Review: Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

This story begins with a funeral. One of three brothers is dead, mourned by his siblings. But which one? And how? And, most importantly: why?

William, Brian, and Luke are each born a year apart in a lower middle class Catholic family in 1960s Dublin. William, the eldest, rises to the top of the heap in the film industry as a successful movie producer. Luke, the baby of the family, surprises everyone by morphing into a worldwide pop star. Brian, the compliant middle son, is the eternal adult in the room: the helpful, steady one, the manager of finances and careers.

But none of them is actually quite what he seems. Wounded by childhood, they have betrayed one another in myriad ways, hiding behind little lies that have developed into full blown treachery. With an unnerving eye for the complexities of families, Nugent delves into the secret life of a deeply troubled household and provides stunning insights into the many forces that shape us from childhood.

Hailed by #1 New York Times bestselling author A.J. Finn as “a dark jewel of a novel,” Liz Nugent’s new work of fiction follows three working class Irish brothers, and delves into the many ways families can wreak emotional havoc across generations.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Little Cruelties publishes November 10, 2020. 

I went into Little Cruelties expecting a psychological thriller and some suspense. Instead, I think this book is another case where Men’s Fiction should be a genre because if this same story was told with three sisters instead of three brothers, it would definitely fall under the Women’s Fiction category.

The story is told through the first person POVs of three brothers, Williams, Brian, and Luke. The book covers decades and swings around from one year to another in no organized fashion that I could discern. Before each brother’s section of chapters are short excerpts from an unknown brother’s view, discussing the funeral and aftermath of one of the other brother’s death. This is really the only bit of suspense in the whole book, though. The rest of the chapters don’t really even allude to someone being murdered, though they all certainly have the motives for it. We don’t find out which brother is dead until the final chapter and by then I was so fed up with these characters that I hardly even cared.

I always struggle with really character-driven books that feature such awful characters. There’s a small amount of sympathy for them because they had such a dysfunctional childhood, which carried into adulthood, but that excuse really only goes so far. Luke also gets a bit of a pass because of his mental health issues, but William and Brian were just straight up despicable. I didn’t enjoy reading about them and often wondered why I kept going. I think I kept hoping that there would either be redemption arcs or some real suspense would start to build. Neither happened.

Overall, Little Cruelties was not for me. I didn’t really ever care about the characters and I while I’m normally a fan of alternate timelines, the haphazard manner it jumped around here didn’t work for me. I also expected a lot more of a psychological thriller/suspense than family drama. However, I did think the first person POVS were well done and that’s why it’s getting two stars instead of one from me.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

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(I had to include the non-American cover because it’s perfect. You’ll understand when you read the book.)

Synopsis from Goodreads:

This is a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers slowly begin opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Anxious People publishes September 8, 2020. 

Even though the Beartown books made me a Fredrick Backman fan for life, this is only my third book from him. I was a little afraid that no other book could live up to my sky high expectations. And while the Beartown books are still my favorites, Anxious People did not disappoint.

Backman has such a way with words. I am continually blown away by his honest – and humorous and sometimes heart wrenching – description of the human condition. There is no other author that can make me want to laugh and cry in equal measure. This story is about depression, anxiety, and desperation. But it’s also about hope, love, and forgiveness. It’s about idiots. It’s about the thoughts we have in our lowest moments and the reassurance that we are not alone. There was one passage that described my teenage self so accurately, that I really wish there were more books like this back then.

“She isn’t traumatized, she isn’t weighed down by any obvious grief. She’s just sad, all the time. An evil little creature that wouldn’t have shown up on any X-rays was living in her chest, rushing through her blood and filling her head with whispers, saying she wasn’t good enough, that she was weak and ugly and would never be anything but broken…In the end you get exhausted from always tensing the skin around your ribs, never letting your shoulders sink, brushing along walls all your life with white knuckles, always afraid that someone will notice you, because no one’s supposed to do that.”
(Quote taken from ARC, may be different in final version.)

The story is very character driven, and there is quite the quirky cast to get to know. I loved how we learned things about each of them, bit by bit. Characters who might come across a little unlikable at first are given context and background that will make you grow to love them instead. There’s even a twist or two that will keep you on your toes. I will say there were a few times where it felt like things dragged just a little and I wanted to get on with the story, but the character development was still definitely worth it. The story is told in a non-linear way, which could have gotten confusing, but I think Backman handled it really well. I loved the excerpts of the witness interviews most of all.

Overall, I loved Anxious People. Backman’s writing was just as wonderful as I hoped it would be. It was honest and relatable and filled with emotion. It was also laugh out loud funny at times. I definitely recommend this one and am looking forward to going back and reading more of Backman’s backlist.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

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Synopsis:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty, author of Big Little Lies, comes her newest novel, Nine Perfect Strangers: Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? These nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

Combining all of the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.

I enjoyed Nine Perfect Strangers. I did. I just kind of wished more actually happened in it. The story is extremely character-driven. If you are someone who needs a lot more than intense character development, this might not be for you. Though there were times that I felt it dragged a little too much, I did really grow attached to the characters, so I didn’t mind it as much by the end as I did in the beginning.

I’m going to talk a little bit about the Nine Perfect Strangers:

Frances: A successful Romance author who has had her most recent book rejected. She has also gone through a rather painful and unconventional breakup which has resulted in some stress-related physical ailments. I would say the majority of the chapters were told from her POV. In a book with so many characters, it’s kind of hard to point one out one as the Main Character, but I would say Frances is it. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite love her. She was an interesting character and I definitely wanted to see what happened to her, but I could have gotten a lot less of her and been happy. I did like how everything turned out for her in the end, though.

Tony: A divorcee and retired professional athlete whose dog recently died. Tony is depressed and wants to change. I liked Tony. I enjoyed it him a lot more as the story went on and he began to open up more. I really liked how his life went after leaving Tranquillium House.

Ben and Jessica: A young, newly wealthy married couple. Ben is obsessed with his Lamborghini and Jessica is addicted to plastic surgery.  Their newly rich status and how each responds to it has put a strain on their marriage and they are interested in couples counseling. I have to admit that I liked Ben a lot more than I liked Jessica. I really would’ve liked more POVs from Ben.

Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe: A family that have been grieving a loss for three years and are trying to move on. They each carry some guilt and some secrets. I could take or leave Heather and Zoe, but I really liked Napoleon. He was one of my favorite characters and I wouldn’t have minded some more from him, either.

Carmel: A recently divorced mother of four. Her children are on a trip of a lifetime with her ex-husband and his new wife and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. She goes to the retreat to lose weight, even though she doesn’t really need to. I didn’t really care that much about Carmel, but she was another one I really liked how her life went in the final chapters.

Lars: An incredibly attractive divorce lawyer who is addicted to wellness retreats and is avoiding his longtime boyfriend who wants to have a baby. Lars was pretty much exactly the type of character you would expect him to be based on that description. I liked him and felt we got just enough of his POV.

In addition to the nine perfect strangers, we also get POVs from Masha, the owner of the resort, and her employees, Yao and Delilah. Masha is kind of a brilliant psychopath. She used to be a high-powered executive until she had a major health crisis and had to make some big changes. She opened Trainquillium House to help others change their lives, as well. Or so it seems. Yao is completely devoted to Masha and the message of the resort. I really enjoyed his character arc from beginning to end and he was probably my second favorite character. We only hear from Delilah once or twice and I was fine with that. The resort was a job to her, nothing more, and she definitely hadn’t drunk the Kool Aid (or the green smoothie).

Overall, I enjoyed Nine Perfect Strangers. For awhile I was a little frustrated that it didn’t seem like anything was really happening, but once I got invested in all the characters I was able to appreciate the story for what it was. I do not think this book will be everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked it enough to tip my rating up a bit.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Sorority by Genevieve Sly Crane

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Prep meets Girls in White Dresses in Genevieve Sly Crane’s deliciously addictive, compulsively readable exploration of female friendship and coming of age that will appeal to anyone who has ever been curious about what goes on in a sorority house…

Margot is dead.

There’s a rumor she died because she couldn’t take the pressure of being a pledge. You may not ask what happened to her. It’s not your business. But it wasn’t a suicide, if you’re wondering.

Spring Fling will not be cancelled. The deposit is non-refundable. And Margot would have wanted the sisterhood to continue in her absence, if only to protect her sisters’ secrets: Shannon is the thinnest girl in the house (the other sisters hate her for it, but they know her sacrifice: she only uses the bathroom by the laundry room); Kyra has slept with twenty-nine boys since she started college (they are all different and all the same); Amanda is a virgin (her mincing gait and sloping posture give it away); and while half the sisters are too new to have known Margot, Deirdre remembers her—she always remembers.

With a keen sense of character and unflinching, observant prose, Crane exposes the undercurrents of tension in a world where perfection comes at a cost and the best things in life are painful—if not impossible—to acquire: Beauty. A mother’s love. And friendship…or at least the appearance of it.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Sorority will be available on May 1, 2018. 

I did not go to a college that had sororities (nor would I have tried to join one if there were), but I really enjoyed the show Greek, so that’s kind of what I was expecting from this book. However, Sorority was not at all like I anticipated. It did not really follow a typical plot structure, but was more shorter vignettes of different girls from the House. I was a little taken aback at first because that’s not generally something I like, but I found the writing so addictive that it didn’t end up bothering me that much.

The story was very character-driven. All the girls were a little hard to keep straight and I can’t say that any of them were that likable or redeemable, but I found a few of their stories kind of fascinating. Even for the ones I didn’t like as much, I found the writing compulsive enough to want to find out what happened. The downside of that, though, is that there is not really any conclusion to the story. Several of the characters we saw a few years after college, but even then their stories did not feel complete. Part of me really dislikes open-endings so this was hard for me. I also did not really understand what was happening at the end of the book.

Overall, once I got over my preconceived expectations I did like this book. I thought the writing was really addictive. I don’t think it will be for everyone, though. I think readers who really enjoy some in depth character study and don’t mind open-endings will really enjoy it.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars