to. You also find out that there is a single word that exists that allows the person who wields it to control absolutely anyone who hears or even just sees the word, utterly and completely, no questions asked. So that’s terrifying. Let’s not let that be real, guys.

And this single word is what all the shenanigans are about, and the end of the book gets all sorts of suspenseful about what is going to happen to this word and all the people anywhere near it and especially the people we’ve come to know and love (I love them, shut up) and then there is an ending that is at first glance puzzling and at second glance cheesy as all hell and at third glance still pretty cheesy but also kind of interesting and maybe a tiny bit profound and so I’ll allow it.

The best indication of how awesome I think this book is is that when I was reading through the first couple of chapters to remind myself of the events and what kinds of things I could safely spoil, I had to stop myself just reading the book a second time! This is definitely going on my “to buy in paperback and lend to all the people” list.

Recommendation: For readers who don’t mind being absolutely baffled by things and who like words and world takeover.

Rating: 10/10 (I wanted to subtract points for cheese, but couldn’t bring myself to. Suspicious?)

an RIP read