BOOK REVIEW | Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

My thoughts:
She was suddenly filled with the passionate desire to share everything, to hold nothing back. Fuck dignity.

This quote from the final page pretty much sums up this book – I felt like screaming those final two words so many times throughout. I went into Big Little Lies knowing very little about the plot, just that this is a well-loved book, and I was looking for something to break up some of the dark content I have been reading lately.  This book, however, is a slap in the face.

The story revolves around many women, but the focus is on the interconnections between Madeline, Jane, and Celeste. Initially, this reads as a witty take on modern day motherhood, and the judgments that we place on others. We have the yoga mom, the hot-mess mom, the put together mom, and so on – stereotypes and facades that we assign to others with as a way to justify our own choices.  As we begin to learn more about Celeste and Jane the story opens in breadth, leaving the reader with boundless questions. Moriarty pulls you so eloquently into her world, that you become deeply invested before you’re aware of it.

Without spoiling anything, I must say that Celeste was the character I felt most deeply invested in. Her “little lies”, were ultimately the biggest, and I wanted nothing more for her to find her voice early on – I wanted to send strength to her through the pages.

Marriage was about compromise. “Honey, if you really like that girlie, antique look, I’ll get you the real thing…That is just a cheap, tacky rip-off.”  When he said things like that, she heard “You’re cheap and tacky”. She would take her time setting up this place with cheap, tacky thing that she liked.

Jane often broke my heart, her self-loathing ran so deep:

Intellectually, I know I’m not ugly, I’m perfectly acceptable. But I feel ugly, because one man said it was so, and that made it so.

I highlighted a ton of quotes and moments while reading this book, and I would love to share more but they would reveal too much. This book was a total surprise to me – I went into it thinking I would enjoy it, but not at all expecting to love it as much as I did. Moriarty wraps this story up so perfectly, I couldn’t have asked for more. I am looking forward to digging into another of Moriarty’s books soon!

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BOOK REVIEW | The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
It starts with just one body – tortured, mummified and then discarded.

Its discovery reveals a nightmare world of hidden lives. Of lost identities, secret rituals and brutal exploitation, where nobody can be trusted.

This is the darkest, most complex case the police have ever seen.

This is the world of the Crow Girl.

My thoughts:
When I finished The Crow Girl last night, I was on a high and put it down as 5 stars on Goodreads. After thinking about it for a while, I feel like 4 starts makes more sense. This book took me an extremely long time to read, about 2 months, which is very rare for me as I usually read a book in  matter of a few days.I have a few thoughts on to why that was the case, and I will get to them soon. This book is very complex, so I hope my thoughts are coherent!

Let me start by saying that I loved this book, but, it took me a while to realize I did. It starts with a bang, the discovery of a  dead boy, and does not let down it’s pace for the entirety of it’s nearly 800 pages. This is a massive feat for a book of this length – it never lags, is exciting the whole way through, and compels the reader forward. Somewhere in the middle the plot waned, but I must say that the conclusion brought it all home for me.

There are times when this book feel a little…disjointed. This may be because it is authored by 2 people, or it may be due to the fact that the 3 original volumes were crammed together to make 1 large volume for it’s North American and UK releases. I have heard that some sections were cut out to make a single volume, and I wonder if this is why some moments felt a little out of place.

As a side note – how cool is the pen name Erik Axl Sund?! Authors Jerker Eriksson and Håkan Axlander Sundquist combined the first parts of each of their last names to created the pseudonym.

Part of what I LOVED about The Crow Girl was the focus on creating short, easily consumable chapters. I’m often reading with my two young boys around, and it’s great to know when the next break is. I loved that I could say “just 1 more page!”, rather than “just 10 more pages!”. That said, this was a blessing and a curse – I feel that this was a huge part of why the book took me so long to read! I never had to read more than a few pages at a time; sometimes I would devour 50 pages, and other times I would read 3 pages and then put it down for the day. Another reason for the long reading time for me was intense and graphic nature of this book. I never shy away from the dark and disturbing, but when kids are involved I find it much more difficult to take. Small bites worked best for me while digesting this complex piece of work.

This novel is extremely triggering – please know this before going into it. Expect:

  • Sexual violence against children
  • Children hurting other children
  • Child murder
  • Self-harm
  • Extreme phychological disassociation and complex looks at sexuality

This is one of the darkest books I’ve ever read, and I was initially concerned that all of this intensity was without merit – purely for shock value. As the story unravels in the 3rd section, everything becomes clear, and I understand the story that the authors wanted to tell . If you love crime fiction, Nordic Noir, Scandinavian novels, or psychological thrillers – you MUST read The Crow Girl!

If you’ve read this book, please comment below – I would love to discuss this book!

BOOK REVIEW | A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

My thoughts:
What is happiness but an extravagance…?

I finished A Little Life minutes ago, and am still trying to catch my breath and wipe away the tears. This book pulls you deep into its world, grips you tightly, and finally, relentlessly, lets you go. A beautiful portrait of male friendship, we follow the lives of Jude, JB, Willem, and Malcom from their years after college graduation into middle age. This, however, is Jude’s story. This book explores the darkest dark of humanity, the brutality of life after extreme violence, and the extent of human endurance.

…how hard it is to keep alive someone who doesn’t want to stay alive.

This quote resonated so deeply for me, and brought to light so many questions about what makes life worth living. If someone is in extreme pain, emotionally or physically, why are they meant to hold on? Should they have to? Is their continuation of life only for the comfort of other people? When is it OK to give a loved one permission to leave this world? These are questions that I have spent a lot of time thinking about prior to reading this book, and it was as comforting as it was difficult to contemplate these thoughts as I followed Jude through his life.

This book wasn’t perfect, and certain elements were distracting for me, but I couldn’t possibly give it anything less than 5 stars. I bawled more than once, and the ending was a perfect release. If you’re ready to take this journey, I hope that you will find it a rewarding and challenging endeavour.

BOOK REVIEW | All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

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2.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
In the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut everything seems picture perfect.

Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world.

As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town – or perhaps lives among them – drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.

My thoughts:
This is an incredibly difficult book to review – I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. To start, it’s is extremely triggering. If you have experienced sexual violence, this book may be hard to read as graphic depictions of rape are illustrated throughout. I am comfortable with all topics and never shy away from anything graphic, controversial, or frightening, but this book is extremely detailed and it’s a lot take in. Jenny Kramer is brutally raped at a party, and is given an experimental treatment that erases her memory of the traumatic event. While the graphic detail seems to be too much, it does serve some purpose; as a reader, you feel the violation – it becomes real. Since this book is marketed as a thriller, I wasn’t expecting such a significant statement on sexual violence.

The element that struck me most with this book is the idea of erasing the memory of a trauma. If you erase the physical memory, will the emotional memory still respond to triggers? Will the victim be better if they do not know what they suffered? Or, is moving through the suffering the path to healing?

I struggled with the narrator in this book, and unfortunately this is what takes away from the story. It’s written from the perspective of an unreliable, third person minor character, which is a device I often love. Dr. Alan Forrester, the psychiatrist that is treating Jenny and her family following the attack, tells us Jenny’s story through his unique lens; as a psychiatrist, he has insights into all of the major characters. I love an unreliable narrator, but Forrester often confused me: he would jump from being so compassionate and caring with Jenny, to uncharacteristically calling a young woman a slut.

Finally, the shocking twist that was promised was not really shocking at all. Unpredictable, yes, but not the major plot shift that I was expecting. I was left disappointed.

All is Not Forgotten had so much going for it, but the unreliable narrator combined with the disappointing conclusion made for a flop. Wendy Walker is clearly creative and intelligent, and I would be interested in seeing what she comes up with next.