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.

DUN DUN DUN.

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.'”

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